Max Martin: The Secret Swede Who Has Had More #1 Hits Than Elvis

Photo via Näringsdepartementet

Music & Arts

Max Martin: The Secret Swede Who Has Had More #1 Hits Than Elvis

In January, we told you about pop music’s unsung hero: Max Martin.

Martin is one of the most successful songwriters of all time, trailing only Sir Paul McCartney and John Lennon for No. 1 hits.

This behind-the-scenes Swedish producer, who has a couple of Grammy Awards under his belt, has worked with everyone from Katy Perry and the Backstreet Boys to Taylor Swift and Pink. And he’s simply a hit-making machine with 21 number ones and 58 Top 10 hits to his name, he has become the go-to guy for anyone who wants a hit single.

So how did this guy from Stockholm become who he is and get to work with some of the world’s most popular musician?

Photo via Näringsdepartementet, Flickr
Photo via Näringsdepartementet, Flickr

Born Martin Sandberg, the future musician grew up in Stenhamra, Ekerö Municipality, a suburb of Stockholm. As a child, Martin was a student of Sweden’s public music-education program. The program has shaped many Swedes into the musicians, producers and artists they are today.

Max the Musician

Music was always a huge part of Martin’s life.

As a teenager he explored his musical talent – being his voice at the time – and sang in a variety of bands. He finally joined a glam-style metal band called It’s Alive as its singer and front man. As the band gained popularity, Max decided to drop out of high school to pursue a career in music. Much to the disappointment of his family, the youngster threw his all into his music and unofficially changed his name to Martin White.

All the hard work didn’t bring success immediately, and he often questioned his choices. A breakthrough finally came in 1991 when Dave Constable of Megarock Records offered to make It’s Alive a demo deal that turned into their debut album. The band later landed a record deal on producer Denniz PoP’s label Cheiron Records, a BMG affiliate. They then went on to record their second album, Earthquake Visions. Unfortunately the album only sold 30,000 copies despite being released in more than 30 countries.

During this time, Martin started to collaborate with PoP on songs. PoP quickly recognized that the young Martin had a talent for writing pop songs and decided to rename his new protégé Max Martin. Martin, seeing the potential in producing and songwriting, decided to leave the band It’s Alive in 1995, 10 years after it started.

Max the Producer

In 1993, Martin was hired by Cheiron Studios as a junior producer. Still a teenager, Martin spent most of his time in studio learning the basics before doing his first production collaboration with PoP. Martin got his commercial success when he worked on Swedish pop group Ace of Base’s second album, The Bridge, which was released in 1995. Shortly after he went on to work on other artists’ albums including 3T, Army of Lovers and Leila K.

Through working with Cheiron Studios, Martin was able to work with a variety of international artists starting with the Backstreet Boys’ self-titled debut album in 1995. Sadly, in 1998, Denniz PoP died of cancer. Following his death, Martin took over as director of Cheiron Studios, and kept PoP’s legacy alive by growing the studio even more. He soon started working with writer/producer Rami Yacoub, who continued to be his partner for many years.

Photo via Krystaleen
Photo via Krystaleen

The Martin Magic

Here’s a rundown of some of the artists Martin has worked with.

The Backstreet Boys

One of the biggest boy bands of the 90s was the Backstreet Boys. The five-member band was formed in the USA in 1993 and went on to sell over 145 million albums worldwide. To this day the band is the best-selling boy band in history.

One of Martin’s first and biggest projects was working on the Backstreet Boys’ debut album. Released in the U.S. in 1997, Martin took part in co-writing and producing the song “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart),” which went platinum and climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. He also worked on the songs “As Long As You Love Me” and “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).” The album went on to sell 8 million copies worldwide.

Martin wrote, co-wrote and co-produced seven out of the 12 songs on the Backstreet Boys’ third album, Millennium, which was released in 1999. The single “I Want It That Way,” which was co-written and co-produced by Martin became the group’s biggest single to date. It also was No. 10 on MTV/Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Pop Songs, as well as No. 1 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the 1990s.

Britney Spears

American singer and actress Britney Spears grew up in the spotlight. As part of the kids’ variety show The Mickey Mouse Club, she became a household name. She later went on to be the highest earning female musician in 2012 bringing in $58 million.

