Since the release of his debut studio album, 31 Minutes to Takeoff (2010), American singer and songwriter Mike Posner started writing material to be included in his follow-up record, titled Pages. One of the songs set to be included in the album was "Sugar", which Adam Levine heard and wanted to have it on the upcoming Maroon 5 album, on which Posner declined. However, in 2014, he switched labels and announced that Pages would not be launched, instead of it a new body of music would be released. In an interview with, Billboard, Posner elaborated, "Well, this is just gonna sit on my laptop' so I gave it to them and when they recorded the song Adam added his flavor to it and he wrote on it as well, lyrically and some melodic things, and he really sang it well. I'm a big fan, so I'm glad they did it." The final version of "Sugar" was written by Levine, Posner, Lukasz Gottwald, Jacob Kasher Hindlin, Joshua Coleman and Henry Walter. The production of the song was done by the latter two under their respective production names Ammo and Cirkut.
The lead vocals were sung by Levine, with additional vocals provided by singer Posner who co-wrote the track. "Sugar" was recorded at Conway Recording Studios in Hollywood, Dr. Luke in the Boo in Malibu and The Mothership in Sherman Oaks while it was mixed at MixStar Studios in Virginia Beach. Doug McKean, Clint Gibbs, Noah Passovoy and Jonathan Sher all served as engineers of the song, while John Armstrong, Eric Eylands, Rachael Findlen and Cameron Montgomery helped them finish the engineering, serving as additional engineers. John Hanes was the mixing engineer while all the instrumentation and programming was provided by Maroon 5, Dr. Luke, Ammo and Cirkut. Artie Smith was the instrument technician. Interscope Records serviced the song to contemporary hit radio in the United States on January 13, 2015. The same day, the band unveiled the official artwork for the single that features red-colored lips holding a sugar cube; Mike Wass of Idolator called it "candy-colored". On March 10, a remix of the song, featuring Trinidadian rapper Nicki Minaj, was digitally released via the iTunes Store.
"Sugar" is a disco, funk-pop, and soul song with a length of three minutes and fifty-six seconds. It features a wide range of instruments including guitars provided by James Valentine, Jesse Carmichael and Dr. Luke, bass played by Mickey Madden and synth bass provided by Dr. Luke. The drums were provided by Matt Flynn and Cirkut while PJ Morton, Jesse Carmichael, Dr. Luke, Ammo and Cirkut contributed to the keyboards and synthesizers. Musically, "Sugar" combines the grooves of the funk and "synth-driven" of the 1980s music nostalgia feeling. It contains elements of new wave. According to Kobalt Music Publishing's digital sheet music for the song, "Sugar" is composed in the key of D major (recorded a half-step lower in D ♭ major) and set in common time signature, and has a moderate groove of 120 beats per minute. Levine's vocals span from the low note of D4 to the high note of F5, over one octave higher.
Kyle Anderson of Entertainment Weekly noted the reminiscence of "Sugar" to the music of singer Bruno Mars. Brad Wete of Billboard magazine compared the song's production to that of Katy Perry's 2014 single "Birthday", which was also produced by Cirkut, together with Dr. Luke. Similarly, Rolling Stone's Jon Dolan compared the song to the works of Perry and wrote that the "funk-guitar licks zip across a spry, sun-drunk groove as Levine sings..." Lyrically, Levine sings the lines to his romantic interest, "I just wanna be there where you are/And I gotta get one little taste". The song's lyrics use the word "sugar" to describe coitus. Jon Caramanica of The New York Times wrote that on the Levine sounds most lecherous while singing the lyrics “I want that red velvet, I want that sugar sweet.” According to him "he croons so cleanly it's possible to imagine that he is truly singing about cake."
