Payphone (song)

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Single by Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifa
from the album Overexposed
Released April 17, 2012 (2012-04-17)
Recorded 2011; Conway Recording Studios (Los Angeles)
Genre Pop
Length 3:51
Label A&M/Octone
Maroon 5 singles chronology
"Moves like Jagger"
"One More Night"
Wiz Khalifa singles chronology
"I'm On"
"Till I Die"
Audio sample
file info · help
Music video
"Payphone" on YouTube

"Payphone" is a song performed by American pop rock band Maroon 5 featuring American rapper Wiz Khalifa. The song was released on April 17, 2012, as the lead single from their fourth studio album, Overexposed (2012). The song was written by Adam Levine, Benny Blanco, Ammar Malik, Robopop, Shellback and Khalifa and produced by Blanco and Shellback.[1] The song is a pop ballad and describes about a romance that ended abruptly. It has received favorable reviews from music critics, who praised the catchy melody and named it "a radio success", but some others dismissed its title and Khalifa's appearance.

The official music video, directed by Samuel Bayer, finds Levine taking down some bank robbers and attempting to become the "hero" in a hail of bullets as he makes his escape, steals a gun from a robber and then gets mistaken for one. Because of this, he must escape from a fleet of policemen, which he does with ease.[2] The video was positively received from critics, who considered it an enjoyable mini-action movie. The video was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award for Best Pop Video, but lost out to "What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction.[3]

On the Billboard Hot 100, the song debuted at the number three spot before peaking at number two. The song sold 493,000 copies in its first week, becoming the best sales week for a digital song by a group and also the eleventh-best sales week overall. It peaked at number one in Canada for eight consecutive weeks. It also topped the charts in the United Kingdom, making it the band's first ever single to do so. "Payphone" was the world's fifth best-selling single of 2012 with 9.5 million copies sold.[4]


Co-writer and co-producer Benny Blanco recalled American rapper Wiz Khalifa to write and sing a rap verse on "Payphone".

The song was written by Maroon 5's lead singer Adam Levine, along with Ammar Malik, Robopop, Benny Blanco, Shellback, and Wiz Khalifa, while production, programming, additional bass, keys, acoustic guitars and background vocals were provided by Shellback and Blanco.[1] Levine, Blanco, Shellback, and Malik also wrote the band's previous single "Moves Like Jagger".[5] The writing process started when Malik and Robopop constructed a piano line and demo track that Blanco compiled into a proper melody.[5] They gave it to Levine, who wrote the lyrics.[5] Blanco also wanted to throw a wrench into the Maroon 5 works by adding hip-hop flavor to the its sound, "I love when things don't make sense, like, 'Holy fuck!' You don't hear him on the song at all. I like when bands dip into a whole different genre."[5] For this, he commissioned Wiz Khalifa (whose singles "Work Hard, Play Hard" and "No Sleep" Blanco has previously produced) to write and rap a verse on "Payphone".[1] In an interview with Rolling Stone, Blanco told that five minutes before Khalifa arrived at the studio, he prepared "the sound beds for the finger snap-driven portion of the jam". However, producer Max Martin, who was the executive producer of Overexposed, adjusted the chorus, because he felt it should be a "little different".[5]

Shellback recorded "Payphone" at Conway Studios in Los Angeles alongside Noah "Mailbox" Pasovoy, while Eric Eylands served as the assistant engineer.[1] John Hanes mixed the song at Mixstar Studios in Virginia Beach and Phil Seaford was the mixing assistant.[1] Jeremy "Jbogs" Levin and David "D Silb" Silberstein served as production coordinators.[1] Khalifa appears as courtesy of Rostrum Records.[1] "Payphone" was released as a lead single from Overexposed. On April 17, 2012, it was digitally released in most territories.[6] A&M/Octone Records serviced the song to contemporary hit radio in the United States on April 24.[7] A CD single containing the album version of the song together with a Thomas Penton/Barry Huffine remix was released on June 8 in Germany.[8]


"Payphone" is a pop song that contains hip hop influences and has a duration of 3 minutes and 51 seconds.[9][10] Its instrumentation, which consists of funk guitars, bass and synths is accompanied by Levine's high falsetto.[1][9][11] "Payphone" is written in the key of B major (recorded in B major), in common time, with a tempo of 110 beats per minute.[12] Levine's vocal range spans from the low note of G♯3 to the high note of B5.[12] Thomas Chau from AOL Radio Blog called the song "mellow" and compared it to the band's previous singles "She Will Be Loved" (2004) and "Won't Go Home Without You" (2007).[13] Andrew Unterberger of Popdust agreed, and wrote that "it's got that same kind of mid-tempo blandness that’s caused casual fans to mix up ballads like 'Won’t Go Home Without You' and 'Never Gonna Leave This Bed' (2011)."[14]

