I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I always find the introduction to these things a bit unnecessary, especially when it’s a website that contains a section on Taio Cruz’s ‘Dynamite’, ie a song that features the lyric “I’m wearing all my favourite brands brands brands / Give me some space for both my hands hands hands”. Why would you want anything to get in the way of a searing dissection of such modern-day poetry? Why are you even reading this? But it’s important to note that there’d be no ‘Dynamite’ without Swedish pop overlord Max Martin, the lank-haired 48-year-old songwriter, producer and subject of this website, who was also the recipient of 2016’s prestigious Polar Music prize, an award that prompted me to start this website (previous winners include Mstislav Rostropovich, Steve Reich and Bob Dylan, ie three people yet to craft anything as joyous as ‘Oops I Did It Again’).
This is a man who in the fickle world of pop is responsible (SO FAR) for 22 US Number 1s (second only to up and coming songwriting duo John Lennon and Paul McCartney) and 73 (and counting!) US top ten singles. In fact, without Martin there’d be no ‘Baby One More Time’. No ‘I Kissed A Girl’. No ‘I Want It That Way’. No ‘We Are Never Getting Back Together’. There’d be no ‘Since U Been Gone’, and no ‘So What’. No ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ and no ‘Bang Bang’. In other words, without Max Martin and his coterie of collaborators, the world of pop would be a barren, banger-less wasteland of beige bores. For that reason alone he should be worshipped like a God and given the key to the city of Pop (current Queen, Ariana Grande, but redundancies are always looming).
On this here website you’ll find entertaining insights into all 73 of Max’s US top ten singles so far, ie songs he’s either co-written, co-produced or both, ranging from Robyn’s ‘Do You Know (What It Takes)’ to Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber’s ‘I Don’t Care’. More will be added as and when, obviously. Why focus on that particular set of songs? Well basically I had to start somewhere, and also what better way to showcase just how much Max – an unashamed hit machine – has dominated and re-shaped pop than by dissecting his biggest successes in the world’s largest market over a period that spans 1997 to 2019 (over twenty years, maths fans). That’s not to say that all the songs featured have aged well, or were necessarily above an 8/10 to begin with, but that’s the joyous thing about pop music; it’s brilliantly of its time and susceptible to moments of collective madness, but there’s always something there to enjoy.
Obviously, amazing songs can go frustratingly ignored by the general public so I’ll also endeavour to write about a cluster of unwanted gems, giving them a chance to shine in amongst their platinum-selling, chart-dominating siblings. The ones that got away, if you will (KATY PERRY REFERENCE). You’ll also find a handful (hopefully) of interviews with some of the people involved in creating the songs – Max himself doesn’t do interviews, sorry about that – and some writing by some of pop’s pre-eminent journalists (and me).
I also don’t really see the point in writing a long-winded biography explaining the life and times of Max Martin. Not because I’m lazy – *sideways look to camera* – but because the idea is that elements of his life and his history will be discussed within the context of his songs. Also, he has a Wikipedia page so actually go and have a read of that first and come back to me. I’ll pop the kettle on and see you back here in ten minutes…
Also, there’s a really interesting book called The Song Machine: Inside The Hit Factory by John Seabrook that has a whole section on Max’s history and his early work with Denniz Pop and the Backstreet Boys and Britney and then working with Dr Luke and so on and so forth. What Seabrook’s book doesn’t necessarily focus on are the songs themselves – mainly because it spends a lot of time being very good on bigger picture stuff – and so that’s what I’ll aim to do here.
Obviously, having said all of that, it would be nice for you to have a handy guide to the general highlights of Martin’s life, right? So below is a timeline. And who doesn’t love a timeline? No, seriously, show me the face of someone who doesn’t love a timeline and I’ll turn around and look the other way because I can’t stand liars.
February 26, 1971 – Martin Karl Sandberg is born in Stenhamra, Ekerö Municipality, a smallish suburb of Stockholm.
