Maroon 5’s latest single “What Lovers Do” featuring SZA may be a perfect karaoke song. You can learn the entire song on a single listen, you only have to be able to sing less than a dozen notes altogether, and you don’t have to keep track of that many words. All this, and that everyone in the room will love it — despite it being exhaustingly unimaginative.
“What Lovers Do” is a perfectly delightful song, but it shouldn’t exist. Longtime fans of Maroon 5 have harbored resentment toward the band since Overexposed for its rapid launch into punchy mainstream sap. But no one can really fault Maroon 5 for its evolution of identity — a band that’s been around for more than a decade could never be expected to maintain the same style album after album. The tragedy behind “What Lovers Do,” and behind Maroon 5 as a band, is not a change in identity — it is the stripping of any identity whatsoever.
The song could have been written by anyone, sung by anyone, played by anyone. Even Levine’s iconic falsetto cannot save the song from its own monotony, as it’s masked under synthesized instrumentals and a robotic tone. In fact, one might hesitate to even call this a Maroon 5 song; only Adam Levine is an identifiable presence, while bandmates James Valentine, Jesse Carmichael, Mickey Madden, PJ Morton and Matt Flynn may as well have been replaced by laptops.
SZA’s relaxed, soulful touch offers some measure of variability, the same way Wiz Khalifa spices up “Payphone” and Christina Aguilera is the highlight on “Moves Like Jagger.” If nothing else, this collaboration is certainly a step up from Kendrick Lamar’s awkwardly unnecessary feature on Maroon 5’s 2016 single “Don’t Wanna Know.”
About two minutes into the song, you’re surprised that it’s still going. You can listen to “What Lovers Do” on repeat and not notice when it ends and begins again — the song is essentially one long chorus, a blurry collection of infectiously catchy but painfully familiar melodies. Arguably, that’s the nature of hit pop singles: a precise application of a formula that no one admits to liking but secretly treasures.
And we all will secretly treasure this song. Fans asked the band for anything but another basic pop track, but it’s undeniable that the song is irresistible, from its rhythmically playful opening through its methodically danceable beat, all the way through the slowed-down bridge that ultimately builds to the excited conclusion.
It’s the exact brand of pop that simultaneously keeps Maroon 5 alive while also spelling its death — maintaining the band’s mainstream relevance while directly sabotaging its own artistry.