The song begins with Levine performing an upper register read-through of the chorus backed by a simple keyboard. On the chorus, he sings: "I’m at a payphone trying to call home / All of my change I spent on you / Where have the times gone? / Baby, it’s all wrong / Where are the plans we made for two? / If happy ever after did exist / I would still be holding you like this / All those fairytales are full of shit / One more fucking love song, I’ll be sick".[11] Because this is their first song with profanity, "Shit" and "fucking" are intact, but have been replaced with "it" and "stupid" in the song's clean version. The clean version censors Wiz Khalifa's cursing as well. When Khalifa serves his verse, his rhymes don't speak of his love life, but rather his "haters": "I'll be out spending all this money while you sittin' 'round wondering why it wasn't you who came up from nothin' / Made it from the bottom now when you see me I'm stunnin'."[15] Amy Sciarretto from "Pop Crush" pointed out that the lyrics speak to Levine's breakup with girlfriend Anne Vyalitsyna.[11]

Critical reception[edit]

The song received positive reviews from music critics. Crystal Bell from Huffington Post called it "definitely one of the band's most pop-y singles to date."[16] Amy Sciarretto from Pop Crush commented that the song is "buoyant, airy and catchy" and wrote that it is "yet another melodically blithe single that will be dominating the airwaves."[11] Robbie Daw from Idolator wrote that the song is "extremely Top 40-friendly."[17] Melinda Newman from HitFix wrote that the song "is a straight-ahead pop ditty, that, like everything else these days, seems to take a page from Bruno Mars' "Grenade" for its shiny, military-like precise beat that still manages to sound convincingly warm. It's melodic and catchy, and but not overly aggressive.[18] Rick Florino of Artist Direct commented that the song "merges one of the band's biggest hooks with clever lines."[19] Robert Copsey from Digital Spy described it as "a shining example as an addictive head-nodder."[20]

Chris Payne from Billboard wrote that "The pop/R&B fling is far from a classic Maroon 5 cut, yet it serves as a testament to the band's continued rebranding and a reminder of how much the airwaves have changed since 'This Love' hit in 2004."[21] Andrew Unterberger from "Pop Dust" criticized Khalifa's verse, writing that "the group’s first rapper guest of note, can’t do much to spice up the proceedings, and it’s unclear if he even knows what the song he’s rapping on is about."[14] He also criticized the song's title, writing: "nobody’s seriously used a payphone in a dramatic life moment in a decade."[14] Another mixed review came from Entertainment Weekly's Marc Snetiker, who commented that "it’s pretty easy to replace the band’s signature electronic meta-funk with any of the boy band’s impish members, for example One Direction."[22] However, he concluded that "it's catchy, infectious, and overwhelmingly mellow."[22] Fraser McAlpine from BBC Music criticized his voice, writing: "Adam Levine fires up that nasal yelp as soon as the song begins, and does not let up until the fadeout."[23] McAlpine also wrote that "Wiz Khalifa gets more space at the front of the stage than the rest of his band do."[23]

Adam Markovitz from Entertainment Weekly concluded:

"Payphone is an alchemy of elemental pop-rock building blocks that conjures virile longing in the same corny-graceful way as past M5 hits like She Will Be Loved. Levine's voice soars, the piano and guitar hit notes of bitter nostalgia, and for once the words' hurt feels real. And whether by Pro-Tooled magic or old-fashioned sweat, the song also sounds remarkably like it was recorded in a studio by musicians who actually came together to play as a band — even if one of them was only dropping by on his way to the soundstage."[22]

The song ranked number 46 on Rolling Stone's list of the 50 best songs of 2012.[24]

Chart performance[edit]

In the United States, the song debuted on the Pop Songs chart at number 21, making it the highest-charting debut by a group since 'N Sync's "Pop" debuted at the same position in June 2001.[25] "Payphone" peaked at number one on the Billboard's Pop Songs chart, becoming their fourth number one.[26] On Pop Songs, the group makes it to back-to-back toppers, as its last entry, "Moves Like Jagger," featuring Christina Aguilera, reigned for six weeks beginning in October.[26] The band had likewise led consecutively with its first two number ones, "This Love" (three weeks) and "She Will Be Loved" (four) in 2004.[26] Wiz Khalifa, featured on the pop edit of "Payphone," scores his first Mainstream Top 40 number one.[26] On the Adult Pop Songs chart, "Payphone" debuted at number 17, the highest-ever debut by a group and the third-highest overall.[25] It also topped the Adult Pop Songs, becoming their fifth leader.[26] On Adult Pop Songs, Maroon 5 - whose number one ledger on the list includes its four Pop Songs leaders plus 2010's "Misery" - ties Nickelback for the most commanding titles among groups in the chart's 16-year history.[26]

