Sep 14

BRITNEY SPEARS – “…Baby One More Time”

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#817, 21st February 1999

bomt How was I supposed to know that something wasn’t right?

It was a gilded age: the commercial zenith of the music industry at the end of the 20th century. In America, its apex as a money-making force came in 1999 when – adjusted for inflation – $71 per head was spent on music, a small box set for every man, woman and child in the country. Other countries hit the summit a little later, but they hit it. Did the industry see a crisis coming? Certainly – the Digital Millennium Copyright Act passed in the USA weeks after “….Baby One More Time” was released. But the biz was surely overconfident, it had seen its way through busts before. In 1981, when Britney Jean Spears was born, the industry was financially stagnant, caught in a recession-hit decline after the unsustained mini-boom of disco. It climbed back thanks to technology, and kept climbing. CD revenues rose and rose, and the machine to ensure they would not stop rising grew slicker and faster: radio, TV, promoters, manufacturers, labels, press and retailers meshing ever more efficiently in the pursuit of getting people to take home silver discs. And here we are at the top of the growth charts: peak pop.

The idea that pop had become mechanised soon became a weapon against the industry, a justification for forcibly free music. The list of those grew very familiar in the early 00s: rising CD prices, the mistreatment of artists by rapacious labels, convenient info-utopian philosophy – these reasons were regularly joined by “manufactured pop”. If the product was worthless and generic, why not just take it? And if you were to ask these pirate revolutionaries, who makes manufactured pop? Name me an act – I suspect Britney Spears would have been quick to their lips. Every ancien regime needs its Marie Antoinette.

So it’s time to dig into what “manufactured” means. Because, unquestionably, Britney was trained and raised as an entertainer from a very young age – even if the decision to make her a solo pop star was taken relatively late. And the pop world she emerged into was massive and complex and finely geared, not quite as businesslike as a Unilever or a Glaxo SmithKline, particularly at the edges, but aspiring in that direction. “Machine” doesn’t seem an awful description of it.

At the same time “manufactured” has an inevitably disdainful edge never really felt by other labels in other times who applied production-line principles to their music: Motown, most obviously, whose industrialisation of soul was generally described with purring approval for Berry Gordy’s Fordist vision of pop. And why not? The music was brilliant. Something else is happening when Britney and her peers are called manufactured. The implication is not just that the songs or playing are kit-built, but that the performers themselves are interchangeable, barely more than automatons. If millennial pop is a machine, then – according to this idea – Britney is not the owner or the operator, merely the product.

Do we need a different metaphor? Does Britney deserve one?

One hint towards an answer comes from listening to “…Baby One More Time”. Because, fifteen years on, two things jump out at me. One is, yes, how steely and immediate and effective this is compared to the (often very charming) bubblegum of Billie, B*Witched et al. “…Baby One More Time” is a ruthlessly lean, superbly constructed pop song: a track with awesome momentum earned by impressive economy, where every note or idea leads to a payoff, and each payoff sets up the next one. It’s a song with a fantastic ending – that final touchdown of “hit me baby one more time!” – but that ending is earned by the bit before where Britney drops the “I must confess / that my loneliness…” bridge, which in turn draws power from being a sneaky inversion of the rest of the song (where it’s the belief she’s confessing, not the loneliness), and so on all the way back to the iconic intro, a four-note knock on fame’s door given in full confidence it will be answered.

But the second thing that jumps out at me is that, for all the clockwork marvels of the construction – something she had nothing much to do with – what “….Baby One More Time” really, really sounds like is a Britney Spears song.

There have been an endless stream of studio leaks, abandoned vocal takes and live howlers which – apparently – prove how weak Britney’s untreated vocals are. But however they got that way, the vocals that appear on record aren’t just competent, they’re distinctive – Britney-as-vocalist may not have much range or skill but texturally her throaty southern cluck is unmistakable. It’s a percussive instrument – that first “oh bay-beh BAY-beh” and the pause straight after it is classic Britney. As of “…Baby One More Time” her voice is still the lead instrument – it’s not until the breakthrough into full-on R&B and club pop that she (and the producers) can really start playing with it, and with her role in the song. As such it has to do things it isn’t totally suited to – the melisma on “how could I have let you go-oh-oh-oh” stretches her thin, for instance. But even at this very early stage there’s no mistaking her.

So Britney isn’t interchangeable – but might she still earn that manufactured tag by being an automaton, a producer’s puppet?

Questions of agency in this high-stakes, professionalised form of pop are very murky. For instance, take two central decisions around Britney’s first single, ones that critically shaped what ended up in front of the public: what the music sounded like, and what the video looked like. In both cases, we know what Britney wanted. For the music, she would have preferred Sheryl Crow-style AOR – a good fit for her husky voice – and acquiesced to her management or label’s wish for bright, upbeat dancepop. (On the album, traces of AOR creep in – odd guitar solos here and there, though this may just be a natural function of bored session musicians doodling in the margins of a teenpop record).

For the video, meanwhile, her managers wanted something generically romantic – the singer and some hot dude or other. Britney had other ideas: she suggested the school setting and the dancing. Which, very obviously, works a lot better – it keeps the focus on her, fits the song (she’s dumped the guy, so best to keep him as a marginal presence), puts it in a setting her audience knows, and most crucially gives a better showcase for her dancing.

(Which is all the video looks like now, midriffs and all – a perpetual-motion song-and-dance number, its controversial sting long drawn by shifting standards. There are better records to talk about how the media obsessed over Britney’s sexuality – and how the Britney publicity machine fuelled that. For now, it’s enough to note that some of the Baby One More Time era coverage, like her first Rolling Stone story (“INSIDE THE HEART, MIND AND BEDROOM OF A TEEN QUEEN”, Britney clutching a plush Teletubby on the cover) surely stepped over a line into creepy Lolita territory. For me the video doesn’t get there, though the furore around it helped set the future press agenda.)

Both these decisions – the musical one Britney disagreed with, and the visual one she came up with – were the right ones, crucial to the single becoming a sensation. If we’re keeping a creative autonomy scorecard, this is a creditable tie. But the whole debate over who came up with what is also a red herring. Even if Britney had zero input into anything, it’s her name up there in lights – the whole enterprise depends on her. The idea that you can dig into the credits and origins of modern corporate pop to find secret lines of creativity and influence is a true one. But to imagine those stories are more important than the public ones can be a seductive fantasy of insider knowledge. Britney Spears, like every modern pop star, is the frontwoman of her own career: the story begins with her. It’s like politics, that other great bit of modern theatre: every candidate is the creature of a party machine. But the individual candidates – their strengths, foibles and priorities – matter. They are the story.

So if “manufactured” is unfair, what is the right metaphor for Britney’s relationship to the pop machine? Scanning the pop culture of the late 90s gives us a better possibility: mecha, the Japanese anime genre where beautiful, tragic youth fuse themselves to sublime, state of the art machines. Britney is not the machine’s puppet; she’s its pilot.

Pop culture’s relationship to “the system” – the societal machines it exists within – is regularly rewritten. The 21st century is a cybernetic era defined by the power (and vulnerability) of complex, interdependent global systems – the climate, the economy, the internet. So the inescapable symbiosis of human and machine – and how the doomed symbiotes cope with it – is as relevant and resonant a cultural metaphor in the 00s as ideas of “the road” and flight from the system were in the 50s and 60s. And such fusions became the dominant form of pop – singers and performers in entwined collaboration with nomadic producers who might end up superstars themselves.

The specific machine that Britney is piloting has a well-known engineer: Max Martin, writing and producing his first number one record as part of his Cheiron Studios production team. Even fans who have never begun to map the circuitry of contemporary pop have heard of Max Martin – and “…Baby One More Time” was a compelling introduction. Those big percussive chords – a statement of intent at the start of the single – became a signature trick of Cheiron and its later imitators. Martin was in a hard rock band at one point before hooking up with the late Denniz Pop and the other Cheiron boys, and you can hear the unashamed, aggressive theatricality of glam threaded through his work.

“Baby One More Time” has other debts to pay, though. It’s shot through with imagery of religious faith and doubt – “I confess”, “I still believe”, “Give me a sign” – and I don’t think it’s fanciful to hear traces of other 90s Swedish pop: the grandiose post-ABBA kitsch of Alexander Bard’s Army Of Lovers project. Their mighty and absurd “Crucified” is a prototype for the kind of fervour “Baby One More Time” trades in. Queen meets ABBA, then: not a bad marker to put down.