Max Martin’s journey with Britney Spears was by accident. In 1998, Martin wrote the song and co-produced the song “…Baby One More Time” for the Backstreet Boys, who turned it down. He then offered the same song to TLC, who also turned it down. As a final resort, a record label played the song for the 16-year-old Spears, who went on to record it and later named her debut album by the same title. The success of the single is still felt today – it is Spears’ best-selling single and was ranked seventh on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the ‘90s.

After the success of the single, “…Baby One More Time,” Martin went on to work on the first three studio albums including Oops!… I Did It Again and Britney. Off these three albums he co-wrote and co-produced several singles including “Oops!… I Did It Again,” “Lucky,” “Stronger,” “Overprotected,” and “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.” He also produced and wrote for Spears’ sixth studio album Circus in 2008.

The relationship between Martin and Spears grew when he executive produced Spears’ seventh album along with Dr. Luke. In a Rolling Stone interview, Spears gave high praise to the Swede saying, “[Martin] gets exactly what I am saying when I tell him what I want and don’t want musically. His melodies are incredible, and he is always coming up with weird sounds, which I love.” She added, “There is nobody I feel more comfortable collaborating with in the studio.”

Photo via Anirudh Koul
Photo via Anirudh Koul

Céline Dion

One of the most famous music powerhouses in the music industry is Canadian singer Celine Dion. Selling more than 200 million albums worldwide, the singer is mostly known for her power ballads. Her career has been an ongoing success story.

To promote her greatest hits album in 1999, Dion was looking for a new song. The singer approached Martin to help her produce a hit single, and he co-wrote “That’s the Way It Is.” The song became a hit, going to No. 1 on the adult contemporary charts in the United States and Canada.

Kelly Clarkson

In 2002, Kelly Clarkson rose to fame when she won the reality TV contest “American Idol.” After the success of her first album, Thankful, Clarkson wanted to switch up her sound and traveled to Sweden to collaborate with Martin and Dr. Luke on songs for her second studio album Breakaway in 2004. Together they created songs that had more of a rock edge to them like “Since U Been Gone” and “Behind These Hazel Eyes.”

“Since U Been Gone” went straight to the top of the charts in 2004, and to this day remains Clarkson’s biggest hit. The single also was one of the biggest songs of 2005. In 2009, Martin went on to co-write another Clarkson single called “My Life Would Suck Without You,” which holds the record for the highest Billboard Hot 100 jump to No. 1, going up 97 spots in a single week to land at the top of the charts.

Jessie J

Photo via Paul Cook
Photo via Paul Cook

After jumping to success with her single “Price Tag,” Jessie J wanted to reach international superstardom. To do this she worked with Martin first on her international hit “Domino.” Martin, along with Dr. Luke and Claude Kelly, produced a song that showcased Jessie J’s powerful vocals while still thinking about it being commercially successful. It was a risk taken by both the production trio and the songstress, but the risk paid off when the single hit No. 6 on the U.S. charts. It was also the eighth best-selling song of the year.

After the success of “Domino,” Jessie J decided to work with Martin again. They went on to write and produce a single off Jessie’s third album called “Bang Bang,” which featured Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj. The song became the lead single off the album and has the second highest sales figure for a song to debut on the Billboard Hot 100.

Katy Perry

Martin has been a huge part of Perry’s success. The producer and songwriter has songs on all three of Perry’s albums including “I Kissed a Girl,” and “Hot n Cold” from her debut album. Her follow-up album Teenage Dream also includes some Martin creations including the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 singles “California Gurls,” “Teenage Dream,” “E.T.,” “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” and “The One That Got Away” (2011).

Both “Part of Me” and “Wide Awake,” which both reached the top position on the Billboard Hot 100 were co-written by Martin. He also wrote Perry’s “Roar” and “Dark Horse” off her 2013 album Prism. With the help of Martin, Perry has sold 81 million singles.

Photo via Demir.kurtovic
Photo via Demir.kurtovic

Taylor Swift

American pop and country superstar Taylor Swift has made a name for herself through her music. This diverse artist has 130 singles available for download and has sold more than 40 million albums.

Swift’s first No. 1 single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is thanks to the talent of Martin, who produced and co-wrote it. The song took less than 50 minutes to reach the No. 1 spot on the iTunes singles chart, breaking the previous record held by Lady Gaga’s song “Born This Way” with a record of an hour. At the time “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” was the fastest selling single in digital history.

With a successful career, Martin is still making music and continuing to thrive. Today, Martin still lives in Sweden and is married with a child.

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