Max Martin: 64 facts about Sweden's king of pop

The songwriter and producer has had 64 US top 10 hits – including 22 No 1s for Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and others – and today receives one of music’s top awards

Today at a ceremony in Stocklholm, Swedish hitmaker Max Martin will receive the prestigious Polar Music prize for his services to music. Announcing him as this year’s recipient (alongside Italian opera singer Cecilia Bartoli), the organisers said: “In the last 20 years, no composer in the world has written melodies as sustainable or as widespread as those of Max Martin.”

Awarded by the actual King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, the gong cements Martin’s position as pop’s pre-eminent songwriter and producer. Over the last 20 years Martin has helped launch the careers of Britney Spears, Robyn, N’Sync, Katy Perry and the Backstreet Boys, as well as reshaping the fortunes of the likes of Pink, the Weeknd, Ariana Grande, Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift. Basically, most of the grade-A hit singles you hear on a loop on the radio carry Martin’s usually unfaltering Midas touch.

To celebrate Martin’s award, I’ve decided to create a website, Maxopedia, in which I’ll write about all 64 (and counting) of his US Billboard Hot 100 top 10 singles (22 of which reached No 1). From Robyn’s 1997 single Do You Know (What It Takes) through to Pink’s Just Like Fire, which hit the top 10 last week, all of pop’s glorious and not so glorious moments (there’s a really terrible Glee song in there) will be covered in geeky detail.

To show off that geekiness, here are 64 facts about 64-time US top 10 singles creator Max Martin.