But the religious overtones in Britney’s song are mostly there as intensifiers for her emotional state: they raise the stakes, putting a reunion with an ex on the level of spiritual salvation, and making present despair seem starker. This is the thing about the “pilot” metaphor for 21st century machine pop: in mecha stories, the focus isn’t usually on the machines but on the young people inside them and their emotional arcs. And “…Baby One More Time” introduces a major emotional motif in Britney’s pop – doomed, melodramatic, helpless obsession. Not since some of the darker corners of the Shangri-La’s catalogue and the 60s girl group boom has a pop star been so abject, so often, as Britney Spears.

It’s the paradoxes that give “Baby One More Time” its power – a song of self-negating regret performed and choreographed as a statement of total confidence. A generational shift in pop that’s also a restatement of one of its oldest and truest beliefs – that teenage feelings matter, even the dumb and disastrous ones. An ebullient new star born at the onset of the industry’s long twilight. The machine pop age “Baby One More Time” heralds will be one whose pleasures generally come shadowed by complications. In this case – as with all her records when I listen to them now – the shadow is cast not by Britney’s youth, but by her future. The sixteen year old raised to be a star with the drive to insist that her first video be made on her terms is now thirty-two: for the last six years her life and finances have been under the total legal control of her father. Britney’s story, like the record industry’s, has so far not ended happily. Its beginnings, at least, were magnificent.

(This entry, and probably most of the Britney ones, is indebted especially to Isabel Cole’s Britney Week on One Week One Band. Thanks!)



  1. 1
    Billy Hicks on 29 Sep 2014 #

    TEN. TEN TEN TEN *TEN* as one of two absolute definites to come this year. And that’s not just because that’s also the age I was at the time, as this could have come out five, ten years later, even today and at every age – hyperactive pre-teen, moody long-haired teen, hedonistic late teen/early twenties and the slightly bitter mid-late twenties male I am now, I’d listen to this and go, fair play, you’ve created a classic.

    It is, along with ‘Wannabe’ one of two songs that I would simply say define the entire decade of pop. Perhaps bizarrely so in Britney’s case as we’re a few months away from it finishing but it certainly defines perhaps the entire musical era starting with Wannabe and not so much definitively ending but slowly fizzling out sometime around the early noughties. While some may dismiss it as throwaway machine pop it’s always been much more than that to me, and listening to it as I type there’s something actually heart-wrenching at the piano breakdown two minutes in – maybe because it simply brings me back to 1999 more effortlessly than anything else heard in Popular so far. I knew every word fifteen years ago, I know every word now – I even know the infamous Darius Dinesh version by heart – and despite its absolute domination of late 1990s radio and television, I still and always will adore it.

    Bonus note – the supposed sexualisation meant nothing to me fifteen years ago, her being in a school made perfect sense to me and it could have easily been part of an episode of ‘Sabrina The Teenage Witch’ (a program that, to my joy, she did actually appear in later that year). She seemed extremely innocent until I watched the video for ‘I’m A Slave 4 U’ a couple years later and first wondered what the hell she was doing.

  2. 2

    […] “Bye Bye Bye” for ‘N Sync exactly one year later. But as Tom Ewing implies in his excellent essay/retrospective Britney doesn’t accommodate herself to pop narratives: she’s never […]

  3. 3
    swanstep on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Aw, not a 10? Well that’s what it gets from me… Remembered first impressions: what the hell is this? Is she really sneakily saying that she wants to be hit? This sounds so bouncy but it’s so minor! And it gets more and more minor in the harmonies as the song progresses. Who is this? Oh my freaking god the video (which was included on the album – f*** yeah). She’s a 20-something playing a teen (like the people on 90210), right? No, she’s 16. Suddenly very guilty about thoughts. Lonely. Loneliness killing. Lonely Street. This is ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ isn’t it? – the original suicide-tinged erotic bomb that kicked off things off in the ’50s. Listen again. What are those synth blasts on the one all the way through? Why doesn’t every pop song have them? Whoever made this is a frickin’ genius. Britney Britney Britney everywhere; in the US at least this was a huge turning-point, much more so than the Spices. In NZ the song went to #1 for a coupe of weeks dropped down to #2 or #3 for a couple then back to #1 then again a drop and back to #1 for a third time. This was a track that kept on making converts, and why shouldn’t it? With roots back to Elvis and the Shangri-las, and with Scandinavia’s-answer-to-Trevor-Horn producing, and with pregnant-with-the-future Miss Mouseketeer & Louisiana’s finest ready for her close-up, this track had it all, for everyone, and still does.

  4. 4
    swanstep on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Stairway To Britney.

  5. 5
    Nixon on 29 Sep 2014 #

    One of the best essays yet.

    I especially (obviously) enjoyed the Motown comparison. I’d point out with reference to one of the later paragraphs that Motown’s Golden Age, particularly the Holland Dozier Holland songbook, is actually chock full of horribly miserable female narrators (as Tom himself discovered wrt Baby Love) – the Supremes in particular hardly ever get to play anyone happy (making it all the more effective when you then hit something unabashedly giddy like I Hear A Symphony).

    Anyway, this is a ten from me. Gareth Bale said this was the first single he ever bought, which made me feel old.

  6. 6
    Nixon on 29 Sep 2014 #


  7. 7
    swanstep on 29 Sep 2014 #

    “the iconic intro, a four-note knock on fame’s door “
    Isn’t it three notes (sometimes followed by bass thud and synth blast on the one)?

  8. 8
    Andrew Farrell on 29 Sep 2014 #

    #3 there was definitely a rumour going around that she was really 5 or 10 years older than presented.

    I never really considered the idea that she’d dumped him, the impression I got was that all of the disturbing neediness was still happening in an unhealthy relationship – which may have been why I never really liked this.

  9. 9
    Tom on 29 Sep 2014 #

    “Disturbing neediness in an unhealthy relationship” is sort of the signature Britney topic, so I think ‘dumped’ is probably the optimistic read, yeah.

  10. 10
    swanstep on 29 Sep 2014 #

    The little things about this record are so fab, e.g., the syncopation of ‘when I’m not with you I lose my mind’ makes for a hidden, propulsive hook. Compare with the plod of ‘Go insane and out of your mind’ from Blondie’s Maria, and it’s clear who should own the pop charts in 1999. (I wanted to make this comparison back when ‘Maria’ was on deck but had to respect the bunny.)

  11. 11
    Mark M on 29 Sep 2014 #

    We’re somewhere around the culture peak point of the American teenage girl here – Clueless and My So-Called Life had set things up earlier in the decade. In 1999, Buffy was in its prime, this was the year of 10 Things I Hate About You and (less excitingly) She’s All That, Christina Ricci had just had her great year (The Ice Storm, Buffalo ’66), Reese Witherspoon’s astonishing early career climaxed in ’99 with Election… Things like Ghostworld were just over the horizon…

  12. 12
    lonepilgrim on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Rather than just the steady pulse of some dance music the rhythm lopes along tautly and Britney’s voice rides it with seeming insouciance – the dance/rock hybrid also reminds me a little of Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’.

    According to wiki the school in the video was the same one used for the film of ‘Grease’ and I can imagine Britney as the daughter of Travolta and ONJ.

  13. 13
    James on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Long time-lurker, first time poster here. I’d decided to wait until this review to post for a number of reasons; the main one being that this song is where my relationship with music truly begins. I was four years old when I first heard ‘Baby…’ and I can certainly recall it being the first song I remember liking, listening too regularly and getting excited whenever I did so. It wasn’t my first single, that wouldn’t come until a certain S Club 7 record in December 2000. So, yeah, this is really the song that kicked off everything for me and though my musical taste and direction has changed drastically in the near-16 years since this songs release, I’ll always have a fondness for ‘Baby One More Time’ and Britney in general for setting me off down this musical path. As someone who’s just about to enter his 20s; ‘Baby One More Time’ is a record that could be tainted by nostalgia; my fond memories of it and appreciation for what it introduced me to could give me a very biased view of it now, but that would only be a problem if ‘Baby’ had aged badly or a rather crap song overall, which it certainly isn’t. It’s pretty much as perfect a pop song as you’re going to get and I highly believe that had I been twenty years old in 1999 I still would’ve been all over this

    The childhood nostalgia only makes a fantastic record better


  14. 14
    Kat but logged out innit on 29 Sep 2014 #

    GLORIOUS DAY: it was around this time that my Dad *finally* realised that he could hook up a modem to our old Amiga without us immediately being haxx0red, and got us ‘on the net’. A whole world of Yahoo directories could finally be explored by my teenage self for 59-minute stretches (or until Mum yelled up the stairs that she needed to use the phone). Before then I had to go round Schoolchum Kirst’s house to look up hilarious pictures of godknowswhat, but now I had a Freeserve email address and could SIGN UP to things, namely POPEX hurrah (found via its lovely creator being a regular on the David Devant & His Spirit Wife message board, of course). I bought shares in DD&HSW and Elastica but still managed to get a few gongs despite this. Britney Spears was listed as Broccoli Spears and as by now I was at my peak pop-hatorade, I thought this was absolutely hilarious and started referring to her as a vegetable all the time. What a terribly stuck-up teenager I was. I’m sorry for ever dissing you, Britters. 10.

