"Problem" is a song recorded by American singer Ariana Grande, featuring Australian rapper Iggy Azalea. It was written by both alongside Savan Kotecha, Ilya and Max Martin, being produced by the latter two with Shellback, with Peter Carlsson serving as a vocal producer. The song was released by Republic Records on April 28, 2014, as the lead single from Grande's second studio album My Everything (2014). "Problem" is an uptempo dance-pop song with influences of R&B music, which comprises a melody based on drums, saxophone loops, and trumpets. The chorus features uncredited background vocals from American hip hop artist Big Sean. Lyrically, Grande has stated that the song is about "the feeling of being absolutely terrified to re-approach a relationship that's gone sour – but you want to more than anything."
The song debuted at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 selling 438,000 copies in its first week on sale, earning Grande her biggest digital song sales week ever. The song later peaked at number two, surpassing "The Way" as her highest-charting single in the United States. It also became Azalea's second-highest charting single in the US, after her own single "Fancy". "Problem" remained in the top ten of the Hot 100 for the first sixteen weeks of its chart run, making its number three debut on May 7, 2014 and dropping out of the top ten on August 27, 2014. It topped the US Mainstream Top 40 and Rhythmic charts. Internationally, the single debuted at the top of the charts in Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland and the United Kingdom, while peaking within the top ten of the charts in most other territories, including Australia, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, and Greece. "Problem" became the first song to top the UK Singles chart based on both sales and streaming.
To promote the song, Grande performed it first at the 2014 Radio Disney Music Awards, followed by the 2014 iHeartRadio Music Awards, on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards. The song's accompanying music video was directed by Nev Todorovic and premiered on Vevo on May 30, 2014. It won "Best Pop Video" at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards and has been viewed more than 1.1 billion times. The song itself won "Best Song" at the 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards.
As of 2018, the single has sold 3.7 million copies in the US and has been certified sextuple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in March 2016. It ultimately reached combined sales and track-equivalent streams of 9 million units worldwide, becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time.
In late 2013, Grande began working on My Everything with producers from her previous album as well as new producers. It was announced on March 3, 2014, that Grande would be featured on the fifth single from Chris Brown's sixth studio album X titled "Don't Be Gone Too Long". The single was originally set for release on March 25, 2014, however, was postponed due to Brown being sent to jail awaiting trial on assault charges. Grande had announced the songs delay on March 17, 2014 and two days later following the announcement Grande revealed due the songs delay, she would be releasing the first single from her, at that time, upcoming sophomore studio album instead. After recording multiple songs for the album, Grande stated that she had chosen the first single from her album. On April 15, 2014, it was officially announced that "Problem" would be the title of the lead single from the album. Initially while recording songs for the album, after Grande had recorded "Problem", she "fell out of love" with the song and didn't want it to appear on her second album. However, following an album listening session with her management and record label, when "Problem" came on Grande decided to keep it for the album. The song was supposed to feature rapper Nicki Minaj but she said she was doing too many collaborations at the time. Grande tried to make a remix of it featuring Iggy and Nicki, but Nicki refused as she vowed never to work with another female rapper.
Promotion and release
Grande first released promotional images from the single's photo shoot all throughout March 2014. On April 10, 2014, Grande asked her fans to choose between two new possible images to be used for the single's artwork release. After the votes were tallied, she revealed the winning cover artwork through her Instagram account the next day with the hashtag #10daystilproblem and revealed that Iggy Azalea would be assisting her on the track. Grande began an online countdown to the song's release with promotional posters made by Jones Crow. All of the hashtags for the countdown to the song (#11DaysUntilProblem, #10DaysUntilProblem, etc.) trended on Twitter. Grande released two teasers for the song; one features her singing the pre-chorus and the other features Iggy rapping her verse. The single was made available for pre-order on April 21, 2014. Following her debut performance of "Problem" at the Radio Disney Music Awards, the song was released at midnight on iTunes on April 28, 2014. Three hours after its release "Problem" shot to number one on the iTunes singles charts in over 30 countries.
Musically, "Problem" is an uptempo dance-pop song with influences of R&B music[ that incorporates elements of jazz, contemporary '90s R&B, hip hop and funk[ which comprises the instruments like drums, saxophones and trumpets.It runs for a duration of three minutes and 14 seconds. The song was written by Grande, Azalea, Savan Kotecha, Ilya Salmanzadeh and Max Martin, and produced by the latter two along with Shellback. According to the sheet music published by Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. on Musicnotes.com, "Problem" is composed in the key of G♯ minor and set in common time at a moderate tempo of 103 beats per minute. The melody spans the tonal range of G♯3 to G♯5 belt and E♭6 in head voice, while the music follows the chord progression of Emaj7–F♯–B– Emaj7–F♯–G♯m.
Upon release, "Problem" received critical acclaim. Mike Wass of Idolator described the song as "an odd blend of '90s pop and current urban trends (the trap-lite breakdown and a sax hook a la Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty") but there's no denying that it's catchy." Entertainment Weekly called the song a "dramatic reinvention," and also notes, "The idea that Grande was collaborating with bad girl du jour Iggy Azalea prompted all kinds of speculation, and the result is more or less what everybody expected: Grande's enviable pipes are still the centerpiece, but she also invites a sax-drunk loop, sexy whisper tracks, and Azalea's Jay Z-referencing high-speed verse to the party as well." Music Times commented that "the saxophone-filled track continues the pattern set by Grande's 2013 debut album Yours Truly by being heavily influenced by the '90s R&B scene. This time, 'Problem' pulls from the funky, funky streets with a jazz-influenced riff. An overwhelming (but welcome) dose of saxophone leads the song before the more modern drum-filled beat drops." Pitchfork named it "Best New Track" saying the track "bears all the hallmarks of a future smash as if the future wasn't actually right now."
Upon its release, the song reached the number one position on the US iTunes Store song chart in 37 minutes, breaking the previous record, which reached number one within 50 minutes. In the United States, "Problem" debuted at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, eventually peaking at #2, and sold 438,000 copies in its first week. This was the fourth largest first-week sales for a female in history and the tenth largest overall. The song has also sold over a million copies and has earned platinum certification.
- This is the second song that Big Sean provided vocals for, with the first being "Right There", however, he wasn't credited unlike in "Right There".
- Problem's album cover is actually heels with socks. In the music video, Grande used boots.
- The official music video hit 1 billion views on May 26, 2017.
- Promotional photos were inspired by Austin Powers.
- At the beginning of the song, it was thought that Grande instead of laughing, said "I'm Back", but according to her it sounded dark, so she laughed and that laughter was recorded and used in the final version of the song.