Sugababes – ‘Unbreakable Heart’

A guest blog written by Jake Cropley. You can agree/disagree with him here.

Song: ‘Unbreakable Heart’
Artist: Sugababes
US Chart Peak: N/A
Release Date: 17 October 2008
Writers: Max Martin, Klas Åhlund
Producers: Klas Åhlund
Quintessential Max Moment: The chord at the start of the chorus pulling at the harmonic heartstrings.
Video Synopsis: It wasn’t released as a single 😦

Max Martin is known for taking young unknown artists and launching them into superstardom. However, some of his most interesting moments have come from the opposite. Max meeting an artist, writing a song or two, then parting ways. Leaving his mark on their career like a stork delivering little pop babies across the land.

In 2008, one of Max’s little pop babies was delivered in secret to the Sugababes. How the collaboration came to be is a bit of a mystery. Earlier that year, Max unleashed upon the world Katy Perry’s number one, ‘I Kissed A Girl’, as well as landing a second number one with P!nk’s, ‘So What’. With all this going on, a humble songwriting credit halfway through a British girl band’s second to last album is hard to spot. But even though the track slipped through, it hasn’t gone unnoticed. From this one-off collaboration, we were given a Max Martin songwriting masterclass hidden inside the down beat, feel good, bop-along that is ‘Unbreakable Heart’.

The song itself is about chasing love with the knowledge that, like rules, hearts are made to be broken. Although this is not a new idea, this song is one of the more polished efforts heard today. The message is also being given a warmth and wisdom from the Sugababes’ relaxed but engaging vocal performance. Looking at the song credits, it is surprising that Max is not on the production. It makes you wonder if the song was already written and locked away, being recorded without him on a later date. However, whether or not Max had a hand in producing the song, his structure and arrangement is where the real magic lies.

Our first lesson begins with the intro. The song starts with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it piano melody. Then, as the pre-chorus rolls around, we hear the vocal melody and the piano melody are the same. One of Max’s key ideas is to reuse melodies throughout a song to ‘maximise’ repetition, making the song sound familiar as soon as possible. ‘Unbreakable Heart’ uses this idea to great effect, as this repetition is almost invisible.

Our second lesson comes in the song’s bridge, which turns out to be a less intense version of the chorus, with the lyrics and melody moved around to fit the arrangement. At first, this seems unlike anything Max has done before. But if we take a look back, we see in disguise an old trick from his Cheiron days: ‘The B-Chorus’. A B-chorus is a counter melody that works with the original chorus melody and is best heard in Max’s earlier songs with the Backstreet Boys, ‘Get Another Boyfriend’, and, ‘Don’t Want To Lose You Know’. A B-chorus is also heard in his first US number one with Britney Spears, ‘…Baby One More Time’. Back then, the B-chorus worked well because it gave songs a new flavour, without adding a new section. Also, the payoff from layering both melodies on top of each other was a slice of pop perfection. In recent times however, we haven’t heard much of the B-chorus. This is due to Max moving forward with his future in pop, while moving away from his past with Cheiron. For Max, using a B-chorus as a bridge in ‘Unbreakable Heart’ was a stylish way of reusing parts while keeping the song interesting, and brushing the dust off this once handy songwriting tool.

‘Unbreakable Heart’ is not what you would call a hit, chiefly because, well, it wasn’t released as a single. In fact, it didn’t make much of an impact at all, but that could perhaps be said of its parent album in general. When you learn your craft like Max Martin, sometimes you’ll write a song that changes the world. But for the rest of the time, you’ll just write a great song; and a great song is what we have with ‘Unbreakable Heart’.

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