  15. 15
    punctum on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Once I would have given this a 10. But now it seems horribly, horribly wrong. There’s pop for you.

  16. 16
    iconoclast on 29 Sep 2014 #

    We’re by now well into the Third Age of popular music: the battles have finally been won, the bean-counters and marketroids are firmly in control, and the opposition is too demoralised and tattered to offer any credible kind of alternative vision. Add in decades of ruthlessly well-honed marketing know-how, improvements in communications technology, and the growing obsession of a compliant public with “celebrity” lifestyles, and you have an environment in which new “stars” or “icons” can be created virtually instantaneously without first having to go through the lengthy and troublesome process of “artistic development”.

    Of course, in such an environment commercial considerations will always take precedence over musical ones, and so it goes with “Baby One More Time”, a particularly cynical example of the new paradigm for the 21st century: quite simply, when your record is going to be performed by jailbait in a not-kinky-honest school uniform, who is going to care what it actually sounds like? Artistically, its value is almost nil; there’s an obviously can’t-be-arsed programmed drum track, a perfunctory lyric whose infelicities (“hit me one more time”, indeed) nobody saw fit to correct, and seemingly random interjections from assorted instruments (no dice, we are assured, were harmed in the making of this record), all taken at a tempo which it would be kind to describe as desultory.

    Note that “almost”, because in there somewhere there is actually a half-decent melody winding its way through some interesting chord changes, which could have been made into something so much better without too much extra work. Why, we Iconoclasts wonder, was it put outside so badly dressed? Just maybe, was it some kind of protest by the Creative People at the realisation that any further effort would be for nothing? We’d love to think so; it’s more charitable than to dismiss it as a slightly-better-than-usual piece of hack-work thrown together quickly and cheaply enough to keep the bean-counters happy, while managing to be Just Good Enough not to embarrass the marketroids.

    In summary, then, not a record of any musical significance, but a rather depressing Historically Significant Pop-Cultural Event. With an extra point in recognition of What Might Have Been, it gets an entirely forgettable FIVE.

  17. 17
    Mark G on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Blur had spent a little time away, but had returned with what might be considered a brave move: Returning neither to the old cockney lads jumpingupanddownness of “Parklife”, which many other bands had followed up on, nor the brutal guitar stabbing of “Beetlebum” which had also proved a winner, they had issued, as a single, a six minute slow builder about the breakup of the britpop dream couple, with gospel choir and a vignetting of a vocal from the guitarist, Damon had a winner with “Tender”

    However, Britney released her debut single, classic american pop in all respects.

    America was clearly top pop nation, and Britpop came to a .

  18. 18
    sukrat etc on 29 Sep 2014 #

    this^^^ kind of pastiche is hard to pull off in the long haul, and has been patchily routine of late, but the “we Iconoclasts” move is very fine *applauds drily*

  19. 19
    flahr on 29 Sep 2014 #

    “Even fans who have never begun to map the circuitry of contemporary pop have heard of Max Martin…”

    Is that ACTUALLY true though? I suppose you might just have a pretty stringent definition of the word ‘fan’.

    EDIT: Sorry, no, I should really hold myself back from such punctumesque nitpicking over the actual truth value of a rhetorical flourish.

  20. 20
    PurpleKylie on 29 Sep 2014 #

    I’m not such a fan of this, it’s not to my taste but I do kinda appreciate that this has become a modern classic of sorts, and it kinda encapsulates The Sound of 1999, in a sense that big teeny pop was the big thing in this time period.

    I have a friend who’s a big fangirl of the Cheiron sound and Swedish pop in general, I wonder what she’d make of this article, she’d probably enjoy it.

  21. 21
    iconoclast on 29 Sep 2014 #

    @18: It’s not a pastiche; I genuinely disagree with the communis opinio here. What makes you think otherwise?

  22. 22
    Tom on 29 Sep 2014 #

    #19 yes, rhetoric, I basically mean he’s the pop producer/songwriter fans are most likely to have heard of (though maybe now it’s Ryan Tedder?). And in general he’s up there at the bluffer’s guide level with Timbaland and the Neptunes for people wanting to look a bit knowledgeable about the mechanics of 00s pop.

  23. 23
    flahr on 29 Sep 2014 #

    I’ve always found his name disappointingly un-Swedish.

    I think I like the song (by which I mean, I like the riff), though I feel an odd unwillingness to think too much about it on the grounds that my opinion feels even more axiomatically irrelevant than usual.

  24. 24
    Alan on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Where did the puppet<->mecha inversion idea come from? was that on OWOB – I may have missed that. Either way *claps*

  25. 25
    thefatgit on 29 Sep 2014 #

    In 1999, I was 33 years old. And for a while I was totally disengaged with what US teenpop was becoming. A small coterie of boybands marking the same lamp-post was, at the time, my take on US teenpop. The R&B and Rock contingent were getting more airplay. Nu-Metal and Gangsta Rap provided “alternatives” to the “maintstream”. That was my perception of what US music was like back then. So it seemed like, as all the most memorable Pop phenomenons do, Britney emerged from vapour. “BOOM! HERE I AM!” It was quite obvious I had not been paying much attention. But then I must have been paying some attention, because BOMT had similar production hallmarks to “Show Me Love” (the one by a certain Ms Carlsson, not the housey one by Robyn S). So even if I was unaware of Max Martin, at least I could recognise its similarities. And BOMT has quality written through it like rock. The piano breakdown is especially lovely. I’m not entirely bothered about the things that Iconoclast @16 is irritated by. I might have been, when I was 33 and listening to a lot of Rock, but now, I’m responding to spectacular pop hooks and there’s no shortage of them here.

    The video was all over the TV. Unavoidable, even. I’m not sure if I approved of my daughter watching it or not, (who was also constantly glued to Saved By The Bell and Sabrina The Teenage Witch) but I did sense that “something wasn’t right” about it. However, as Tom says, there’s plenty of opportunities to discuss that aspect of Britney Spears sexuality/image further down the road. Although I’d like to mention: in the wake of the career trajectories of Melissa Joan Hart, Elizabeth Berkley and Tiffany Amber Theissen, not to mention many of the Baywatch cast and perhaps many more 90s teen TV stars, could Britney be, to a certain extent, hailed as the 90’s children’s TV star that didn’t succumb to the patriarchal fame mincer on anything other than on her own terms?


  26. 26
    punctum on 29 Sep 2014 #

    EDIT: Sorry, no, I should really hold myself back from such punctumesque nitpicking over the actual truth value of a rhetorical flourish.

    Behave yourself, son.

  27. 27
    Tom on 29 Sep 2014 #

    #24 no the mecha thing is mine. Neon Genesis Britney! (NB I have actually read/seen very little mecha stuff, so it was a punt, but I felt a fairly safe one) I doubt I’m the first to have hit on that idea – from a distance the upsurge of interest in anime among American kids, and the ways in which the late 90s, MTV-raised generation of pop stars presented themselves visually and dramatically, seem clearly parts of the same larger story. More on that in future entries, I guess.

  28. 28
    enitharmon on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Same mark for this synthetic drivel that Good Vibrations got? Shame on you Thomas!

    My enduring impression of Britney Spears was when she was interviewed by Jenni Murray on Woman’s Hour. She mumbled and giggled and yeahliked her way through a series of anodyne questions and then when Jenni slipped in something incisive the interview was brought rapidly to a close by her minders. It was radio of course so we will never know, at least until Jenni Murray writes a memoir, but one had visions of burly, dark-suited men in mirror shades ripping cables out willy-nilly and hustling their precious charge out through the labyrinthine corridors of Broadcasting House (as was, have you ever been there? Knossos had nothing on the old BH!)

    Anything over a 3 for this cheap contrived tripe is an insult to the great days of popular music. Including Motown. Especially Motown perhaps.

  29. 29
    mapman132 on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Excellent review, okay song. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the love this is getting here – it was a landmark hit – but wow, all the 10’s? Whenever I try to play this song in my mind, it – oops – segues into a later bunnied hit. I don’t hate it though – I’ll give 6/10. But I still prefer the previous two #1’s. Call me weird.

    Surprising chart fact #1: Britney wouldn’t have another US #1 hit after this until 2008. She had plenty of US #1 albums though. One interesting aspect of the imperial phase of 1999-2001 US teenybopper pop, esp. the major boy bands, is that marketing and available disposal income combined to make the albums much, much bigger sellers in the US than the singles. A distinct reversal of traditional teen pop trends.

