Being a teenager in the late nineties was an experience of mixed blessings. For every Cadburys Marble, there was a Wispa Mint. For Every Man Utd treble, there was an abject England failure. There were, however, two behemoths of consistency that made the experience somewhat bearable. The first was the emergence of Buffy The Vampire Slayer – a genre-defying, supernatural romp that thrust Sarah Michelle Gellar into my 14 year old consciousness. The second was Britney Spears. Whilst previously, adolescents like myself had had to content themselves with the pin-up potential of Celine Dion or Shania Twain, suddenly here was a 17 year old superstar who would change the female solo singer oeuvre forever.
It was with this in the back of my mind that I found myself in an Our Price (imagine a physical manifestation of the iTunes store overseen by acne-ridden youths) clutching a copy of Spears' debut album ...Baby One More Time in my hand. Quite what had led me to equate attractiveness with musical ability, I know not but it was with Britney that I intended to lose my CD album purchasing virginity. Excuse at the ready (I'm buying it for my sister), I readily parted with my £12.99 to none of the expected salesperson derision. Upon returning home, I united Britney with my ludicrously over-sensitive Discman (imagine an iPod with an unnatural song break every time you think about moving) and was swept away on an odyssey of teenage fantasy. 18 years on, I felt it only right to revisit such a seminal album of my adolescence. What I found was an epic of pure pop perfection.
Title and opening track ...Baby One More Time stands as a cultural monolith. From Darius Danesh's Popstars kamikaze cover to a recent revamp by Ed Sheeran, the teenage reconciliation tale masquerading as an ode to domestic violence is a staple for artists wanting to demonstrate how understanding they are of pop sensibilities and it will be for many years to come. Forgetting the misuses, it is simply an awesome track – from the immediately recognisable opening three beats through the note perfect toned down interlude to the punchy final chorus, there isn't a single thing that I would change about the song. Couple that with one of the most memorable music videos since Sledgehammer, still an inspiration for stag parties to this day, and it was no surprise that it reached number 1 in every European country in which it charted.
(You Drive Me) Crazy is the album's pièce de résistance – it's guitar/cowbell duets, dance/rock crossover bassline and gravelled vocals making it the perfect track 2 to take the album up a notch. Sometimes adopts a simple, affectionate style that would later be revisited and mastered in 2004's Everytime. Born To Make You Happy is the consummate break up track – laced with longing, riddled with regret. I Will Be There is too good a pop song to not have been released as a single. Even the cover of The All Seeing I's The Beat Goes On, a potential car crash moment, actually comes off feeling well-judged and inventive bearing in mind the host of other tracks for which Spears could have plumped.
The album does have it's missteps. Much like it's saccharine subject, Soda Pop will have you checking your teeth for cavities as you listen while its seedy subtext will ensure you never look at a can of Tango the same way again. From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart feels like a poor Boyz II Men imitation. Deep In My Heart has the aura of a particularly ill-considered Eurovision entry. E-Mail My Heart has the misfortune of feeling hideously dated by modern advancements. What must have felt incredibly current at the time now feels nigh on technophobic – though I doubt I would be rushing out to buy the updated version 'Snapchat My Genitalia'.
Admissions first – yes, there is enough evidence to support the renaming of the Zara Larsson Songwriting Checklist to the Britney Spears Songwriting Checklist. The difference with Britney is that she was the original – the mould breaker. The Twilight to an infinite quantity of Vampire Diaries, the Fifty Shades to a host of smutty pulps, the Margaret Thatcher to everyone else's Theresa May. She laid the road trodden by Christina Aguilera, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus. Not just singers who started in TV shows but strong, confident female singers committed to making pop music in an industry that seems desperate to detach the pop carriage from the back of the train.
If I could go back and speak to my 14 year old self, I would congratulate him on his album decision-making and inform him that no excuses were necessary. I would let him know that he was not investing his money in a temporary infatuation, instead he was sampling the beginning of an artist who would go on to release nine top ten albums, have countless top ten singles worldwide and change the perception of young women in music forever. And all Buffy did was stab some people with fence posts...
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Month
“Baby, you spin me around//The Earth is moving, but I can't feel the ground”
(You Drive Me) Crazy
Pigtails, smile and pop song shine
Stand the test of time
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