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Way back in the day in 1999, when I was just 10 years old and like all girls my age, obsessed with the Backstreet Boys and the whole boyband phenomenon, suddenly I caught a video on MTV that would signify the complete transformation of pop music. That video was '...Baby one more time' by Britney Spears.
Say whatever you like about Britney Spears. She is obviously a woman of limited intelligence and singing ability. Her trashy tabloid persona and personal trainwreck life has completely overshadowed any scrap of talent she may have and she seems to be almost on a mission to destroy her career and throw everything away, but the fact is there was a time when Britney mattered. I would honestly say she still does, for different reasons. She has become the case study for the effects of fame and encapsulates everything that today's entertainment industry is about.
But back then she was a fresh faced, smiley girl plucked straight from the deep south and kitted out in a skimpy schoolgirl outfit and used as the puppet for record executives in their plan-to produce a star with both wholesome appeal to young girls and a suggestive sexuality that would make men go crazy too. Not an easy thing to, and now with hindsight we can see just how dangerous it is.
When '...Baby one more time' came out it was all about the contradiction. Whereas Britney would talk in interviews about her faith in god, her wish to remain a virgin until marriage and her love for her mother, in her video her outfits got pulses racing, her lyrics stirred controversy and her photoshoots were racy to say the least. ...Baby one more is full of sugary pop perfect for young girls, with sweet ballads like 'Sometimes' alongside cool teen anthems like 'You drive me crazy'. Now looking back its almost uncomfortable, to know that this young girl could be presented as an object of desire and you know she had absolutely no control over it, this was just a teenage girl with dreams of emulating her idol Madonna. The '...Baby one more time lyrics 'recieved accusations of promoting everything from domestic violence to underage sex, and in fact if you play it backwards the words 'When i'm not with you i lose my mind, give me a sign' become 'Sleep with me i'm not too young.' Nevertheless it sold millions and a superstar was born.
However, a media circus was also born. Every star needs headlines and paparrazi if they are to sell, and Britney could be accused of courting the controversy more than most with her antics. With Britney the media interest is nothing short of extraordinary. She is hounded by dozens of photographers wherever she goes and her every move is documented and analysed in newspapers. She has become such a 'celebrity' that it is often forgotten that Britney was an entertainer, and in my opinion, a damn good one. At her best her performances were exciting, her music led the way in the late 90s pop explosion and spawned a string of copycats eager to follow a successful formula. Watch the youtube video of her performance of 'Oops I did it again' at the VMAs and you will see what i mean. Her first two albums are polished with great hooks and production. The key word is formula, because Britney had almost no control over her product. The songs were written by a team of mega producers, directors were brought in the make videos worth talking about and all Britney had to do was turn up, dance, smile, lip synch and say whatever it was they told her to. Her second 'edgier' album had an *NSYNC style sound that was so successful back then, with less sugar and much more attitude, such as on 'Stronger' with its more computerised sound.
Another part of pop music is how disposable it is. By most standards, Britney should have been over years ago. Three albums is all most pop stars get. As Britney got older is was necessary to change in order to keep interest in her. The turning point came on her third album, where she seemed to assert some creative control. The lead single 'I'm a Slave 4 U' was produced by the Neptunes, the trendy production team of the time, and its sound was innovative. This went alongside 'Boys' which sounded like an old Prince song updated for the new millennium. Bubblegum pop was replaced with hypnotic beats and a performance with a snake at the VMAs. There was no contradiction anymore, Britney was all grown up. Suddenly she seemed a lot more comfortable with her image. Although she had had one songwriting credit on her second album, the dreadfully sappy 'Dear Diary', it was her third album when she began to assert herself as an artist, co writing five of the albums tracks. It's wrth noting that even though Britney is slammed for her lack of musical talent, she has indeed co written many of her own songs and also plays the piano (as she demonstrated live on her Onyx hotel tour).
This stage is the absolute peak in Britney's story, a time when she truly did have it all. Her records sold 20 million each, she was going out with the biggest boyband superstar on the planet, FHM voted her the sexiest woman in the world, and the public went crazy for anythign and everything Britney. She had spawned an empire of merchandise. Creepy little Britney dolls sold in their millions, along with posters, lunchboxes, rucksacks, everything. She was paid $8 million to become the face of pepsi, alongside her contracts with Sketchers, Clairol, Mcdonalds and Got Milk?