    Surprising chart fact #2: According to Wiki, Britney’s never had a #1 album in the UK. Shocked me at least.

  30. 30
    Tom on 29 Sep 2014 #

    #29 isn’t that a case of the physical singles market basically vanishing in the US around this point? So singles were way more playlist dependent – and I’d guess there were enough people who hated teenpop to make playlisting it less of a sure thing than you might think? But I don’t really know how the playlist system works in the states…

    (Here the great interregnum in Britney #1s is between 2004 and a brief co-starring role in 2013, a shame given some of the stuff I could be writing about from her)

  31. 31
    Tom on 29 Sep 2014 #

    #29 “Good Vibrations” isn’t a great comparison – I don’t think Max Martin has ever really gone for that kind of ambitiously symphonic expansion of his style, he’s an iterative producer more than an experimental one. (There are more experimental producers on the horizon, though none have the kind of monomaniacal desire to make THE GREAT SINGLE that helped send poor Brian mad). A better comparison might be “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, a record I like less than this.

    Britney’s staunchest fans would find it hard to deny, I think, that (like Elvis) she does not express herself best through the medium of interview.

  32. 32
    iconoclast on 29 Sep 2014 #

    #31: I presume by “#29” you really mean “#28”?

  33. 33
    Andrew Hickey on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Re: the Max Martin thing — Tom’s point seems reasonable to me. I was a sneery rockist Mojo reader when this came out, and I remain completely ignorant of any post-2001 pop music except what I heard in a brief period working in an office that had pop radio playing in 2004. *I* know Martin’s name, which suggests he’s permeated into the general consciousness as much as, say, Stock-Aitken-Waterman or Holland-Dozier-Holland or Diane Warren…

  34. 34
    mapman132 on 29 Sep 2014 #

    #30 That’s actually a very good point – it’s also why even in an era of ascendant single sales due to downloads, the likes of Bieber have never had a US #1 and probably never will (he’s topped the sales chart, but God help the DJ who attempts to play Bieber on the radio).

  35. 35
    Mark M on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Re28/31: I’d argue there is zero correlation between being a good interviewee and actually being good at whatever it is you’re being interviewed about.

    Which is not to say that being a good interviewee isn’t a very useful skill for anyone who wants to be a popstar etc. In the context of public discussion of the arts, Roland Barthes’ Death Of The Author is a chronic non-starter.

  36. 36
    Tom on 29 Sep 2014 #

    I think being a smart, articulate interviewee is likely to be one of the factors that make people more likely to believe you have plenty of autonomy and agency within your career. And from a fan perspective good interviewees are more relatable for me too – but these days boring interviews are as much a consequence of close PR management as they are any characteristic of the artist, something you can immediately tell by comparing certain interviewees with their Twitter feeds…

  37. 37
    JLucas on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Is Max Martin the Phil Spector of modern pop?

    Not to cast any aspersions on his personal life, but musically you could make a strong case. …Baby One More Time is the culmination of his reinvention of a classic pop trope – the pretty young ingenue expressing broad, simple emotions (albeit with a potentially dark undercurrent). Britney is on her way to becoming a major star, but right now she’s everygirl – limited voice, unthreateningly pretty, the school uniform was a genius move not because it titillated older men but because it created a mirror into which her audience could see themselves.

    Martin and Denniz Pop had already had a few hits – honing their craft working with local artists to moderate success (‘Tell Me What You Like’, a 1998 Eurohit for Pop’s wife Jessica Folcker, is essentially a dry run of …Baby One More Time), before graduating to up-and-coming US acts like the Backstreet Boys after Robyn’s early hits caught American ears.

    By the time Britney’s parent album had ended its shelf life, the market was flooded with imitators – Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, Mandy Moore – while the pop stars who preceded her were forced to up their game or be swept away (we’ll see how the class of 97-99 accomplished this with varying degrees of success over the next few years).

    The specific shiny pop sound that characterises Britney’s early hits faded out like any other trend, but giant pop choruses never fall out of fashion, and so Martin endures. The pop stars that have enjoyed the greatest success with him in recent years haven’t tended to be the trend-hoppers or the button-pushers, but the more professional, middle of the road pop stars who build their careers on daytime radio and arena tours – P!nk, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry etc. Few producer/songwriters have updated their sound so successfully without really updating it at all.

    The case for the prosecution: He writes so many of these songs, that they must be factory packed, formulaic, soulless, ‘manufactured’. But his biggest hits are far from throwaway. Look at the biggest, most memorable pop hits of every year from 1999 onwards and you can guarantee Martin had a hand in at least one of them. The songs endure.

    Charge #2: Being factory produced, they render the singer interchangable. Sometimes that’s the case. There are Martin songs so straightforwardly good that anybody could make them a hit. But we’ve established that Britney Spears, for all her shortcomings, couldn’t have been a more perfect vessel for this song. By accident or design (it was originally rejected by TLC and 5ive, neither of whom heard anything special in it), it landed in the lap of a pop singer who could render a good song iconic. That’s the magic of pop right there.

  38. 38
    enitharmon on 29 Sep 2014 #

    @33 I used to think a rockist was somebody who did creative things with sugar and peppermint essence until I discovered Popular. And now I find I are one! I don’t think it’s sneery to expect musical performers to be able to sing and/or play their instrument, so “rockist” is a badge I wear with pride.

  39. 39
    AMZ1981 on 29 Sep 2014 #

    The expectation around Blur’s Tender was that it would replace Britney Spears at number one after a week. I recall reading an article in one of the teen magazines (and I can’t recall how I came to be reading it as I certainly didn’t buy it) how the number one spot had been devalued to the point where the next three number ones (this, Blur and the next bunny along) could be easily predicted. Chart watchers breathed a sigh of relief when Britney held on to finally end the run of one week wonders.

    To be fair to Blur Tender did sell enough to scrape into the top forty of the year (which most of the number ones preceding it didn’t) and interestingly managed more weeks in the top ten than their previous lead single from a new album managed in the top forty. However, and if Britney was inescapable on teen pop channels, the serious music press was obsessed with Blur’s upcoming album which was well reviewed and tipped to become a classic; if anything it was almost their Be Here Now. It has its moments (Coffee and TV) but even fans would probably struggle to tell you the last time they played it. Meanwhile a lot of contemporaneous American pop punk (Pretty Fly being an example) still fills floors at rock clubs.

  40. 40
    James Masterton on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Baby One More time sold an astonishing 464,000 copies to debut at the top of the charts. Leaving out the Fucking Diana Record, that was the biggest single week sale by any track since Robson and Jerome did a similar number with Unchained Melody in the summer of ’95, and both were the fastest selling singles since Do They Know Its Christmas did sales of 751K, 960K and 882K in the run up to the end of 1984. This was utterly jaw-dropping stuff.

    And #39 is right, Britney beating Tender to land a second week at the top was a welcome relief after what was becoming a predictable parade of instant Number One hits. I was one of the writers who flagged it up at the time. We’re all hoping Meghan Trainor manages something similar over the next few weeks.

  41. 41
    Rory on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Having spent the weekend practising a Max Martin song for my first ever attempt at karaoke (in a few hours’ time… gulp), it’s good to hear this one again. I don’t think I’d ever seen the video before – my mind was elsewhere in ’99 – and I’m rather bemused that this is what set a thousand tongues wagging. Having moved to the UK during peak paedo-hysteria, I can see why Britney At School would have set off alarms, but really, midriffs = jailbait? Every teenaged girl in the Western world south of 50°N was baring her midriff in the late 1990s. It smacks of that episode of The Goodies where Tim-Brooke Taylor gets over his hangups and puts on a t-shirt with a hole showing off his belly-button.

    The lyrics, too, sound harmless once you hear “hit me” as “give it to me” rather than “I would like some of your finest domestic violence, please”. Sure, the implication of violence is a hook, and an unsettling one if you take it literally, but as the violence equivalent of sexual innuendo it’s hardly Carry On Bashing. It’s no more unsettling than the scores of people who proclaimed Britney Spears the Enemy of Music for daring to have a catchy pop hit, and I remember plenty of those on the mailing lists and Usenet groups of the day. Why does the implication of “hit” have to be literal hitting, anyway? Why not “this song has ‘hit’ written all over it”?

    The key hook for me isn’t that, though, it’s the inflection on “give me a sign”, which sounds like Max Martin’s homage to Benny and Björn.

    A great track. I’d go an 8.

    Not my favourite Max Martin song, though. That would be the scandalously unbunnied “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, which I only have to practice a few more times (along with [bunnied phone-themed 2012 hit] and – I may come to regret this – “Survival” by Muse).

  42. 42
    James Masterton on 29 Sep 2014 #

    I’m sure it doesn’t really need spelling out, but the “hit me” part of the lyric is a cultural reference which didn’t translate properly across the Atlantic.