In a review of V, Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic wrote that the best moments on the album "are when Maroon 5 embrace the tuneful, slightly soulful adult contemporary pop band they've always been, as they do on 'Sugar'" among other songs. Alexa Tietjen of VH1 stated that the track is a "radio-friendly pop song". Mike Wass of Idolator labeled the song a "ridiculously catchy jam". Similarly, Saeed Saeed of The National called the song a "highlight" on V and further stated that it "has a bullseye of a chorus that will have you singing along immediately". PopMatters' Annie Galvin praised the song and wrote that it "hits a sweet spot by layering a subtly funky guitar pulse over gossamer synths and multiple tracks of Levine’s easy-on-the-ears upper range." On the negative side, Anderson of Entertainment Weekly called the song "simultaneously empty and cluttered".
Following the release of V, "Sugar" debuted and peaked at number 13 and number 77 on the South Korean International and South Korean Gaon Chart respectively. After the song and its accompanying video was released, it gathered attention at the digital media outlets. Billboard predicted that in its first week the song is set to debut in the top 25 with digital sales of over 150,000 copies. For the week dated January 31, 2015, "Sugar" debuted at number eight on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. It became Maroon 5's third song to debut in the top ten of the chart; their previous singles "Moves like Jagger" (2011) debuted same at number eight and "Payphone" (2012) debuted higher, at number three. Consequently, it became the band's 11th top ten hit and their eighth in row. "Sugar" peaked at number two on the chart for four consecutive weeks, behind "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars. The song spent 21 weeks in the top ten of the chart before falling 10-12 on the chart issue dated June 27, 2015. This marks the longest time the band has spent in the top ten of the chart, along with "Moves Like Jagger" and "One More Night", which also spent 21 weeks in the top ten. As of August 2015, it has sold 3.3 million copies in the United States.
In 2014, film director David Dobkin was in Rome, Italy, for the premiere of his film, The Judge. During his stay there, he received an e-mail from Levine asking him to direct the band's new music video, "I’ve known Adam for over a decade. I met him before the first Maroon 5 album came out. My wife’s parents are best friends with his grandparents and I spend Christmas with him every year. So we’ve known each other for a long time and always talked about doing something together but were never able to get our schedules lined up." After he agreed to film the video for "Sugar", they started bouncing around ideas for its concept. Dobkin wanted the video to be about the band's connection with their audience and wanted elements of real people and Los Angeles, Levine's hometown. In an interview with VH1, the director revealed, "Then the idea came up of, what if they went to real weddings and showed up as the surprise wedding band?". When Levine heard the idea, he loved it.
In 2005, Dobkin directed the film Wedding Crashers in which Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn played the characters of John Beckwith and Jeremy Grey. They star as "two dashing rogues who sneak into nuptials in search of lovelorn bridesmaids." The film received positive reviews from movie critics and was a box office success earning over $285 million worldwide. Dobkin revealed, "For 10 years everyone asks me to do something related to that movie. I’ve never wanted to go back there, just because it’s something that worked so well. But we locked in on this idea and thought it would be great. And then it was like, holy shit, how do we pull this off?" After the concept was decided on, they started preparing the wedding crashes. At the beginning, Dobkin thought that no one should know about the crash and filming. After some rethinking, however, he decided that at least one person should know about it. So they informed only the grooms and decided to keep the secret from the brides. The grooms were not, however, told the name of the band; they were only told that they are very popular and had won several Grammy Awards. The next step was deciding how, at the beginning of each performance, the band would hide. Dobkin designed and had built a drop-down tent, where a button was pressed, causing the curtains drop to the floor. After that, Dobkin visited many wedding planners in Los Angeles and visited a number of the locations where weddings would be happening, in order to decide which location at the site would be the best for setting up the tent.
