#TIL: Max Martin, genius + every song you love

This post is  bit off-kilter, seeing how it has nothing to do with law, governance or science fiction, or policy, but I’m interested in writing about Max Martin because his work comprises half my cheesy work playlist

Predictably, a few years later to the party, I discovered Taylor Swift in July this year. “Never, ever ever” was suggested to me as an appropriate followup to Guetta ft. Sia (Titanium), and as the song played (meh), I scanned the comments, read one that said “Listen to this song at 1.25. It sounds better”. And so I did, and *it* did. Boy, did it ever!

 

I was hooked, and I tried the 1.25 trick with Shake it off (too fast), 22 (just right), and Love story (worked, but I preferred it without). Tswizzle’s hooks sounded fun, energetic, and were the perfect counterpoint to my dense and often very boring research, so I gave it pride of place in the list of songs.  Blank space (just right w/0 1.25), coming on the heels of so much *pop*, felt grown-up, fresh, and unexpected even: I began to loop it frequently.

My fascination with this song, her outfits, the video, the sheer marie-antoinette-ish disregard for the lovely cars, all of it consumed me for a week or so, and it got to the point where I began to obsessively wiki Taylor Swift:

1) Wait, HOW old is she?
2) Wait, HOW much money does she make?
3) Wait, WHAT, nothing makes sense, she’s performed where?!

Kind friends who watched me spiral out of control (seriously, so late to the party) sent me an article about this guy whom the article’s really about: Max Martin. If you follow pop and popular music at all, then you’ve surely hummed along to Max’s work numerous times in the last couple of years…or decades (I mean, how old were you when ‘Quit playing games with your heart’ was the song of the millennium?)

 

So, who is this genius Max Martin? Here’s a picture.

Sourced from the New Yorker at http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/blank-space-what-kind-of-genius-is-max-martin

Max Martin: PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL TRAN / FILMMAGIC VIA GETTY

 

Max is a song-writer and producer (Swedish), who writes the music, and the lyrics for songs, and then shops them out to various musicians (artists?). Among his earliest hits were ‘I want it that way’ for the Backstreet Boys, and ‘Baby one more time’ for Britney Spears, and later on, the robust ‘It’s my life’ for Bon Jovi.  His clients include Celine Dion, NSync, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, and others.

The reason this is so amazing, is because the traditional approach to music-making used to be that the artist wrote the song, and worked with a producer to shape the sound, think late 40’s and 50’s. I assumed this practice still continued, and that Tswizzle, and Katy Perry, and Rihanna actually *wrote* their songs.

This isn’t true, as I realised, and current practice is (apparently) very much for song-writers to write and produce the songs the way they’ve envisaged, and bring the singers in for the vocals almost as a last step. I can’t tell you how it makes me feel to know that the same hand was behind all of my favourite pop songs. Sort of like feeling that Atwood, Banks, and Asimov were really all the same person. It feels odd, and unsettling. I still listen to these songs of course, and I’m playing more Guetta as I write, but I feel a bit disappointed that maybe Swift didn’t really mean everything she said about feeling 22.

For more (and really, why wouldn’t you want to know more) read this excellent New Yorker profile of Max, or this more informative piece in the Atlantic on the same. For a list of the US Billboards’s Top 100 hits (top 10’s of Max), check out this page.

So there you go, my #TIL for this month!

I’m currently on a Mumford&Sons binge, but as you can see, I listen to anything really. Do send recommendations my way. Esp for 1.25 speed songs – those I particularly love.

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