More than any other single artist, Britney Spears was the driving force behind the return of teen pop in the late '90s. The blockbuster success of the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys certainly paved the way for her own commercial breakthrough, but Spears didn't just become a star -- she was a bona fide pop phenomenon. Not only did she sell millions of records, she was a media fixture regardless of what she was (or wasn't) doing; among female singers of the era (many of whom followed in her footsteps), her celebrity star power was rivaled only by Jennifer Lopez. From the outset, Spears' sex appeal was an important part of her image. The video for her debut single, "...Baby One More Time," outfitted her in full Catholic-school regalia and sent her well on the way to becoming an international sex symbol. Yet Spears' handlers seemed to be trying to have it both ways -- there was a definite tension between the wholesome innocence Spears tried to project for her female audience and the titillating sexuality that enticed so many male fans. Those marketing tactics made Spears a somewhat controversial figure, the subject of endless debates concerning appropriate role models for teenage girls. Early on, Spears tried to defuse the controversy by preaching abstinence until marriage, and even denied that she was consciously cultivating such a sexualized image. Of course, the more provocative and revealing her on-stage wardrobe became, the less plausible that claim seemed. But apart from her ability to tiptoe the line between virginal coquette and brazen tart, Spears had a secret weapon in Swedish pop mastermind Max Martin, who had a hand in the vast majority of her hits as a writer and/or producer. With Martin crafting the sort of contemporary dance-pop and sentimental ballads that made stars of the Backstreet Boys, Spears kept on delivering the goods commercially, as her first three albums all topped the charts. Britney Jean Spears was born December 2, 1981, in the small town of Kentwood, Louisiana, and began performing as a singer and dancer at a young age. With a nationally televised appearance on Star Search already under her belt, Spears auditioned for the Disney Channel's The New Mickey Mouse Club at age eight. The producers turned her down as too young, but one of them took an interest and introduced her to an agent in New York. Spears spent the next three years studying at the Professional Performing Arts School, and also appeared in several television commercials and off-Broadway plays. At 11, she returned to The New Mickey Mouse Club for a second audition, and this time made the cut. Although her fellow Mouseketeers included an impressive array of future stars -- *NSYNC's Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez, Christina Aguilera, and Felicity actress Keri Russell -- the show was canceled after Spears' second season. She returned to New York at age 15 and set about auditioning for pop bands and recording demo tapes, one of which eventually landed her a deal with Jive Records. Spears entered the studio with top writer/producers like Eric Foster White (Boyzone, Whitney Houston, Backstreet Boys) and Max Martin (Ace of Base, Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC). In late 1998, Jive released her debut single, the Martin-penned "...Baby One More Time." Powered by its video, in which Spears and a troupe of dancers were dressed as Catholic-school jailbait, the single shot to the top of the Billboard charts. When Spears' debut album of the same title was released in early 1999, it entered the charts at number one and stayed there for six weeks. Once the ubiquitous lead single died down, the album kept spinning off hits: the Top Ten "(You Drive Me) Crazy," the near-Top 20 ballad "Sometimes," and the Top 20 "From the Bottom of My Broken Heart." By the end of 1999, ...Baby One More Time had sold ten million copies, and went on to sell a good three million more on top of that. Its success touched off a wave of young pop divas who included Christina Aguilera, P!nk, Jessica Simpson, and Mandy Moore. Spears was a superstar, drooled over in countless magazines, including a Rolling Stone cover that prompted immediate speculation about the still 17-year-old having received breast implants. By the time ...Baby One More Time finally started to lose steam on the singles and album charts, Spears was ready to release her follow-up. Oops!...I Did It Again appeared in the spring of 2000, and the title track was an instant smash, racing into the Top Ten. The album itself entered the charts at number one and sold over a million copies in its first week of release, setting a new record for single-week sales by a female artist. Follow-up singles included "Lucky," the gold-selling "Stronger," and "Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know," which was co-written by country diva Shania Twain and her producer Mutt Lange. A year after its release, Oops!...I Did It Again had sold over nine million copies. Rumors that Spears was dating *NSYNC heartthrob (and fellow ex-Mouseketeer) Justin Timberlake were eventually confirmed, which only added to the media attention lavished on her. For her next album, Spears looked ahead to a not-so-distant future when both she and much of her audience would be growing up. Released in late 2001, Britney tried to present the singer as a more mature young woman, and was accompanied by mild hints that her personal life wasn't always completely puritanical. It became her third