  1. Max Martin’s real name isn’t Max Martin at all, it’s the less interesting, Martin Karl Sandberg. Sandberg was born in Stenhamra, a suburb of Stockholm, in 1974.
  2. As a child he took full advantage of Sweden’s free music tuition, learning that staple of modern pop the French horn.
  3. In 1985 he formed short-lived glam rock also-rans It’s Alive. He was so confident about the band’s future success that he dropped out of school.
  4. Started going by the name Matin White around that same time, though no one’s quite sure why.
  5. It’s Alive were once the in-house rock band at a disco in Cyprus.
  6. In 1991 they released their self-titled debut via the brilliantly named Megarock records. The album was then given away free with UK magazine Metal Forces.
  7. Second album Earthquake Visions was released on Swedish pop producer Denniz PoP’s Cheiron Studios label. The album’s key track was Pretend I’m God, the video to which features a lank-haired Sandberg/White literally pretending to be God.
  8. It’s Alive sadly split up in 1995.
  9. White/Sandberg was kept on at Cheiron Studios – a Swedish hit factory whose aim was to write and produce for British and American acts – by PoP, who was impressed by his hitherto secret love of big pop melodies.
  10. Rechristened Max Martin by PoP, aka Dag Krister “Dagge” Volle, because Martin Sandberg “wasn’t exactly a disco name”.
  11. The first single to feature “Max Martin” on the production credits was 1995’s Right Type Of Mood by Herbie Crichlow. PoP hadn’t actually told Sandberg he was now Max Martin, however, leading to some confusion when the single was released.
  12. Once declined an offer from the actual Michael Jackson to fly to Los Angeles to rework a tiny bit of a song by his nephews’ group 3T for their album Brotherhood.
  13. Shortly after making the decision outlined above, he realised that turning down the opportunity of being in a studio with the actual Michael Jackson was foolish and made the trip. In an interview with Swedish Public Radio, Martin remembers hearing Jackson’s first vocal take: “That’s when I lost my mind and started laughing; you know, like the hysterical kind of laughter at funerals when people can’t help themselves.”
  14. While in America laughing at Michael Jackson, PoP and Martin received a call asking if they’d like to submit some songs for a new American boyband called the Backstreet Boys.
  15. Co-produced by Martin, the Backstreet Boys’ debut single, We Got It Goin’ On, peaked at No 69 in America.
  16. Martin’s first US top 10 single was achieved in February 1997 with fellow Swede Robyn’s Do You Know (What It Takes). It got to No 7.
  17. Later that year the Backstreet Boys made their debut in the US top 10 with the equally parenthesis-heavy Martin co-production, Quit Playing Games (With My Heart).
  18. Is partly responsible for the existence of UK lad band and facial hair experimentalists Five, co-writing and co-producing their debut single Slam Dunk (Da Funk) in 1997.
  19. Worked on four more songs on Five’s debut album, 5ive, including US-only single, It’s the Things You Do.
  20. “I was scared of him” was Britney Spears’s lasting memory of her first encounter with Martin in 1997.
  21. Britney’s debut single, … Baby One More Time, was based on a demo Martin had written called Hit Me Baby (One More Time).
  22. The first port of call for the demo was TLC, who rejected the song due to its odd turn of phrase. “I was like, I like the song but do I think it’s a hit?” recalled T-Boz. “Do I think it’s TLC? … Was I going to say ‘hit me baby one more time’? Hell no!”
  23. Robyn also rejected the song.
  24. The version sent to Britney’s label Jive didn’t have finished lyrics in the verses and was missing a bridge. Luckily they still knew it was amazing.
  25. Jive decided to change the title from Hit Me Baby (One More Time) to … Baby One More Time due to fears people might think it was about domestic violence or S&M.
  26. … Baby One More Time is in the top 50 biggest-selling songs of all time, having shifted over 10m copies worldwide.
  27. The song has been covered by everyone from Travis to Glee to Tove Styrke to Ed Sheeran to the Dresden Dolls to the X Factor UK’s JLS (deemed “lame” by Simon Cowell) to Tori Amos to Bowling For Soup to the actors from Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers.
  28. Martin has written three songs for choreography-shy Irish balladeers Westlife.
  29. He’s also worked with Gary Barlow, but we all make mistakes.
  30. I Want It That Way by the Backstreet Boys is a stone-cold pop classic but, like a number of Martin creations around that time, makes very little actual sense.
  31. Around the time the Backstreet Boys’ success was starting to tail off slightly, Martin started working with their oddly permed replacements, ’N Sync. He’d co-write their only US No 1, It’s Gonna Be Me.
  32. Number of US No 1 singles Martin wrote for the Backstreet Boys? Zero.
  33. Martin has been crowned ASCAP’s Songwriter of the Year nine times; 1999, 2000, 2001, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
  34. Between 2001 and 2004, as R&B started to dominate pop music, Martin worked on precisely zero US top 10 singles.
  35. During this fallow period he worked with Swedish heavy metal band Pain, Celine Dion, Def Leppard and former-US-boy-band-member-that-isn’t-Justin-Timberlake Nick Carter.
  36. His return to the Billboard top 10 came with Kelly Clarkson’s Since U Been Gone at the end of 2004.
  37. Clarkson wasn’t really a fan of it at first. “It didn’t have any lyrics and the melody really wasn’t finalised […] the track was done on a computer, there was no band on it,” she told the Hollywood Reporter. “My record label was freaking out about it and I was, like, why?”
  38. Since U Been Gone was inspired by Martin hearing Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs. He was so incensed with the fact that the song didn’t fully explode into its chorus that he decided to write one that did.
  39. The song also marked the start of his collaborations with Dr Luke. Together they have worked on 27 US top 10 singles for pop stars ranging from the sublime (Katy Perry) to the ridiculous (Jessie J, Taio Cruz).
  40. Pink’s U + Ur Hand is about masturbation.
  41. It took 16 engineers to record Leona Lewis’s version of Avril Lavigne’s Max Martin co-penned ballad, I Will Be.
  42. In 2015, Macy Gray claimed Katy Perry’s 2008 US No 1 single, I Kissed a Girl, was initially intended for her.
  43. Following an incredibly successful few years, in 2008 Martin launched a rock band called Carolina Liar. No one really cared.
  44. Carolina Liar’s Beautiful People was repurposed as a duet on Cher Lloyd’s debut album, Sticks + Stones.
  45. Perhaps feeling a bit guilty, various members of Carolina Liar have co-writing credits on some of the more recent Max songs, including Ariana Grande’s hits Dangerous Woman and Love Me Harder.
  46. Martin started another fruitful hit-making collaboration in 2008, this time with Shellback, aka Karl Schuster. Like Martin, he used to be part of Sweden’s metal scene before realising pop was just better really.
  47. Their first US chart-topper was Pink’s So What.
  48. Keen to keep his run of unlikely UK pop collaborations going, he co-wrote Unbreakable Heart on the Sugababes’ completely ignored Catfights and Spotlights album.
  49. Continuing a trend, Kelly Clarkson also didn’t really like her 2009’s US chart-topper My Life Would Suck Without You, taking out lyrical references to marijuana from the original demo.
  50. The lyrics to Britney Spears’s 3 uses folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary as a metaphor for a threesome.
  51. Adam Lambert’s only US top 10 single (so far), Whataya Want From Me, was originally meant for Pink. She’d later release her own version of it on her greatest hits album.
  52. A Martin co-write made its way on to X Factor UK 2005 winner Shayne Ward’s third album, Obsession.
  53. In 2010, Martin was responsible for seven US top 10 singles, including three number 1s (California Gurls and Teenage Dream by Katy Perry, and Pink’s Raise Your Glass).
  54. 2010’s collaboration with Robyn on Time Machine was the first time the pair had worked together in 15 years.
  55. In 2011, Martin was responsible for eight US top 10 singles, but only one No 1 in the shape of Britney’s dubstep-bothering Hold it Against Me.
  56. A year later Max and Shellback helped Taylor Swift convince the world that a talented young white woman could make it in the world of pop, co-writing and co-producing the three big singles from that year’s Red album.
  57. Carly Rae Jepsen has worked with Max Martin only once so far, on 2012’s Tonight I’m Getting Over You. The song peaked at No 90.
  58. Martin has been involved with eight of Katy Perry’s nine US No 1 singles so far. The last one was 2013’s Dark Horse, which was apparently inspired by emo-for-beginners classic, The Craft.
  59. Is partly responsible for the Weeknd seeing the error of his ways and becoming a proper superstar rather than a just a blog-friendly whinger banging on about drugged-up sex and how much money he has. The song they created together, Can’t Feel My Face, peaked at No 1 last year.
  60. Taylor Swift’s proper pop album, 1989 – executive-produced by Martin and Shellback – is her biggest-selling album so far having shifted over 9m copies worldwide.
  61. Martin didn’t win his first Grammy award until 2015. He’s since gone on to win three in total, from 17 nominations.
  62. Adele had never heard of Martin and had to Google him before they worked together on last year’s 25 album.
  63. In 2016 he reunited with Justin Timberlake (finally!) to create Can’t Stop The Feeling!, which went on to become Max’s 22nd Billboard Hot 100 No 1 single.
  64. Martin is third on the list of songwriters with the most US number 1 singles (22), behind John Lennon (26) and Paul McCartney (32).

Contributor

Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

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