• 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
World Cup of Hockey
Europe sends Sweden home from World Cup
Tomas Tatar scores a winning goal against Sweden's Henrik Lundqvist. Photo: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

Sweden was kicked out of the World Cup of Hockey after losing to Team Europe in overtime.

Poetry can 'save Arab world' says Nobel Prize hopeful
The Gothenburg Book Fair. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Speaking at the Gothenburg Book Fair, Syrian poet and possible Nobel Prize contender Adonis said that religious fanaticism is 'destroying the heart of the Arab world', but sees salvation in poetry.

Malmö gunfire missed child 'by centimetres'
Police in the area. Photo: Emil Langvad/TT

Bullets fired in a drive-by shooting in Malmö nearly hit a child, police have told Swedish media. Four men were injured, one critically, in the attack.

My Swedish Career
'As long as you hook Swedes on the first try, they'll be back'
Kerryn Beattie (left) and Craig Donovan (right), founders of the Nordic Kiwi Brewers. Photo: Nordic Kiwi Brewers

The Local speaks to a Kiwi expat who took on the tricky world of microbreweries in Stockholm and won.

Masked men on mopeds shoot four in Malmö
Censorgatan in Fosie is a relatively quiet residential area in Malmö. Photo: Google Maps

At least four people have been injured in a shooting in southern Malmö.

78-year-old crowned Sweden's best grower of oilseed rape
Gunnar Henningson celebrates his well-deserved victory. Photo: Svensk Raps

"This is one of the happiest days of my life,” said 78-year- old Gunnar Henningson, after being crowned Sweden's "Rapsmästaren".

Sweden to bring in tighter rape laws to up convictions
Mari Heidenborg, president of the Sexual Offences Committee wants to drop the Swedish term fro rape Våldtakt. Photo: Claudio Bresciani / TT

Swedish lawmakers are to propose adding a controversial consent clause to the country’s rape laws.

Sweden's centre-right voters up for deals with populist SD
Jimmie Åkesson with Centre Party leader Annie Lööf and Moderate leader Anna Kinberg Batra. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

A growing majority of voters for Sweden’s four-party centre-right Alliance support working with the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats.

Coeliac disease not caused by early weaning: Swedish study
Carin Andrén Aronsson now plans to investigate why Sweden has such high levels of coeliac disease. Photo: Polarbrod

Mothers who stop breastfeeding early are not to blame for their children developing gluten intolerance, a new Swedish study has found.

Zlatan look-a-like storms pitch as Man U take on champions
A grinning Zlatan pushed the man away with the palm of his hand. Photo: YouTube

Zlatan fever has hit the UK, with a look-a-like storming the pitch on Saturday only to be palmed off by the grinning Swedish star.

Sponsored Article
Let's Talk: a personal Swedish language tutor in your pocket
National
Muslim teacher leaves job after not shaking male colleague's hand
Sponsored Article
‘I view the world in a different way now’
Travel
Why we adore autumn in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 21st
Blog updates

7 September

Svensk or svenska? (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hejsan! My inbox is full of questions :-). Here’s one about when to use “svensk” and…" READ »

 

23 August

A Summer in Sweden (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"For our first year here in Sweden we decided to have all our holidays in Sweden.…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
'Creating a sense of home': Collective living in Stockholm
National
Stockholmers hunt killer badger after attack on neighbourhood hipster cat
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
The Local Voices
Why this Russian developer is committed to helping refugees - with tech
National
Six key points in Sweden's budget plan
The Local Voices
How a Swedish name finally made recruiters notice this Iranian's CV
Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: 'So much more than beaches'
Gallery
Property of the week: Luleå
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Gallery
People-watching: September 16th-18th
Culture
Why Swedish TV has given these kids' trucks a sex swap
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
National
TIMELINE: Everything you need to know about the Julian Assange case
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Gallery
People-watching: September 14th
Politics
Why Sweden is putting troops on holiday dream island Gotland
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
The Local Voices
'What I mean when I say: I came here to blow myself up'
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
Society
VIDEO: Are Swedes that unfriendly?
Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden’s ’a-kassa’
Features
INTERVIEW: How Arthur the jungle dog opened hearts and minds
Gallery
Property of the week: Smögen, Västra Götaland
Society
Sweden's ancient forest tongue Elfdalian fights for survival
National
Where Sweden's foreigners are from
Gallery
People-watching: September 9th-11th
The Local Voices
Shakib, 23, works and pays taxes — but will Sweden let him stay?
National
Watch this Swede roll his kayak without spilling his beer. Respect.
Gallery
People-watching: September 7th
The Local Voices
'Swedes are polarized on refugees - it's the welcome mat or the exit door'
National
WATCH: Yes, this Swedish rising star really is Abba legend's grandson
The Local Voices
'Whenever I apply for jobs I’m treated like an unwanted stranger'
The Local Voices
Is Swedish bosses' ignorance keeping refugees out of jobs?
2,970
jobs available