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From the very moment it was announced, we were obsessed with the new West End musical ‘& Juliet’. If the fact that it was the brainchild of Swedish pop super-producer Max Martin – and features 29 of his iconic smashes – wasn’t enough for love at first sight, then the gleefully preposterous plot, that sees Shakespeare’s Juliet (Miriam-Teak Lee) return from the dead and head off on a girls’ trip to Paris, sealed the deal. Here’s a guide to six of the show’s biggest bangers, with some input from the reclusive Mr Martin (below).
‘…Baby One More Time’
‘& Juliet’ features numerous Britney Spears smashes, including ‘Oops!… I Did It Again’, ‘Overprotected’ and ‘I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman’. But realistically, no musical celebration of Max Martin would be complete without his most famous song. ‘…Baby One More Time’ is performed near the start of the show: Juliet is singing it as she appears on stage after William Shakespeare is persuaded by his wife Anne Hathaway to change the ending to ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and bring its heroine back.
Max Martin: ‘I wrote this in my head in the middle of the night. I remember getting up and recording a sleepy voice version of it so as not to lose it!’
‘It’s My Life’
It’s easy to forget quite how much stuff Martin has written, and for quite how many people: ‘It’s My Life’ gave Bon Jovi a walloping Top Three hit back in 2000, and remains a karaoke anthem. In ‘& Juliet’, it’s the big pre-interval number, and while we shouldn’t totally spoil the surprise, let’s just say that it marks the point when William Shakespeare decides that he’d like to bring a certain other character from ‘Romeo & Juliet’ back into
Max Martin: ‘This song is all about taking control of your life, your destiny… and I love the way it is used in the musical. It’s a real moment of surprise!’
‘Since U Been Gone’
This absolute belter turned
Kelly Clarkson from an ‘American Idol’ winner, little known outside of her home country, to a massive global superstar. In ‘& Juliet’ it emerges as a song of self-empowerment as Juliet gathers her gal pals and tells a certain other character that she has moved on in his absence.
Max Martin: ‘This an example of how a good song can become a great song, when someone like Kelly Clarkson sings it.
‘I Kissed a Girl’
Originally, Katy Perry’s kerjillion-selling breakthrough song was a slice of lipstick lesbian silliness that caused a bit of controversy because of the suggestion it was trivialising bisexuality. No danger here – it’s sung by a male character who has an enjoyable snog with Juliet on the way to realising that he is in fact gay.
Max Martin: ‘I have such great memories of that song. It was the starting point for Katy’s amazing journey, and I am so proud to have been a part of that.’
‘It’s Gonna Be Me’
Believe it or not, *NSYNC only had a single US Number One – and it’s this bad boy, from 2000. It doesn’t soundtrack an easily definable piece of action in ‘& Juliet’ – but of course the real question is: how will the word ‘me’ be pronounced. Over to you, Max.
Max Martin: ‘So much has been written about why Justin Timberlake pronounces the word “me” as “may” in this song. People now release memes online on April 30 with the title “It’s Gonna Be May”. Even Barack Obama did this one year… I never saw that coming!’
Fans of Backstreet Boys are in for an absolute treat with ‘& Juliet’, which contains no less than five of the biggest hits Martin wrote for AJ, Howie and the gang. Again, ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’ doesn’t soundtrack a major plot point here, which isn’t really a surprise given the extreme specificity of the lyrics.
Max Martin: ‘Denniz Pop and I had the idea to write a song by Backstreet Boys singing about Backstreet Boys coming back with a new record.’
‘& Juliet’ is at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Until May 30 2020.