The music video was filmed in Los Angeles, California. It was shot at several ballrooms, located at various locations around the city, where weddings were happening. One of the ballrooms was at the Park Plaza Hotel, a very popular location for celebrations and parties. A week before filming the video commenced, Dobkin went to see the band, who were rehearsing for the visual. During the meeting, Levine questioned the concept, "What if people don't like us? What happens if we ruin the bride's moment?" That was the first time they started wondering "What if we're ruining someone's most special day?" In order to prevent that from happening, Levine got an idea: after performing "Sugar", he and the band's guitarist, James Valentine would perform an acoustic version of their 2004 single "She Will Be Loved" just for the bride and the groom. The dance floor would be cleared of everyone except for the newlyweds and the song would be another traditional "First Dance" for the newlyweds. According to Dobkin, that was a very good idea. "That's awesome. It's just sick romantic."
A few days before shooting began, most of the grooms started getting nervous and wanted to cancel the wedding crash. Dobkin met with each of them and talked them out of canceling. At one point, he told them that the mysterious band is in fact Maroon 5. Eventually, it turned out that most of them were fans of Maroon 5 and "Adam from The Voice" and had positive responses for performing "She Will Be Loved" after shooting "Sugar". "There's no way she could be mad at me after that." Before filming the video, the band invited, via Twitter, their fans to take part in the shoots. Prior to the filming of each sequence, the production team had approximately 20 minutes to enter the location and begin building the tent, while the band tried to get in unnoticed. During the first wedding, which was a Jewish wedding, the bride and the groom were sitting in their chairs and while the tent was being constructed, Dobkin received a call on his radio saying that the band was stuck in the elevator. Eventually, they got out of the elevator and had to run nine floors in order to get to the ballroom in time for filming. Dobkin recalled that when the performance of "Sugar" finished, the members of the band looked at him like they wanted to say, "Oh my God. That was awesome! Where's the next one?"
In a press release for the video, Levine stated, "It was an out of body experience. I had no idea I would be affected by the overwhelming reactions we received from the couples and guests. Being able to create an unforgettable experience for several people was the highlight of it all." He also spoke with Kevin Frazier of Entertainment Tonight and told him how it was stressful to arrange the whole video. However, the brides and grooms were shocked that the band crashed their wedding. He added, "It was a lot of fun. It felt good to kind of surprise these people and make them happy. Happy that they liked our band too. It would have been a total disaster [if not]." A representative for Duke Photography, who photographed the weddings, has said, "It was an incredible surprise and everyone at the wedding is going to cherish those memories." The video for "Sugar" premiered on January 14, 2015 via the band's Vevo channel on YouTube. It was available for digital download the same day, via the iTunes Store in Canada and the United States. It received its television premiere on January 17 at 9 a.m. EST on VH1 Top 20 Video Countdown.
The video starts with the members of the band getting out of a location, with Levine saying, "It's December 6, 2014. We're going to drive across L.A. and hit every wedding we possibly can." After the speech he gets into the car and starts driving. Subsequently, a van parks near the Park Plaza Hotel where a wedding is happening in its ballroom. A group of people get out of it, enter the building and start constructing a secret scene while the guests are surprised and start wondering what's happening. One guest stands up and starts arguing with the builders, while scenes are intercut with Maroon 5 driving around the city and Levine singing the lyrics of the song. The band gets in front of the hotel and sneaks into the building while the whole situation is happening; they are getting into the white sheets where the instruments are set in. As they are set they call the bride and the groom to stand in front of them and get the curtains down; when they see them the bride starts to scream happily, while the groom gets confused. After that they start smiling and all the guests get up and start dancing to the song.
Scenes are intercut with the band driving again, getting to another wedding and are sneaking inside the building where its happening. Similar situation happens there when they show to the guests which are both surprised and happy. While driving around Los Angeles, some girls recognize the band and take picture with Valentine. During the last of the video, the band crashes in five more weddings leaving the people surprised. The video concludes with the guests of the weddings giving applause to the band, while Maroon 5's members cheer with the newlyweds. At the very ending of the visual, Levine says to the guests "Thank you guys, this was the coolest thing we did ever, ever, ever, ever..."
