Adam Levine and the gang are at it again.
“What Lovers Do,” the third single from Maroon 5’s sixth studio album, Red Pill Blues, landed just as the summer ended. And this time, it isn’t just Levine who takes center stage.
Rising R&B artist SZA joins Maroon 5 on the band’s latest venture. The track boasts a lighthearted pop feel: Levine reaches for the high notes as always, his famous falsetto paired with SZA’s sultrier sound. Together, they collaborate in pretty straightforward song about love and, well, what lovers do.
Levine begins with a blunt request: “Let’s get one thing straight now, baby/Tell me, tell me if you love me or not.” He wants to know whether “I bet the house on you,” and he asks this woman, “Am I lucky or not?” He’s put all his metaphorical cards on the table, and he wants to know if his gamble’s going to pay off.
But even as though he’s singing about love, the song’s real subject soon comes into clearer focus. Levine coos, “Ooh, ooh/Been wishin’ for you.” And he’s not just talking about going for a nice hand-holding walk, having ice cream or sharing a drink with two straws. No, Levine’s got a certain kind of loving on his mind. And he’s not shy when he soon says he wants to “try to do what lovers do.”
SZA responds, “Say, say, say, hey, hey now, baby/You gon’ make me hit you with that lay down, baby (oh).” Then she adds, “You know what I need, you don’t have to cave now, baby.”
So … is that a yes? A no? Or maybe?
A verse in the middle of the song hints that each of these two would-be lovers apparently wants what the other has to offer, but perhaps neither is willing to commit fully. Together, they sing, “Aren’t we too grown for games/Aren’t we too grown to play around?” There’s some self-awareness here (“Young enough to chase/But old enough to know better”), paired with an admission that perhaps neither of them can emotionally afford the casual sexual affair they’re flirting with: “I can’t wait forever, baby/Both of us should know better.”
But it’s not at all clear that either of them actually does know better. And perhaps she’s still playing hard to get when the song comes to a close.
The video, directed by Joseph Kahn, focuses more on pursuit than the actual act that “lovers do.” Its whimsical humor visually echoes The Cars’ groundbreaking 1984 video for “You Might Think.” As in that video, Levine spends much of this one futilely pursuing the object of his affection, played by SZA here.
The video begins with a pastoral scene of two children lying in the grass, butterflies fluttering overhead. A digital deer hysterically sings the song’s first lines. Then the boy begins chasing the girl through the meadow under increasingly stormy skies. (A very Wizard of Oz-ish tornado swirls menacingly in the background.) The boy eventually chases the girl up a tree, while various creatures (a flower, a squirrel, a triceratops) take turns singing. Unable to reach his young crush, the young boy falls from the tree, landing as a fully grown Adam Levine.
From there, Levine’s pursuit of an equally full-grown (and sometimes very revealingly attired) SZA continues. That triceratops absurdly comes along for the ride through an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of scenery. At one point, SZA’s a mermaid. At another, Levine’s basically King Kong.
It’s clear that there’s a game in progress … and that Levine is losing. One scene pictures SZA wearing gloves that proclaim: “POWER.” She’s got it. He doesn’t. Another vignette takes place at a poker table. Levine’s convinced his pair of kings will be good for the win, but he’s trumped once more by SZA’s pair of aces.
As the video concludes, Levine awakes (as if from a dream) banged up in a hospital, with SZA attending to him in a very skimpy nurse’s uniform. She smiles coyly, perhaps suggesting that even though his would-be lover is constantly within reach, she’s never actually attainable.
All in all, “What Lovers Do” isn’t the most explicit song (or video, for that matter) that Maroon 5’s ever done. But like so many other tunes from Adam Levine’s band, the sexual subtext here is impossible to miss. The song’s lyrics and its accompanying video combine to send a message that love (and sex, for that matter) is little more than a game, one that you’re never too old to play … even if you know deep down that the stakes in this game are higher than any poker table.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, loving raising their little guy, Judah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).