Britney Spears must be embarrassed. No, not about her crumbling marriage to an American icon. Nor about the driving lessons she offered to her newborn son. Nor, believe it or not, about her descent from pop superstardom into an iced frappucino-chugging, cheetos-gorging, Kabbalah-trending laughing stock that even Anna Nicole Smith pities. Sure, those are discomforting incidents she'll want to leave off her C.V. But perhaps more cringe-inducing is having ...Baby One More Time
in her discography. Pop albums are notorious for aging worse than Marlon Brando. Similar to the ill-fated actor, over time it becomes clear the album coated a slim amount of quality in greasy, disposable layers of trash. To be sure, there are trim, capable pop songs hidden underneath it all, but their value becomes less and less an excuse for the worthlessness of the remaining songs. Think her recent escapades are worse than this? Check out the song 'E-mail My Heart' and think again.
When Britney Spears exploded onto the pop scene in 1999, she was bringing an American female presence into a pop resurgency that so far had been dominated by British girl groups trumpeting 'Girl Power!' and boy bands exuding puerility and foppish charm. Not satisfied with selling records of artists teenaged girls wanted to be with
, record executives set out to find an artists they would want to be like
. Britney Spears was the perfect candidate. An All-American girl with an engaging personality, passable singing and dancing skills, and as much sex appeal as a 16-year old could muster. Her debut single '...Baby One More Time' was unveiled in late 1998 and catapulted her to world-wide superstardom thanks to a hypnotic pop song and a buzz-worthy, 'racy' music video. And thus the next great musical star was born.
...Baby One More Time
is inexorably linked with image. It is challenging to listen to any of her songs without picturing the corresponding video, or her Rolling Stone
cover, or her 2000 MTV Video Music Awards appearance, or her 2003 VMA kiss with Madonna. But Britney has adopted (or has had forced upon her, depending upon your interpretation) a series of contradicting images throughout her career, and especially during her ...Baby One More Time
phase. She was being marketed as an icon of innocence alwhile being not-so-subtly promoted as a sexual being. She sang of sex and lust while championing her professed virginity in interviews. The cover of the very album at question features Spears in a wholesome getup with an angelic smile on her face - but her pose is hardly a marker of chastity with the focal point being quite inappropriate for 16-year old artist being sold to 12-year old girls.
The lead single is undoubtedly the high point of this album. It is well-composed, tightly arranged, and even with Spears' vocal limitations it goes straight for the proverbial pop jugular. Even without consideration for the highly effective video that spurred the massive success of this song, and even taken out of the pop-friendly context of the late 90s, it is a highlight of the genre. There is little doubt that '...Baby One More Time' will be long remembered as one of the cornerstones of pop music in general, and it is a strong front-runner as the prototype for the late 90s pop resurgence. But after the first song ends, the album sinks beyond repair. Second song and future single '(You Drive Me) Crazy' sounds like an alternate version of '...Baby One More Time' that somehow got picked up off the cutting room floor and was accidentally added to this album. It is unnecessary and redundant. The other singles 'Sometimes' and 'From the Bottom of My Broken Heart' are competent but unremarkable. Considering the follow-up singles Spears released after her stunning debut song, it is a baffling anomaly that she was able to even keep her head above the water in a sea of similar artists with much more distinguished albums. 'Born to Make You Happy' was a UK-only single and another proficient but entirely unrememberable song. Each of these singles had some brief moments of promise and short flashes of above-average melodies but they fade all too quickly. 'I Will Be There' and mid-tempo duet with no-name pop singer Don Philip 'I Will Still Love You' fall into this category as well - flashes of interesting passages, semi-palpable melodies, but by the time the songs are over they underwhelm and seem to have squandered a chance at adequacy.
And there the 'positives' end. The remainder of the album rests in undistinguished mediocrity or painfully embarrassing misfires of songs Steps or the A*Teens would have rejected. Would I were a more capable writer, I could attempt to do some justice to the unequivocal disaster that is 'Soda Pop'. A reggae-cum-pop train wreck, this abortion of a song reaches indescribable levels of absurdity and cheesiness. And not endearing cheesiness either. This is just really, really bad. Even without regard for the musical ridiculousness, the lyrics are excessively inane. 'Open the soda pop/watch it fizz and pop/the clock is ticking and we can't stop
' - God Almighty. Then there is the absurd lyric of 'Email My Heart', which actually features a competent song base but the lyrics destroy any chance of credibility. [/i]'All I do is check the screen to see if you're ok/[...]E-mail me back and say our love will stay alive/Forever, e-mail my heart[/i]'. Deep. I know e-mail was edgy and hip back in 1999, but come on. Album closer and Sonny/Cher cover 'The Beat Goes On' is unnecessary and unimpressive. Competently recorded, but that's about its only positive feature.
With the exception of the terrific title track, ...Baby One More Time
is a collection of either competent pop songs underwhelmingly executed or underwhelmingly written pop songs competently executed. Attractive pop gloss coats even the most absurd of the tracks, making them, at the very least, well recorded, produced, and arranged. But I can't picture Spears looking back on this album with any sense of pride or accomplishment. Is it any wonder that she won't be performing 'E-mail My Heart' or 'Soda Pop' on the next tour? They're downright embarrassing. But ...Baby One More Time
is an interesting album in that it offers a marker for Spears' progression as an artist, as a celebrity, and as a woman. Seven years ago, I never would have pegged Spears as capable of recording a pop song as infectious and accomplished as 'Toxic'. I never would have pictured her a married mother who Kabbalahed it up in her spare time. Seven years ago this album was pop perfection. Looking back, it isn't. Not even close. One great song, a handful of middle-of-the-road ones, and a couple disastrously idiotic tracks. Maybe I'm wrong, but I'd imagine Britney to be more embarrassed about songs like 'Soda Pop' than any of her more recent escapades. At least those incidents keep her in the spotlight. ...Baby One More Time
's missteps seem more like a reason why Britney never should have been in the spotlight in the first place.