Whenever anyone asks me for my favourite songwriter, it takes me approximately 0.001 seconds to respond “Max Martin!” Over the past 15 years he’s provided so many fantastic songs, and the fact that he’s had such success with those songs shows that they don’t just connect with me but with the public as a whole. What really makes him stand out above the rest is his ability to move with the times. At least once a year I will fall in love with a new song and be shocked to discover it’s by Max – not because he made another brilliant song, but because it’s a whole new sound we’ve never heard from him. When Madonna reinvents herself, she just gets the coolest new writers/producers to find her a hit, but Max actually works out what the public want and responds to that with a much improved version of whatever is the latest big thing. That is a sign of true musical genius.
Max’s style has generally moved in stages. He started out as a rocker, but when he was drafted into the Cheiron production team in the mid-90s he contributed to some of the best Eurodance of the Eurodance heyday, including E-Type and Leila K. He moved into a poppier sound with Ace of Base, and their success led to Cheiron quickly becoming the go-to guys for new pop acts across the Atlantic. Max created a poppier version of the R&B sound that was popular in the US at the time, meaning that it could appeal to a younger audience and, with its catchy hooks and inoffensive lyrics, was more accessible for the mass market compared to previous R&B hits.
While early 90s US pop acts such as New Kids on the Block had been sold on their look more than their music, their descendents Backstreet Boys and *N Sync had the great songs to ensure their longevity, and it was all thanks to Max. He also sprinkled his pop magic in the UK for 5ive, Solid Harmonie, Westlife and even Gary Barlow! As almost every act Max worked with went on to huge success (he played a big part in the pop dominance of the late 90s) he soon cemented his name as the best in the business and won a legion of followers who have lapped up everything he puts his hand to ever since.
As the ’00s went on, the pop style Max had made his name with went out of fashion, but it was far from the end of Max’s chart dominance. He saw that female rock-pop singers were doing well, so he used his experience of rock music from his youth to create a new improved version of the sound that was already popular. Just as his earlier hits had been pop masquerading as R&B, Max got around the pop snobbery (which was horrendous in the mid-00s) with pop songs that had a rock edge.
Max gave Pink and Kelly Clarkson new leases of life when their careers were waning with U + Ur Hand and Since U Been Gone, and helped new artists such as Katy Perry make their mark. By the time Katy came along, the female rock-pop style was losing grip, so he gave her a fresh new slant on it that was less angry and more provocative. The new Max formula of cheeky lyrics and catchy, meaningless “nanana”s and “lalala”s was also used to put Britney and Pink back at the top with If U Seek Amy and So What. The careful toeing of the line between fun and annoying harked back to Max’s Europop days.
Now a new decade has begun, and we are waiting to see where Max will take us. He will undoubtedly have noticed that R&B-dance crossovers are the style of the moment, and I have a suspicion that this will be the next sound that Max appropriates and dominates. He’s already created fantastic songs in this style for Taio Cruz (Dynamite) and Usher (DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love), by far Usher’s best song and Taio’s best since Break Your Heart. It’s very exciting to see Max turn his hand to a style I’m very keen on myself, so I can’t wait to see how he’s going to turn it on its head, and how long it will take the public to notice that this exciting new sound is actually all thanks to the guy that made their favourite songs when they were 12.