    Americans came late to the SMS party and even in 1999 many American mobile networks didn’t really do text messaging (and even then your plan still meant you were charged for receipt as well as sending). Instead it was common amongst teens to have two-way pagers, devices on which you could bash out a message and send it to a friend. Getting a message on those was known as “a hit”, hence Britney is asking her beau to drop her a message to let her know he still cares.

    It eventually became argot for any kind of written message, hence Eminem a year or so later writing “hit me back, this is yours, Stan”.

    (oh yes, and Americans being charged to receive SMS messages was arguably what drove the development of alternative online platforms such as BBM and Whatsapp). But anyway Britney, yes. Remember when she was ‘dating’ Justin but claiming to be celibate?

  43. 43
    Andrew Farrell on 29 Sep 2014 #

    #40 Not all of us! #notinmybass

  44. 44
    Rory on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Thanks, James @42, that was news to this non-American, non-teen-in-1999, non-mobile-user-in-1999 non-Britney-obsessive.

  45. 45
    James BC on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Trivia: the song is exactly 3:30 long, which according to the Popjustice website is the ideal length for a pop song. Popjustice generally cites HMBOOT as proof if anyone queries the assertion.

  46. 46
    leveret on 29 Sep 2014 #

    #41 – The (fairly mild) controversy seemed to be more about the presentation of a ‘schoolgirl’ as an object of lust, rather than the midriff-baring per se, if I remember rightly.

    A friend bought the CD single – it included a fold-out poster of an airbrushed Britney, looking like a wholesome corn-fed dolly (somehow I always thought she was a Midwesterner – her Southern roots are news to me), with some schmaltzy gushing ‘handwritten’ note from Brit, saying how delighted she was that you had bought her single. It gave off more of a Debbie Gibson/Amy Grant do-gooder vibe and felt a bit at odds with the image given off by the video.

  47. 47
    Tom on 29 Sep 2014 #

    I think the counter-objection is that the video isn’t really presenting her as an “object of lust” primarily – it’s ensemble dancing in a bunch of outfits, and if you look at a later video (a bunnied one set on Mars springs to mind) which is also an ensemble dance routine, the camera angles are way more obviously salacious. On the other hand, you can perfectly well argue that school uniforms have been so completely appropriated by pervs that there’s no way to do something like the BOMT routines without them looking dodgy.

  48. 48
    mapman132 on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Hey, is that the first animated GIF in the winner’s circle at the top of the page or had I just never noticed before?

  49. 49
    Tom on 29 Sep 2014 #

    It is! A special treat from Steve M. Whether future circle pictures will continue to move is unknown – much as we’d all like to see a bunch of Irish fellas getting on and off their stools, it’s up to him.

  50. 50
    Matt DC on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Is this the moment where the 00s really begin? The first #1 from the generation of pop stars who will dominate most of the next decade, a lot of the faces who start to appear from now on are still prominent today. Britney isn’t quite that any more, but this feels like the start of something, although I think the pop boom that’s about to kick off take a couple of years to filter through to the Number One spot.

  51. 51
    iconoclast on 29 Sep 2014 #

    #38: looks like it’s you and me against the world again, lone voices of reason crying out in the aesthetic wasteland, etc, etc, etc. I’d add “… and to have some form of creative input more substantial than deciding what to wear for the video”, otherwise it’s just another marketing exercise. Never mind; its all part of lifes rich pageant.

    I wouldn’t call myself a “rockist”, though; the distinction between “why should I settle for this when there’s half a century’s worth of vastly superior popular music to listen to instead” and “popular music reached perfection when I was fourteen years old and there’s no reason to listen to anything made afterwards” is a bit too subtle for some people, it seems.

  52. 52
    Steve Mannion on 29 Sep 2014 #

    The GIF comes in anticipation of the impending 15th anniversary of “Burn All GIFs day” and our avoidance of the prospect of bloggers everywhere having had to obtain a licence to GIF: http://www.geek.com/news/today-is-burn-all-gifs-day-566485/

    Worth noting that during Britney’s second week at #1, Blur’s ‘Tender’ was joined by SIX other new entries in the top 10 such was the glut of double-edition/discounted first week sellers. But not even Shawn Mullins himself however could bring her down.

  53. 53
    Kat but logged out innit on 29 Sep 2014 #

    IMPORTANT: Britney does a BACKFLIP in the video! Well, ok, a ‘backwards walkover’. That’s got to be at least a BAGA level 3 badge already. Did Madge ever do a backwards walkover? If she did, it has been blanked out of my mind. In fact the only 90s Popular artist I can think of who has done one in a #1 video is Mel C in ‘Wannabe’ (possibly Howard or Jason in Take That but I think their flipping was mostly early doors, pre-#1s). By all means prove my memory wrong dudes :)

  54. 54
    Steve Mannion on 29 Sep 2014 #

    There’s some background backflippery in the video for Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ iirc, but sadly not from Rick.

    Sadly the video is not on YouTube so we’ll never know for sure.

  55. 55
    Andrew Hickey on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Iconoclast — the only person who’s been called a rockist in this thread is 20-year-old me. By 35-year-old me. Quite why you and Enitharmon have assumed that you were being labelled by that, I don’t know…

  56. 56
    mapman132 on 29 Sep 2014 #

    #52 It seems to have now disappeared from the header. No more smiling Britney for me :(

  57. 57
    thefatgit on 29 Sep 2014 #

    the .gif is still giffing for me ;)

  58. 58
    Andrew Farrell on 29 Sep 2014 #

    I think it’s closer to “A walkover occurs in this video by someone wearing clothes similar to Britney” – said person does a very agile proper backflip later!

  59. 59
    Kat but logged out innit on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Oh my god it’s TRUE, curse my suspended belief! I can’t believe I didn’t twig that all these years. Song now ruined, I revise my score down to a 6 ;_; ;_; ;_;

  60. 60
    Andrew Farrell on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Once again, I have ruined Britnxmas.

  61. 61
    Kinitawowi on 29 Sep 2014 #

    6, I think; the bridge that Tom so admires is for me the moment the song starts to lose its way, revealing itself to be a bit thin and barely earning that undeniable thumper of an ending.

    #2 watch; some discussion of Tender already, but let’s not forget just how big The Corrs were right about now. Runaway (a remixed version for the special edition Talk On Corners, that honestly wasn’t as good as the Forgiven Not Forgotten original) was never going to top Britney, but we’re only a few weeks away from their album chart Top Two lockout.

  62. 62
    Shiny Dave on 29 Sep 2014 #

    I want to like this less than I actually do. Piled with hooks, and right up with “Wannabe” as an introduction to the next big thing in teenpop – in fact, that feels like a pretty good corollary, thinking about it.

    The difference here is that this feels a stackload more calculating, and the production is clearly central to that. We spoke a lot about how “You Make Me Wanna” felt like the start of 2000s pop; this surely carries similar significance for a different strand of that story. I can see the products of both getting a bit of mark inflation… but only because we’re also three Popular months away from the formal unbunnying of a scarcely-still-bunnied Irish act, and some of their chart-toppers are not just 1s but probably need everything else to be mark-inflated to make those 1s have sufficient impact.

    Who knows, that might even mean Tom gets his 10 out. Not saying it’s been a while, but it’s now getting on for four *actual* years since he last gave anything a 10!

  63. 63
    chelovek na lune on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Perhaps against my will, I have to admit that this is a kind of pop genius, of a sort that Britney was intermittently able to come up with – well, ever since, more or less (emphasising the “intermittently”) – and really kicking off what was possibly the best pop year for ages (some of the drossy no 1s notwithstanding). A great piece of blatantly manufactured pop, going for the jugular, performed notably well, and v memorable. Definitely stands up proudly alongside and among the classics of manufactured pop from factories of music past. And yeah…Billie Piper kind of was there first, but hey… I’d go up to a 9

  64. 64
    Shiny Dave on 29 Sep 2014 #

    #61 Funny you mention The Corrs in this context. This is one stage of my life I remember pretty well: 12 years old, technically my second but in practice my first year at a mainstream secondary school (a huge change from a much smaller school for special educational needs, where I went initially as a result of my autism), desperately trying to work out how, whether, and if I should fit in.

    Given that I’m a cisgender man, you’d think that The Offspring would be the place to comment on that particular strand. But it’s Britney that brings back memories, as I vividly recall trying to curry something approaching favour with the students at lunchtime with impromptu renditions of this (perhaps her next bunny, when that came out), impersonating her inflected drawl with my then-prepubescent voice. I cannot recall what the reception was for this, but she’d not be the last accented teen-pop star I would mimic for lulz and a crowd. Remarkably, the second would come on the other side of puberty, but that’s a story I’ll save for the least-bad (IMHO) of the dreaded Irish bunnies!

