Toxic top ten
Sam Stryker | Sunday, September 16, 2012
Like a phoenix from the flame, Britney Spears has risen again. This time, it isn’t with a dynamic new album but with a seat on the revamped second season of “The X Factor,” Simon Cowell’s latest attempt at dominating US television.
In many ways, Britney’s life path has mirrored our generation’s maturation. She launched onto the scene in the late ’90s when we were still in elementary school (I vividly remember having an argument in my third grade class whether she or Bruce Springsteen was the best musical artist ever. Suffice to say, I was the only boy on Brit-Brit’s side.)
In our awkward middle school years, she was shaving her head, marrying twice (once for a whirlwind 55-hours, another time to her backup dancer) and generally going all-out bonkers.
Just as we entered high school, Britney was getting her act back together thanks to a conservatorship.
And now, as many of us are about to enter into the real world with our first jobs, Britney is earning a steady, $15-million paycheck. In honor of her new job, here’s a retrospective look at Brit-Brit’s top-10 songs ever. And in the words of Britney herself, don’t hold it against me if I left off one of your personal favorites.
Michelangelo had the Sistine Chapel, F. Scott Fitzgerald had “The Great Gatsby” and Britney has “Toxic.” This track is the magnum opus of Spears’ career, and cemented her status as the reigning Queen of Pop. This song is so crazy creative – it features breathy vocals over Bollywood strings and surf guitar synths – that I get the sense Britney and producers Bloodshy & Avant got in the studio, threw the rulebook out the window and just went insane. Guess what? It worked. The maraschino cherry on top of the metaphoric sundae is the accompanying music video, arguably one of the most iconic of all time. Featuring three wig changes – blonde, crimson-red and dark brunette – Britney plays a secret agent traveling the world to complete her mission. It was so racy it was banned from normal TV hours by MTV, so you know Britney is at the top of her game.
“…Baby One More Time”
Some things never go out of style – a good pair of jeans, Ray-Bans and cheddar cheese, for instance – and Britney’s debut single remains a classic to this day. The epitome of ’90s bubblegum pop, the four-note piano intro serves as a warning to everyone on the dance floor that I am about to bust some serious moves. The song set the tone for the beginning of Britney’s career, where she tries and fails to desperately maintain her girl-next-door image. In the music video, Britney dances throughout her high school in a Catholic schoolgirl outfit that would send any nun into a hissy fit. The fact this song has stood the test of time is testament to Britney’s status as a supernova pop icon.
“Oops…I Did It Again”
Further proof that sometimes the classics are the best. The debut single off Britney’s sophomore album, Britney’s signature breathy vocals are on full display on this track. Aside from her sultry voice, there is a weird “Titanic” interlude in the song, despite the music video being set on Mars. Speaking about the music video, Spears’ performance is iconic, wearing a skin-tight red bodysuit. And if you needed any warning that Britney was a sex-symbol in the making, this video confirmed it. As Spears herself confessed on the song, “I’m not that innocent.” Britney, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
You know that moment in an all-nighter when it all comes together and you know everything is going to be okay? That is what “Womanizer” is to Britney’s career. After a period when she seemed to be going off the deep end (more on that later), this smash hit was a reminder of how important Britney is not only in the music industry, but pop culture as a whole. The song and accompanying music video follow the tried-and-true recipe for a successful Britney track – breathy vocals, heavy synths and a plot featuring multiple costume changes and a femme fatale role for Spears. Let’s just say many a Britney fan breathed a sigh of relief upon the release of this song.
“Me Against the Music”
Perhaps Britney’s edgiest track (and that is saying something), “Me Against the Music” features Britney’s musical mother, Madonna. Sometimes, collaborations between superstars don’t work out – too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen, if you will. Luckily, this song achieves the proper balance between two of the most iconic women in pop. The song is more than just music though, as it represents a passing of the torch between two musical titans. Best of all, the music video set up one of the defining moments in recent pop culture, Britney and Madonna’s infamous kiss at the VMAs.
“Till the World Ends”
The top song off her most recent album, “Till the World Ends” is a perfectly-timed release, as everyone and their mother knows the Mayans planned for the world to end this December. Naturally, Britney devoted a track to the impending apocalypse and it’s a smash. The accompanying music video features an underground dance party as fire and brimstone rain on the earth. This December, as Armageddon descends upon the planet, I hope I get invited to burrow beneath the earth and busting some serious moves with Brit-Brit and company. It’s almost enough to make up for the fact I won’t be graduating from the University because of the scheduled apocalypse. Take that, Mayans.
“(You Drive Me) Crazy”
This is a sleeper entry on this list. Along with “Oops…I Did It Again” and “…Baby One More Time,” this track is the third and final entry in what I like to call the “Holy Trinity” of classic Britney. What is interesting is this song is often left out of the conversation when it comes to Brit-Brit’s classics. “(You Drive Me) Crazy” is the red-headed stepchild of Britney songs. But there was no way this smash hit could be left off this list. Featuring Melissa Joan Hart in the music video (throwback!), this song absolutely screams “I love the ’90s,” and any discussion of Britney’s best has to include this track. Produced by frequent Britney-collaborator Max Martin, “Crazy” is definitive Britney at its finest – simple, beat-driven and super cheesy. It brings back the absolute best elementary school memories possible and harkens back to a simpler time in our lives when our diets consisted of Lunchables and Dunkaroos.
Spears’ ode to the mÃ©nage-a-trois, this song is catchy, carefree and signature Britney. The subject of the song is pretty tongue-in-cheek. By this point in her career, Britney has let go of any hope of maintaining her innocent image and embraced her status as a blonde bombshell. This song fits right in with that persona. It’s flirty, light and fun, just like Britney herself. This musical confection doesn’t stand out in any particular way, it’s just a steady hit. I’d say it is the Britney equivalent to cheese pizza – a safe, but solid choice.
“Break the Ice”
Footnote: Britney went through a pretty rough patch circa 2004 to 2008. She married her high school friend Jason Alexander (no, not the guy from “Seinfeld”) in a shotgun Vegas wedding, then married backup dancer Kevin Federline and popped out two kids, shaved her head, checked into rehab, started out hanging with Paris Hilton (never a good thing) and lost custody of said kids. In other words, she hit rock bottom. In the meantime, she released “Blackout”, which has been acclaimed as one of her best albums ever. Unfortunately, her whirlwind lifestyle prevented her from properly promoting the album (aside from a disastrous performance at the 2007 VMAs) and it never really set the pop world on fire. Interestingly enough, the strongest track from “Blackout” featured an animated music video – weak sauce, Britney – but was a standout. You really get a sense of the struggles Britney was going through on “Break the Ice,” as her voice comes across as urgent and desperate. Luckily, Brit-Brit was able to emerge from this dark period in her life.
A little bit different than most Britney tracks on this list, “Stronger” is the standout in the vein of a series of empowering songs Spears has released throughout her career. We get it Brit, you’ve had it rough – Justin Timberlake broke your heart, the paparazzi won’t leave you alone and “Crossroads” will forever serve as a blight on your resume – and this song sums up those sentiments perfectly. Like most Britney classics, it features a slam-dunk final third act where Britney and the beat absolutely consume the listener. Even when she breaks out of her normal synth-pop mold, Britney can do no wrong.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
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