1. The Polar Music Prize Ceremony
2. Growing up
3. The mentor
4. The Cheiron years
2016 Laureate


The Polar Music Prize 2016 is awarded to songwriter Martin Sandberg from Stockholm, Sweden, who writes under the name Max Martin. Melodies are like time capsules. Melodies define their time and are spread from person to person, across borders and across generations. In the last 20 years, no composer in the world has written melodies as sustainable or as widespread as those of Max Martin. Right now, at this very moment, someone, somewhere in the world will be singing a hit song written and produced by Max Martin. With his ear for song melodies, his musical precision and craftsmanship, he has refined and developed the world's popular music.


Cecilia Bartoli and Max Martin on stage.

The Ceremony

Max Martin and Cecilia Bartoli received the Polar Music Prize on June 16 2016 during ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall. Several Swedish artists honored the Laureates together with the The Royal Stockholm Philarmonic Orchestra, led by maestro Hans Ek. Artists performing in tribute to Max Martin and Cecilia Bartoli, included Peter Jöback, Seinabo Sey, Amanda Bergman, Ann Hallenberg, Lena Willemark and folk music group Väsen.

In his acceptance speech, Max Martin joked: “You blew my cover! I’ve managed to hide between two speakers in a basement for over 20 years, but you got me!”  He said that he has two secrets for writing the perfect pop song, firstly: “To steal. Yes. I confess. I have through the years ripped off giants like Abba, Kiss, Prince … and of course Lasse Holm." And the second, and most important is love from his wife Jenny and daughter Doris: “I could NOT have done it without you.” He concluded with: "to the Polar Music Prize, I can’t thank you enough for this honour.”

Howie, Kevin & Brian (Backstreet Boys)

Peter Jöback performing "Show me love"

Seinabo Sey performing "As long as you love me"

Max Martin receives the Polar Music Prize 2016

Thank you Polar Music Prize, you did it! You blew my cover!

Max Martin, 2016

The banquet

Jason Timbuktu Diakité was the master of ceremonies at the banquet at Grand Hôtel, where the celebration continued with amazing performances by Swedish and international artists; Ebbot Lundberg, Kim Cesarion, Sabina Ddumba, Kristin Amparo, Damn!, Frida Johansson, Carl Ackerfeldt, Henrik Måwe, Jamie Cullum and a surprise all star band with Max Martin’s friends – and daughter!: Klas Åhlund, Alexander Kronlund, Robyn, E-type, Shellback, Carl Falck and many more. Max Martin himself entered the stage at the after party, singing ”Purple Rain” and other major hits together with the Backstreet Boys!

Carl Ackerfeldt, Henrik Måwe, Ebbot Lundberg, Frida Johansson, Kristin Amparo, Kim Cesarion, Damn!, Jamie Cullum, Sabina Ddumba, Timbuktu

Jamie Cullum performs a medley of Max Martin songs

A medley of Polar Music Prize Laureates from the last 25 years performed by Kristin Amparo, Sabina Ddumba, Ebbot Lundberg, Timbuktu, Kim Cesarion and Damn! Contains songs from Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin, Paul Simon, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Peter Gabriel, Quincy Jones, Joni Mitchell, Gilberto Gil, Elton John, Katy Perry, Max Martin.

If you can somehow influence popular culture, shape it in some way, when something becomes bigger than just a song, that’s the greatest thing for me…this is what I love about music.

Max Martin

Growing up

Martin Sandberg was born in Stenhamra, Sweden, in 1971. His older brother introduced him to cassettes of rock band Kiss. For a long period, Kiss was all that he listened to. The dream of being a rock star was born.

Martin Sandberg attended one of Sweden’s public music-education programmes. He began playing French horn and learned to read music and write scores. After a time, he switched from French horn to trumpet, and then to drums and keyboard.

He attended the Södra Latin upper-secondary school to study music, but left to pursue a career as a singer in the hard rock group It’s Alive. Martin Sandberg now called himself Martin White. It’s Alive took part in the “Rock-SM” competition (Sweden’s national rock music championships) and toured Switzerland and Germany.

