Midway through 2018, budding pop star MAX learned he had a polyp on one of his vocal cords. The discovery resulted in canceled tour dates, an operation and months of silence — as well as an unexpected shift in how the artist views music, relationships and life.
“I had this vocal surgery and I couldn’t speak for four months,” MAX tells Variety. “I got out of that and had a whole new perspective basically. I had a new lease of life. I appreciated every moment I could sing again.”
This feeling was the inspiration for his second album, “Colour Vision,” which was four years in the making and finally released on Sept. 18. The 12-track project is an ode to authenticity and self-acceptance, peppered with impressive vocals, power-pop choruses and jazzy instrumentals. The album also envelopes a slew of features from all across the genre spectrum, including rappers bbno$, Quinn XCIII and Felly, electro-funk duo Chromeo, singer-songwriter Hayley Kiyoko and SUGA from BTS. (Check out Variety‘s cover story on the K-pop stars here).
MAX met SUGA in Korea after they had been mutually admiring each other’s music from afar for a few years. Though SUGA’s fellow BTS member Jung Kook was also supposed to be at the meeting, MAX believes it was fate that brought him and SUGA together, because it laid the foundation for their close friendship.
As Max recalls: “We really got to sit there together and bond one-on-one, which, if there were more people in the room, who knows? It might not have been the same. I thought it would just be a little picture and maybe talk about our music, but we both really dove in. We love basketball and food and Korean barbecue and music — it felt like I had just met an old friend that I’d known for a long time.”
In February, SUGA was in the U.S. and MAX took him to his first L.A. Lakers basketball game, subsequently breaking the internet with this Instagram post.
Just a few months later, MAX appeared on the track “Burn It” from SUGA’s second solo album as Agust D, and SUGA returned the favor by rapping a verse on MAX’s “Blueberry Eyes.” Three days before the release of “Colour Vision,” MAX released a music video for the song, which SUGA couldn’t be a part of due to COVID-19. The visual is a burst of color, with blue being chief among them, showcasing the accelerated timeline of MAX and his wife Emily Cannon’s relationship. The two start off in a bathtub full of blueberries, get engaged, discover they are pregnant and get married — all in three minutes.
In real life, MAX and Cannon have been married since 2016 and are expecting their first child together in December, and MAX claims the video isn’t too far off from reality. “I got married to my wife in nine months. Everything happened so quickly, so we felt like it would be really fun to make an even quicker version of that in the music video as if it’s all in a day,” MAX says. “It felt like it could have a little bit of humor while reflecting our own story.”
MAX also found a way to honor SUGA’s contribution to the song. Besides a brief shot of a cat — BTS fans often joke that SUGA resembles one — MAX and Cannon learned the entirety of SUGA’s verse and lip-sync it in the video as they recite their wedding vows. Though MAX says they had to work hard to memorize it, especially at its fast speed, the rap has now become a sort of love language for the couple.
“We spent about two-and-a-half weeks on it,” says MAX. “Every night we would just do one line and we’d slow it down real slow, a little bit faster and then the real speed. Then we’d piece it together with the next line the next night. Now, we’ll just look at each other and start singing the Korean rap and it’s just another little connective tissue that’s fun to have as we grow.”
Along with MAX and SUGA’s collaborations came a whole new set of fans for MAX within BTS’ ARMY, for whom MAX says he has the upmost admiration and respect.
“They’ve been so receptive and warm and welcoming, and I know that they’re very cautious,” says MAX. “A lot of people try to use that for clout, or they just try and use them, and that’s so wrong and they can see through it, which is amazing. I think it’s been nice to see that they know that our relationship is authentic, and the music came authentically, and so they’ve been loving the song. It’s been amazing to have so many new people get to hear the music in a new way and really have it mean something to them.”
Many ARMY members are now also MAX devotees, which was evident during MAX’s livestream concert from L.A.’s Greek Theater on Sept. 24. Over 10,000 BTS and MAX fans blew up the chat with positivity, cheering MAX on as he delivered his first onstage performance in six months. He performed the entirety of “Colour Vision” with an impressive live band and dazzling light show, finally bringing the album he has worked so hard on to life. In a market inundated with stripped down livestreams, watching a show with full production value from a venue certainly helped to itch the live music scratch, even if there was no audience in the seats.
“For months, I didn’t perform live properly and the second I got back in with the band and sang ‘Colour Vision’ for the first time, I started to tear up,” MAX says of the performance. “This feeling that I had been ignoring for so long, this part of me that makes me feel alive, was vacant for so long. Being able to retap into that passion was so special.”