straight album to debut at number one, although this time around the singles weren't as successful; "I'm a Slave 4 U," "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman," and "Overprotected" all missed the Top Ten. In early 2002, Spears' feature-film debut, Crossroads, hit theaters, but its commercial performance was somewhat disappointing; moreover, her romance with Timberlake fizzled not long after. Spears next made a cameo appearance in Mike Myers' Austin Powers: Goldmember, and contributed a remix of "Boys" to the soundtrack. Meanwhile, sales of Britney stalled at four million copies, perhaps in part because a new breed of teenage female singer/songwriters, like Michelle Branch and Avril Lavigne, was emerging as an alternative to the highly packaged teen queens. Spears took a break from recording and performing for several months, and began work on a new album in early 2003. The results, In the Zone, reflected a wish to be taken seriously as a mature (though still highly sexualized) adult. Predictably, it topped the charts and launched several singles into orbit, including the musically adventurous "Toxic," "Everytime," and "Me Against the Music." In the Zone hit number one on the Billboard 200, and "Toxic" snagged a Grammy for Best Dance Recording, but in 2004 Britney's personal life started to hit the tabloids on a regular basis. She had a brief two-day marriage to childhood friend Jason Alexander, followed by the controversial Onyx Hotel tour, which was eventually canceled despite positive financial numbers. Soon, Britney revealed her relationship with her former backup dancer Kevin Federline. Spears and Federline married in September and were tabloid regulars in the months after the ceremony; some of this relationship was documented in Chaotic, a UPN reality show consisting mostly of their own home videos. The year 2005 was no less eventful for Spears. She released Greatest Hits: My Prerogative that January, but it was the announcement of her pregnancy that really garnered the headlines. Sean Preston Federline was born in September, and a bidding war ensued for first rights to the baby photos. As the hubbub surrounding Sean's birth continued, Britney released a remix album just in time for the holiday season. In 2006, Spears discovered she was pregnant again; shortly after the birth of her second son, Jayden James Federline, she divorced Federline. Following another headline-grabbing incident in early 2007 (in which Spears spontaneously shaved her head at a salon in Tarzana, California, much to the delight of nearby photographers), Spears sought help at Malibu's Promises Treatment Center. After leaving the center, she began working on her comeback album and performed a few small shows at House of Blues locations in Los Angeles, San Diego, Anaheim, and Las Vegas that May. Despite ongoing turmoil in her life that summer and fall, Blackout arrived in October 2007. It proved to be her least successful album to date, charting three Top 40 hits but failing to achieve platinum certification within its first year of release. Spears was dealt more blows in early 2008 when she lost custody of her children, made several court appearances, and was placed on involuntary psychiatric hold twice in one month. Blackout nevertheless won several MTV-sponsored awards, including Album of the Year from the Europe Music Awards in November 2008. That same fall, "Womanizer," the leadoff single from Spears' next record, became her first number one single in nearly a decade. The full-length Circus arrived in December, featuring a mix of syrupy ballads and uptempo dance numbers that were designed to fuel Spears' comeback. In 2009, the single "3" followed "Womanizer" to the top, and appeared on her career-spanning compilation The Singles Collection. In 2011, Spears returned with the studio album Femme Fatale, featuring the single "Hold It Against Me," which became her fourth single to top the Billboard Hot 100. The second single, the Ke$ha co-written "Till the World Ends," didn't top the charts but it was a bigger hit, going double platinum in the US. Britney supported Femme Fatale with an international tour that ran until the end of 2011; at the end of the year, the home video Live: The Femme Fatale Tour was released. Spears made a splashy return to television in 2012 when she signed to be one of the celebrity judges on the second season of the U.S. version of Simon Cowell's The X Factor. The show returned in the fall of 2012. Spears did not return to the show for its third season. Also in 2012, Britney appeared on will.i.am's track "Scream and Shout." This was the beginning of a greater partnership, as will.i.am wound up as the executive producer for her eighth studio album, Britney Jean. Preceded by the single "Work Bitch" -- along with a Britney cameo on Miley Cyrus' 2013 album Bangerz and the announcement of a two-year residency in Las Vegas -- Britney Jean appeared during the first week of December 2013. Although Britney Jean debuted in the Top 5 on the Billboard 200, it would be her lowest-performing album to date. In the following years, she continued her Vegas residency and contributed to a pair of new tracks: "Pretty Girls" with Iggy Azalea and a cover of Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner" for Giorgio Moroder. Early in 2016, Spears announced that she would release her ninth album later that year. "Make Me," a midtempo track featuring rapper G-Eazy, appeared in July and August saw the release of the full-length Glory.
