This song was produced by the Russian-German producer Zedd, who is best known for his hit tunes "Clarity
" and "Stay The Night
." The pair got together after Zedd overheard Grande performing at a label showcase while he was backstage, and mentioned to his team that he wanted to work with her. "[Grande's voice] is super-recognizable, it has a unique texture," he told Billboard
magazine, "and really, that's all I'm looking for in a singer, is to have a voice that is really special and different from other voices you hear everyday."
The joy-infused song finds Grande celebrating her independence from a past love. Speaking with Billboard magazine, she called the experience of working with Zedd, "fantastic and super-experimental." Grande added: "I never thought I'd do an EDM song, but that was an eye-opening experience, and now all I want to do is dance."
The song features the awkward lyric, "Now that I become who I really are," written in order to force a rhyme from the song's previous line, "Never by the hands of a broken heart." Speaking with Time, Grande seemed sheepish about bending the laws of the English language, claiming the erroneous lyrics were Max Martin's and not hers. "I fought him on it the whole time," she told the magazine. "'I am not going to sing a grammatically incorrect lyric, help me God!' Max was like, 'It's funny - just do it!' I know it's funny and silly, but grammatically incorrect things make me cringe sometimes."
Grande eventually conceded to the Swedish hitmaker. "I was like, whatever, let's do it and have some fun," she said. "I need to shake it off and let it go and be a little less rigid and old. I'm like, 90. I need to not be that old."
This wasn't Max Martin's first offense against the English language. Linguists recoiled with horror, for instance, at his "Sadness is beautiful. Loneliness is tragical" from Backstreet Boys' 2000 international hit "Shape of My Heart."
The music video was directed by Chris Marrs Pilier, who has also worked with The Black Keys and Britney Spears. The clip serves as a full-on homage to sci-fi cult movie classics as we see Grande play a space operative who battles aliens and saves the day during an intergalactic adventure. The visual later transitions to a spaceship dance party DJed by Zedd. "The inspiration for the 'Break Free' video is Barbarella, Star Wars and sort of like a retro take on space age, futuristic moments," Grande revealed to MTV News.
"I really wanted to do a take on what Barbarella wore for part of it," the singer added. "She did like 100 costume changes but my favorite outfit she wore was this beige sort of spacesuit that was very short and had these built in, like, hip pads type thing and I really wanted to do a take on that, so that's where the inspiration for the outfit came from."
Grande admitted to Billboard magazine that she initially hated her vocals, which she sings ahead of the beat. It was Max Martin who had the job of convincing her to sing in what she called a "more forward placement." "I was like no, no, no! Please just let me sing it how I would sing it," she mock-whined. "But he was like, 'Just try it. Trust me.'"
To Grande's surprise she loved the results. "I was so pleased when I tried something that I thought - no, that I knew I would hate."
Grande slurs her vocals a bit in this song. She says that when her grandmother heard the song, she told Ariana, "I don't know what the hell you're saying, but that's OK, because you sound so beautiful." (quote from a Rolling Stone interview)