In Sweden, you don’t do anything until you do it right.
March 27, 2015 11:40 AM   Subscribe

...he co-wrote four songs on the Backstreet Boys’ self-titled 1996 debut album, one of which, “Quit Playing Games With My Heart,” went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. And with that, his career took off. You probably know most of what comes next. For instance, you probably know that, to date, Martin has co-written 19 songs that went to #1 on the Hot 100, and another 36 that charted in the top 10 but didn't manage to hit #1. You probably know that many of those songs were recorded by Katy Perry (who has recorded 10 top-10 songs with Martin), Taylor Swift (six top-10 songs with Martin), Britney Spears (also six), P!nk (five), and the Backstreet Boys (five). You might also know that Martin’s 19 chart-toppers put him at third place on the all-time list behind Paul McCartney (32) and John Lennon (26). Stereogum's Michael Nelson on superproducer/songwriter Max Martin, complete with a list of 30 Essential Max Martin Songs.
posted by everybody had matching towels (44 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
He collaborated with Peter Tagtgren on a Pain album (I want to say 'Dancing With the Dead'). Interesting fellow — both of them, really.
posted by Dark Messiah at 11:50 AM on March 27, 2015


This song is no better than the Bon Jovi song; it ranks a slot higher because Chris Daughtry isn’t as irritating as Jon Bon Jovi.

This is probably as many outright lies as you can fit in that number of words.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:53 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


This man has made the world a significantly less bearable place to live. No hell is eternal enough.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:11 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I unashamedly love Max Martin's songs. They're pop viruses, meticulously engineered to rot your brain just slowly enough while propagating almost uninhibited.

“It’s very mathematical. A line has to have a certain number of syllables, and the next line has to be its mirror image … If you add one syllable, or take it away, it’s a completely different melody to Max. I can write something I think is so clever, but if it doesn’t hit the ear right then Max doesn’t like it.”

This is super-true for the way I interact with music. I have little-to-no interest in the actual content of the lyrics, but if they don't sound right, if the prosody is wrong, I just can't listen.

With the exception of “Shake It Off,” which I actively dislike

Dead to me. No: erased from existence, as if you had never been born. I wonder who wrote that article I just read? There was no byline.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:12 PM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


It will be seen if 20 years if Martin is regarding fondly like Bacharach or with a certain amount of scorn like Kirshner.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:13 PM on March 27, 2015


My quibbling about rankings aside, I love a lot of these songs. I'm willing to go to bat for "Domino" wholeheartedly, and I get that that might not be universal, but I am unwilling to believe there is a human being who doesn't like "Since U Been Gone." Anyone responding in this thread to that effect will be presumed to be either lying or non-human; if you have a preference please state it when making your comment.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:16 PM on March 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


The Swedish Invasion - The New Yorker
posted by 0rison at 12:16 PM on March 27, 2015


I'm willing to go to bat for "Domino" wholeheartedly, and I get that that might not be universal, but I am unwilling to believe there is a human being who doesn't like "Since U Been Gone." –Bulgaroktonos

100 times this. I am an unashamed lover of pop music (and a PhD student in music, sorry colleagues) and I love so many of these songs. Even the production of Bieber's "Beauty and the Beat" is SO shiny and ear-grabbing (and I am truly no Bieber fan). Whatever role Max Martin might have had in each of these songs, he is such an X-factor. Hard to ignore, in more ways than one.
posted by Zephyrial at 12:20 PM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


It will be seen if 20 years if Martin is regarding fondly like Bacharach or with a certain amount of scorn like Kirshner.

Please. He's nothing but a warmed-over Maurice Starr. In twenty years, he won't be regarded at all.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:31 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


He was born Karl Sandberg.

He was born Martin Sandberg. I know Wikipedians are too stupid to understand that not everyone uses US naming conventions where everything needs to fit into a "firstname letter. lastname" pattern, but I'd expect a journalist to do better. #petpeeves

Here's some It's Alive, btw (unlike Lennon who claimed he was bigger than Jesus, Martin only asks you to pretend he is up there in the same league...)
posted by effbot at 12:34 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I would love to hear recordings of the original demos that he sends artists (e.g. the Kelly Clarkson one the article mentions). Or any professional songwriter's demos of future hits. Are those top secret or is there a repository somewhere online?
posted by Beardman at 12:39 PM on March 27, 2015


