Song: ‘My Universe’
Artist: Coldplay x BTS
US chart peak: 1
Release date: September 24, 2021
Writers: Coldplay, Max Martin, Oscar Holter, Bill Rahko, Suga, J-Hope, RM
Producers: Max Martin, Oscar Holter, Bill Rahko
Quintessential Max moment: The stop-start “you… you are” glide into the chorus
Video synopsis: Avatar 2: The GAP autumn collection
It’s not often Max decides to ‘helm’ an artist’s entire album. Even back in the peak Katy Perry or Britney eras his name would appear on, say, 70% of the songs, with others handed off either to other songwriters/producers in his ‘stable’, or to a handful of Of The Moment producers. Or to Dr Luke. So it’s slightly surprising that he carved out a large chunk of his time to co-produce all of Coldplay’s ninth album, Music of the Spheres (Chris and Max were first spotted together in Stockholm last July). For the band it makes a lot of sense – Chris Martin has always waxed lyrical about pop and they’re returning after a relative flop in the shape of 2019’s Everyday Life album, which only peaked at number 7 in the US and became their first album not to go platinum in the UK. If you want commercial success, it makes sense to call Max. For Max, it may have represented a different challenge, ie working with a band as opposed to a solo artist, something he’s expressed his desire to focus on as his career continues.
In fact, it was on Everyday Life that they tested the waters, with Max co-producing two songs. Music of the Spheres is a very different beast to the noodly, trickier-to-love Everyday Life, however. Synths gleam, choruses are sign-posted in huge neon letters, and the spectre of The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights hovers over proceedings. It’s turbo-charged for huge stadiums (a tour was announced the same week as the album’s release) and obliterates any hint of a concept (something about a fictional planetary system) with each glorious lyrical thud.
What’s clever about Coldplay is that they’ve never allowed themselves to stagnate. With an eye for what’s happening elsewhere in music, they’ve clung on to relevancy in terms of chart and radio domination (in the UK at least) via some well chosen collaborations with the likes Rihanna, the Chainsmokers and now, on My Universe, K-pop megastars and streaming catnip, BTS (the album also features Selena Gomez). It’s to everyone’s credit that their appearance doesn’t simply feel bolted on. Or added after a label meeting. The song manages to fit inside both the band’s comfort zones, with the huge singalong chorus up there with some of Coldplay’s best, while the very BTS pre-chorus featuring Jung Kook and Jimin glides perfectly into Chris’ vocals as they all sing the lovely “we are made of each other, baby”.
Musically it’s at a slightly slower tempo to the recent Weeknd bangers Max has been involved with. Chris’ opening verse settles into a midpaced groove after the song’s opening skyscraping synths and a quick taster of the chorus. It means that the song can slowly blossom via BTS’ pre-chorus before peaking with the chorus. It features a classic Max move of almost stop-starting the melody via a call and response moment which should go down a treat in a live scenario. There’s also a surprising moment in the final third as the song starts to disintegrate into twinkly synths before exploding again for a sort of jagged, dubstep-adjacent (hiya 2007) coda.
BTS helped My Universe become Coldplay’s second US number 1, and Max’s 25th (!). It’s also his second of 2021, marking the first time since 2015 that he’s had two chart-toppers in the same year.