• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Max Martin: Sweden's biggest pop export since Abba

The Local · 4 Jun 2014, 14:09

Published: 04 Jun 2014 14:09 GMT+02:00

The big pop hit of summer is here - Ariana Grande’s Problem is consuming the music charts across the world like some out of control pop Pacman. Grande’s collaboration with Iggy Azalea moved 438,000 copies in its first week in the US alone, making it the biggest chart debut of the year and the best first week for a song on the US charts since Katy Perry’s Roar shifted 557,000 last August. The connection between Grande’s Problem and Perry’s Roar? They were both co-written and produced by Swede Max Martin, Sweden’s most successful pop export since Abba. 
 
Ariana Grande feat Iggy Azalea - Problem
 
 
 
Martin is a true pop colossus - he’s had 17 Billboard number-one hits, more than Michael Jackson, Rihanna and Madonna. He’s just one behind Elvis Presley and three behind The Beatles who hold the record of 20. The 43-year-old Swede is the most successful producer-songwriter of the past 20 years, having sold an astonishing 135 million singles. An incredible thirty-eight of his songs have moved more than a million units, and he’s worked with everyone from Britney Spears and Bon Jovi to Taylor Swift and Maroon 5. 
 
The man now known as Max Martin was born Martin Karl Sandberg in 1971 and grew up in a Stockholm suburb. Infatuated with his older brother's KISS cassettes, Martin eventually became the lead singer of the Swedish hair metal band It's Alive. They were dreadful, as evidenced by the Bon Jovi-lite of Sing The Blues. But Martin was already writing pop songs, songs that his bandmates had no interest in. He soon linked up with Dr Alban and Ace Of Base producer Denniz Pop and their first production collaboration was Wish You Were Here by Rednex.
 
It’s Alive - Sing This Blues
 
"I didn't even know what a producer did," Martin once told Time magazine. "I spent two years, day and night, in that studio trying to learn what the hell was going on." But learn he did and Martin's first big project was co-producing Ace of Base's second album, 1995’s The Bridge, which went on to sell seven million units worldwide.
 
But 1997 was Martin’s real breakthrough year - it was when he started working with Britney Spears. "She told me she thought I was an old man,” Martin said. "I was scared of him!" said Spears, who was then 15. "I thought he was someone from, like, Motley Crue or something." Martin still had his hair long and wore leather - sad remnants of his days as a wannabe rock star with It’s Alive.
 
But they clicked and in 1998 Martin and Spears cooked up … Baby One More Time, which made Spears an instant superstar and Martin the most sought after writer-producer in the music business. 
 
Britney Spears - … Baby One More Time
 
 
There followed Martin’s first purple patch where everything he did sold. When he wasn't working with Spears, he was busy writing or co-writing the majority of the Backstreet Boys' songs, as well as tunes from 'N Sync, Celine Dion and, returning to his rock roots, Bon Jovi (It's My Life). It was a remarkable stretch that earned Martin ASCAP's Songwriter of the Year in 1999.
 
Martin’s recipe for success is anything but simple. For Martin it’s important to understand what his artists want to sing. That doesn't happen by chance. Before he starts writing for, or with, anyone, he talks to them, sees them live and finds out what's in their CD player or on their MP3 player. "I want the input because that makes the chemistry of the song," he has said. Meanwhile, he records ideas on a dictaphone he carries with him. His quality-control regime means that only one idea in 300 gets to demo-recording stage. "You have to be a mass murderer and kill your darlings.”
 
The real key to Martin’s success is that the 1-in-300 idea will always have a strong melody line, so a listener will know the song in seconds. It can be original or a riff on another song. For example, 'Oops! ... I Did It Again' echoes Barbra Streisand's Woman in Love, while Grande’s Problem references Jay Z’s 99 Problems, Madonna’s 4 Minutes and Macklemore’s Thrift Shop.
 
The recording process is where the real work is done, however. While working on Spears’s Oops! … I Did It Again, Martin admitted that, "After a week I realised it sounded like shit. That's when you get psycho. That's when you get manic." Two weeks of 18-hour days later, he and his production team had completely reworked the song. 
 
Story continues below…
After a break in the early-to-mid 2000s during which he had a child and seemed to lose his songwriting mojo, Martin’s second golden age is now upon us - Katy Perry, P!nk, Flo Rida, Taylor Swift, Maroon 5 and Shakira have all benefited from his songwriting and production smarts in the last few years. As a result Martin is now worth an estimated $250m. And, despite his critics claiming he just writes pop fluff, Martin also has a mischievous, subversive side to him. 
 
P!nk's F**kin' Perfect topped the charts, despite the glaring f-bomb in its title and chorus. Martin also had a hand in Avril Lavigne's breezy embrace of promiscuity and rebellion called What the Hell. And then there's Katy Perry's anthems to lesbian experimentation (I Kissed a Girl), having sex and taking drugs on the beach (California Gurls). There’s also group sex with Britney's 3 and a spot of masturbation when P!nk tells an ex to go home and, er, look after himself on U + Ur Hand.
 
