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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Britney Spears, "...Baby One More Time"

Britney Spears
"...Baby One More Time"
Jive (1999)

1001 Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die

This post will hurt the heads of readers who are looking for artistic or obscure musicians. At the same time, I hope that it will at least attract a few readers who aren't interested in hearing about free jazz. The album, Britney Spears' debut "…Baby One More Time," is not a critical darling. It is, however, a diamond-selling record and a monumental album for modern music, at deserves at least some recognition.

I'm going to get the stuff I don't like about this album first, so we can focus on the positives for most of the post. When I say "things I don't like," I'm referring to eight of the album's 11 tracks. Put bluntly, these eight tracks are bubblegum-teen-pop crap. In Spears' defense, she was 17 when this album was recorded and she didn't write any of the tracks here. But songs like "E-mail My Heart" and "Thinkin' About You" are cliches and occasionally schlocky (free relationship advice: don't try to solve relationship issues online). I am a forward-thinking guy and typically not misogynistic, but Spears was born to be a sex symbol. Like Marilyn Monroe, music (or film) is a side note. Spears is not cut-out for ballads and Colbie Caillat pop. This argument brings us to the two major tracks that are worth hearing (the third is her cover of Sonny & Cher's "The Beat Goes On").

"(You Drive Me) Crazy" and "…Baby One More Time" are songs about sex, and if you doubt it, watch the music videos. People who thought "hit me baby" had anything to do with domestic violence are somewhere in space. People who thought that Spears was "crazy" about a guy for strictly platonic reasons are also in orbit. She is at her best when she's edgy, and frankly, her age at the time of this record's release made it much edgier than any followup could be.

These singles also stand out amongst Spears' later releases from an instrumental perspective. From "I'm A Slave 4 U" on, her singles have embraced the slick electronic production of modern club music. This music is undeniably sexy, and yet it doesn't inspire grinding up on the nearest living member of the opposite sex. There are real guitars here, real bass guitar, and percussion that could be reproduced on a real drum set. It could easily have been created by an actual band, such as No Doubt.

Whether you like this music or not, there's no denying this album's place in pop music history. Madonna was one of the premier stars of the '80s, but there wasn't a similar figure for the '90s. Whitney Houston and Alanis Morissette had both had individual high-selling albums, but none were exactly "pop." The Spice Girls played off the boy-band obsession of the era, but in 1999, there was no strong individual female figure in music. Spears was the answer, and imitators like Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson were soon to follow. In the 2000s, all female pop artists either evolved (Lady Gaga) or devolved (Katy Perry, Ke$ha) from the Spears model.

Now you have to decide whether you want to thank her or strangle her for it.

INTERESTING FACT: Every bit of clothing in the "...Baby One More Time" video was purchased at K-Mart, and it was all less than $17. Lady Gaga can't do that.

(You Drive Me) Crazy by Britney Spears on Grooveshark

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