With “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift debuting at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Ariana Grande’s sophomore album, My Everything, set to take the top spot of the album charts, it’s safe to say Max Martin is back on top. Though, it’s not like he exactly went anywhere. Easily one of the most prolific writers of the past 20 years, the Swedish music producer is responsible for some of the biggest hits by Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, and Kelly Clarkson. Most recently, he’s extended his magic touch to Grande, Swift and a host of other new artists that are hoping to add to Martin’s 18 number one hits.
With so much attention on his latest hits, we went through his entire writing and production catalog to pick out his 15 best hits. These songs range from country to pop, happy to sad and everything in between.
15. “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift (2014)
While it just debuted in the past few weeks, it’s so refreshingly earnest in its ’80s-inspired vibe that it’s impossible to ignore. The chanty chorus (a recurring theme for Swift) and “Hey Mickey”-esque beat makes it hard not to dance to this number that represents a new era for Martin. Things are jumpy, horn-heavy, and not bothered by anyone’s problems.
14. “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love” by Usher (2010)
Another hit from 2010, “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love” capitalized on the euro pop craze that was taking over radio with Usher doing his best to make the song not sound all too familiar. At the end of the day, the song’s addictive nature made it a go-to club jam and an undeniable hit.
13. “Break Free” by Ariana Grande and Zedd (2014)
Ariana Grande’s follow up single to her summer smash, “Problem,” is one of the best uses of EDM in 2014 while managing to sound refreshingly retro. Grande’s vocals play off the song’s synth build with delightful results that not only prompt fist-pumping but also sing-along reactions.
12. “Tearin’ Up My Heart” by ’N SYNC (1999)
The second single from the boyband’s self-titled debut is definitely one of the group’s strongest tracks and the best of the ones written and produced by Martin. While “It’s Gonna Be Me” charted higher, this song has a more timeless appeal channeling mid-’90s euro pop that transitions between Ace of Base and later Backstreet Boys sounds. A solid dance pop record all around.
11. “Bang Bang” by Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj (2014)
Even though “Domino” — also penned by Martin — was Jessie J’s first international hit, it didn’t put the singer’s best foot forward. The song was often too screechy while “Bang Bang” turned out to be a better effort. Her vocals are smoothed out over a retro R&B beat that also represents a new evolution for Martin as a songwriter. (The hand claps don’t hurt either.)
10. “Raise Your Glass” by Pink (2010)
By the time Pink started working with Martin, she had already transitioned from R&B into pop rock. Her vibe went from gruff to punk to soft and settled comfortably into inspirational grrl rock with a pop-friendly beat. “Raise Your Glass” is a defining track of Pink’s transition into consistent “once a year” hits that hit on the surface of social and relationship issues.
9. “Problem” by Ariana Grande (2014)
Grande first broke onto the scene with a throwback ’90s jam, and her first single from her sophomore plays on a similar formula without recreating its sound. Instead things blast forward thanks to a roaring horn section and Grande’s stunningly strong vocals. The record was easily a contender for song of the summer and quickly found its way on top of the charts.
8. “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry (2013)
There are so many things wrong with this song that it’s somehow right. Similarly to “E.T.,” the record is Katy Perry’s off-genre hit to appeal to a much different audience. It’s urban, it incorporates elements of trill and trip pop and much darker in tone than Perry’s biggest hits, “Roar” and “California Gurls.” That’s why it all works — it’s so unexpected.
7. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” by Taylor Swift (2012)
While Taylor Swift’s upcoming album will be her first true pop record, Red opened the door for the singer to switch genres. It also helped Martin was on hand to pen a number of her hits, including “22” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.” However, those didn’t quite hook fans like the catchy, chanty chorus of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Probably her last true country hit, the song blended genres letting the artist comfortably breathe in both worlds.
6. “…Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears (1999)
After the Spice Girls and Hanson made pop marketable again, Britney Spears turned the genre into a multibillion-dollar business. With her debut single, Spears immediately gave fans a new pop star to idolize and consume over and over again. It’s hard to imagine that “…Baby One More Time” was shopped around — originally offered to TLC for the group’s comeback album — before finding its way into Spears. Her vocals match perfect with the song’s attitude — sexual yet sweet and everything in between.
5. “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry (2010)
If there is one thing “Teenage Dream” succeeds in doing is creating all the nostalgic pings of young, high school love. The record is as soapy as they come but it doesn’t feel trite, especially when covered by the Glee cast. The a cappella version of the song showcases just how incredibly well-written and orchestrated the record is. The song also represents the string of number 1 hits that came off of the Martin-produced album.
4. “Show Me Love” by Robyn (1997)
Without “Show Me Love” there would be no “…Baby One More Time.” If nothing else, this song could be viewed as the demo version of Spears’ record but it shouldn’t be discounted as incomplete work. The song was a minor hit in ’97 but substantial enough to break through the hip-hop years of the late-’90s helping the future generation of pop succeed.
3. “Till the World Ends” by Britney Spears (2011)
Of Spears extended catalog this is one of the most inventive records for the singer. Working in elements of eurodance, Spears and Martin helped introduce EDM to the pop world and create a chart-topping club banger. “Till the World Ends” also marked the first time the singer was back on top in nearly four years. Fans were ready to embrace a post-breakdown Spears with an “in the moment” record.
2. “I Want It That Way” by Backstreet Boys (1999)
Ranked by Rolling Stone as the tenth best pop song of all time, “I Want It That Way” is easily a signature track for one of the biggest boy bands in music history. While Martin has penned a number of hits for the group, none match the sophistication of this particular record. It raised the bar for what bubblegum pop could be at the time. Sure the lyrics don’t make much sense, but the passion of the song is not lost in translation. The lyrics are memorable, the song is short, and the vocals are sweet — how all pop songs should be.
1. “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson (2004)
After a lukewarm debut from American Idol’s first winner, Kelly Clarkson teamed up with Martin and Dr. Luke (penning one of his earliest hits) to write one of the best kiss off anthems of all time. At the time, both Clarkson and Martin were looking to update their sounds and found success with this edgy pop record that completely defied expectations. Heard everywhere in the ’00s, it quickly went on to define what every major pop star was doing at the time. Teen angst was out, heartbreak was soooo in. And this song never gets old!
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