There's no better time to talk about Swedish songwriting extraordinaire Max Martin. With so many classic and modern pop hits to his name, as well as an upcoming Broadway musical partly inspired by his works, it's not an overstatement to say that he's the modern King Midas of songwriting: things he touches turn to gold.
Martin has written or co-written 25 Billboard Hot 100 number-one songs, most of which he has also produced or co-produced. Martin is the songwriter with the third-most #1 singles on the Billboard chart, behind only Paul McCartney (32) and John Lennon (26). As of July 2022, he is tied with George Martin for the most Hot 100 number-one songs as a producer. He has also won the ASCAP Songwriter of the Year award a record eleven times.
What makes Martin's songwriting so good? Undoubtedly, it's his previous experiences as a singer as well as mentorship from Denniz PoP in the early 90s. Martin's tunes have elevated the careers of Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, P!nk, Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, and especially Katy Perry. (Seriously: every iconic song in her discography was either written or co-written by Martin!)
Because there's nothing like a fierce ranking of iconic pop songs, we're rolling through our Top 10 Songs Written by Max Martin! Unfortunately, we were unable to include all of his hits on this list. (We'd like to formally apologize to Katy Perry fans in particular.) But we can assure you the stuff that did make the cut is the best of Martin's best. Without further ado, here are our Max Martin picks!
10. "So What" - P!nk
Martin co-wrote this rockin' P!nk song with the pop star herself and Shellback. "So What" is carefree, wild, and punchy. It's the standout single on P!nk's 5th album Funhouse, and is one of two P!nk songs written by Martin to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (the other being 2010's "Raise Your Glass").
This moxie-filled song was written during a separation between P!nk and her husband, Carey Hart. Funnily enough, Hart features in the video for "So What" because by the time P!nk’s Funhouse was nearing release, P!nk and Carey got back together. However, P!nk decided to keep this track in as she felt it was important due to its emotional subject matter. And we can't blame her – if we had a banger written just for us by Max Martin, we'd like to keep it, too.
Fortunately, P!nk and Carey continued to be on and off with each other until they took part in marriage counseling and have now been together solidly since February 2010. They had their first child together, Willow, in June 2011. Maybe Martin's "So What" was just what P!nk and Carey needed to work out the kinks.
9. "Since U Been Gone" - Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson turned into a sensation after becoming the first singer to win American Idol. But people realized the true impact of the show on a musician's career after Clarkson released "Since U Been Gone" in 2004. Martin wrote and produced this track with Dr. Luke, and it reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It'll always be a #1 in our hearts!
“Since U Been Gone” was released as the second single from Kelly Clarkson’s second album, Breakaway and – to continue with the trend of twos – is also the second song on the album's tracklist. To quote NPR's review of this song, "‘Since U Been Gone’ transformed Kelly Clarkson from an underdog reality-show spectacle to a pop sensation. It showcased the best of what we loved about her on American Idol (a show she helped define with her first-season win), her emotional intensity and her range — heard here across two octaves, from a low G3 to a high G5. And it infused mainstream music with a new energy desperately lacking in an era dominated by auto-tune and manufactured pop."
8. "It's My Life" - Bon Jovi
An underrated hit made by one of New Jersey's best acts. Martin co-wrote this bop alongside Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, and "It's My Life" was released as part of Bon Jovi's 2000 album Crush.
While the track only peaked at #33 on the Billboard Hot 100, the song reached the top 10 in several markets, and even topped the charts in eight European countries. It's also a rock anthem beloved by fans, and even helped popularize the phrase “it’s my life.” Today, the music video for the song is the most viewed Bon Jovi video on YouTube, with a billion views by June 2021.
7. "Blinding Lights" - The Weeknd
Yes, Max Martin is even responsible for The Weeknd's most commercially successful song. “Blinding Lights” is the second single from The Weeknd’s critically-acclaimed fourth studio album After Hours. It wasn't the first collaboration between The Weeknd and Max Martin, as they had worked on tracks for Beauty Behind the Madness and Starboy. But "Blinding Lights" (as well as another song coming up on our list) is where the two struck gold.
"Blinding Lights" finds The Weeknd in a constant state of distraction that he only gets relief from when in the presence of a significant other. He sings over an uptempo electropop instrumental that features large 80s-inspired synths and synthwave drums – similar to the sonic direction of Starboy. "Blinding Lights" debuted at #11 on the Hot 100. During the week ending April 4, 2020, the song peaked at #1 on the chart, becoming The Weeknd's fifth chart-topper.
6. "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" - Backstreet Boys
The power anthem of the Backstreet Boys, "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" is one of the most iconic boy band songs of all time. Max Martin co-wrote this jam with his mentor, Denniz PoP. The song was released in 1997 as part of the Backstreet Boys' second album, Backstreet's Back. "Everybody" is one of Max Martin's first major successes as a songwriter and producer.
The song is catchy, danceable, and a good representation of popular 90s music as a whole. And due to the creepy music video inside a spooky castle, it's an unexpectedly great song to blast out during Halloween. "Everybody" is original, the only one, sexual, and everything we need.
