The Music Makers

Max Martin

Reader SmockMan comments on a recent post:
I’m just gonna go out on a limb here and say Ariana Grande has prayed the the biggest, most powerful demon. Just listen to the lyrics of all her songs. All about destroying the soul of women. Congrats. You created a beautiful dumpster fire.
SmockMan and subsequent commenters reminded me of the now notorious post I wrote about 1997 being ground zero for pop culture's decline.

Like all sectors of the entertainment industry, pop music suffered a marked collapse--not just in sales, but in quality--in the late 90s.

What happened ca. 1996-1999 that brought popular music so low? Did every act suddenly endure a catastrophic loss of inspiration?

It turns out they didn't have to. Pretty much all chart-topping pop is now written by a handful of highly placed songwriters. Three of the most prominent have connections to a particular songwriting group. The man at the center of it all is Martin Karl Sandberg, AKA Max Martin.
Martin Karl Sandberg (born February 26, 1971), known professionally as Max Martin, is a Swedish music producer and songwriter. He rose to prominence in the mid-1990s after making a string of major hits for artists such as the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and 'N Sync. Some of his earlier hits include "I Want It That Way" (1999), "...Baby One More Time" (1999) and "It's My Life" (2000).
Martin's big breakout moment came when he co-wrote and co-produced a majority of the tracks on the Backstreet Boys' album Millennium. That album still holds the US record for most copies shipped, and it's among the best-selling albums of all time with over 40 million copies sold.

And it came out in 1999.

Martin has gone on to write, co-write, and produce hit songs for Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Christina Aguilera, and Taylor Swift. He's written multiple songs for Katy Perry, including the irredeemably pozzed "I Kissed a Girl".

Predictably, he's written and produced for GoGurrrl of the moment Ariana Grnde

A quick glance at Martin's catalog reveals Martin's M.O. He writes catchy ear worm beats that disarm listeners against lyrics that encourage conformity with post sexual revolution death cult anti-morality.

These songs are overwhelmingly aimed at girls and young women.

Martin isn't doing his evil work alone, either. He has three influential disciples.
Martin's influence in the music field is also seen in the effect he has had on co-producers. The music site Stereogum singles out three people as his "disciples", Savan Kotecha, Dr. Luke, and Shellback. Time Magazine reported that "There’s a cluster of high-powered songwriters who are based in Sweden, and the grandmaster is Max Martin"
The weaponization of pop music is real. It's due to a coordinated, top-down effort by a small cartel of taste-makers, and it started in the late 1990s.

How much are you willing to bet we'd find a similar pattern operating in other media at the same time?

A likewise small, dedicated group of artists are striving to retake popular entertainment from the death cult grandmasters. Make no mistake, restoring truth, goodness, and beauty to pop culture will be an uphill slog. Men of goodwill with artistic gifts are morally bound to try.

Being a novelist and not a musician, my most prominent contribution thus far is the award-winning Soul Cycle. If you just got stuck in an elevator where you were bombarded with Ariana Grande muzak, the dimension-spanning adventures of a powerful yet feminine and loyal heroine will cleanse your palate nicely.

The Ophian Rising - Brian Niemeier


  1. And if you want giant robots blowing stuff up, get yourself some Combat Frame Xseed! Idealistic youth Sieg Friedlander and avenging warrior Tod Ritter wield their giants of steel against the Systems Overterrestrial Coalition, an orbital empire determined to enslave the people of Earth and snuff out their hope.

  2. [Martin Karl Sandberg] writes catchy ear worm beats that disarm listeners against lyrics that encourage conformity with post sexual revolution death cult anti-morality.

    This needs to be emphasized. Not just in pop rock, but all areas of music. I've caught myself listening to various tunes and gotten into the music, then started singing along. And then realized what I was singing. I've had to stop listening to several bands that have music I like because the lyrics promote a worldview that is ultimately evil.

    1. Same here. I was a lifelong U2 fan until a few years ago.

      Which is to say I'm not asking anyone to do what I'm unwilling to do myself.

      U2's musical output over the last decade or so has made it easy, though.

    2. When I was a kid I was raised on all the Boomer favorites. Bruce Springsteen's poppy Born in the USA was my favorite album.

