The first single from Ariana Grande's second album, the songstress performed the tune for the first time at the Radio Disney Music Awards on April 27, 2014.
The boisterous song was originally written by the American songwriter Savan Kotecha, who has co-penned many of One Direction's hit tunes. Ariana then worked on the track with Swedish hitmaker Max Martin, who previously created such hit tunes as "…Baby One More Time
," "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
" and "Roar
Ariana told MTV News of Max Martin: "He's amazing. I love working with him. He's like a mathematician. He knows music like math. It just makes sense to him."
The song finds Ariana singing about her insecurities about renewing a relationship with a former boyfriend whom she knows isn't good for her. "'Problem' truly represents the feeling of being absolutely terrified to re-approach a relationship that's gone sour - but you want to more than anything," she explained to Billboard magazine.
Ariana added that the song is based on her still-evolving relationship with an actual ex: "In the song, it ends on a sappy, negative note, but in [real] life, we're hoping it's going to end on a positive one," she said. "I feel like it's all very honest and human."
Rapper Big Sean provides the whisper-like vocals on the chorus. He previously featured on Ariana's 2013 single "Right There
This song ends abruptly with a drop in backing music and one final vocal embellishment from Ariana. Because it cuts out in the middle of all the action, it fakes the listener into expecting more of the song and leaves them hungry for more. Since the last bit they hear is Ariana's voice, there's a good chance they'll seek out more of her songs to satisfy the craving.
The song reached #1 on the iTunes singles chart in just 37 minutes after its release. This broke the previous record held by Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
," which reached the top position within 50 minutes.
Speaking about working with Ariana on the song, Azalea told MTV UK: "We'd actually been talking about doing a collaboration for about a year. We spoke about me being on her first album and it didn't end up happening and so it's great to be on her first single. It's a cool song, really good vibe."
This began as a track written by Kotecha that he gave the working title of "The Whisper Song," after a 2005 Ying Yang Twins hit. "I don't remember where I came up with it," he told Rolling Stone. "Maybe in an airplane bathroom. On my phone I have an audio note where I whisper, 'One less problem.'"
The Ying Yang Twins were originally brought in for the rapped part but they couldn't get it together, so Ariana pushed for Iggy Azalea instead.
Ariana was initially thrown by the muted chorus. "I was scared to approach it, because of the whispers," she admitted. "Their objective was to do the opposite of a traditional song structure. The idea was to have a really belt-y verse and then a completely minimalistic, whispering, basic chorus. At first, I just didn't like being all belt-y right away."
Iggy's line, "I got 99 problems but you won't be one" is a reference to the Jay Z song "99 Problems
," while "Iggy Iggy too biggie to be here stressin'" is a nod to The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize
Ariana originally didn't want to include "Problem" on her sophomore album, but was convinced of its potential after playing it in a meeting with her label and management. She decided to strengthen the song with the help of Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, whom she met while attending Katy Perry's MTV EMAs after-party in October 2013. "I was a fan of hers from when she put 'Work
' out," said Ariana of Iggy's 2013 single. "I thought she was so sensible and down-to-earth and talented."
There's no mistaking Azalea for anyone else in this song, mostly because she plugs herself three times (no one else does). In the intro, she announces "It's Iggy Iggs!" and in the rap bridge she introduces herself a second time and later adds:
When I ain't around you
Too biggie to be here stressin'
It's always a good idea to have a few big names in one song to amp up the potential for success, but Ariana Grande's guest stars also give her an edge on demographics. While her own voice - and rep as a Nickelodeon star - draws in young listeners from the pre-teen/mid-teen crowd, Big Sean's breathy whispers and Azalea's rap attract young adults (Big Sean also gives guys a way to relate to an otherwise female song), and the overall sound hooks the 30-and-up audience nostalgic for '90s R&B.
There shouldn't be a problem remembering this simple title - it's mentioned 34 times throughout the song.
This was the first #1 in the UK to be based on combined sales and streaming after audio streams were incorporated in the chart. In its first week of release the song achieved sales of 113,000 copies, comprising 106,000 sales and 712,000 streams. (According to the UK chart's new criteria, 100 streams is equivalent to one download sale).
Iggy Azalea is officially credited as a featured artist, making her the first ever female MC to reach the summit of the UK singles charts. The previous highest chart placing achieved by a female rapper was # 2, a position reached by Salt N' Pepa with "Push It
" and "Let's Talk About Sex" and Nicki Minaj with "Starships
There is a caveat - some chart watchers state that Missy Elliott was the first female rapper to top the UK chart, because of her 1998 rapped intro to Mel B's #1 "I Want You Back."
Grande's little laugh at the beginning of the song came from an attempt to ad-lib a saucy spoken vocal along the lines of what Britney Spears did ("It's Britney Bitch") at the top of "Gimme More
." When Grande tried it (at the urging for her producers), it came off more demonic than sexy, and they started laughing hysterically. Part of this laugh was incorporated into the song, just as Azalea introduces herself.