Britney Spears is one of the most erratic and iconic Pop Stars of the last two decades. In many ways she embodies all the worst things about the music industry, a child star seemingly crafted from the ground up to become the industries ideal Pop Megastar. There was only one flaw in the industries plot, Britney never had half the talent to justify the momentous push to the top she was gifted. This makes analysing Britney Spears a different experience to most Pop Stars, as more so than most, she is a reflection of the top producers and songwriters in the Pop industry at the time. With a career of triumphant highs and hellacious lows, let’s dive into the ever so bumpy career of our early 2000’s Pop Pariah.
#40: Pretty Girls – Pretty Girls (2015)
Ask yourself, could it have been anything else? It’s funny that after stressing how tumultuous Britney’s career has been, the worst single she’s ever released was from last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t remember this shameless attempt to rip on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” but minus the charm that made the original ironically excellent. Where even is Britney on this track? All I can hear is some dime-a-dozen Charli XCX knock-off backed by a dull thudding synth line (that, again, is such a blatant Fancy rip) which grows even more insufferable on the hook. It’s hard not to feel bad for Iggy as this collaboration with the former Pop sensation ultimately did more harm to her career than good.
#39: Piece of Me – Blackout (2007)
When sifting through the punishing sludge of crushing percussion, monotone vocal lines and horrific sampling, it’s possible to make out what this song was meant to be. In 2007 Britney fell out of favour with the media following a pretty rough year which saw her in constant public scrutiny over her divorce with K-Fed and the ensuing custody battle. There is some tangible vitriol in “Piece of Me”, but it is tragically lost in Britney’s hopeless vocal performance and Bloodshy & Avant’s unsuitably abrasive and freakish production.
#38: If U Seek Amy – Circus (2009)
Spelling out the word fuck never works, even if you try to disguise with a cheeky play on words. Where this song really falls apart is in its total inability to sell the joke. These cheeky jibes only work when you lead the audience on and play on it, but no, there’s really no mention of this “Amy” character in this track. What we have instead is blatant song about everyone wanting to fuck Britney Spears and a beat that resembles punching a piano; this was so below you Max Martin.
#37: Ooh La La – Smurfs 2 Soundtrack (2013)
This song is one of those things that is meant to just happen and then never be spoken about again. It’s not even inherently awful; I can get down with some of the super sugary vocal lines Britney pulls during the chorus but the composition is too experimental for it’s own good. Like this is meant to be a song for the damn Smurfs 2 I don’t need this weird fusion of club beats and acoustic pop with lyrics and vocal deliveries that contradict each other. To top off the weirdness of this track there’s that pitch-shifted bridge which is ridiculously out of place.
#36: Born to Make You Happy – …Baby One More Time (1999)
Much of Britney’s debut album is hard to judge because it’s so of its time that of course it’s going to sound dated. “Born to Make You Happy” isn’t awful by 90’s Pop standards but it’s irritatingly earnest presentation coupled with how underdeveloped Britney’s voice was make it utterly forgettable. The parts of the song which should lift it from mediocrity like the choir harmonies and vocal layering unfortunately fall flat.
#35: Scream & Shout – Scream & Shout (2012)
Yes this is primarily a Will.i.am song, yes I only included it so this list would be rounded at an even 40. To be fair this song etched the words “Britney bitch” into the Pop-Culture spectrum which gave her more relevancy than she had seen for a while at that point. The song itself is pretty awful, Will.i.am abuses those buzzing stabs of synth and percussion he loves so much and Britney’s contribution is insignificant.
#34: Womanizer – Circus (2009)
Repetition is a necessary evil in Pop music, when your main goal is to print your song along the surface of the listener’s brain for the rest of time, repetition is your best friend. “Womanizer” is a great example of repetition done right and oh so wrong. I have never been able to shake this hook, but like a snapper staring into the hungry eyes of its soon to be consumer, I really wish I could. The constant presence of that snapping percussion robs this song of any feeling of momentum or climax as it clacks away at an awkwardly slow tempo.
#33: Gimme More – Blackout (2007)
This song was doomed from the start. In 2007 Britney Spears was set to revitalize her career by debuting her new single at the beginning of the MTV Music Video Awards. The performance highlighted just how far the rabbit-hole Britney had gone as she mimed her lines uncomfortably and stumbled through her choreography. I don’t think even peak Britney could have saved this horribly comprised sluggish song though. On top of the laborious tempo, the overly sexualised lyrics and downright weird sampling choice make this an uncomfortable listen, breakdown or not.
#32: Perfume – Britney Jean (2013)
Perfume is had the potential to be something great had those involved not been so in out of their depth. Britney takes a decent song penned by Sia, and ruins it by trying to imitate the superior voice of the writer. She lacks the vocal conviction and power to reach the peaks that she so meekly reaches for. Likewise, Will.i.am sounds completely out of his element handling the piano and string instrumentation, making what should be a rousing power ballad go out with a total whimper.