KISS, Livé 1977

It's alive – "Pretend I'm God"

Denniz Pop and Cheiron

Denniz Pop, (Dag Krister Volle), started as a DJ during his adolescence in Tullinge, south of Sthlm in the early 80s. In 1986, after a get-together with several other DJs for an interview, the collective SweMix was born. The collective was a hub for remixes of bigger commercial hits adapted to the night club scene, and also founded a dance label that brought forward talented Swedish artists such as Kayo and Dayeene.

In 1993 Tom Talomaa and Denniz Pop moved on to start Cheiron, that would become a production company, label and a very influential studio within pop music worldwide during the 90s and 00s.

In 1993, Denniz Pop signed It’s Alive to the short-lived Cheiron Records label and produced one album with the band, Earthquake visions. Denniz Pop saw Martin Sandberg’s potential as a songwriter and allowed him to stay on at the Cheiron studio as an apprentice.

Denniz Pop (photo published with kind permission from the Denniz Pop Awards.)

90s hits written and/or produced by Denniz Pop

Interview with Max Martin and Denniz Pop early 90s

I spent two years – day and night – in that studio trying to learn what the hell was going on. I didn’t even know what a producer did.

Max Martin on his "internship years" at Cheiron

The Cheiron years

Martin Sandberg’s musical skills and qualities as a singer proved to be useful in the development of the Cheiron sound. Denniz Pop introduced a new, non-hierarchical approach to working in the studio, with several different songwriters working on the same song, contributing different elements. This approach has been compared to the method of painting in 15th century Italy: one person painted the hands, another the feet, a third the background.

Denniz Pop gave Martin Sandberg an artist name, Max Martin. The first time it was printed on a record was in 1994 on the single “This Is The Way” with E-Type. “Produced by Denniz Pop and Max Martin”. That phrase would eventually change international pop music.

Over the next few years at their studio at Fridhemsplan in Stockholm, the Cheiron producers created global hits for artists such as Backstreet Boys, Robyn and NSync, a boy band featuring Justin Timberlake. Denniz Pop died of cancer in 1998.

Outside Cheiron Studios in Stockholm.

Baby one more time!

Max Martin himself wrote “…Baby One More Time”, Britney Spear’s debut single, which was released in autumn 1998. The song reached number one in all the countries of the world in which it was released, and was the first of Max Martin’s total of 21* number ones (in February 2016) on the Billboard Hot 100 list.

Britney Spears – "...Baby one more time"

21 Billboard hits (and some covers of Billboard hits!)

Worldwide hitmaker

Artists such as Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Pink, Maroon 5, The Weeknd, Ariana Grande, Adele and many, many more perform his songs. He won the ASCAP Songwriter of The Year award three years in a row: 1999, 2000 and 2001. After several less successful years, when some people thought his glory days were over, he won again in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Worldwide hits

Taylor Swift, "We are never ever getting back together" from 2012

I think you’re a genius, it’s such an honour to work with you…you’ve been a part of my career from the beginning. Britney Spears, 2016

Britney Spears, 2016

A true collaborator

Max Martin has continued to work in the spirit of Denniz Pop and has written and produced together with talented young Swedes who have become global songwriters such as Shellback and Tove Lo.

Max Martin has always worked on developing his songwriting art. Whilst others attempt to imitate, he leaves that sound behind and is constantly leading development, renewing the pop song as an art. His main focus is on the song and song melodies. His songs are immediate, yet also complex, and contain enough layers that they bear repeated listening. Max Martin’s choruses are sung all over the world.

Johan "Shellback" Schuster (Source: Daniel Roos)

Tove Lo (Source: Rankin)

Content of biography is presented here as it was published in 2016.

Header photo and portrait by © Axel Öberg

All pictures from Polar Talks, the ceremony and the banquet by Annika Berglund, © Polar Music Prize.