5. "Save Your Tears (Remix)" - The Weeknd & Ariana Grande
Combined with the power of "Blinding Lights," "Save Your Tears" also helped to make The Weeknd a household name. Max Martin wrote this alongside The Weeknd, Belly, DaHeala, and Oscar Holter. Eventually, Ariana Grande was added in for the remix. Once she stepped in, the song became another #1 Billboard chart-topper for Martin.
We've decided to place "Save Your Tears" ahead of "Blinding Lights" only because this track is a bit more mellow, therefore giving it a timeless edge. And yeah, because of Grande's star power, too. The song is one of the more 80s, synth-heavy tracks featured on the record compared to the darker, muddier tracks seen during the middle of After Hours. We love how the melancholy message of "Save Your Tears" is hidden behind a boppin' beat.
4. "Blank Space" - Taylor Swift
Oh, 1989. How much we miss that era of exciting Taylor Swift music. Several songs on that album became Max Martin hits: "Style," "Shake It Off," "Bad Blood," and "Wildest Dreams." But one Martin hit off 1989 sticks with us the most, and that's "Blank Space."
It's the kind of radio-friendly song that goes good with almost any occasion. Lyrically, it's a play on Swift's "serial dater" persona she had in the 2010s, and production-wise, it's hard to beat that feel-good synth pop. This is another song in Martin's catalogue to reach #1 on the Hot 100, and its domination on the chart actually set a record for Swift. After "Blank Space" rocketed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, Swift became the first woman to knock her own song out of the #1 spot — 1989’s lead single, “Shake It Off,” had topped the chart for four weeks before “Blank Space” took over.
3. "I Want It That Way" - Backstreet Boys
Along with Andreas Carlsson, Max Martin wrote this legendary hit for the Backstreet Boys. "I Want It That Way" was released in 1999, and while it didn't reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it eventually went on to gain 3 Grammy noms in 2000: Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Additionally, the group won a VMA for the music video.
While it's easy to hear that “I Want It That Way” is about a strained relationship, the lyrical interpretation of this song is infamously muddled. They don’t necessarily make sense – and this is the subject of much online discussion. The song's titular line has caused a lot of confusion. Remember: Max Martin came over to the U.S. from Sweden to write songs for artists. At the time of writing "I Want It That Way," Martin's understanding of American phrases or even control of the English language, as Kevin Richardson has suggested, was minimal.
After the confusion of the line, an alternate version of the song was created, with the opposite message in the chorus. (“I love it when I hear you say, I want it that way”). Unfortunately, the alternate version wasn’t popular with fans, or the band, and the flawed lyrics of the original remained.
Co-writer Andreas Carlsson talked to HitQuarters about writing this song: "I Want It That Way’ was a play with words. When Max came up with the original idea for the song, it already had the line ‘you are my fire, the one desire.’ We tried a million different variations on the second verse, and finally we had to go back to what was sounding so great, ‘you are my fire, the one desire.’ And then we changed it to ‘am I your fire, your one desire,’ which made absolutely no sense in combination with the chorus – but everybody loved it!"
2. "It's Gonna Be Me" - NSYNC
The Backstreet Boys weren't the only awesome boy band Max Martin wrote for during the 90s. NSYNC's powerhouse track "It's Gonna Be Me" is also a credit to add to Martin's résumé.
Like "I Want It That Way," Martin also wrote this track with Andreas Carlsson. Songwriter Rami pitched in with lyrics too. On No Strings Attached, this banger follows the mega-hit "Bye Bye Bye"...which is probably why "It's Gonna Be Me" is considered NSYNC's second-best song in their entire catalogue.
In regard to the song's meaning, Justin Timberlake has said, "The story is about, again (referring to "Bye Bye Bye"), you’re telling this girl–she keeps rejecting you, and rejecting you. By the time she actually decides that you’re the one for her, it’s too late."
In recent whereabouts, this song was famously used in the trailer for Pixar's Turning Red. Oh, and did we mention that due to Timberlake's vocal inflection, "It's Gonna Be Me" is the official song of the month of May? That's right: Max Martin wrote a song to complement a month.
1. "...Baby One More Time" - Britney Spears
Last but definitely not least, we've got the Max Martin song that turned Britney Spears from a former Disney actor to an overnight pop star sensation. "...Baby One More Time" wasn't just a career-defining moment for Britney: it was a cultural reset of the 90s.
“…Baby One More Time” attained the most global success a song could possibly attain, reaching #1 in every country it charted. It also received numerous certifications around the world, and is one of the best-selling singles of all time, with over 18 million copies sold.
Continuing with the theme of #1, this was Max Martin's first song to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Since the success of "...Baby One More Time," Martin has been one of the most coveted songwriters in the United States.
And one more fun fact: most know "...Baby One More Time" was originally written for TLC, but they turned it down. But did you know that Backstreet Boys also turned down this track? Like...why? We wish we lived in an alternate universe where we could hear what "...Baby One More Time" would have sounded like if Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins or Nick Carter sang it. Still, we're thankful this hit went to Britney. Otherwise we wouldn't have gotten the iconic music video with the schoolgirl outfit and killer dance moves.
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