Katy Perry - I Kissed A Girl
 
 
Martin is also royally unruffled by those who dismiss his music as kids’ music. “A lot of the stuff that was once considered rubbish or ‘for kids’ is now considered classic and people get knighted for their involvement in it. Pop music is always about NOW. But only time will tell what songs will survive. That’s what pop culture is supposed to be about. If people were going to be scared about how they’d look in old photographs they’d never buy fashionable clothes – it has to be about the moment. Artists, clothes, music, you have to take the risk and make your mark.”
 
Paul Connolly

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Ibrahimovic makes United debut in front of Swedes
Ibrahimovic endured a terrible Euro 2016. Photo: TT

”Everybody has been waiting for this,” says Mr Modesty.

Sweden to investigate citizens' sex lives
It has been 20 years since the last in-depth study of the sex habits of Swedes. Photo: Tammy McGary/Flickr

The Swedish government is to launch a major study of the sex lives of its citizens after reports that lovemaking is on the wane.

Russian 'terror suspect' held at Swedish airport walks free
File photo of Arlanda Airport. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

UPDATED: A 35-year-old man has been released from police custody after being arrested at Arlanda Airport in Stockholm on Friday morning.

Northern Dispatches
'Moving to northern Sweden was the best thing we've done'
Photo: FB

In his farewell column, The Local’s northern Sweden correspondent, Paul Connolly, looks back at his first four years in Sweden.

Bear family just hanging out on Swedish golf course
Not the bear cub in question. But isn't he cute? Photo: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

A bear family has been roaming a Swedish golf course, and the best thing of all is that no one cares.

The Local investigates
What do we actually know about the violence in Malmö?
Police investigating an explosion in Malmö on Thursday. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

International media have presented a "distorted" view of a spate of Malmö shootings and an explosion, a senior police boss has told The Local.

The Local List
Reasons why Stockholm Pride is simply awesome
Photo: Annika af Klercker/TT.

Stockholm's Pride festival culminates on Saturday with a parade – and more than a few parties. Here's why we think it's pretty amazing.

Cashless Swedes sitting on old bills worth billions

Old Swedish bank notes worth 1.4 billion kronor are still circulating, according to the country’s central bank, despite them having been declared invalid a month ago.

Homes
In pictures: Why is Nordic design so hot right now?
Scandinavian design. Photo: House of Beatniks

Design agency Studio Esinam investigates together with Houzz.se why the world is falling in love with Nordic style.

Stockholm one of world's best places to live: magazine
Living the dream. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

Stockholm is the tenth best city in the world to live in, reckons this British magazine.

Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
Swedish cop makes arrest of the year
Sponsored Article
Five easy ways to travel more often
National
Anyone for a bite of 340-year-old shipwrecked stinky cheese?
Gallery
People-watching: July 27th
Blog updates

26 July

A summer of change; a summer of beauty (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"You would have had to try hard to miss the political upheavals in the UK after…" READ »

 

22 July

After the horror, carry on regardless (Globally Local) »

"This time last week, we were just digesting the horror of the Nice killings, in which…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Why you need a EuroBonus American Express Card
Politics
Why Sweden's high taxes are not as high as you think
Sponsored Article
What can newcomers learn about Sweden at Almedalen?
National
What's haggis in a condom doing on Swedish children's TV?
National
Meet the northern Swede who is the world's best mosquito killer
National
Sweden's Hollywood star Alicia Vikander puts her pen in the bottle
Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: Where Swedes go to work (and play)
Gallery
People-watching: July 22nd-24th
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
The Local Voices
The Jewish Syrian who dreams of rebuilding his country
National
Watch this Swedish weather host leave his fly open... on live TV
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
The Local Voices
'I fled war in Syria. I never expected to be beaten in Sweden'
Sponsored Article
'Sweden's Lauryn Hill' touches the country's musical soul
National
WATCH: Asylum seeker brutally beaten by Swedish bus driver
Technology
Why everyone is talking about Sweden's GTA pride parade
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
EU hits truck cartel with record price fixing fine
Sponsored Article
Local guide: the best of Berlin
Society
OPINION: Why Sweden is the most extreme country in the world
The Local Voices
'There is equality in accommodation in Sweden: Everyone is suffering'
Gallery
Property of the week: Gräsö, Östhammar
Gallery
People-watching: July 15th-17th
National
How to make sure you're not caught out by Sweden's old bank notes
Business & Money
Why Sweden has been named the most innovative country in Europe
National
Terror attack: what should you do?
National
French expat on the moment he was assaulted by a Stockholm bouncer
Technology
Gunman? Nah, smartphone Swede
The Local Voices
'If the war in Syria ended today, would you go back?'
The Local Voices
‘I feel like I’m living in a grave!’
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's Princess Victoria celebrates 39th birthday
Gallery
People-watching: July 13th
National
Swedes discover surprise mountain
The Local Voices
'Even xenophobic Swedes can be polite’
The Local Voices
'The best time to be smuggled to Europe is August 20th, 2015'
The Local Voices
Swedes: Stop obsessing over your material life and start talking to strangers
3,390
jobs available