"Payphone" sold 493,000 digital downloads in its first week and subsequently debuted at number one on the Hot Digital Songs chart, the best sales week ever for a digital song by a group, surpassing The Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow", which topped the chart with sales of 464,000 units in April 2009.[27] It is also the eighth-best sales week overall since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking digital downloads in 2003.[28] The song debuted at number three on the Billboard Hot 100. It failed to reach number one, peaking at number two on that chart for six non-consecutive weeks, being blocked from the top spot by Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" and Carly Rae Jepsen's smash hit of the summer, "Call Me Maybe". On its 18th week in the top ten, "Payphone" dropped to number seven on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the first time the song was not a part of the top five.[28] It also spent its first nineteen weeks in the top ten. Over 5 million copies of the song had been sold in the United States by March 2013,[29] and as of June 2014, it has sold 5,510,000 copies in the US.[30]

On the Canadian Hot 100 chart, the song debuted at number 2, for the issue dated May 5, 2012.[31] The following week, the song fell to number 3,[32] where it remained for a further week.[33] The following week, the song climbed to number 2[34] and on the chart issue dated June 2, 2012, the song topped the Canadian charts.[35] For the following seven weeks, the song remained at the top,[36] spending a total of eight weeks at the top.[37]

In the United Kingdom, "Payphone" debuted at number one on the UK Singles Chart. It remained at the top of the chart for two non-consecutive weeks and became both Maroon 5's and Wiz Khalifa's first chart-topping song in Britain.[38] It sold over 141,000 copies, which marks the third week in a row that the number one single broke the 100,000 barrier after Gary Barlow and Cheryl Cole. According to the Official Charts Company, the song sold 725,000 copies in the United Kingdom in 2012, becoming Britain's ninth best-selling single of that year.[39]

"Payphone" had sold 68,000 digital copies in Italy.[40]

Music video[edit]

Lyric video[edit]

The lyric video for the song premiered on April 16, 2012 on Maroon 5's VEVO channel. The clip is in an animated graphic novel style, drawn in panels. The clip shows the main character, presumably frontman Adam Levine, looking back on his relationship and heroically fighting monsters, rescuing old women from muggers, etc. Towards the end, Wiz Khalifa appears in a hoodie, acting as Levine's crime-fighting sidekick.

Official video[edit]

A still from the video, where Adam Levine is at a phone booth, making a call from a payphone.

On April 19, 2012, Levine was spotted shooting the video, making a call from a Los Angeles phone booth, fleeing from the police with Victoria's Secret model Bregje Heinen and speeding away in a classic sports car.[41][42] The official music video was directed by Samuel Bayer and was released on May 10, 2012. The video was reportedly similar to high-action FPS video game, Payday: The Heist. The car used in the video, a custom 1967 Shelby Cobra, was a kit-car hand built by car enthusiast Jim Fletcher from Fresno, CA.


The video begins with a flashforward that starts with a beleaguered Levine torching his ride and dialing a telephone number at a payphone. Another typical day at a Las Vegas (seen from the decals on the police cars) bank for Levine is shown next, which turns into chaos when some bandits enter and take charge (some of the bank robbers are played by the other members of the band: guitarist James Valentine, drummer Matt Flynn, bassist Mickey Madden and keyboardist, previously a touring Maroon 5 member, PJ Morton) – all of this happens while the song plays in the background. Levine grabs a gun from one of the robbers and threatens to get rid of them. He and his female co-worker (played by Dutch model Bregje Heinen) escape, though Levine is shot in the arm, but when some cops mistake him for one of the robbers, Levine tells the female co-worker to hide in a car and steals an AC Cobra 427 that belongs to Wiz Khalifa to get away from them. A car chase follows and when Levine is almost caught by the police, he steers the stolen convertible onto the wrong side of the road and causes a huge explosion, which destroys one of the police cars. When he finally reaches his destination in Los Angeles, he passes by a place where Wiz Khalifa, the owner of the car, performed his rap earlier. After Levine gets out of the convertible, it also explodes and he enters a booth, injured, with the titular payphone, probably to call for help (it is also likely that he is calling his female co-worker) – this connects to the beginning of the video.[43]


Amy Sciarretto of Pop Crush wrote that "This vid unfolds like a mini-movie, with lots of thrills, action and hot pursuit. Bring on the summer blockbusters!"[44] Natalie Finn of E! News gave a positive review for the video, writing that "Adam Levine looks just as good as a buttoned-up bank employee as he does as a dirty, wounded fugitive trying to outrun the cops."[45] Becky Bain of Idolator wrote that "The clip is an enjoyable mini-blockbuster, but it’s still missing one important ingredient: Adam Levine without a shirt."[46] Rebecca Ford of The Hollywood Reporter gave a mixed review, writing: "Although it's fun to see such a big-budget clip from the band, the story line doesn't make complete sense. Since Levine's character didn't rob the bank, why does he keep running from the cops? And why does he leave the pretty lady behind?"[47]

