Every month, THB focuses on an artist or band that has contributed a huge amount to the music world regardless of genre or style.
By The Hard Baroquer
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Swedish song writer Max Martin is the most sought-after pop music song writer and producer in the world. With 23 Billboard Hot 100 number-one songs to his name as writer and producer, the hitmaker is the third-most successful pop song writer and producer to make the chart, and most successful writer/producer that wasn’t in the Beatles to have number-one singles on that chart, most recently with The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights”.
Martin – whose real name is Karl Martin Sandberg – has proven to be so prolific in US pop music, that when you turn on any English-language pop radio, there’s a decent chance you’ll hear a song he’s written.
Whether it’s the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC or Britney Spears hits from his early career that include “I Want It That Way”, “It’s Gonna Be Me” and “Oops I Did It Again” respectively or recent hits including Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”, Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off!” or The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Blinding Lights”, Max Martin has been Hollywood’s hit machine for over twenty years now in a career that began in 1994.
Free images of Martin are hard to come by, as he is so private. Most photos of Max are from events such as the Grammys etc and are therefore licenced. This is because Max Martin is intensely private, giving few interviews, preferring to stay home in Sweden with his wife. In fact, it’s reported that Adele was interested in the person who had been writing hits for other stars, and had to search Google for him.
Music style and influence: pure pop
Martin’s music style is notable for his adherence to pop traditionalism; keeping to pure pop values that include simple, catchy melodies and equally simple song structures – similar to his influences: The Beatles, ABBA but also glam rock acts like KISS. Before being a songwriter, Martin was a member of a glam rock band, It’s Alive, and that glam influence of potent melody and strong chord structure has stayed with him.
For sure, his music style has paid off. Between 2008 and 2016 Max Martin had at least one #1 song every year and again in 2019 with the Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights”, his 23rd song to reach number one in the Billboard Hot 100.
Martin’s dominance has somewhat slowed down since his peak due to hip-hop being the dominant music type in the charts, and that doesn’t suit his writing style, although Martin has been adapting.
Aside from Max Martin’s dedication to pure pop music, there is a secret to his success: his style of melodic math. Martin ensures his songs keep to a formula (although he doesn’t share too much information about that beyond that). It may sound like a ‘colour-by-numbers’ approach to music writing that can only result in generic music, but it simply ensures that his songs always sound familiar to listeners. And that’s what the foundation of pop music is: familiarity. You can read more in-depth about Max Martin’s melodic math system here and here.
Beyond his system to write music, his style of creating music involves his overseeing the writing of the song from start to finish, sometimes writing it completely before the singer even arrives in studio. This is instead of the norm of the producer tidying up what others what created.
Let’s be honest – we’d all love to know how much a hitmaker that dominates the charts make? He’s also one of the highest paid producers ever, reportedly getting a $100,000 advance per song plus a piece of the back end royalties. By some estimates, he’s worth over $250 million.
So if you were hoping to pay a hired gun for a sure fire kickstart to your pop career, think again!
Late Nineties – Max Martin’s first period of success
Max Martin rose to prominence in the mid-nineties. His first song to chart on the Billboard chart was Backstreet Boys “Quit Playing Games (with my Heart)” in 1996, but he also wrote for pop artists Herbie and Leila K too.
But his hit for the Backstreet Boys opened doors to write and produce for 5ive, Bryan Adams with (“Cloud Number Nine”), Gary Barlow and *NSYNC.
It was in 1998 that he reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with Britney Spears and “…Baby One More Time”). From there Martin composed more hits for Backstreet Boys Millenium album; Celine Dion (“That’s the Way It Is”) in 1999 among others, and topped the charts again in 2000 with *NSYNC and “It’s Gonna Be Me”). 2000 also saw Martin collaborate with Bon Jovi for their track “It’s My Life” as well as for Def Leppard for “Unbelievable”.
However, he next charted with Kelly Clarkson and “Since U Been Gone” and “Breakway” in 2004, but by this stage it seemed his ability to create hits had slowed, despite prolific output. Interestingly, his best songs were yet to come.
2010’s – Martin’s second period of success
In the late 2000’s, Max Martin’s penchance for powerful pop melody lines saw a resurgence when his song for Katy Perry, “I Kissed a Girl”, went number one and “Hot and Cold” also charted. This was the beginning of a fruitful partnership with Perry as the two achieved four number one hits (“California Gurls”, “Teenage Dream”, “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)”) just from her 2010 Teenage Dream album. Five, if you include Teenage Dream: The Expanded Collection, where “Part of Me” also reached number one.
And while Katy Perry and Taylor Swift may have had beef, neither had exclusivity on working with a songwriter, and in 2012 Max Martin co-wrote/produced Taylor Swift’s number one song “We Are Never, Ever, Getting Back Together”.
In 2013, he continued his success with Katy Perry reached number one two more times with “Roar” and “Dark Horse”.
Meanwhile, he assisted with nine songs on Taylor Swift’s 1989 and achieved four number ones on that album too: “Blank Space”; “Shake It Off”; “Bad Blood”.
This proving there was only one real winner in the feud between T Swizzle and Katy Perry.
Partnerships with The Weeknd “I Can’t Feel My Face” in 2015 and Justin Timberlake “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” for the Trolls film in 2016 ensured Martin’s streak of at least one number one song a year continued.
In 2017, Katy Perry’s Witness signalled a slowdown for Martin with only one single reaching top 10 and Taylor Swift’s Reputation also underwhelming by previous standards. But it was a sign of music tastes changing.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying though. Between 2017 and 2019, Mac Martin also wrote tracks for Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran P!nk and many more besides.
Proving he could still adapt, 2019 saw The Weeknd release “Blinding Lights” which went number one.
In 2019 28 Max Martin hits and one new song were used in the West End Musical, & Juliet.
2020 and beyond – what’s next?
Max Martin is still producing. 2020 saw the producer work with Lady Gaga for the first time on her album Chromatica for the track “Stupid Love”. He is also rumoured to be working with Coldplay for the first time since “Orphans” – whi he wrote for them.
Other rumours include collaborating on an as yet untitled Jessie J album. He previously co-wrote “Bang Bang” for her in 2014 and the two co-wrote a original song for & Juliet, “One More Try”.
Whatever else is on the horizon for Max Martin, the man is an icon in pop music having not so much impacted the landscape as having created it.
Jessie J – “One More Try”
One from the archives: Backstreet Boys – “Backstreet’s Back”