Pop music gets little to no respect as a genre. It’s passe, for squealing pubescent girls who show up to concerts with their reluctant fathers and glitter smeared across the apples of their be-acned cheeks.
The lyrics in pop is about as deep as a side-walk puddle, especially in comparison to rap and hip hop, genres known to have lyrics that combine authentic social messages with the mastery of language. Pop music is safe, structured. Pop music has no real relevance, it only really exists to sell an act.
15 years ago was the golden era of pop music. Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, and N’SYNC were selling out 40,000 seat stadiums. The whole world was caught up in their saccharine brand of bubble-gum pop. Music critics decried the end of rock-n-roll and, for all intents and purposes, good music as we knew it. I was 13 when the clock struck midnight on the dawn of the new millennium. I grew up among a throng of young girls that proved themselves a surprisingly powerful demographic: teenagers who bopped along to cheesy music and wanted nothing more than to marry Justin Timberlake.
Anyone paying any attention to the music knew that they were being sold a sparkly package without real substance. Who could even argue against its superficiality? It was something so obvious it didn’t warrant discussion. The music was just catchy.
This genre of music was packaged in a way to sell records: the smiling, singing and choreographed dancing and the the fresh-faced, white teenagers who performed them all. Because of this, the single most influential song-writer/ producer of the genre is a mystery; a man who’s completely unknown to the fans of his music. His name is Max Martin.
The very fact that pop music seems easy to write is a testament to the people who have done it so well. They make it look easy. The fact is it’s not. When people want to compliment but still dismiss a song they will say that it’s “catchy.” It may not deserve much analysis, but that doesn’t mean it was easy to create. A catchy song can be played over and over again, (pretty much ad nauseum on every radio station) and get more likeable every time you hear it. It has a quality that isn’t diminished by repetition. The more times you hear a catchy song the more familiar it becomes, the more familiar it becomes the fonder you are of it. Writing a catchy song takes an understanding of how music works for people. Just ask Koji Kondo, head music-writer for Nintendo. If you played Mario or Legends of Zelda, you have probably listened to his music for hundreds of hours.
Kondo’s work isn’t so different from pop music. He arranges simple compositions that don’t interrupt the flow of the game but still entertain. And they can be listened to over and over again. And like good pop, his music inspires nostalgia for a more simple, innocent time. Kondo is widely regarded as a musical genius.*
Max Martin is the Barry Gordy of millennial pop music. Here is a video of songs he has been the writer and/or producer of:
Max Martin has been involved with so many of the biggest-all-time billboard chart topping hits from the last 20 years: Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, N SYNC, Ace of Base, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, P!nk, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, even it-girl Taylor Swift.
Max Martin was born in Sweden in 1971. According to a Cracked.com article, 4 Bizarrely Specific Things Being Taken Over by One Country, Sweden is the kind of place that believes that education should foster and develop artistic and musical abilities. The article argues, pretty convincingly, that Swedish musicians are taking over the music industry. Martin’s influence on popular music of the last two decades is undeniable. His reputation as a hit generator has seen him in demand with long established acts like Bon Jovi and Celine Dion. And he is earning some serious cheddar. As of this date, his fortune towers at 250 million dollars.
Max Martin is the most influential songwriter you’ve never heard of. His music is culturally pervasive. He is a musician with an incredible ability to create songs that are absolute ear worms. This is the man who engineered the songs that would endear Britney Spears to millions.
His songs are still enjoying substantial success to this day. Songs that get just a little bit more fun every time you hear them.
* among the weirdos who consider themselves connoisseurs of video-game scores.