© Steve Huey /TiVo
© Steve Huey /TiVo
50 albums sorted by Most acclaimed
Narrow my search
Pop - Released November 13, 2003 | Jive
If 2001's Britney was a transitional album, capturing Spears at the point when she wasn't a girl and not yet a woman, its 2003 follow-up, In the Zone, is where she has finally completed that journey and turned into Britney, the Adult Woman. Like her peer Christina Aguilera, Britney equates maturity with transparent sexuality and the pounding sounds of nightclubs, but since she's not as dirrty as Xtina, her spin is a little different. Where Christina comes across like a natural-born skank, Britney is the girl next door cutting loose at college, drinking and smoking and dancing and sexing just a little too recklessly, since this is the first time she can indulge herself. And that's what In the Zone is -- Britney indulging herself, desperate to prove that she's an adult. Since she's a pop diva, the record label certainly set some limits -- and, really, given her track record and taste, there was little chance that she would follow Pink's lead and write an album with a punk rocker and then draft Peaches for a cameo -- but she has been freed from her musical parent, Max Martin, who is absent for the first time from a Britney Spears album. She's chosen to play the field and work with a bunch of different collaborators, including Madonna, Moby, the Matrix, Trixster, Roy "Royality" Hamilton, Bloodshy & Avant, and R. Kelly. This laundry list of producers and co-writers reveals a combination of savvy and stupidity, reminiscent of the good ideas and bad judgment a young adult goes through in the throes of adjusting to maturity, but one thing ties it all together: her yearning to prove that she's a mature adult. Since the songs are almost exclusively about sex or dancing, with an empowerment tune and a couple of heartbreak ballads tossed in for good measure, it's a pretty limited definition of adulthood, which would be fine if Spears didn't treat it all so seriously, as if maturity were only about sex and dancing. Since she's so determined to be a woman, not a girl, she has completely shed the sugarcoated big hooks and sappy love songs that drove her stardom, concentrating on music that glides by on mellow grooves or hits hard with its hip-hop beats. It's all club-ready, but despite some hints of neo-electro and the Neptunes, it doesn't quite sound modern -- it sounds like cuts from 1993 or Madonna's Bedtime Stories and Ray of Light. Madonna, of course, duets on the album's first single, "Me Against the Music," whose title practically begs to be mocked. Unfortunately, any snarky jokes directed at the song are warranted, since it's the worst single either Britney or Madonna had yet released, a songless mess of staccato beats whose chorus weirdly recalls Oasis' "D'You Know What I Mean." Neither singer has much range, yet they usually exploit their weakness well; here, they succumb to their limitations to the point that their thin voices are indistinguishable apart from Madonna singing "Hey Britney" ad nauseam. This is not the only time on In the Zone that the music is hampered by Britney's limited vocal abilities. She may be older now, but she still sounds like a little girl, which undercuts both the glistening, sensual mid-tempo grooves that dominate the album and the big, booming up-tempo cuts that offer a change of pace. Production-wise, these tracks are not only accomplished but much more varied than any of her previous albums -- in particular, Moby's "Early Mornin'" has a sleek feel, Mark Taylor's "Breathe on Me" is alluring, and the Bloodshy & Avant productions "Showdown" and "Toxic" are irresistible ear candy -- but Britney's voice just isn't sexy enough to sell these songs; she often sounds like a girl dressing up in her big sister's clothes, whether she's murmuring seductive or delving into rap and ragga. All of this undercuts not just the songs, but the theme of the album, since it seems that she's still not yet a woman, no matter how much she protests that she is. While there are surely some good moments here and while this is surely her most ambitious, adventurous album to date, it's not a particularly successful one, since she treats her freedom as a burden, not a blessing. After all, if an album is going to be about sex, dancing, and freedom, it should at the very least sound joyous and fun. In the Zone deliberately avoids fun, which is why it's less likeable than Britney's previous albums, even if it is musically more accomplished. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
Pop - Released May 15, 2000 | Jive
Given the phenomenal success of Britney Spears' debut, ...Baby One More Time, it should come as no surprise that its sequel offers more of the same. After all, she gives away the plot with the ingenious title of her second album, Oops!...I Did It Again, essentially admitting that the record is more of the same. It has the same combination of sweetly sentimental ballads and endearingly gaudy dance-pop that made One More Time. Fortunately, she and her production team not only have a stronger overall set of songs this time, but they also occasionally get carried away with the same bewildering magpie aesthetic that made the first album's "Sodapop" -- a combination of bubblegum, urban soul, and raga -- a gonzo teen pop classic. It doesn't happen all that often -- the clenched-funk revision of the Stones' deathless "Satisfaction" is the most obvious example -- but it helps give the album character apart from the well-crafted dance-pop and ballads that serve as its heart. In the end, it's what makes this an entertaining, satisfying listen. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
