Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" meant something for more than just the performer behind it: Songwriter/producer Max Martin counted it as his 18th no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, which moves him into sole possession of third place all time (behind Paul McCartney and John Lennon, respectively).
Music Times has taken it upon itself to revisit Martin's catalogue of no. 1's from the last 15 years. We warn Katy Perry fans in advance: You might not be happy. Keep in mind that regardless of our critiques, all of these songs have topped the charts. We're not sure what that says about ourselves or America in general.
18) "Part of Me" by Katy Perry (2012)
Two of Martin's issues that will be revisited throughout this list are A) when he tries to fit too many syllables into one bar and B) when he rhymes words with themselves. Both come together to make Perry's "Part of Me" his worst no. 1 single. "This is the part of me that you're never ever gonna take away from me." Would it have killed him to remove the word "ever" and make this sound less teenage? And we know it's tough to find a word that rhymes with "me," but c'mon.
17) "California Gurls" by Katy Perry (2010)
Martin tends to stress rhythm over melody in his hooks, which creates a problem for talented vocalists such as Perry. That's not the case for once in this hit single—we just find the description of the titular "girls" to be less than inspiring pop fodder. Several rappers make appearances throghout this list and of course handle their own bars, but Snoop Dogg doesn't help the cause here.
16) "3" by Britney Spears (2009)
It had been ten years since Martin first struck gold with Spears, and although things were looking up for him, the performer herself was not at the top of her game. Where mid-level sexiness had once done the trick, she began to go all out in order to hook an audience...or to at least get attention. The numeral of course refers to multiple partners at once, although she ends up ceding ground if her lover prefers mano-a-womano. Kudos for the Peter, Paul and Mary reference at least.
15) "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" by Katy Perry (2011)
The next few slots aren't going to be too pretty for Perry so bear with us. We promise that she lands a few tracks higher up on the list. Part of Perry's appeal has been her frequent trips back to school but this isn't one of the better examples. She and her friends may have gotten kicked out a bar, may have danced on the tables, may have had a threesome (that theme won't stick around too long after the last two examples). Again, the hook just doesn't stick. Perry's verses just outshine the main attraction.
14) "Roar" by Katy Perry (2013)
Another visit to the "powerful woman" theme we saw during "Part of Me." And we salute that. She just needs to find someone better to write those hooks for her. Perry has a better voice than many of her singles let us hear. "Roar" is so problematic because it has so much potential. Even if the lyrics remained exactly the same, the composition could be adjusted to boost Perry's voice to greater heights. When she says "you're gonna hear me roar," we want to hear her roar, dammit! She might not be Idina Menzel but this track could be so much more epic.
13) "So What" by Pink (2008)
Martin may have been a victim of his performer in this case. Realize of course that songwriters and performers aren't slaves to each other. There should be a healthy amount of back and forth. This track came immediately following Pink's separation from husband Carey Hart. She seems more intent on giving a big ol' "f--k you" to her ex than landing a no. 1 single but it happened to work out. We know you're a rock star honey...we don't need to hear about how you got your "rock moves."
12) "E.T." by Katy Perry (2011)
As you've probably guessed by now, Teenage Dream is not our favorite from the Perry oeuvre. This, much like "Last Friday Night" is hampered by the fact that Perry's verses are more alluring than her hook (not a problem if the hook is good. In this case...it's not). One thing this track has going for it is a guest spot from Kanye West who gets the single-version off to a good start. One of the few successful guest spots Perry has ever hosted.
11) "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift (2014)
Out of all the tracks on this list, it's tough to think of any that have received as much upfront hate as Swift's new pop single. Say what you will about its video, we think Swift's penchant for melody over rhythm helped ensure that the hook for "Shake It Off" was at least on the right track, not a Lego rhythm-block mess like some of Martin's singles. That being said: The bridge, involving Swift's ex and his "Oh-My-Gawd" girlfriend is the type of nonsense Swift doesn't need, but exactly the kind of stuff she came to Martin for.
10) "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"
Remember when we complained about the use of the phrase "never ever" during Perry's "Part Of Me"? For some reason the songwriting pair of Martin and Swift opted to include two "ever's" during the hook for her first single off of Red, even including one of them in the title. The performer's singing sensibility helped dampen the damage but this single could have been a lot better sans a few extraneous adverbs.