      But when I became a teenager the lyrics became more important than the sound. At that point I learned exactly how damaging music could be to people.

      At least Brian Setzer never lost his mind.

    3. How much Billy Joel were you subjected to?

    4. He was the only one I wasn't subjected to. I couldn't escape the Beatles, though.

    5. Boomer: My generation changed the world, man!

      Me: Yes, for the worse in every respect.

      Boomer: No way, man! We revolutionized music! Just listen to the Beatles!

      Me: Who were all members of the Silent Generation.

    6. The Silents and the “Greatest” were cruddy generations too. Boomers just took the cultural sludge they inherited and decided to revel in it, ferment it, increase it, and then spread the filth everywhere on God’s green earth.

  3. I recently watched the ever insightful Rick Beato complain about computers and music. While he kept most of his criticism focused on the way Beat Detective turned musician into a MIDI board in 2000, he briefly mentioned Autotune's debut in.... 1997.

    At the same time the industry changed the way they MAKE music, they changed WHY they made music. How many who loved the Backstreet Boys are going to go back and listen to it twenty years later? Is it a timeless piece of music that is indispensable to who you are? Or was it merely melodious tchotchkes? It isn't art, it is noise masquerading as art.

    1. I had no idea Autotune debuted in 97, but of course it did.

      Glad you dig Beato. He knows his stuff.

    2. This was widely known at the time. Britney Spears was an infamously mediocre singer yet was held up by machines, glossy music videos, her songwriting team, and corporate backing.

      Yet despite this, no one did anything. Despite the stink caused mere years before on Milli Vanilli, and what would happen in regard to Jessica Simpson, everyone pretended on like it was okay.

      What the fiasco proved was not that anyone could be a star. It was that the record companies could spend the most money, stomp out dissenters, and control whatever the public heard. Because no one can be a "star" anymore without the same brain damaged opinions and thoughts.

      It's no coincidence pop music today sounds exactly the same as it did in 1997. It can't sound different. It's by design.

    3. *I mean Ashley Simpson. Not like it's hard to get them confused.

    4. Music fans ranging in age from Boomners to older Gen Y will remember a controversy that broke out with the launch of MTV.

      Simply put, musicians with a face for radio complained that music videos would lead to looks eclipsing talent as the chief criterion for who got to be a star and who was stuck as a session musician.

      Their complaints were dismissed as sour grapes. Now, when record companies scout for pretty faces first and leave the rest to death cult high priests like Max Martin, we forget we were warned.

    5. This is why the likes of the Backstreet Boys took off. If you mentioned any of the above as to objective reasons they are harmful it would get passed off because they were good looking.

      Before then looks were just a secondary thing.

      It is very much MTV's fault.

  4. Lately I've been listening to Japanese and Korean music. Decent music and I can't understand any Korean at all, and not enough Japanese to hear degeneracy.

    1. Thing where you can't understand the lyrics at all, or there are no lyrics to be understood.

      It's a wonderful safe haven.

    2. Same here. Reol newest album sigma (the symbol) is excellent if you like jpop/electronica.

  5. Brian,

    Interesting Max Martin writes predominately for women. Of course he does since they're more artistically inclined and linguistically sensitive.

    2 books come to mind
    Why beauty matters and how art saved the faith
    We need to look back for inspiration

  6. At the same time as this there were tons of record company mergers which lead to a mass exodus of artists that couldn't be used as weapons on the public.

    The late 90s killed the western music industry.

    1. It's reminiscent of the publishing company mergers in the 80s that did the same in oldpub.

      By the way, exodus or purge?

    2. Purge.

      Some pretended otherwise, but it was too convenient. There wasn't a single band from the early 90s that was still on a major label by the end of the decade unless they were sellouts like No Doubt or had a surprise comeback hit like Weezer.

      But there was also the pesky mid-level labels like Drive-Thru records which allowed some punk bands to get hits. So they had to be bought and silenced immediately.

      It's quite amazing how all this happened out in the open like that.

