Ever had any of these songs stuck in your head?
• Taylor Swift, “Blank Space”
• Ariana Grande, “Problem”
• Britney Spears, “… Baby One More Time”
• Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone”
• The Backstreet Boys, “I Want It That Way”
You can credit the Swedish songwriter/producer Max Martin.
Since the late 1990s, the pop music virtuoso written or co-written a staggering 21 Billboard Hot 100 number 1 hits, behind only Paul McCartney and John Lennon on the all-time list.
Martin has cracked the Top 10 list with Katy Perry 10 times, with Swift six times, with Spears six times, with Pink five times, and with the Backstreet Boys five times. When Swift wanted to cross over from country to pop, she partnered with Martin, and the result was “Red,” an album with “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “22,” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which finally delivered Swift her first number one hit.
Martin also has many proteges — like Shellback (Maroon 5’s “Moves like Jagger”), Dr. Luke (Katy Perry’s “California Gurls”), and Savan Kotecha (The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face”) — who will continue to make epic melodic pop after he’s retired, which the 44 year old shows no signs of doing any time soon.
Simply put, Martin has engineered the signature sound of contemporary American pop music.
New York writer John Seabrook makes a convincing argument that it started back in the late 1990s, when Martin started collaborating with a then-unknown boyband called the Backstreet Boys, and then another unknown named Britney Spears.
According to Seabrook, author of the new “The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory,” the Max Martin sound “combines ABBA’s pop chords and textures … eighties arena rock’s big choruses, and early-nineties American R. & B. grooves.”
Martin gets his love of music from Sweden’s world-class public education system.
Martin (given name Karl Martin Sandberg) got his start in music with state-sponsored music education programs, beginning with the recorder and then the French horn, drums, and keyboard, while also playing in the school orchestra.
Today, some 30% of students attend these after school programs.
Oddly enough, the music public education movement in Sweden came out of a backlash to American music in the 1940s. Church leaders and conservative politicians wanted to create a robust music program in the public education system so that the Swedish youth could create their own tunes instead of being infected by the “scandalous” jams starting to come out of the United States.
“Because their purpose was to inoculate the masses against the corrosive effects of popular entertainment — and not to train a select group of virtuosos — the schools were widespread and accessible to children of all talent levels,” Moser writes, while simultaneously increasing “the odds that Swedes would discover their talents.”
Decades later, Sweden’s the country that writes the pop that America (and Asia, by route of South Korea) listens to.
Take it from the man who became Max Martin.
“I would not be standing in this place today if it weren’t for the public music school,” Martin said in an interview.
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