Pop - Released November 8, 2004 | Jive
Greatest Hits: My Prerogative appeared at the tail end of a year where Britney Spears was married twice, canceled a tour, injured her knee, lost the movie role of Daisy Duke to rival teen pop diva Jessica Simpson, was a punch line in Fahrenheit 9/11, and had countless paparazzi shots of her drinking and making out in public. It was enough high-profile shenanigans for a career, and it was par for the course for Britney, who hadn't been out of the pop culture headlines since she released her debut album, ...Baby One More Time, in January 1999. In the nearly six years separating that debut album and the release of Greatest Hits in November 2004, Britney was omnipresent, representing both the entire teen pop phenomenon of the turn of the millennium, plus the teasing, Maxim-fueled sexuality of the time; it's not for nothing that Tom Wolfe name drops Britney Spears, not archrival Christina Aguilera, in his 2004 novel I Am Charlotte Simmons -- Britney alone captured the era, which in turn is captured on this 17-track hits collection. If Bob Dylan had a hard time being a voice of a generation (which he does acknowledge in his autobiography, Chronicles), imagine the weight put upon this simple Louisiana girl who just wanted to be famous and became a cultural icon instead! During those six years, she kept turning out product, selling herself with increasingly racy photographs, all the while being used as an example of everything that's wrong with pop culture, or even worse, as the subject of cultural theses explaining pop culture. No wonder that after six years of mind-boggling fame she wanted to abandon her career for motherhood -- it's exhausting being in the limelight, even for a shameless pop star! So, Greatest Hits arrived at a perfect time -- just as her star was fading, just as the teen pop era grew to a close, and just as she readied herself for retirement. As a time capsule, Greatest Hits does its job well. It has all of her hits outside of "From the Bottom of My Broken Heart," a largely forgotten ballad from her debut released just before her second album, Oops!...I Did It Again, and it contains two very good previously unreleased tunes, including the In the Zone outtake "I've Just Begun (Having My Fun)," an infectious spin on No Doubt's "Hella Good" that betters most of the songs that were featured on the album (it also has a useless remake of Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative," which seems to exist solely for its video). Clearly, this is the album not just for the casual fan, but for any fan of Spears, because like most teen pop singers, her albums are notoriously spotty affairs, memorable largely for the singles themselves. What is surprising is that those singles -- all presented here in their hit forms, which means this has the "Stop Remix" of "(You Drive Me) Crazy," not the album version -- are somewhat less than the sum of their parts when collected together. The similarities in Max Martin's clanking, insistent writing and production become blindingly evident, and Britney's thin, squeaky voice wears thin over the course of 17 songs. Also, the song selection and sequencing emphasize keeping the perfect beat over chronology, which not only makes it a little harder to listen to as an album, it puts the focus on the individual songs, which seem neither as hooky or catchy as they did when they were initially on the radio. There are exceptions to the rule, of course -- "...Baby One More Time" still retains its punch, "Oops!...I Did It Again" is so silly it's hard to resist, "(You Drive Me) Crazy" is fluffy dance-pop at its best, and "Toxic" is a delirious, intoxicating rush -- but they're all better as individual moments, even if when taken together, they do illustrate the cacophonous monotony of her music and, yes, her time quite well. So, even if it isn't a great listen as a cohesive album, Greatest Hits does perform the valuable function of offering all of Britney's hits in one place, and it does work as a portrait of the time when Britney Spears was the defining figure of American pop culture. But if you compare it to The Immaculate Collection, which captured the time when Madonna was the defining figure of American pop culture and does work as an album, it's clear that a cultural artifact isn't necessarily the same thing as great music. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
News feed Prev. Next
yesterday Qobuz | Magic Oneohtrix Point NeverFri Qobuz | Adrianne Lenker Plays Some Songs
Thu Qobuz | Winter is for slide guitarWed Qobuz | The Power of the One!Tue Qobuz | Slayer: Reign In Blood
Mon Qobuz | The Annual 2021: The Best in Dance Music!Fri Qobuz | Gimme Some Truth!Thu Qobuz | Tom Petty: Wildflowers & All the Rest
Tue Qobuz | Beabadoobee: Gen Z Phenomenon!Mon Qobuz | Dinner Party with the Four Jazzmen!Fri Qobuz | Motörhead: Ace of Spades 40th Anniversary!