09) "Hold It Against Me" by Britney Spears (2011)
House music and EDM in general had not reached 2014-type levels of popularity when "Hold It Against Me" dropped but it was getting there. Kudos to Martin and Spears for being a tad ahead of the curve. This is a rare case where Martin's production is more noticeable than his songwriting and this single is all the more dance-worthy because of it.
08) "My Life Would Suck Without You" by Kelly Clarkson (2009)
Odd to think that Kelly Clarkson has only had three no. 1 singles during her career, and one of them was thanks in part to help from Martin. It would seem at first glance that the phrase "my life would suck without you" wouldn't exactly work well into a pop hook but Clarkson is a smart cookie. It's kind of bizarre to consider the album art for this track—with the vocalist dolled out in red with a big red, heart-shaped lollipop—but fortunately Martin didn't try to over-sexualize the down home pop star within his lyrics.
07) "Raise Your Glass" by Pink (2010)
Now this was the Pink we were looking for. Martin brought out the themes of rocking out and hell raising during "So What"...it was just a tad sloppy. Pink is the closest thing Martin has ever had to working with a rebel, so it's good he managed to pull it off with "Raise Your Glass."
06) "I Kissed A Girl" by Katy Perry (2008)
"I Kissed A Girl" was notable for two reasons: For one, it marked Martin's first no. 1 since the era of *N'SYNC and for two, it was as interesting as Perry ever got lyric-wise (although we'll also put in a vote for her single "Ur So Gay" from the same album, One Of The Boys). "I Kissed A Girl" wasn't the best songwriting per se but it was certainly unique subject matter and Martin handled it in a sensitive enough way so it wasn't just another horny male fantasy sequence.
05) "Teenage Dream" by Katy Perry (2010)
Earlier we referenced Perry's skill for taking us back to school, whether that be college or high school, and this track was what we had in mind. In an era where songwriters pound listeners into emotional oblivion with upfront lyrics about raunchy subject matter (Martin is as guilty as any), it's nice that he brought us back to having a crush during high school. There's still lust but it's a lust of the more innocent variety. For the record, yes, we realize that "teenage dream" is just a figure of speech during this song.
04) "Dark Horse" by Katy Perry (2013)
Perhaps it takes a long look at Perry's entire discography to realize how great "Dark Horse" sounds in context. Sure, the lyrics don't necessarily make sense ("coming at you like a dark horse"? Like Florida Gulf Coast University? What?) and Juicy J's contribution is pretty much up to par with anything by Juicy J, but this is the song we've always wanted, where Perry can actually sing up to her potential. The melody we've been waiting for.
03) "One More Night" by Maroon 5 (2012)
You can hear Martin trying make something too-rhythmic out of this Maroon 5 track but Adam Levine's voice just refuses to acquiesce. You can only steal so much melody from that falsetto before you have to rely on stutter effects. Fortunately Levine shines through, although the rest of his band gets largely left behind by this Jamaican dub beat. But hey, if you wanted a straight rock song, you wouldn't come to Martin.
02) "It's Gonna Be Me" by *N'SYNC (2000)
Only two of Martin's 18 no. 1's have been performed by males. And, as the previous entry suggests, both have them have been pretty solid. In this case it's the biggest track from the biggest act of the early millennium. This hook shows an impressive balance of melodic and rhythmic parts, beginning with the smooth vocals we still love from Justin Timberlake (and company) and ending with a sharp "It's Gonna Be Me." Hate all you want. Haters.
01) "...Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears (1999)
We don't think Arcade Fire's Funeral is its best album. We only say this to assure you that we didn't select Spears' first single and Martin's first no. 1 because we automatically vote for a performer's original work. But seriously, nothing outside of "Toxic" has touched this Spears since she began her career in 1999. Maybe it was the fact that she was in high school (perhaps you remember the music video), but this remains the sexiest Spears song to date. The trick for such a track is to get in the listener's head without getting in their face, a skill that Spears (and to a degree Martin) have lacked in the years since this single. What some might consider schlock is actually a stellar pop music entry.