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.