#31: Work B**ch – Britney Jean (2013)
The identity crisis that is Britney Jean is even further exemplified by this by the numbers club banger. While Work Bitch goes alright as a simple party jam with its pounding percussion and catchy metallic synth line though it’s not something I’d ever reach for unless I was really starved for options. Britney’s presence on this track is a big reason for this, instead of putting in the popstar performance we all expect from her she takes on this strange British-sounding DJ alter-ego and spouts off one unmemorable line after another.
#30: Do Somethin’ – Greatest Hits: My Prerogative (2004)
Released as part of Britney’s first greatest hits compilation, “Do Somethin’” bursts out the gate with a snappy instrumental and some great warbling synths. Unfortunately it becomes a case of all bark and no bite as the track’s stale composition and Britney’s rather strange hoarse performance leaves me pleading with the song to indeed, do something.
#29: Sometimes – …Baby One More Time (1999)
Another cut from Britney’s debut and this one is mid-tempo ballad that again, plays so frustratingly close to the sound of the time it is difficult to gauge. Sometimes is a corny as hell tune that encapsulates the soundtrack to every early 2000’s era teenage crush. This is stereotype is reinforced by how strained young Britney’s voice sounds on the verses. Those backing vocals are well implemented enough though.
#28: I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll – Britney (2001)
This song isn’t so much bad as it completely unnecessary. Joan Jett’s original cover has more than enough of a Pop edge to suffice with even the most hardline radio enthusiasts and it’s not like Britney went for anything absurdly poppy here. What we get instead is a pointless cover with some added percussion and a singer that lacks the vocal gusto which made Jett’s cover a classic.
#27: Outrageous – In The Zone (2003)
Outrageous is yet another victim of overly-zealous Pop repetition as the title of the song is repeated ad nauseum. While R. Kelly’s production works superbly well with the sprinklings of guitar, bustling percussion and a nice array of instrumental samples, the song falls flat due to it’s dull composition. It’s also one of the many examples of Britney’s shakey relationship with the media, as she sarcastically tackles the over the top headline culture which came to define her career for better or worse.
#26: My Prerogative – Greatest Hits: My Prerogative (2004)
A cover of Bobby Brown’s original 1988 singles sees Britney reuniting with her established production duo Bloodshy & Avant for another twisted instrumental that might be too forward thinking for its own good. To Britney’s credit she actually comes off as bonafide Pop powerhouse on the menacing hook of the song, there’s just an over-abundance of unnecessary pitch-shifting and the instrumental is a little too in your face.
#25: Radar – Circus (2009)
One of Britney’s most neutral tracks since her debut, radar is neither particularly bad or good. Bloodshy & Avant offer up one of their more basic instrumentals for this decently catchy middle of the road Pop tune which Britney melds with fairly well, though the aid of auto tune is pretty blatant. Those blips of synth made to imitate an actual radar are a nice touch as well.
#24: Criminal – Femme Fatale (2011)
A Folk-influenced ballad which features a pan-flute and an acoustic guitar is the last thing one would expect to find on 2011’s Femme Fatale, Britney’s most Electronic influenced album yet. Britney pulls off the more stripped-back sound surprisingly well as she sings her anthem to bad boy infatuation. Though it is an interesting touch, the further that pan flute is buried in the mix, the better it sounds.
#23: I Wanna Go – Femme Fatale (2011)
“I Wanna Go” is a far more accurate representation of Femme Fatale’s glossy Electro-Pop sound. While it doesn’t fall into “Work B**ch” levels of club-friendliness the track’s peppy synth driven beat has enough momentum and groove to keep a floor moving. The vocal production on this track and really all of Femme Fatale gave Britney new life, really allowing her to shine with the confidence that had lacked on both Circus and especially Blackout.
#22: (You Drive Me) Crazy – …Baby One More Time (1999)
What this song from Britney’s debut (and another certain song we’ll see later on) highlighted was a spark of youthful feistiness and vigour that is so rarely seen. As much as I am critical of Britney’s actual musical ability, there’s no taking away from how well she played “the” Pop star for the few years she was on top. Crazy edges out it’s contemporaries from the debut thanks to its killer guitar line and unshakeable hook which Britney delivers with stern conviction.
#21: Someday (I Will Understand) – Britney & Kevin: Chaotic (2005)
This track is a Country-styled ballad rarity from Britney’s first and only EP. The song is dedicated to Britney’s then unborn child and surprisingly Britney pulls of this earnest subject matter quite well with a strikingly human performance backed by light percussion and acoustic arrangements. If only she had the guts to take this down a rawer path, this may have been more than just a footnote in the scheme of things.
#20: From The Bottom of My Broken Heart – …Baby One More Time (1999)
Yet another ballad, this debut album highlight features a far stronger vocal performance than on “Sometimes” as Britney revels in all the 90’s chic melodrama. The instrumentation on here is also great as the acoustic flourishes give the song some real weight while the spacey synths give it a kind of ethereal, heavenly quality.