The video was nominated for an MTV VMA for Best Pop Video.[48]

Live performances[edit]

On April 16, 2012, Maroon 5 and Wiz Khalifa performed the song for the first time on The Voice, a reality talent show, in which lead singer Adam Levine is one of the judges and coaches.[49] "Payphone" was also performed, for the first time at a proper Maroon 5 concert, during the band's special performance for the Grand Opening of the Microsoft Store in Palo Alto, California, on April 21, 2012. Adam Levine sang the lines from the alternative version of the song, without the rap, released officially on April 18, 2012, just two days after its world premiere on The Voice and also on iTunes: "Now, baby, don't hang up / So I can tell you what you need to know / Baby, I'm begging you / Just, please, don't go / So I can tell you what you need to know." in lieu of Wiz Khalifa's rap verse. They also performed the song, in a medley with "Moves like Jagger", on the UK final of the 1st series of The Voice on 2 June 2012. On June 29, 2012, Maroon 5 performed "Payphone" on the Today Show,[50] where they also played "One More Night", "Moves like Jagger" and "Harder to Breathe".[50]

Track listings[edit]

CD single
No. Title Length
1. "Payphone" (featuring Wiz Khalifa) (Explicit version) 3:51
2. "Payphone" (featuring Wiz Khalifa) (Thomas Penton/Barry Huffine Remix) 4:05
Digital download
No. Title Length
1. "Payphone (Explicit Version)" (featuring Wiz Khalifa) 3:51
2. "Payphone (Clean Version)" (featuring Wiz Khalifa) 3:51
UK and Ireland digital EP
No. Title Length
1. "Payphone" (featuring Wiz Khalifa) 3:51
2. "Payphone" (No Rap Edit) 3:42
3. "Payphone" (featuring Wiz Khalifa) (Thomas Penton/Barry Huffine Remix) 4:05
4. "Payphone" (featuring Wiz Khalifa) (The Sound of Arrows Remix) 5:02

Credits and personnel[edit]

  • Adam Levine – lead vocals, songwriting
  • Benjamin Levin (Benny Blanco) – songwriter, producer, engineer, programming, additional keyboards and synths
  • Mickey Madden - bass guitar
  • PJ Morton - keyboards, synthesizers, backing vocals
  • Matt Flynn – drums
  • Ammar Malik – songwriter
  • Dan Omelio (Robopop) – songwriter, additional production, additional keyboards, synthesizers and guitars
  • Shellback – songwriter, producer, recording, programming, additional bass, keyboards, synthesizers, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
  • Wiz Khalifa – featured guest artist, rap verse, songwriting
  • James Valentine - lead and rhythm guitar, programming
  • Bradford Smith – engineer
  • Chris Sclafani – engineer
  • Jonathan Mann – engineer
  • Noah "Mailbox" Passovoy – recording
  • Eric Eylands – assistant engineer
  • John Hanes – mix engineer
  • Phil Seaford – assistant mix engineer
  • Andrew "Muffman" Luftman – assistant engineer
  • Scott "Yarmov" Yarmovsky – assistant engineer
  • Sam "Såklart" Holland – assistant engineer
  • Jeremy "Jboogs" Levin – production coordination
  • David "D Silb" Silberstein – production coordination

Charts and certifications[edit]

Radio and release history[edit]

Country Date Format Label
Argentina[136] April 17, 2012 Digital download A&M/Octone Records
Czech Republic[140]
New Zealand[145]
United States[149]
United States[7] April 24, 2012 Contemporary hit radio
Germany[8] June 8, 2012 CD single Universal Music
United Kingdom[150] June 8, 2012 Digital download A&M/Octone Records

Precision Tunes version[edit]

Single by Precision Tunes
Released April 17, 2012 (2012-04-17)
Format Digital download
Recorded 2012
Genre Pop
Length 3:51
Label PT Records

In April 2012, a cover of the song by Precision Tunes was released for digital download. Due to the Maroon 5 original not being available for purchase in the United Kingdom at the time, with the release date for their version set in June 2012, the Precision Tunes version of the song was met with a large influx of downloads there. Downloads of the cover caused this version of "Payphone" debut at number 83 on the UK Singles Chart. The following week, it hit the top ten of the chart, peaking at number nine.[151]

Track listing[edit]

Digital download
No. Title Length
1. "Payphone" (Maroon 5 ft. Wiz Khalifa Tribute) 3:51


Chart (2012) Peak
UK Indie (Official Charts Company)[152] 2
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[153] 9
Scotland (Official Charts Company)[154] 4

Release history[edit]

Region Date Format Label
United Kingdom April 17, 2012[155] Digital download PT Records


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