* Scroll down to read the latest entry in this week's instalment of I Dare You.
"Do you want to go 'all the way' with Max Key?" That's how this dare started, with a workmate looking me dead in the eye and asking me exactly that. After some clarification, what he actually meant to ask was whether I'd be up for listening to the bandanna-loving, shirt-hating DJ's new single, All the Way, for an entire week.
"You have to wake up to it," says Karl Puschmann, my stony-faced desk neighbour with ultra-refined music tastes. "Play it at least once every hour ... go to sleep to it. Just to see if you can find any redeemable qualities." I nodded my head, thought to myself, 'How bad can it be?' and I clicked 'play' ...
For the first few listens, Key's third single - remember: he recently declared he wants to be as big as Justin Bieber - doesn't seem that bad.
I mostly listen to hip-hop, but I'm partial to a bit of cheesy dance music, and All the Way is certainly that, like a watered-down Odesza, a Seattle group who I have used to soundtrack more than a few summery Sunday afternoons.
It's certainly no worse than anything the Chainsmokers have done. Key's a fan, so that super sugary synth rush of a chorus makes perfect sense.
At least it's a happy song, and as I queue it up on my phone for one final play before I fall asleep at 9.58pm, I'm not hating it. Not yet, anyway.
I have an admission to make. When I was about 10 years old, I tried to write a pop song. "How hard can it be?" I thought as I grabbed a pen and some paper, and spent at least 20 minutes writing something like this: "Get it on / Get it on / Before it's gone."
I remember my mum finding it, asking what it was and laughing her head off at my answer. I'm not sure I knew what "it" was at that tender age, but even then, I dismissed my lone attempt at forging a No. 1 chart hit for being too cheesy.
After a day and a half of listening to Max Key and Carla Wehbe's All the Way, I've decided that that's about the level of lyrical depth and dexterity on offer here.
"We can just get close with our bodies / Never go away / These feelings that have grown / We can take them all away," sings Wehbe, an X Factor Australia reject, blankly. "I don't know what we've got / Let's take a leap of faith ... We can take it all the way."
On day two of this dare - listening to All the Way all the god damned time - that's my biggest problem with Key's new single. If I'd kept at it, kept trying to write a pop hit, kept churning through the pens and the notepads, surely, surely, I could have come up with a chorus better than: "We can take it all the way."
I may not have become as big as Bieber, but I'd be as big as Max Key. And with 59,000 Instagram followers, that means something. Doesn't it?
It's time to be honest: three days in and I'm getting pretty tired of All the Way's incessant chirpiness, it's relentless ambition to make me feel like I'm-waving-a-glowstick-wearing-a-headband-taking-a-selfie-while-having-the-greatest-time-at-Coachella.
Let's face it, I'm doing none of those things. When I'm listening to All the Way, I'm mostly just sitting at my desk in an office with headphones on while getting jealous of my workmates' ability to listen to anything other than Max Key. And their lunches. They have some good lunches.
So it's time to focus on something else about All the Way, something I'm super obsessed about. It's time to talk about the song's fascinating music video. What in the holy hell is it all about?
Let's forget about the fact that it's just one long series of Instagram posts. Let's ignore the camera's grotesque and borderline offensive fixation on a bikini-clad woman's body. Let's forget about the fact that Key has absolutely zero connection with the woman he's supposedly hired to play his girlfriend. (We asked the woman involved for an interview, but there was no reply).
Let's forget those damned bandannas, the horrific earring, and the video's smug I'm-so-much-better-than-you vibe. And let's forget that if you removed the music and inserted a horror film soundtrack, All the Way would play like a serial stalker fantasy set on a holiday island. If it's ever optioned into a movie, let's call it, I Know What Max Key Did Last Summer.
I'm obsessed about this video for one reason: two seconds of footage that occurs about one-third of the way through the clip. At the 46-second mark, Max and the bikini-clad woman are on a jet ski. He's filming her from between his spread legs as she dives away from him and into the calm blue water.
I really wish I didn't have to write that sentence, but it really does happen. Here's a still from that moment to prove it:
The impression I get is that Max, the 21-year-old son of former Prime Minister John Key, is having a water birth. Yes, Max Key is the birther of babes. It's quite a statement.
If only his music could make the same kind of splash.
"I'm worried about you, man" said Karl Puschmann, the man who inflicted this horrible, terrible, neverending experience on me. "Mentally, I mean." Me too. It's been four days now and all I've listened to is Max Key's All the Way. The strain of the experiment is starting to show.
Max Key's second single has deep dived into my cerebellum, earwormed its way into my subconscious, seared itself into my brain. I fall asleep to its hamfisted hook, I wake up to those sickly sweet synths, I have Carla Wehbe's warble soundtracking my every moment. I fear I may never escape from its clutches.
Last night I cooked dinner - chilli, for the record, with pickles, guacamole and fresh tomatoes - while humming the damned thing. It was minutes, actual minutes, before I realised what I was doing. "Let's escape," sings Jazzella on Max's earlier single Paradise. "We can get away." Mate, you have no idea.
Yes, Max Key has taken over my life. People stop me in the street to talk about my week-long experiment. They're tweeting me. Messaging me on Facebook. "What's it like to go all the way with Max Key?" they ask. To start with, I was lolling with them. But I'm not lolling any more.
What's it like? I imagine it's something like being on Survivor eating nothing but twigs and bugs and all you can dream about is that giant jar of peanut butter you're gonna smear over a king size bar of Whittaker's chocolate when you leave that hell hole and can eat whatever you want.
Four days in and all I can dream about is what I'll listen to once this damned dare is over.
This morning, I got an email. It was a hater. "Give us a break and let him sink (into) obscurity until he earns our attention by producing something really talented," the email read. "There must be more deserving artists out there than him."
There are. There absolutely are. So here are five artists you should listen to right now. Go on, treat yourself. While you're listening, think of me, sitting here, reluctantly clicking play on All the Way yet again, for the 87th time, sitting through its spiritless sonics as it soundtracks yet another endless, uninspiring, creativity-free day.
These are the songs I'll be playing as soon as this dare is over and I've exorcised Max Key from my life. It's my version of peanut butter and chocolate, if you will.
Back in 2002, when I started my first journalism job at the North Shore Times-Advertiser, I was asked to spend a day pretending to be a married man by posing in a photo shoot for a wedding advertising campaign.
I hadn't met the woman I was supposedly marrying before, but we had to act like a loved-up couple and pose for photos while shopping for rings, dining at restaurants, working out, gazing dreamily into each other's eyes and walking down the beach holding hands.
My name was 'Paul'. She was called 'Sarah'. I was going through a baggy pants phase. It came out pretty well. We had good hair. Here's an image from our wedding day:
After watching the video for All the Way on repeat this week, I haven't learnt much. One of my only realisations is that bandannas and giant cross earrings only look good on two people: Zoolander, and George Michael in the 80s. Max Key should stop trying to make this look a thing. Immediately.
But the main thing I've learned is that All the Way is a horrific music video. Max Key and his unnamed 'girlfriend' have no connection whatsoever - with each other, with the camera, with the island they're supposed to be on. They look like they'd rather be anywhere else other than in each other's personal space.
They even manage to make a swimming pool look like an awful place to be.
Instead of attaching a GoPro to his forehead and exploiting a woman in a bikini for his video, Max Key should should have hired Paul and Sarah to star in it. We had chemistry. So much chemistry.
You know what? We could have gone all the way. I should give her a call.