In the summer of 2014, Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj teamed up for the ultimate powerhouse anthem, ‘Bang Bang’. Immediately upon its release, on 28 July, fans and critics knew the song was something special.
As a collaboration featuring three leading women in pop – one of them a top raptress – ‘Bang Bang’ was a ‘Lady Marmalade’ for a new generation. Just as Maya, Pink, Christina Aguilera and Lil’ Kim had turned LaBelle’s hit 70s single into a 21st-century anthem, the playful wit and diva showboating of ‘Bang Bang’ ensured that the track’s soulful vibes and schoolyard chant would be ingrained in the pop-culture consciousness.
“I put my vocal on it, and it just felt special, exciting”
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Jessie J revealed the origins of the single. Revered hitmaker Max Martin initially sent her a demo of the track and the singer immediately fell in love with it. She reworked some of the lyrics while recording her parts at Metropolis Studios in London. “After Max sent it over, I rewrote some of the song and made it feel more me,” the singer recalled. “I put my vocal on it, and it just felt special, exciting.”
While she’d initially planned on including some new tracks on a US reissue of her 2013 studio album, Alive, the UK singer decided to save ‘Bang Bang’ for her third record, Sweet Talker. Stopping by during the recording session, both David Guetta and Emeli Sandé praised Jessie J’s vocals, but there were some missing pieces to the puzzle.
“I want to get Ariana to jump on it”
After hearing Jessie J’s contribution, the song’s producer and songwriter, Martin, pushed to get another powerhouse vocalist on the track. “I want to get Ariana to jump on it,” he told Jessie.
‘Bang Bang’ had originally been intended for Ariana Grande, who was in the process of completing her sophomore album, My Everything. To the disappointment of Martin, Savan Kotecha and Ilya Salmanzadeh – the same producers who delivered Grande’s hit single ‘Problem’, featuring Iggy Azalea – Ariana hated her original recording and scrapped it. Martin, however, envisioned creating an anthem that captured the spirit of old girl-group singles.
Wendy Goldstein, Executive VP/Head Of Urban A&R at Republic Records, also believed Grande was a great fit for the song. She convinced Monte Lipman, the label’s CEO, to set up a meeting with the star. Lipman played the collab version for Grande, who responded, “No way,” after hearing Jessie J’s part. She decided to give ‘Bang Bang’ another shot and ended up slotting it on the deluxe edition of My Everything.
“I was on the floor… I was like, This is insane”
What makes ‘Bang Bang’ stand apart from other collaborations is Nicki Minaj’s verse. Following Jessie J’s recording sessions, Minaj played the song one time, immediately knowing “it was special”. The summer of 2014 had been a busy one for the rapper: she was in the process of recording her third album, The Pinkprint, finessing her guest verse on Beyoncé’s ‘***Flawless (Remix)’ and preparing for the release of her controversial single ‘Anaconda’.
In an interview with Carson Daly, Minaj also remarked that Jessie J’s voice “does not get enough credit”. Prior to ‘Bang Bang’, Jessie J had wanted to collaborate with Minaj for a while, having her in mind for the 2011 song ‘Do It Like A Dude’. After hearing Minaj’s ‘Bang Bang’ verse, Jessie J knew the track was complete. Grande also was floored by the MC’s contribution. “I was on the floor,” Grande told Revolt TV. “It was a surprise to me; I was like, This is insane.”
“That’s what I feel like young women, especially, need to hear”
The group’s chemistry on record also translated to the accompanying music video, in which the trio take to the streets and rooftops of an imagined New York City, each getting their time to shine, showing off their individual talents. Jessie J didn’t even meet Grande or Minaj until the video shoot, after the song had already reached No.1 on iTunes.
Shot in two days in Los Angeles, the video was directed by Hannah Lux Davis, who made sure each star had equal screen time. Jessie J pointed out how “all three of us look so different, and we’re all equally confident”. The point of the video wasn’t for the singers to rival each other, but to celebrate their uniqueness as powerful women. “I’m not going to rival what she has, but I’ve got what I’ve got,” Jessie J told Rolling Stone. “That’s what I feel like young women, especially, need to hear.”
The video helped ‘Bang Bang’ continue its assault on the mainstream. After debuting at No.6 on Billboard’s Hot 100, it quickly moved up to the No.3 spot, becoming of the biggest summer anthems that year. The song also debuted at No.1 in the UK and became Grande’s second Top 10 single and second release to debut at the top spot that year.