from Prospect Magazine

Max Martin: the Swedish svengali with a formula for the new pop age

How the legendary producer’s hit factory works

by John Harris

© C Flanigan/WireImage for KAABOO Del Mar via imageSPACE© C Flanigan/WireImage for KAABOO Del Mar via imageSPACE

Popular music was changed forever when a Swedish producer’s in-car cassette machine broke, and he found himself unable to listen to anything other than a song called “All That She Wants.”

It was 1992. The producer’s name was Dag Krister Volle. Some people knew him as “Dagge,” but he went about his musical business under the name of Denniz PoP. He apparently had a “childlike wonder” about him, and loathed music that was in any way anodyne or boring. As he saw it, “every note, word and beat had to have a purpose, or be fun.” The song that got stuck in his tape deck was an early version of the eventual breakthrough hit for a quartet called Ace Of Base, who were led by a musician named Ulf Ekberg. At that stage, it was called “Mr Ace,” and its creators obviously knew it lacked a certain something. Having heard what Denniz PoP had achieved with a minor Swedish hit entitled “Another Mother,” they had sent it to him in the hope that he might help.

At first, Denniz PoP was not impressed at all. But as he drove his car each day and listened repeatedly, familiarity began to melt his scepticism and suggest that something could be done. Having met the group, he then took out half the instruments on the recording, and moved the whistled melody that closed the song to its introduction. Denniz PoP also pushed Ekberg to add more lyrics.

What resulted was seemingly gauche, clunky and devoid of much sense. The reggae-ish music sounded synthentic and flimsy; the vocals were so treated with effects that they seemed almost inhuman. Ekberg later claimed that Ace of Base had an advantage in not being native English speakers, because he and his colleagues were able to treat the language “very respectless [sic], and just look for the word that sounded good with the melody.” But even on that basis, the stuff they came up with was pretty awful:

When she woke up late in the morning light
And the day had just begun
She opened up her eyes and thought
Oh what a morning
It’s not a day for work
It’s a day for catching tan
Just laying on the beach and having fun
She’s going to get you

The chorus was even worse: it was built around a refrain of “all that she wants, is another baby,” which suggested the condition medical professionals know as secondary infertility, but was actually meant to refer to a quest for a lover. To rock snobs like me, this was the kind of fleeting hit that one occasionally hears on European holidays, safe in the knowledge that such tripe could never be successful back home. What I chose to ignore was the fact that the song lodged itself even in my self-denying brain for keeps after a single hearing.

“All That She Wants” went to number one in 10 countries, including the UK. In the United States, it reached number two on the Billboard charts, and was certified platinum, denoting sales of one million copies. Denniz PoP and some of his Swedish associates were suddenly in demand, and about to push music somewhere new. If the cultural period running from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s was the rock age, we now live in the era of pop, and “All That She Wants” is the song that began it.

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