Swedish record producer and songwriter Rami Yacoub hit the ground running with his first collaboration with Max Martin in 1998 by producing an unknown artist named Britney Spears’ debut single, ...Baby One More Time. In an instant, the slickly executed tune launched Spears’ career, became a cornerstone of pop music, and is ranked one of the best-selling singles of all time, with over 10 million copies sold. Yacoub never looked back, going on to work with Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, Westlife, Celine Dion, Madonna, Bon Jovi, One Direction, Enrique Iglesias, Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, and many, many more. So I’m surprised to learn that for a man who has clearly cracked the coveted code of how to write and produce guaranteed hit records, he has never paid much attention to the charts.
“We never looked at charts,” he insists. “To this day, I don't look at charts or where my songs are at, because once I've done a song, I have done the best I can; it's not up to me how it goes. With ...Baby One More Time, just to show you how much we didn't care, we were working on a Backstreet Boys song, and Max walks into the studio and goes, ‘Oh, by the way, we're number one’. I remember being like, ‘Where? When did this happen?’ And he said, ‘Well, in the US; it was about three weeks ago, I just forgot to tell you’. We just loved what we did.”
The song had originally been called Hit Me Baby (One More Time), which raised a few eyebrows and was enough to concern the label. Turns out, the ‘hit me’ reference could be attributed to nothing more than a misunderstanding by the Swedish writers.
“This is very true,” he smiles. “If I recall correctly it was supposed to be, ‘hit me up, baby one more time,’ – we know ‘hit me up’ means call me back. But it didn't fit the syllable; it didn't sound good. We thought ‘hit me baby one more time’ must mean the same thing. But obviously it didn't,” he laughs.
“We were very, very anal about our cadence and our syllables, so we wouldn't change that. So we just cut the 'up' out.”