  65. 65
    DanH on 30 Sep 2014 #


    Even when it was out, I heard rumblings of this being an ‘important’ song, a game-changer. When I first heard it, I thought, ‘what, this? It’s forgettable.’ But it most certainly was very important to turn-of-the-century pop. So many pop songs the next few years after this took this song’s basic template…mostly the whole pre-chorus coming back as a countermelody trick (‘I must confess…my loneliness…’). I wasn’t having any of it then, and can’t say I do now. I don’t think I need to say that 15-year old me had it bad for Britney, for non musical reasons. “Sometimes”….

    Not pleased to learn it kept Blur’s “Tender” at #2. The song that officially made me check out Blur years after the fact. My brother had their collection first, and my initial reaction was your typical U.S. one to Blur: “what, the Woohoo! guys? Whatever.”

  66. 66
    wichitalineman on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Re 61/64: Shhhhh about the bunnied C*r*s, they’ll have their Popular moment in the sun.

    My memory of this is staying up late drinking at a friend’s house, and his journalist wife bursting through the door at an ungodly hour, drunker than us, roaring “HAVE YOU HEARD THE BRITNEY SPEARS RECORD??” The name was hilariously American and very other (rather like Elvis Presley must have been in ’56); she put the record on (CD promo, still, just, back then) and it blew me away, a classic on first listen at 3 in the morning.

    The older I get, the more I realise there are a finite number of moments like this in your pop life. Terrifying to think it was 15 yrs ago. A 10 for me.

  67. 67
    Ed on 30 Sep 2014 #

    I hadn’t thought about it at all until Swanstep’s Heartbreak Hotel reference @3, but of course Britney is the female Elvis. Both children of the South; both the subject of moral panic over the sexuality of their presentation on TV; both descending into a murky later career shadowed by concerns and speculation about their weight, their drug use, and their controlling management.

    And like Britney, Elvis didn’t write his own songs, but – as Tom says of her – took possession of them, made them his own, and was essential for their success. That famous Sam Phillips line about wanting to find a white performer who could sing like a black man is a manifesto for manufactured pop if ever I heard one.

    And also like Presley, Spears divided pop into before and after, drawing from a range of existing sources to create – with her collaborators – something genuinely new. The contrast with Kravitz’s moribund rockism (sorry!) makes that point particularly acute. Boyzone and the Spice Girls – rough contemporaries of Spears – seem very dated now, whereas she still feels entirely modern. I had already been thinking of Taylor Swift before someone mentioned the connection through Max Martin – who I’d never heard of – up-thread.

    Tom’s observation about interviews not being the greatest medium for either of them is another bit of evidence that reinforces the point.

    Blackout as Britney’s ’68 Comeback Special, maybe?

  68. 68
    swanstep on 30 Sep 2014 #

    @Kat, 59. I remember Britney doing backwards walkover thingies on MTV’s Total Request Live (and her babbling about being a gymnast to the host) and see no reason to think that it isn’t her in the vid.. There’s a cut (presumably to get the right quality – maybe neither take they had was completely straight) but I think that that’s her either side of the cut. Anyhow, here’s B. practising: http://youtu.be/JMIaF4zWhzQ

  69. 69
    swanstep on 30 Sep 2014 #

    @iconoclast, rosie. I often join you guys both in lack of enthusiasm for recent offerings and depression over consistency w.r.t. game-changers from the past (e.g., almost every 7 Tom gives out makes me want to scream afresh about ‘Jailhouse Rock’ and ‘You Really Got Me’). When I score tracks I tend to think comparatively and to ask myself the following sorts of pairwise questions: Which of two tracks would I rather have written and/or performed (at the time)? Which one is it most destructive and painful to imagine removed from pop history?

    When I apply these sorts of tests to BOMT, I find it flies through. Its commercial and cultural impact was immediate and enormous – in the US, for example, it felt like it changed MTV (dropping its demographic by about a decade) almost overnight much as ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ had in late 1991. I wasn’t in BOMT’s demographic but I felt the earthquake. As a result it’s almost impossible to think through what subsequent music looks like without BOMT.

    And musically, well, like early Beatles and Supremes hits BOMT sticks tight to pop formula (so one could almost imagine it being strictly artificially evolved by genetic algorithms, here from Abba and Ace of Base fragments!), but, precisely because its a perfected example of that formula (and perfectly cast w/ Britney – others passed on it and we’re very glad they did; B. herself would latter pass on ‘Umbrella’, oops) I think it’s right to put BOMT on the same shelf as ‘She Loves You’ , ‘Ticket To Ride’ (Tomscores = 8; what a hardass!), ‘Stop! In the Name of Love’, and the like. I don’t agree at all with Rosie’s idea that BOMT is unmusical or ‘plastic’ – e.g., compare its (at least) three different bass parts to the bland bass part in Armand Van Helden’s ‘You Don’t Know Me’. And BOMT is musically alive with interesting compact guitar figures in the verses, muted open hi-hats deep in the mix that suck you in as soon as you notice them, and much else. And the overall structure of starting off in a minor key and then getting more and more minor in the harmonies is friggin’ ingenious (with the bass part’s first fretless then fretted walking upwards obviating any need for a clumsy key change – nice!). The upshot is that BOMT is one of those pop songs that almost anyone who’s written songs had to at some point sit down and nut out a version of it , just to get a basic handle on what made it so great to listen to, sing along with, start off mocking then find oneself get swept up by, etc.. Britney is the luckiest girl in the world that this song found its way to her, but only in the sense that Dustin Hoffman is the luckiest boy in the world that he got The Graduate (after Redford passed on it). The upshots are now unthinkable without them and music and film history was redirected because of their participation. That’s what fantastic, game-changing success often looks like in the ultra-collaborative mediums of big-budget pop and film respectively.

    I agree with Rosie that ‘Good Vibrations’ is not only a ’10′ but some kind of miraculous, next-level achievement, as are for me things like ‘I’m Not In Love’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Rhythm Stick’. I really *would* give my left whatever to have pulled any of those off whereas I’d only sell my soul for BOMT or ‘She Loves You’. Haw haw.

  70. 70
    punctum on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Comments #16 (first part) and #47 (second part) best sum up my aversion to this…not so much a record as an event, and one that I think was, if not destructive to pop music, then certainly obstructive and in great part reductive.

  71. 71
    enitharmon on 30 Sep 2014 #

    By the way, am I alone in hearing something Bee Gees-ish in it?

  72. 72
    Rory on 30 Sep 2014 #

    @46: When I see the school setting it places this song squarely in amongst my own memories of high school, when I first started listening to pop music. There was plenty of teenage lust around there, as in any high school, and all this video’s imagery does is invoke that; as Tom says, it’s a setting her audience knows. Yes, a middle-aged man lusting after a 16-year-old specifically because she’s in a school uniform would be creepy, but how many were even aware of this video at the time, any more than I know what one of Jessie J’s videos looks like?

    To place any school setting off-limits simply because some pervs out there might be getting their rocks off is to place the entirety of children’s lives ages 5-17 off-limits to any male aged 30+ (25+? 18+?). It’s the kind of message that’s driven an unhealthy separation between family and single/no-kids life in Western culture as a whole, leading to a situation where kids can’t play outside without close parental supervision for fear of somebody calling the police out of concern for their welfare, and condemning parents to spend every waking hour watching over them like big fleshy CCTVs. Yes, Jimmy Savile; yes, Rolf Harris; but neither snared their victims at the gates of a school yard, did they? Should we stop reading Wuthering Heights (or listening to “Wuthering Heights”) because of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley?

    Re “Debbie Gibson/Amy Grant do-gooder vibe”: the US cover of her first album is distinctly at odds with the Britney we came to know (I’m used to the international version).

    Ed @67 (and Swanstep @3): The Elvis comparison is brilliant. Hadn’t occurred to me before, but the parallels are uncanny. The main difference is Britney’s previous life as a mouseketeer, but maybe even that has echoes of Elvis’s movie years.

    Swanstep @69: A great, passionate comment, which almost convinces me to bump this up to a ten. When I was considering my score I was tossing up between 8, 9 and 10, but couldn’t get past the 9 description of “A record you’d never tire of hearing. You’d certainly own it, in fact it would be one of your favourites.” I don’t own this – not even as a purloined mp3 in iTunes – so settled on 8. But I could justify a 10 on the basis of it being one of the “singles that justify the existence of pop music by themselves. Impossible to imagine ever not enjoying it. Difficult to imagine anyone else not enjoying it.” I think I’ll stick with 8 just in terms of relative placing against my own ’90s landmarks; but it does seem wrong that this is a lowly 7.4 on reader votes, and not even yet in the Reader Top 100.

