Britney Spears is back. We take a look at the pop star who’s seen more than her fair share of trouble and controversy yet remains a chart killer.
Thinking back to the annoying but iconic single Baby One More Time I never would have imagined that 12 years on Britney Spears would still be topping the charts – remaining a vibrant and vital part of the pop landscape. And she’s just released what is arguably her strongest studio album to-date.
She’s a real Southern gal is our Britney. Born in Mississippi and raised in Louisiana she began dance lessons at the age of three, moving on to singing and making her stage debut at five at her kindergarten graduation. Soon she had an agent and was cast in Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club television show.
When the show was cancelled she went back to an ordinary teen life until, at the age of 16, she recorded a demo of an un-released Toni Braxton song and scooped a recording deal with Jive Records. Interestingly, while Britney’s singing is often scoffed at, one of the reasons she was first noticed as a child performer and then signed professionally was because of her voice.
For her first release, producers worked to shape her vocals from a deeper country sound to the higher poppier voice that has become unmistakably Britney, “It made more sense to go pop, because I can dance to it – it’s more me,” she commented about the making of her first album.
Baby One More Time was released in 1999 and was huge smash – leading a revival of teen pop in the late 1990s. Britney never looked back (and along for the ride came a global posse of gay fans that have stuck with her). Over a decade and seven albums later, the world is still talking about Britney – sometimes for all the wrong reasons.
While Britney’s music is not known for being particularly personal or confessional (she almost never writes her own material) perhaps this could be because her life has already been laid bare by the tabloids.
Her chaotic relationships (Justin Timberlake, Kevin Federline and others), her parenting woes, drug rehab, that infamous 2007 MTV Video Music Awards performance, the loss of financial control to her father and a world-class emotional breakdown: each of Britney’s spectacular personal missteps were captured by the paparazzi for our entertainment.
What’s remarkable is that despite the collapse of her personal life – and genuine fears that she might not make it out alive – she remained at the top of the charts. Many have scratched their heads over the fact that during those troubled times she still produced two great pop albums, Blackout and Circus, that were both chart hits and well-received by critics.
Those of you fearing that the now-more-stable Britney might not deliver as she did in those difficult times can rest easy. Femme Fatale is probably her best album yet. Make no mistake – not much has changed; it’s still a producer-dominated pop offering that won’t give you much insight into the woman herself. There’s no great leap in vocals or song-writing but damn, you just can’t stop playing it!
Executive producers Max Martin and Dr. Luke make sure that despite a vast array of producers on Femme Fatale (including Ammo, Billboard, Benny Blanco, Bloodshy, Darkchild, Dream Machine, Fraser T. Smith, JMIKE, Henrik Jonback, Magnus, Oligee, Sandy Vee, Shellback, Stargate, will.i.am) it all holds together as a cohesive album.
In an interview with V magazine, Britney said that she “wanted to make a fierce dance record where each song makes you want to get up and move your body in a different way. That’s what I want from the music I listen to. This record is for the clubs, or something you play before you go out at night”.
In that she’s succeeded: Femme Fatale – which debuted at number 1 on the Billboard charts – is aimed right at the dance floor, with almost every track compelling you to move. Superbly produced, it’s well within the current US pop trend that incorporates 90’s dance rave sounds with R&B and Hip-Hop. There are catchy melodies, hypnotic beats and sufficiently new takes on the genre to keep you playing the record again and again.
Britney’s vocals sound stronger and are back in the forefront but they mostly continue to be used as just another element to digitally manipulate, stretch and warp for the greater purpose of the song. But, what’s important, is that it works.
Second single Till The World Ends was co-written by Kesha and it sounds like it – but it’s a stomper nevertheless. It’s already topping charts. Other than the annoying Criminal almost every other track stands out as a memorable sing-along, dance-along pop gem.
A Deluxe Edition includes four additional tracks and, while these extras are usually cast-offs not fit for consumption, in this case all but one are definitely worth shelling out the extra moola for – including the quite brilliant rock-number Don’t Keep Me Waiting.
Femme Fatale is not a revolutionary pop album by any means but it keeps Britney at the top of the mainstream music world; adding a touch of maturity to her repertoire while remaining distinctly her. Like all good pop, its dominant themes are love, heartbreak, sex and dancing like no one’s watching. And right now that’s all we really want from Britney.