Artist Spotlight: Britney Spears
More than any other individual, Britney Spears ushered in my generation of single-oriented pop as we know it. Not since the holy trinity of Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince has an artist garnered so many sing-alongs with just beats, hooks and a very coy sexual persona that grew up too fast. Her classic debut "… Baby One More Time" sounded like nothing else when it arrived. Sure, Max Martin's stabbing piano and electro-thwump and shameless slap bass were dominating the charts all at once at the turn of the millennium. But the Backstreet Boys weren't dark. "Baby" was downright spooky, with its minor-key "something wasn't right" and its pleading, escalating chorus of "my loneliness is killing me." And then it pulled off something that "Let's Twist Again" did not: not only did its follow-ups "(You Drive Me) Crazy (The Stop Remix)" and "Oops … I Did It Again" sound exactly like it, but they actually improved on it. "I'm not that innocent" bested her loneliness as the line she'll forever be remembered for, and by album three she was already dabbling in 50 Shades of Neon Pink with the Neptunes-reduced "I'm a Slave 4 U." Her albums had variety, though, from the nonsense reggae of "Soda Pop" to the medieval chamber music in "Bombastic Love" to the rock 'n' roll slash of "Lonely." Did I mention she covered "Satisfaction"?
The majestic, orchestral spy theme "Toxic" is what began her life as a careerist though — it practically invented Lana Del Rey. "Everytime" brought new sophistication to her ballads (it remains her best to date, though the new "Perfume" is worth mulling over), and while her life was emotionally fraught at the time, 2007's Blackout is where she really fell in love with her beats (and sex). The wicked laugh of "Gimme More," warped tabloid-skewering of "Piece of Me" and robotic swing of "Radar" remains the best opening trifecta of any Spears record, though the hyperkinetic dance gambit Femme Fatale is uniformly excellent from "Till the World Ends" to "Hold It Against Me" to the spacey "Trip to Your Heart." In between came the underrated Circus, which has the merciless electro-shuffle "Womanizer," the laser-goth swing of "If You Seek Amy" and her best song to never be released as a single, the tender, broken "Unusual You," which New Order should cover. The new Britney Jean comes full circle with tunes like "Til It's Gone," all electro-pop tinged with regret — her calling card. With this playlist, we crown pop's greatest princess, to whom Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Ke$ha all bow down.
1999: … Baby One More Time
2000: Oops … I Did It Again
2003: In the Zone
2011: Femme Fatale
2013: Britney Jean