    I suspect I will soon own this, as I’ll now be keeping my eye out for £1 copies of Britney’s albums in charity shops – the first three, at least, are everywhere. As with Kylie and the Spice Girls, she’s clearly an essential part of any pop education. (I gather Blackout is also an essential BS album? There are no bunnied singles from it, so it seems safe to ask.)

  73. 73
    punctum on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Alternatively it might suggest that the whole of pop music has been a grotesque mistake.

  74. 74
    enitharmon on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Kat @59, I can’t make out whether your post is straight or heavy with sarcasm, but if the former I (brought up of course mainly without intertwined song and video) don’t really get how the video might affect one’s score for the song. I know this is at least partly generational but it’s also a quirk of my psychological make-up. I often see an interesting piece offered in online newspapers and click it only to find it’s a video so it demands my full attention and imposes somebody else’s pace rather than allowing me to listen while doing something else or speed reading. I’m told that most people respond best to visual stimuli but then I’m not most people. I suspect that my dyspraxia comes into this too (so I’m not impressed by backflips!). I’m a rarity in not having nor particularly wanting a televisual device and when I do see television the headache-inducing sets for the likes of Strictly do my head in.

  75. 75
    enitharmon on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Rory @72 One of my criteria for a 10 would be that it is very easy to imagine some people disliking it intensely!

  76. 76
    punctum on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Pop music has never just been about the song. If it were my “job” here would be a lot easier.

  77. 77
    enitharmon on 30 Sep 2014 #

    iconoclast @51 Of course I’m biased towards the pop of my own teenage years! That was groundbreaking almost by definition as it helped to define the biggest social rift of the last century. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think there hasn’t been some terrific pop from later years. A lot of early 80s New Wave for example, and there’s some really good stuff from the years before us that has found my way into my collection – not as it happens because it’s stuff that harked back to my youth but because it was filched from a 17-year-old’s iPod. (Though not much of it seems to have reached number 1).

  78. 78
    Rory on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Good point, Rosie @75. I wonder if the opposite is true of a 1… someone out there must love “Save Your Love”. (Not me. My personal St Winifred’s, that one.)

  79. 79
    enitharmon on 30 Sep 2014 #

    @78 Probably a given, Rory, on the basis that however loathsome we find them they get to number one.

  80. 80
    Tom on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Britney albums: Each of the first five Britney albums is better than the one before (the gap between the first two is pretty marginal, though) – there aren’t many artists you can say that about, though the starting level isn’t that high. In The Zone and Blackout are her best records – In The Zone we’ll talk about in the 2004 entries, Blackout I wrote about for Pitchfork once – http://pitchfork.com/features/poptimist/6734-poptimist-10/ – I love it. It’s not an unproblematic record by any means, it’s an album that on some level reflects a pop star’s mental health (& probably substance abuse) crisis, but there are a few of those in the canon.

    The issue with Britney – in my opinion – is that she emerged from it with her legal autonomy completely stripped away, so while I’m delighted that she’s still with us, and seems a lot more together and happy than she did in the mid-00s, her personal situation casts a shadow (and I can’t help but feel that if a male pop star had been through a similar meltdown, he wouldn’t have come out of it under the same restrictions). There are people, very smart pop fans included, who like the post-Blackout work a lot more than Blackout – I think there’s good stuff on each of the last 3 records, but diminishing returns have set in, and the only post-2007 Britney single I’m really sad I’m not writing about is “Til The World Ends” (probably only a 7, but such a good encapsulation of its era).

  81. 81
    Tom on 30 Sep 2014 #

    As for other concerns, this is probably playing my hand a bit vis a vis the overall ‘narrative’ of Popular, but I think that, if your concern is the “manufacture” of individual pop stars, Britney is as ‘bad’ as it gets.* If you skip forward a decade, and look at Gaga, Taylor Swift, Ke$ha, Beyonce, even Rihanna and Miley, it seems very hard to argue that these women have less agency and autonomy than Britney did, and tin-eared to argue that their styles and outputs aren’t individual. (Or than Elvis did, for that matter.) That is partly what the “peak pop” angle is setting up – peak biz mechanisation also meant peak biz control over individual stars. The process of pop remains highly collaborative in most cases (not all!), but that’s true of TV, film, comics, videogames, and almost every other bit of modern mass culture.

    *leaving out reality TV, which is set up precisely to ensure a Colonel Tom level of control – this is one of the issues with it. But reality TV isn’t as dominant an influence over the charts as many believe, I’d say.

  82. 82
    iconoclast on 30 Sep 2014 #

    #69: passionately argued, indeed, although you can probably guess I don’t agree with your conclusions. In my estimation, if BOMT is a game-changer, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

    And if Britney is the new Elvis, I’m the new Judee Sill: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. (hides)

    #77: my remark about “fourteen years old” was intended as a representative of a certain type of argument which is considered “rockist”, not as a jibe at you! I’ve upset enough people already as it is.

  83. 83
    Alfred on 30 Sep 2014 #

    How many of you had friends who disliked Britney’s version yet thrilled to Travis’?

  84. 84
    sukrat and the rëst on 30 Sep 2014 #

    “thrilled to Travis” is not a phrase that thoughtful people unleash into civilised conversation, Alfred :)

  85. 85
    Andrew Farrell on 30 Sep 2014 #

    #77 – you were teenage in 1976? Somehow I had that all wrong.

  86. 86
    thefatgit on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Travis doing BOMT was just a bunch of lads sniggering as though they were trying on sparkly pop pumps and tu-tus for laugh, like. I paid it no mind.

  87. 87
    Rory on 30 Sep 2014 #

    @82 – Ed didn’t even mention the clincher, which is Vegas, baby, Vegas.

  88. 88
    Tom on 30 Sep 2014 #

    I suspect, looking back, the idea of the “person who only thought Baby One More Time was good when Travis covered it” was more an ideological straw man than a real thing (Fran H excepted!). Their supposed existence was an excellent pro-pop rallying cry on one side, and a justification for endless shit Radio 1 Live Lounge covers on the other. But surely nobody actually thought it.

  89. 89
    enitharmon on 30 Sep 2014 #

    @85 no Andrew, I was teenaged in 1967 (and turned 12 in 1966, that most golden of all pop years, surely, by any standards). Pop-aware in 1963 when that rift happened. Possibly not the actual biggest rift in the last century – that would be the aftermath of WW1 – but still pretty seismic in social terms.

    Tom earlier compared BOMT to I Wanna Hold Your Hand. I think a fairer comparison would be to Please Please Me, although because Popular works with a revisionist chart it doesn’t figure in this narrative. Those of us who were there at the time know that PPM was a number one and that it and not IWTHYH was the moment that the Beatles exploded into the national consciousness and we all knew that pop would never be the same again. A song that may well be about fellatio too (who was it said that Barthes wasn’t relevant to pop?)

  90. 90
    Tom on 30 Sep 2014 #

    I was thinking of IWHYH just as a “vs Good Vibrations” – as a songwriter Max Martin is firmly in the “I Wanna” big hooks big impact camp and has never really tried “boundary-pushing weirdness”. Please Please Me would fit too!

    Actually one thing about the Beatles is they really did change the chart world extremely quickly – the Merseybeat takeover of the number one slot is pretty much unmatched as far as a single ‘sound’ flooding the charts goes. You have to wait a year or so – and several dozen Popular entries – before you get to the point where “try and sound like Baby One More Time” is any kind of default M.O. for a pop record. In this blog’s narrative terms this particular pop revolution is about to be put on hold for a while….

    (though I doubt what’s coming up will be any more to your liking Rosie!)

  91. 91
    Tom on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Isn’t the actual “rift” – a very relevant question for this conversation – 1955-6 not 1963? The worldwide success of rock’n’roll and Elvis brought the ‘generation gap’ into sharp relief, creating the preconditions for the Beatles. The Beatles’ innovation was more in realising the possibilities for self-expression in the pop world Elvis’ generation of stars had created. (Exactly what I’m arguing the late 00s generation of pop stars managed.)

  92. 92
    James BC on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Aaaaargh yes I’d forgotten that this was the song that started the meaningful acoustic cover landslide. Another reason to detest Travis, if it were needed. They aren’t going to show up on Popular are they?

    I don’t hate everything that’s come out of the Live Lounge but there isn’t half some nonsense, and some nonsense talked about that nonsense. The idea that a song automatically becomes better when played on an acoustic guitar is very peculiar.

  93. 93
    Rory on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Tom @80, your Blackout review was a cracking read, and hearing that her first five albums get better and better is very encouraging. Just picked up her first seven for under a tenner second-hand on Amazon, and will get around to her 8th eventually. Sorted.

