No. 40: Max Martin And Dr. Luke Infiltrate Rock Radio

One of the stranger turning points in recent pop history occurred around 2004, when songs like Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” signaled a full shift in white Top 40 toward uptempo guitar rock, completing the trend that had begun a few years earlier with Avril Lavigne’s first hits. It felt like a regime change from the bombastic synth pop of the Britney/Backstreet era, and it would’ve been, if not for the fact that the same producer, Swedish pop mastermind Max Martin, was behind both “…Baby One More Time” and “Since U Been Gone.” Along with songwriter and co-producer Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, Martin reinvented his signature sound with a campaign of chugging guitar riffs and shout-along choruses that shared more musical common ground with Fall Out Boy than Jessica Simpson, although his hits remained the sole province of Top 40 radio.

And then, this year, suddenly Max Martin was all over American rock radio for the first time, and then the second time, and the third, in quick succession. First, Carolina Liar, a band of Swedish session musicians assembled around American singer Chad Wolf, scored a major rock radio hit in “I’m Not Over.” Then, Katy Perry’s titillating Martin/Dr. Luke-produced pop hit “I Kissed A Girl” hit the Modern Rock chart. And then, most unexpectedly of all, Finnish cello rock combo Apocolyptica landed their biggest hit yet with “I Don’t Care” (featuring Three Days Grace singer Adam Gontier), which features a songwriting credit by M. Martin. In all likelihood, rock stations will continue to ignore Martin’s rock anthems when they’re sung by P!nk or Kelly Clarkson, but if he can keep finding angsty dudes (or Warped Tour-headlining girls) to sing his hooks, the once-closed door will keep creaking open for him.

Carolina Liar, “I’m Not Over” [YouTube]
80 ’08 (and Heartbreak)

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  • Chris Molanphy

    Nice.

    This is paired with the Heartbreak of Dr. Luke veering toward post-Goldfrapp stomp-pop in his ongoing Top 40 songwriting and production work. Definitely haven’t enjoyed that trend as much.

  • Nunya B

    @Chris Molanphy: At least when Max and Dr. Luke work together the “rock” and the “electro” smash up nicely next to one another (see: “Hot n Cold”, which is pretty A++).

    This is only tangentially related, but I do wish that Cyndi Lauper’s Max Martin collaboration had managed to go somewhere on the radio, as it’s the best thing he’s done all year.

  • Chris Molanphy

    @Nunya B: I will admit, I softened on Katy Perry a little the longer “Hot N Cold” hung around. The lyrics are not much better than the dreaded “IKaG,” but the song’s much, much better (that change-up in the chorus on the “You don’t really wanna…” line is great pop), and I confess I love the video.

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