I know we've got plenty of people here more educated and experienced in music than myself that vouch for this guy, but dear lord, looking at this guys resume makes me grit my teeth. Maybe they're technically good pop songs, I just cannot stand like 75% of them. And effbot's link to It's Alive...good lord, that is awful. I do tend to not like pop much though, the last pop group I can recall whose songs connected with me were the Ting Tings (their wikipedia page tries to call them "post-punk revival" but come on, guys, no need to dress it up like that).
posted by Hoopo at 12:52 PM on March 27, 2015


Max Martin is arguably the greatest pop songwriter of our time. I'm frankly astonished that this guy's talent is up for question.
posted by naju at 1:01 PM on March 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


Please. He's nothing but a warmed-over Maurice Starr. In twenty years, he won't be regarded at all

Maurice Starr wishes he had the kind of success that Max Martin has had.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:06 PM on March 27, 2015


That is a sentence I hoped I'd never have to write. I'm going to put on some old Elvis Costello records and shower.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:06 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


So this is the guy who killed music. Good to know. The only artist on that list I like did much better work without him.
posted by jonmc at 1:09 PM on March 27, 2015


jonmc: So this is the guy who killed music. Good to know.

No man... the guy wasn't even born until 12 years after Feb. 3rd 1959.
posted by Kattullus at 1:12 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


So this is the guy who killed music.
What, he invented home taping too?
posted by thelonius at 1:12 PM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


I am an unashamed lover of pop music (and a PhD student in music, sorry colleagues) and I love so many of these songs. Even the production of Bieber's "Beauty and the Beat" is SO shiny and ear-grabbing (and I am truly no Bieber fan). Whatever role Max Martin might have had in each of these songs, he is such an X-factor. Hard to ignore, in more ways than one.

For me, the song from that list that I can't believe how much I enjoy it is probably What the Hell. That song has nothing going for it conceptually beyond an outsized snotty teenage attitude, and even that had been worn pretty thin considering it came out in 2011 when Avril Lavigne was a 27 year old woman pretending to be a 13 year old's idea of what a 17 year old is like. And yet something about it just works, which I have to chalk up to Max Martin's influence. I probably listened to that song twice daily for a month in 2011, and that's not entirely my love of pop music marketed to teenagers showing through.
posted by Copronymus at 1:18 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


This man has made the world a significantly less bearable place to live. No hell is eternal enough.

It seems to me that you can't ever criticise a writer for that, no matter what you think of their work. Maybe it's the marketing of the music that's made the world less bearable to you, or maybe it's just the tastes of the people around you, who maybe just like and enjoy this music, but it's clearly not the fault of the person who made it.
posted by howfar at 1:22 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am unwilling to believe there is a human being who doesn't like "Since U Been Gone." Anyone responding in this thread to that effect will be presumed to be either lying or non-human

I mean, it's a fairly standard pop tune, nothing particularly stands out about it to me, regardless of whether its as well-crafted as they say. Yes, I would change the station if it came on. But I'm a bird.
posted by Hoopo at 1:26 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


This man has made the world a significantly less bearable place to live. No hell is eternal enough.

It seems to me that you can't ever criticise a writer for that, no matter what you think of their work. Maybe it's the marketing of the music that's made the world less bearable to you, or maybe it's just the tastes of the people around you, who maybe just like and enjoy this music, but it's clearly not the fault of the person who made it.


Plus, if you're really dedicated to hating a Swedish pop producer for ruining the radio or birthing earworms or whatever, please hate Dr. Luke, who seems like a real piece of shit despite having produced more than his share of songs I enjoy.
posted by Copronymus at 1:28 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


The article isn't wrong about Since U Been Gone. I remember hearing it for the first time and having a road to Damascus moment. Before that I avoided pop music, but after that I had a respect for the craft of a good pop song. It enriched my life. And it has to be said, Max Martin kinda looks like Buddy Christ.
posted by Kattullus at 1:29 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I am unwilling to believe there is a human being who doesn't like "Since U Been Gone."

I don't think I've ever heard it, but I generally avoid music with lyrics, and I am an alien.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:33 PM on March 27, 2015


I love this post! Thank you for making it.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:13 PM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm also not really feelin' 'Since U Been Gone.' When someone plays games with my heart, I prefer it be a little subtler.
posted by box at 2:18 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am unwilling to believe there is a human being who doesn't like "Since U Been Gone."

Um, just go to any forum dedicated to jazz, classical, blues, alt/indie rock, prog rock, classic rock, metal...the amount of bile heaved up at the mention of this song would be an avalanche.
posted by Ber at 2:25 PM on March 27, 2015


Please. He's nothing but a warmed-over Maurice Starr. In twenty years, he won't be regarded at all.