Its hard to imagine that time now. Britney today is an advertisers poison. She can no longer sell any product, even it seems, her own. It's not difficult to pinpoint the time when it all started to go wrong for Britney. Her film 'Crossroads' had just come out and been slated by critics. He single 'I'm not a girl not yet a woman' was doing well in the international charts, but the truth was, Britney hadn't had a massive hit single from her third album. Sales were down too, originally 5 millions for 'Britney'. Compare this to 20 million for ...Baby one more time and it's quite a drop. Her 'Dream within a dream' tour had recieved rave reviews, but Britney herself was tired. Add into this, her split from boyfriend Justin Timberlake. Britney announced soon after that she would be taking a year off from her career.
The 'comeback' was crucial. A year is a long time in pop music. Would people still care? With any other artist this is a worry, but the answer was simple - it's Britney, of course they would care. The challenge was to still relate to the fans, who were now older and were buying into new artists such as JT. Pop had changed, noone wanted the bubblegum pop that Britney built her career on anymore, she had to evolve.
She certainly did that. The lead single off the new album 'Me against the music' was a duet with Madonna. It was promoted with a notorious girl on girl kiss at the VMAs, and the album 'In the Zone' was her most mature to date. It featured hypnotic RnB and pop laced with dance music, with input from everyone from R Kelly to Moby. There were hip hop influences on 'I got that boom boom' an eastern sound on 'Outrageous' and a pure dance sound on 'Breathe on me'. Britney herself co wrote a large amount of the album, including two of the singles. The second single, 'Toxic' put Britney back on the radar in a major way, becoming her biggest hit since her debut and earning her a grammy award for best dance recording. The controversial video was just a sign of things to come, Britney wasn't going to play it safe anymore.
The third single 'Everytime' was a simple, beautiful piano ballad written by Britney. It's video featured Britney apparently dying in a bathtub after being injured by paparazzi. While people commented on Britney's new found craziness, including her notorious 55-hour Las Vegas marriage, it didn't seem to hurt her record sales too much. However the opinion that Britney's day had been and gone was starting to become the norm.
Britney then met, and very quickly married, the man who would (some people say) destroy her career. Britney shacked up and had babies with Kevin Federline, only to divorce him just as quickly. In that time, Britney's career had been sidelined as she had lost her famous figure and become mocked as 'white trash'.
From then on it's hard to know exactly what happened to Britney. Maybe its drugs, maybe she's just insane, but it seems like every day is just another drama. Whether she's shaving her head, going to rehab or losing custody of her children (surely her biggest low) Britney just doesn't seem to care about anything anymore. Could it be that the media has simply driven Britney insane? No other star in our time has had the media attention to quite the same extent as Britney Spears. I would go as far as to call her the Michael Jackson of our generation. She exemplifies everything about modern stardom, the idea of being famous for who you are rather than what you do. People stopped caring about Britney as a singer and she became purely a celebrity.
In all the turmoil, however, Britney returned to the studio to knock out another album, truly her make or break album. 'Blackout' is the reason why I truly believe Britney is and always be a star. People suddenly seemed to CARE. While people roll their eyes at Paris Hilton and wish for her to just go away, people genuinely seem to want Britney to get it together. Even though her performance at the VMAs was awful, the video was awful, and she did no promotion for anything at all, the single 'Gimme More' was still a massive success. And the album was AMAZING.
Britney's music will not be to everyone's taste, but if you like pop music you really can do no better. It's polished, perfected, with amazing production, catchy hooks and above all, personality and attitude. No more so than on her fourth and fifth albums. In the Zone is one of my favourite pop albums. Blackout is an incredible club album with original and current sounding dance music along with the trademark Britney sound. Even if you hate pop music, you might be pleasantly surprised by Blackout.
All in all, Britney has had 22 singles, all of them massive hits. Her videos have had more attention than any other artist besides maybe Madonna and Michael Jackson. She has sold around 80 million records worldwide. I strongly urge you to pick up her greatest hits album, and forget the tabloid drama for a second and just enjoy the best pop music around. People of all musical tastes can enjoy Blackout too, and it hasn't done nearly as well as it should considering it kicks the ass of every other pop album released this year. Yes, it's better than Beyonce, better than Justin Timberlake, certainly much better than Christina Aguilera, and even Madonna. I can't recommend it more.
Fantastic! I'm a big britney fan and like you say, she is someone you want to root for to get herself back on her feet. i hope "blackout" does that cos its such a fabulous album, her best to date. Cant believe shes had 22 singles though - but then she has been around for eight years I suppose. Scary! A great well-written review, so I'm giving you an "E"! P x