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Who is the shy Swede behind all those global smash hits?
Taylor Swift, Max Martin and Katy Perry. Photo: Matt Sayles/Chris Pizzello/Felipe Dana/AP/Invision

Who is the shy Swede behind all those global smash hits?

Emma Löfgren · 10 Feb 2016, 12:22

Published: 10 Feb 2016 11:47 GMT+01:00
Updated: 10 Feb 2016 12:22 GMT+01:00

1. He's bigger than Abba

Thought Swedish pop music was all about Abba? Think again. Max Martin may keep a low profile (he rarely does media interviews), but he is behind pretty much every pop song you've listened to in the past two decades, whether you're Swedish, American or Chinese. He has had an incredible 21 number-one hits on US singles chart Billboard since 1999 – more than Elvis Presley and beaten only by Beatles legends Paul McCartney and John Lennon – and has sold more than 135 million singles worldwide. Incredible.

2. Name those hits, please

Okay, we're just going to list his US Billboard number-ones for you: Britney Spears, 'Baby One More Time' (1999); 'NSYNC, 'It's Gonna Be Me' (2000); Katy Perry, 'I Kissed a Girl' (2008); Pink, 'So What' (2008); Kelly Clarkson, 'My Life Would Suck Without You' (2009); Britney Spears, '3' (2009); Katy Perry feat Snoop Dogg, 'California Gurls' (2010); Katy Perry, 'Teenage Dream' (2010); Pink, 'Raise Your Glass' (2010); Britney Spears, 'Hold It Against Me' (2011); Katy Perry feat Kanye West, 'ET' (2011); Katy Perry, 'Last Friday Night' (2011); Katy Perry, 'Part of Me' (2012); Maroon 5, 'One More Night' (2012); Taylor Swift, 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together' (2012); Katy Perry, 'Roar' (2013); Katy Perry feat Juicy J, 'Dark Horse' (2014); Taylor Swift, 'Shake It Off' (2014); Taylor Swift, 'Blank Space' (2014); Taylor Swift feat Kendrick Lamar, 'Bad Blood' (2015); The Weeknd, 'Can't Feel My Face' (2015).

Enough said.

3. He is unbelievably hardworking

If there's anything Max Martin can thank his Scandinavian upbringing for, it's the Swedish work ethic. Before he starts writing for anyone, he talks to them, sees them live and finds out what's in their CD player or on their iPod. The recording process is where the real work is done, however. While working on 'Baby One More Time', he admitted that: "After a week I realized 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.

4. He's a little bit scary (apparently)

Max Martin's 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," he has famously said. We assume he didn't mean that literally, but some artists have admitted they felt intimidated at first by his strict discipline – and his appearance. "I was scared of him," Britney Spears has said of their first meeting when she was 15. "I thought he was someone from, like, Motley Crue or something." However, most artists keep coming back to work with him, so we have a feeling he's a Swedish teddy bear underneath that rugged Viking look.


Max Martin being announced as Polar Music Prize 2016 winner. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

5. He's a small-town boy

Born Karl Martin Sandberg in Stockhom in 1971, his upbringing was a far cry from life among the stars of music. He grew up in Stenhamra on Färingsö island just outside of the capital and worked for as a music teacher before making his name. He has said he's got Sweden's "public music education to thank for everything", despite dropping out of high school to focus on his music career. Not too shabby a move, it turns out.


Färingsö island near Stockholm. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

6. He could almost have been an artist himself

Story continues below…

Infatuated with his older brother's KISS cassettes, Martin was once the lead singer of the Swedish glam metal band It's Alive. They were dreadful. 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 Swedish country pop group Rednex.

7. It's not surprising he's Swedish

Sweden is the world's third largest music pop exporter, behind the US and the UK. A large part of the education in the state-funded school years is taken up with music and singing, and the focus on culture seems to have paid off. The Nordic country, which is just shy of 10 million citizens, has produced music wonders such as Avicii, Icona Pop, the Cardigans, the Hives, Ace of Base and the list goes on.


Swedish duo Icona Pop. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

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Emma Löfgren (emma.lofgren@thelocal.com)

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