It's still not too late for Maurice Starr to end up in the pantheon of credible cultural actors, by way of, initially, ironic appreciation and/or becoming a shibboleth of a hipster subcultural eddy, and then the irony falling away as newcomers pick up the thread and play along with it. It happened to Hall & Oates, and seems to be in progress for Michael Bolton* and Kenny G, so who knows?

* incidentally, another former heavy-metal guitarist who realised which side the bread's buttered on.
posted by acb at 3:08 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't love Max Martin's music, but I don't hate on it. It is very exquisitely crafted, but it doesn't really move me. (Funny, cause in that respect it's like the recent Metal that I've heard, which is technically very impressive, but just not my thing.)

In my personal opinion, I do not expect Martin's work to really endure the test of time for future generations. But I've been wrong about these kinds of predictions before. ABBA was very popular in their heyday, but they were also often viewed as ephemeral and disposable pop music in their time, before their critical re-appraisal.

Actually, I've always liked ABBA.
posted by ovvl at 4:04 PM on March 27, 2015


These songs exemplify an aspect of modern pop music that deeply bothers me personally (and which you are under no compulsion to agree with), which is that so many songs are so relentlessly diatonic, using no pitches in either melody or harmony that don't lie in a single set of 7 pitch classes (out of the full set of 12). I'm not sure exactly when the transition happened, but in most pop music through around 2000, a bit of chromaticism (using one of the other 5 pitches) was pretty much expected, even if it just consisted of a token gesture like using a single secondary dominant - say, using a D major chord (with an F sharp) to precede a G major chord in the key of C major (which has an F natural in it). These days, you're much more likely to hear a D minor chord (with an F natural) used in the same context. Just a tiny bit of going outside the scale can do so much to relieve the monotony of a generally diatonic song.

I'm listening to these songs in order and just got to the Ace of Base song, which actually has both a B flat and a B natural, and it was like someone just added a pinch of salt to the vat of oatmeal I'd been eating for the last half hour.
posted by dfan at 5:22 PM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


This reminded me of the story of the farmer's son who wrote Like a Virgin, I Touch Myself, and I'll Stand By You, among many other hits.
posted by GregorWill at 9:30 AM on March 28, 2015


Please. He's nothing but a warmed-over Maurice Starr. In twenty years, he won't be regarded at all.

Horseshit. Maurice Starr didn't have one-tenth the songwriting chops.
posted by tantrumthecat at 10:39 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Moreover, I've always said that if I was a young singer/songwriter who'd suddenly gotten a cash/promotional injection from a major label, well, there's no one else I'd want to work with.
posted by tantrumthecat at 10:42 AM on March 28, 2015


I spent an hour or so gathering the 30 songs listed in the article and built a playlist* out of them. I'm not typically one for pop music but it was a great soundtrack to turn my brain off to and get a couple of hours of yard work done. I'll hold on to it.

*my wife fixed me with a dubious stare and wondered out loud what was wrong with me pointing out how un-djeolike these songs are. I told her it is "research**"

**I'm still trying to digest this pop music post from lizarrd a year ago.
posted by djeo at 3:43 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


...and after pressing "post comment" I belatedly notice that my second footnote is the top link in the Related Posts box. q:
posted by djeo at 3:45 PM on March 28, 2015


Wow. I never considered that anyone could take assembly-line candy-pop so seriously. This is the songwriting equivalent of assigning Michelin stars to McDonalds.
posted by raider at 7:31 AM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Except it's not assembly line. It's the work of one guy, who is unquestionably FANTASTIC at what he does, even if you dislike it. He's clearly better than his peers, if only because his songs turn into hits at such a phenomenal rate. He's probably the best in the world at what he does, it's always worth taking that seriously.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:44 PM on March 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is the songwriting equivalent of assigning Michelin stars to McDonalds.

I think it's probably more like an establishment that provides Michelin caliber food in terms of taste, talent, and care in being put together, but it all looks like low-brow comfort food and only costs $10, and you can order from a drive-thru window, so all the haute cuisine foodies sneer at it.
posted by naju at 1:32 PM on March 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fine, not assembly-line -- cookie-cutter then. It's formulaic.

I don't dispute that he and others are excellent song factories. Just can't shake the feeling that it's more like good engineering rather than good art.

McPop.

Isn't that self-evident by the fact that these songs get shopped around like they're on the NYSE and it really doesn't matter who sings tham?
posted by raider at 2:41 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Isn't that self-evident by the fact that these songs get shopped around like they're on the NYSE and it really doesn't matter who sings tham?

