Welcome to THE PLAYLIST, where we pick a theme and, er, make a playlist around it. Sometimes you might get an essay, other times you might get just one sentence as a precursor to the laser-focused audio delights that await below. First up, Louise Bruton pays tribute to her undisputed Queen of Pop; Britney Spears. Oh yes.
There are few things on this earth that I care about more than Britney Spears’ happiness. You know how some people say “If Britney can make it through 2007, I can make it through today?” Well, she didn’t just make it through a bad year; she survived.
Britney Spears was created in a lab by Swedish hitmakers and the Disney Club and then, in 1998, when she was fully formed, she came crashing into lives as a perfect pin-up popstar. Her first batch of singles played on her childish innocence in a sexual way – she was only 16 when ‘…Baby One More Time’ was released – and she became a global superstar overnight. So many popstars from that time disappeared or faded away but Britney’s success only escalated.
2000’s Oops!… I Did It Again chucked out even more hits as things became self-referential. A great example of this is ‘Stronger’; one of her greatest singles and one that answers back to the ‘…Baby One More Time’ line “my loneliness is killing me” by stating that her “loneliness ain’t killing me no more”. This was a Britney with power but if ‘Lucky’, a song about a star who cries herself to sleep every night, is anything to by, perhaps it was a premonition of what was to come.
Her career jumped up a notch again in 2001 with Britney. The bubblegum pop was fading out of her catalogue and as seen on ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’, she looked to underground music for inspiration instead of creating pop by numbers. Follow-up record In The Zone was a deep exploration of sexuality and though it had huge success with singles ‘Toxic’ and ‘Me Against the Music’, album cuts ‘Touch of My Hand’ and ‘Breathe on Me’ – both very literal – are firm favourites when she performs today. (Full disclosure: ‘Breathe on Me’ is my favourite Britney song and if it doesn’t make you want the wear the face off the person next to you…)
2004 brought Britney’s golden era but it was also was the start of dark times. Britney famously injured her knee during a video shoot for ‘Outrageous’, a video that never saw the light of day, and it cut her Onyx Hotel tour short. This time off brought her closer to her then-dancer Kevin Federline, who became her husband before the end of the year.
Then came the hiatus. The reality show. The children. The divorce. The erratic behaviour. The paparazzi following her every move, capturing her crying or speaking in a strange British accent. The “lost” album that she promoted herself on radio stations. The shaved head. The hospitalisation… She survived it. Barely. And during it all, she somehow recorded and released Blackout. Blackout is Britney’s greatest album. It has ‘Gimme More’, which boasts the infamous “It’s Britney, bitch” line, and it has ‘Radar’, a song so good they had to put it on her next album.
Blackout was released at the height of her media frenzy, and so many reviews of the album take digs at her mental state, barely mentioning what an excellent album it is. The Guardian gave it four stars, Rolling Stone gave it three-and-a-half but she was the punchline. Looking back, it’s one of the more horrendous stories in modern pop culture and if ever you needed proof of that, there is a photo of her online where she is strapped into a gurney, petrified, as she is being loaded into an ambulance to be sectioned. ‘Piece of Me’ was her biggest single on Blackout, and to be honest, that’s exactly what we took.
I could write so much more about Britney but the fact is that there’s light in her eyes again and that’s all I look for with her. She went on to release Circus in 2008, Femme Fatale in 2011 and Britney Jean in 2013 (the album every Britney stans pretend doesn’t exist), all the while having a conservatorship under her father. If you ever want a proper insight into her existence, I recommend MTV’s For The Record, released in 2008 when her meltdown was very publicly captured or from that same year, and Rolling Stone’s cover story The Tragedy of Britney Spears.
Currently, she has a residency in Las Vegas and it shines a huge light on songs from In The Zone and Blackout because when they had their first outing, there was so much going on that people forgot about the music and she was the show. Now there is stability in her life and her happiness, seen in clumsily-taken photos on her Instagram of her kids or her incredible abs, feels real. The conservatorship is still there and the New York Times recently looked further into what that means for our Britney. None of it seems right and it sometimes feels as if she’ll never have as much control as she demonstrates in songs like ‘Stronger’ or ‘Kill the Lights’.
This piece was meant to be two paragraphs long but I couldn’t help myself when it comes to Britney Spears. I absolutely love her and if she was to retire tomorrow, I’d be ok with it because I just want the best for her. That feels as lame to say as it probably is to read. I defend Britney a lot because people are very quick to dismiss her but, at her peak, she was the best performer going. Just watch her perform ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’ at the VMAs, ‘Breathe on Me’ on ABC’s In The Zone special or ‘Circus’ on Good Morning America. Look at her! God. I’m sorry. I really went on. Anyway, here’s the playlist of some of my favourite Britney songs and I guess this is my application to present a Britney symposium because I’m definitely not finished with this topic.