1971 – 1984 – Likely lots of things happened in this thirteen year period. One specific thing is that Sandberg took full advantage of Sweden’s excellent public music education-program – he had free private lessons in the French horn, don’t you know – meeting fellow future songwriters Andreas Carlsson, Rami Yacoub and Anders Bagge along the way.
1985 – Starts a terrible rock band with a bunch of mates called It’s Alive. Is so certain of their future success that he drops out of school. Goes by the name Martin White, for some reason.
1988 – At some point the band perform at a disco in Cyprus. They also take part in the Swedish national rock championships.
1991 – Inexplicably the band are offered a record contract with Megarock Records (amazing), with the resulting debut being given away free with the UK’s Metal Forces magazine.
1993 – It’s Alive are then signed to pop songwriter Denniz PoP’s short-lived Cheiron Records.
1994 – Their second album ‘Earthquake Visions’ is released to minimal excitement. The band are dropped and the label eventually folds. Impressed by his musicianship and ear for melody, PoP asks Sandberg/White to stay on at the studio and learn from the more experienced in-house writers (PoP had achieved huge success with Ace Of Base in previous years).
1995 – PoP renames Sandberg/White, with his new moniker – Max Martin – appearing for the first time on the credits of Herbie Crichlow’s album, ‘Fingers’.
1995 – Max and Denniz fly out to LA from Stockholm at the behest of Michael Jackson to work on ‘I Need You’, a song on Jackson’s nephews 3T’s debut album, ‘Brotherhood’. While in America the pair receive a call asking if they’d like to work with upcoming boyband the Backstreet Boys.
September 5 1995 – Martin, PoP and Crichlow co-write the Backstreet Boys’ debut single, ‘We’ve Got It Goin’ On’, which flops in America but is successful in Europe.
February 8, 1997 – Martin earns his first ever US Top Ten single with fellow Swede Robyn’s ‘Do You Know (What It Takes)’.
June 10, 1997 – Backstreet Boys’ ‘Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)’ – another Martin co-write – becomes their first ever US Top Ten single. They’ll go on to have six more, with five of them involving Max.
November 1997 – Martin meets Britney Spears for the first time. Britney’s memories of this meeting? “I was scared of him!”.
December 1, 1997 – Martin co-writes and co-produces UK boyband Five’s debut single ‘Slam Dunk (Da Funk)’.
August 30, 1998 – Denniz PoP sadly dies of stomach cancer at the age of 35. The Backstreet Boys would go on to dedicate their video for ‘Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely’ to him. Martin takes over as director of Cheiron Studios.
October 23, 1998 – Britney’s ‘…Baby One More Time’, i.e. one of the best pieces of pop music of all time, is released. It becomes Martin’s first ever US Number 1 single and goes on to sell over ten million copies worldwide. Amazing.
1999 – 2000 – Martin is involved with more hits for the Backstreet Boys and Britney, as well as working with the likes of Celine Dion, Bon Jovi and, erm, Gary Barlow. He also co-writes a Number 1 single for Backstreet Boys’ boyband rivals *NSYNC (or NSYNC? Or N’Sync?) in the shape of the amazing ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’ (it would be their only chart-topper). Wins the ASCAP Songwriter of the Year award three years in a row (1999, 2000 and 2001).
2002 – 2004 – The Wilderness Years (relatively).
April 9, 2005 – ‘Since U Been Gone’ by former American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson becomes Max Martin’s first US Top Ten single since the Backstreet Boys’ ‘Shape Of My Heart’ in February 2000. The song represents Martin’s new songwriting and producing relationship with Dr Luke. It also helps introduce a more rock-edged feel to Martin’s production.
The rest of 2005 – Still a bit barren hit-wise, actually. Does work on The Veronica’s ‘4eva’, which is an absolute tune and no mistake.
2006 – Helps resurrect Pink’s career, co-writing two massive hits on her comeback album ‘I’m Not Dead’.