You mean like opera, symphonies, ballets, plays, and other formulaic stuff?
posted by effbot at 2:56 PM on March 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sorry, but grrr. This article and conversation are so annoying and exemplify everything I hate about the whole poptimism movement which has become the mainstream of music criticism. Basically, old dudes taking obvious truths that the young girls who this music is marketed to already know and repackaging them in the most obnoxious way for one another, with all their bullshit attachment to lists and cred and liking the correct things and showing off their foolish tastes all peacock-like. Like, I've known Max Martin was a genius since I was six years old, from having nothing to do but read Backstreet Boys liner notes until they fell apart. I'm sorry some people were so late to this party. But I have had it with these aggressive poptimist converts trying to make everyone like all the Taylor Swift songs on the assumption that everybody has their same hang-ups to get over and if they did then we could all get on board with liking the new list of approved things. I love Max Martin. I like Taylor Swift. I don't need any encouragement to really listen to commercial pop music, man. And I think Shake It Off is empty and boring and the "this sick beat" part is so embarrassing it makes me want to find a cold dark place and lie down and fucking die there every time I hear it. And that is that for me and I just do not want to hear another thing about it. Thank you.

Also, on preview, songs getting shopped around is exactly what demonstrates they are excellent songs that can stand on their own. That's what puts the "Great" in Great American Songbook. That's how we ended up with multiple iconic recordings of e.g. Son of a Preacher Man. And it's what made Motown so very fucking perfect. Time to listen to David Ruffin do his version of I Want You Back again and thank Mr Jesus Berry Gordy Christ for the privilege.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 2:59 PM on March 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


For lots of people who're in their thirties and forties, admitting they like pop music is a big deal. Liking pop music was mocked out of them. I interviewed an Icelandic band, FM Belfast. One of the singers, Lóa Hjálmtýsdóttir, expressed how this journey goes pretty well:
For me to think that UB40 is a lame band is learned behaviour. When I was a kid their records were played at home without anyone commenting, but then when I was a teenager I found out that they were terrible and no one could know you listened to them. Same with Cat Stevens. I think I know all Cat Stevens songs by heart because they were constantly played at my home, but then I learned from the cool crowd in Breiðholt [the neighbourhood of Reykjavík she grew up in] that you shouldn't mention that. You become so repressed as a teen. This changed later when I met kids from Hlíðar and Vesturbær [Reykjavík neighbourhoods close to downtown] and they'd put on Cat Stevens in parties. I'd shudder. I had to break free of the chains. I spent months of my teenage life repressing that I liked the Bryan Adams song from 'Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves', 'Everything I Do (I Do It For You)'. Then, years later, I'm driving by myself in the car and it comes on and I start singing along and crying.
posted by Kattullus at 4:25 PM on March 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Poptimism exists almost solely as a reaction to the pervasive rockism that has entrenched itself in music criticism for decades. It does seem everywhere now when you're in these particular music circles, but honestly I'm okay with that as long as lots of people continue to be dismissive of pop and the people who unabashedly love it. The massive internet jeering around teenage girls crying over Zayn Malik leaving One Direction is a prime example.
posted by naju at 6:36 PM on March 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Let me just apologise in advance, because I'm about to make a lot of utterly unfair assumptions in this comment. So I love the aspect of poptimism that's just like, liking pop and acknowledging that a lot of it is magnificent and taking it seriously. But I hate the part that just seems like the same old rockist behaviour, with all the silly ranking and obsession with bests and worsts and loud championing of artists for posterity. You've got all these dudes transitioning out of their stinky rockist milieu, where they've spent the last several decades feeling appointed by god to confer and withhold cultural legitimacy as their whims dictated. And I feel like a lot of the discourse around pop music now has less to do with music and more to do with maintaining that sense of power over and ownership of culture that those people used to have. Like I look at the way e.g. Lady Gaga was raved about only to instantly, predictably fizzle out and it's so obvious that the hype around her was more about music critics, pro and amateur, getting hard at the idea that they were witnessing (and in a way creating) something important than about her music, which was always just pretty good, or even her image, which was always destined to be swallowed up by the larger culture just like everything else, because the 60s are gone and very little is Important in that way any more. Fifteen years ago it was the Strokes really mattering and now it's Taylor Swift and it's the same old bullshit as ever and I'm like... No. I just want to like these artists a normal, sustainable amount, not shit myself conspicuously every other year just in case it really is the new Beatles this time. Poptimism ought to mean it doesn't matter anyway.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:12 AM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


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