According to Ryan Reed of Rolling Stone, in the video the band channels the roles of actors Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers while surprising the audience with their performance of "Sugar". The Daily Telegraph's Catherine Gee thought that the video proves that "not a soul in Los Angeles would mind if the rock band arrived at their reception unannounced and performed their new single". Elias Leight of Billboard noted that the reaction of the people in the crash ranged from screaming, pointing, then shouting, while in the end they were finally dancing. He also noted that the women were quicker to recognize Levine than the men. Melodi Smith of CNN wrote that the looks of faces in the rooms are "priceless: delight, tears, confusion". Jennifer Maas of Entertainment Weekly noted how every groom should be embarrassed of Levine hugging his bride after the end of performance and wrote, "All in all, if this is somehow an authentic stunt, the music video director totally stole the thunder of those couples' wedding videographers."
Steven Gottlieb of Video Static called the video "fun" and a "gambit" with a goal just to surprise the wedding and not to pick up drunk bridesmaids, a reference to Wedding Crashers. Elizabeth Vanmetre of Daily News wrote that, "Having Adam Levine crash your wedding would be the icing on any wedding cake." Time's Laura Stampler reviewed the video and wrote that although the video will not make you mad like Maroon 5's previous visual for "Animals" in which Levine stalks a woman who is played by his real wife, model Behati Prinsloo, while covered in blood, "but you’ll probably still be annoyed". She further stated that "I do" is the happiest moment in your life, but seeing Levine singing the lyrics "hotter than southern California Bay" to the new wife "is the happiest moment in your life". According to Leigh Weingus of The Huffington Post in the video, Levine made the wedding crashing a lot more "awesome" than Wilson and Vaughn. Paul Grein of Yahoo! Music's Chart Watch labeled the video as a little bit "corny", however according to him it's also "cute" and "fun".
As of March 2017, the video is YouTube's twelfth most viewed video with over 1.87 billion views.
Several sources including Life & Style, Rolling Stone and Cosmopolitan reported that the video was allegedly staged and filmed over a course of three days on the same location. According to them, the first groom was played by New Zealand actor Nico Evers-Swindell, while actor Eric Satterberg and a former America's Next Top Model contestant, Raina Hein, also played the role of a guest and bride respectively. Additionally, two of the actors who played the role of parents said "The Buzz on the internet is whether the Maroon 5 'Sugar' music video is real or staged. We played the parents of the Asian bride and yes, everything was staged."
Carly Mallenbaum of USA Today also analyzed the situation and wrote that although it is possible some of the weddings were staged, at least two of them were real. She spoke to wedding photographer Eric Parsons, who told her that he was shooting one of the weddings when Maroon 5 made the guest surprise, "Sharon [the bride] knew nothing about it. She's the one who mouths 'WTF' in the video.". Another photographer, Duke Khodaverdian was shooting other wedding, "Around 10:30, some producer came up and said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, we have a great surprise for you'. Everyone went berzerk. The room was electric." The scenes where the band is taking shots of a cognac are part of a wedding Khodaverdian shot.
Video footage hosted on YouTube confirms two of the real weddings crashed from which footage is used in the final video, including couple number 5 - Martin and Sharis, and couple number 7 - Ryan and Melanie. Eric Parsons' published photograph and testimony which confirms couple number 4 - Sharon and Steve's wedding is also genuine. The published article confirms the groom, Steve Weaver, is a friend of the producer of the video and was in on the setup, though his bride was unaware.
The song is featured in the television shows Stalker and American Housewife.
Maroon 5 performed the song as part of the encore during their Maroon V Tour (2015—16).Digital download – Remix
- "Sugar" (featuring Nicki Minaj) – 3:55
- "Sugar" (Sicarii Remix) – 3:33
Other versions7th Heaven Club Mix - 6:48
Credits adapted from the liner notes of V.
LocationsRecorded at Conway Recording Studios Hollywood, CA; Luke's in the Boo Malibu, CA; The Mothership Sherman Oaks, CA
Mixed at MixStar Studios, Virginia Beach, VA