    3. It's reminiscent of the mini-majors grift. Back in the late 80s and early 90s when grunge was breaking into the mainstream, the big record labels formed all sorts of little subsidiaries who'd masquerade as indie outfits. They snatched up bands who'd attained local success but were wary of signing with the majors.

      Each of these bands signed three-album deals and was subjected to a process that went like this:
      >Debut album consisting of tracks honed at local live shows but produced with an actual budget released to critical acclaim and sometimes decent sales.
      >Regardless of the first album's performance, production and promotional budget for second album slashed. The record bombs.
      >The contract is cancelled. Or, if the third album does get made, the band basically end up paying for it themselves. It gets released to zero fanfare in a handful of markets, goes straight to the discount bin, and is soon forgotten. Which sucks, because by this point the band have found their feet, and there are at least three hidden gems on the record.

      The band would pretty much be done after that, replaced by the next flavor of the month.

      It's criminal how much talent was wasted for no reason in this idiotic system.

      And it sounds like the mini-majors were a dry run for the purge of the aughts.

    4. Brian,

      Not criminal but well planned out;hence diabolical.
      These coked out music execs saw indie music as a threat to their stranglehold. They acted accordingly and remained quite successful.
      These coked out exces loathe beauty and the good thus poison them like Snow White's apple

    5. It was all to form the current cocoon they live in. They just had to mold audience taste and ween them off poisonous mother's milk to get it. But two decades of rot has left them with no future.

      First you sever the roots, then you create a new normal, then you force everyone to follow your template.

      It happens in everything.

  7. These days I find refuge in bluegrass and Gospel music. Pre- Rural Purge, Johnny Cash regularly sang Gospel standards on a major broadcast network:


    Another benefit of good ol' mountain music: it makes you realize how most everything coming outta Nashville these days is trash. Just another front in the war on the South and decent Americans.

    1. Cash is a legend.

      Contemporary country music is just gangsta rap with steel guitars.

  8. I spent most of the late 90's listeni ing to Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, and Megadeth. Occasionally some Mahler.

    When I think iconic late 90's music that everybody liked (a lot of people eschewed Britney Spears and backstreet boys), it was Dave Mathews Band. If I was making a movie and wanted to you know the era, I'd put on some DMB. Say what you will about the lyrics (I never paid attention) but the musicality was solid.

    1. Rick Beato ID's Beat Detective, Auto-Tune, etc. as the murder weapon, but he's always maintained that the cause of rock's death was being severed from its blues roots.

      DMB is one band that never lost touch with the blues.

    2. Much of that was the Cobain influence and those that came after him. Just about every late 90s rock band cited him as an influence, they were all pure misery rock but none of the had any blues influence at all. Nu-Metal and Post-Grunge alternative were the blandest corporate-approved rage of all.

      People like to cite his MTV Unplugged thing as some kind of masterpiece, but he successfully managed to make an acoustic set without any blues influence at all.

      Before him every rock band had clear blues influence in their sound regardless of what subgenre they were in.

      After him everybody sticks to their own plantation and stays away from everybody else. So it's very much the sff of music genres.

    3. Consider the musicians that are making it today, swimming against the current of garbage, Jack White.
      To say that he is influenced by the blues is an understatement, and while it's hard to say where he is today spiritually, he was raised Catholic.
      What did he do as soon as he had achieved some measure of success? He set up his own totally independent studio.

    4. "To say that he is influenced by the blues is an understatement,"

      Definitely. If you ask Jack, he'll tell you that he is a blues man.

  9. Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and Chris Rea, both of whom were huge in the 80s and 90s, deliberately went back to their blues roots for a long time.

  10. My brother and I watched "Wooddstock II" on MTV and he turned to me and said "the 90's is the second picture." How true! Music has struggled since. (If anyone's interested, jazz and classical music have also languished in post 70's stagnation.)

    Video games is the one art form that had a golden age in the 90's and has largely continued to innovate. (That you, a layperson are angry at what people are making is a sign of health, largely. Much better than the classical world where everything is a masterpiece and all the artists like each other. That is a sign of death, by my Taleb inspired heuristic.)

  11. Just announced publicly: Peter Mayhew died on April 30th.

    1. Eternal memory.

      It's a shame he lived to see his legacy defiled.