"My first one," said reclusive producer and songwriter Max Martin as he collected his gold gramophone for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical at the 2015 Grammys pre-telecast ceremony. A fact that's, well, kind of shocking.
We say this because just as John Lennon once proffered that, popularity-wise, his band was bigger than Jesus, the same argument can be made for the little-known Swede being bigger than the Beatles.
As a songwriter, Martin has 19 number one songs, more than anyone but Lennon or McCartney (including their post-Fab Four output) and one shy of besting the Beatles as a unit at 20. As a producer, he's second only to Beatles producer Sir George Martin for number ones.
But if you expand to top ten songs, then Martin's 54 hits totally trounce the third-place Beatles' 34 as well as beating Elvis' 36 and artist record-holder Madonna at 38.
Oh, and in early 2013 the Hollywood Reporter tallied his singles sales at over 135 million -- and he's had eight hits since then, including four number ones.
No wonder the Daily Beast declared Martin's Maratone Studios the modern-day Abbey Road.
So, you may ask, who the hell is he?
In a nutshell, Max Martin has written pretty much every other pop smash for the past 20 years. This year's Grammy was given to him for producing Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off," Ariana Grande's "Problem" and "Break Free," Katy Perry's "Dark Horse" and "Unconditionally" and the Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj posse cut "Bang Bang." In other words, almost everything your pop radio station was playing for the past year.
Unlike, say, Pharrell, who always presented himself as a personality even when making music for other artists, Martin has never sought a solo career or media attention. Rolling Stone's write-up of the Grammys pre-telecast awards noted that "most surprising was the appearance of the press-shy Max Martin."
But even if you couldn't pick him out of a police lineup, you've been rocking his songs on your pop playlists for decades.
Born Karl Martin Sandberg in Stockholm in 1971, he started out playing in a number of high-school bands before dropping out to focus on a music career with his glam-metal band It's Alive. Though they weren't successful, it led him to a career as a pop songwriter for local Scandinavian acts in the early 90s, including Rednex and Ace of Base (though not those acts biggest crossover songs like, respectively, "Cotton-Eye Joe" or "The Sign").
In the mid-90s he landed his first North American smash by co-writing a pair of top ten singles "Show Me Love" and "Do You Know (What It Takes)" for Robyn (yes, that Robyn). Soon after his earlier work with big-in-Europe boy bands Backstreet Boys ("Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)," "We've Got It Goin' On") and *NSync ("I Want You Back," "Tearin' Up My Heart") finally came out Stateside and tore up the charts.
Then along came Britney.
Writing and producing "...Baby One More Time" in 1999 set Martin off on a tear that has only picked up steam, clocking 17 of his 19 number ones as a songwriter in the past six years. In fact, while this might be his first Grammy, he's won ASCAP’s Songwriter of the Year award for the past four in a row
To put all this into perspective, he had a hand in hits ranging from Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone," Bon Jovi's "It's My Life" and Usher's "DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love" to Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl," Pink's "U + UR Hand" and Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," among others. You may or may not like these songs, but you certainly know them.
While his role in the production can vary depending on the artist, you can still recognize a Martin song if you know what you're listening for.
So in celebration of his finally winning Grammy gold, we've ranked Max Martin's 54 top ten singles from best to worst. Listen along, and prepare to be astonished at his skills:
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