2007 – A bit of a mixed bag to be honest – works with everyone from Avril Lavigne to Leona Lewis to former UK X Factor winner turned Coronation Street star, Shayne Ward.
2008 – Fully back in the pop saddle with gargantuan hits for Katy Perry (‘I Kissed A Girl’, ‘Hot ’N Cold’) and Pink (‘So What’). Also works with Britney again on the actually-not-very-good ‘If U Seek Amy’. Also launches his own rock band, Carolina Liar, to general indifference. Starts a hugely successful working relationship with fellow lank-haired former rock God, Shellback.
2009 – Has another US chart-topper with Kelly Clarkson’s ‘My Life Would Suck Without You’ and later with Britney’s ode to threesomes, ‘3’.
2010 – Things go interstellar again, with seven US Top Ten hits in twelve months, including Number 1s for Katy Perry (‘California Gurls’,’Teenage Dream’) and Pink (‘Raise Your Glass’).
2011 – Eight US Top Ten hits this year, including another Number 1 with Britney on ‘Hold It Against Me’. Is awarded the ASCAP Songwriter of the Year award for the first time in ten years. He’ll win hit again for the next four years. Bit greedy really.
2012 – SEVEN more Top Tens, including Taylor Swift’s ‘We Are Never Getting Back Together’, which introduces the world to the idea that a talented, young, good-looking white female singer could be a pop star.
2013 – Works with the Backstreet Boys again for old time’s sake. Earns four US Top Ten singles, including another Number 1 for Katy Perry in the shape of ‘Roar’.
2014 – Works with Perry’s good friend Taylor Swift again on her “full-on pop” album ‘1989’, co-writing and co-producing all three of the album’s US Number 1 singles (‘Shake It Off’, ‘Blank Space’ and ‘Bad Blood’). Also starts working with new muse, Ariana Grande, whose ‘Love Me Harder’ features gloomy R&B miserablist The Weeknd. He’ll later see the light and work with Martin in 2015 on the full on pop onslaught of ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ (another US chart-topper).
February 8, 2015 – Wins the Grammy for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. It’s his first ever Grammy. BETTER LATE THAN NEVER YOU GUYS!
November 20, 2015 – Co-writes and co-produces ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’ on Adele’s quite popular ’25’ album.
February 13, 2016 – Earns his first US Top Ten of the year with Selena Gomez’s ‘Hands To Myself’, working alongside Swedish duo Mattoon & Robin.
February 15, 2016 – Wins another Grammy for Album of the Year for Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’.
May 21, 2016 – ‘Scores’ his 22nd Billboard Hot 100 Number 1 single with Justin Timberlake’s ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’. It’s the first time he’s worked with the pop’s eldest Justin since *NSYNC’s ‘Celebrity’ album in 2001.
The rest of 2016 is spent working Katy Perry on the not very successful ‘Rise’ and on four songs on The Weeknd’s ‘Starboy’ album.
February 10, 2017 – ‘Scores’ his first US top 10 with Katy Perry’s ‘Chained to the Rhythm’, which peaks at Number 4. He’ll go on to produce four more songs on the accompanying album ‘Witness’, but the less said about all that the better. Second single, ‘Bon Appetit’, goes on to peak at Number 59. 😦
October 24, 2017 – Earns his second US top 10 with Taylor Swift’s ‘… Ready For It?’, which is the second single to emerge from that year’s ‘Reputation’ album. Max is involved in nine songs on the album, the highlight being the really lovely ‘Delicate’, which peaked at Number 12.
Also worked with James Arthur in 2017, which is a shame.
April 20, 2018 – ‘No Tears Left To Cry’, the excellent first single from Ariana Grande’s fourth album, ‘Sweetener’, peaks at Number 3 in America. In July, the album’s second single ‘God is a Woman’, peaks at Number 8, marking Max’s two US top 10s from 2018.