    @92 – Time for my Bateman moment as The Man Who Liked The Man Who… er…

    (No, they won’t appear on Popular unless something drastic happens. We had at them on the “Drugs Don’t Work” thread, though.)

  94. 94
    Alfred on 30 Sep 2014 #

    looking back, the idea of the “person who only thought Baby One More Time was good when Travis covered it” was more an ideological straw man than a real thing (Fran H excepted!). Their supposed existence was an excellent pro-pop rallying cry on one side, and a justification for endless shit Radio 1 Live Lounge covers on the other. But surely nobody actually thought it.

    This was a thing, I assure you. I still talk to two of these guys.

  95. 95
    sukrat and the rëst on 30 Sep 2014 #

    two of these guys = ed sheeran and jake bugg :D

  96. 96
    enitharmon on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Tom @91: 1955-56 and the construction of a teenage subculture was certainly a rift, though I’m not prepared to give Presley all the credit for this and it had been gestating ever since the end of WW2. It wasn’t an actual seismic rift enveloping the whole of society, coming out of nowhere, but it was part of what was to follow as, from a British point of view, was the Suez adventureCan we separate pop culture from the broader picture? I think not. 1963 (Larkin nailed it: “between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles’ first LP”) was the culmination of Britain’s eventual recognition of its changed role in the world (not that everybody seems to have grasped that even in 2014, have you Mr Farage?) the optimism of the Kennedy presidency and the emergence of the Civil Rights movement in America, plus Cuba and the eventual crisis. The arrival of near-instant global communications (think Telstar) and the consequential hybridisatision of styles – American comics and black music records arriving in the transatlantic ports as I’ve noted before and being seized on by enthusiastic locals. It’s entirely possible that I’m describing a primarily British phenomenon here, because Britain had a very different experience of the post-war period from the American one, but it did have a global effect from 63 onwards as the cultural centre of gravity shifted eastwards. British pop had hitherto been slavishly imitative of the white American scene but now it found the confidence to construct a distinctively British pop by inflecting American music with music hall, street song and folk music. Along with this new found confidence came a decade of optimism and gradual social opening up. It came to an end with the oil crisis following the Yom Kippur war of 1973, but that’s another story for another generation of teenagers. All the same, 2014’s pop is recognisably a descendant of 1964’s while 1964 pop is a universe away from 1914.

  97. 97
    enitharmon on 30 Sep 2014 #

    I have a whole album of Travis (from the 17yo’s iPod). There’s no version of BOTM on it but I quite like it. Well, there you go, it takes all sorts :)

  98. 98
    swanstep on 30 Sep 2014 #

    The Pill’s arrival in 1960/1961 is normally taken to be a pretty big starting flag for the ’60s. Psycho, Eyes Without A Face, Breathless and the beginning of the collapse of film censorship in 1960 too.

  99. 99
    Tom on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Ah gotcha Rosie – I thought it was simply a pop thing! In terms of societal shift I dunno if fixing the change to a specific year is the best approach – eg (to take Swanstep’s example) do you date the impact of the Pill from its introduction or at a later point on the adoption curve? (Same goes for all mass technologies tho – to get back to Britney, the Internet is clearly a mass medium by 1999 but at the same time Britney’s early career feels completely unaffected by it – she’s in the lineage of MTV era stars, one of the last really huge ones. Whereas now it’s very very hard to imagine pop stars emerging without a big internet presence, a YouTube smash, etc.)

  100. 100
    Kinitawowi on 30 Sep 2014 #

    #86: part of what I like about Travis’ take on this is their actual sniggering. They know what they’re doing is ridiculous, but fuck it they’re having fun, and you can’t ask for much more than that from music. Reminds me of Michael Stipe laughing his way through The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite.

    I was at uni at the time of BOMT, and one of my mates drummed in a thrash metal band named Nervous System – who at one point covered this. Either the ultimate expression of the song’s cross-genre appeal or the ultimate expression of how ripe it was for parody…

  101. 101
    enitharmon on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Tom @90 You’re right, I’ve had a look at what’s coming up between now and the end of the year and much of it looks unutterably depressing. Of course there’s one or two I don’t recognise at all and they may just give me a pleasant surprise.

  102. 102
    flahr on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Final point: I once mildly impressed someone at university by remembering that this was called “…Baby One More Time” rather than “Hit Me Baby One More Time”. Given my usual success rate I consider mild impressing something of a win.

  103. 103
    Mark G on 30 Sep 2014 #

    I felt bad for Travis, they didn’t deserve to crash/burn as fast as they did. I guess it was one of those things where in that direction is Radiohead, and in that direction is Coldplay, and the middle ground they occupied didn’t exist for long.

  104. 104
    Ed on 30 Sep 2014 #

    @91 That’s a nice analogy.

    So if Britney = Elvis, Lady Gaga = John Lennon, Katy Perry = Ray Davies, and Ke$ha = Reg Presley. Miley Cyrus = Bowie.

    Which would mean that Tom = Greil Marcus, of course.

  105. 105
    enitharmon on 30 Sep 2014 #

    A further point that has really only just occurred to me today is probably pertinent to my appreciation or lack of it of BOMT. I just don’t hear this as a 14-year-old would, not because I’m grumpy and set in my ways but because natural ageing has taken away the top registers of my hearing. So I have to concede, rather reluctantly, that I may be missing quite a lot and I can’t really know what. Somebody pointed out in the context of the early Stones hits that records in those days were cut to sound great on transistor radios; heavy on the treble and light on the bass. I was in my mid-40s when I originally heard BOMT and I haven’t heard it much in the intervening years until this week so even more of those upper registers will have gone.

    So I guess if us wrinklies don’t appreciate today’s pop as much as younger people think we ought, it’s not because we’re being stuffy, it’s because we remember the sparkling pop of our youth and today’s stuff doesn’t cut the mustard!

  106. 106
    thefatgit on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Mark G @103, Isn’t that middle ground occupied by Elbow?

  107. 107
    Duro on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Associate this with my Art GCSE but it is a legit 9-rated banger in any era. It’s also the last 9 I’m going to award for another three and a half years, and although a wealth of very, very good 8s once we get out of the 1990s brighten things up a bit, there’s some fin de siècle horrors awaiting us very soon…

    In short, let’s remember the 90s this way. It tried, god bless it.

  108. 108
    Mark M on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Re59/74: I’ve probably said this before, but chart pop has always been an audio-visual medium for me. My earliest memory of music is Top Of The Pops, we had early MTV in Mexico, and I still watch the pop channels from Kerrang to the all-Bollywood B4U Music. I certainly couldn’t imagine hearing a Britney track without conjuring up the video. Which is to say that my experience of pop must work on a fairly different level from Rosie’s. A good video can definitely help sell a song to me, but the flip also applies – I’d really taken against the current Pharrell/Miley single until I heard it on the radio, away from the nasty models-auditioning video.

  109. 109
    Patrick Mexico on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Sorry I’m late to the party. Great thread, great responses.

    There seems a split in the camp between those roughly under 25 who see BOMT as a pop epiphany, and those over 25 who see it as the straw that broke pop’s back.
    Look me up in the Yellow Pages, I will be your rock of ages under “A 7/10 that I wouldn’t play in anyone else’s company.” By now I had left Bowland High and as I’d slipped from hero to zero to such an extent in a year’s terrible introduction to adolescence, the only choice for me was to move to Bentham Grammar, a private boarding school in North Yorkshire near Lancaster which three men and a dog attended and no longer exists.

    This era’s pop factory farming would yield some of the most cynical, anodyne pop of all time – but all music is “manufactured” in some way and I never let rockist snobbery get in the way of a great tune or pop moment, the bland and meaningless offend me far more. And whilst Disney Club (a lobotomised BRIT School?) graduates with the career trajectory of squeaky clean -> naughty but nice -> hello, lads’ mags -> dragged through the mill -> inevitable unfortunate breakdown -> repeat, have always left me a bit cold, I can’t deny this is a great pop moment. There’s no trite soppiness, it’s not being deliberately, maximally irritating, cheesy or naff, and it’s not trying to be outwardly vulgar – the Achilles Heels of many nineties chart toppers. For a “manufactured” record going all-out to be the biggest pop song in the world, it actually wants something – a sense of subtle honesty there’s something not quite right in Britney’s life and she wants something more, maybe something she can’t have, maybe something we can’t have or shouldn’t have, through a medium of (almost Southern rock-tinged) subtle sleaze. Therein lies the problem.

    I was a 14-year-old schoolboy at the time, so I never saw a “pervy” or “paedo” side to the video then.. she reminded me of the Bentham fifth year/lower sixth girls I was mad about who were obviously out of reach as they dated 20-year-olds with their own cars, and also because most people seemed so stuck-up and humourless at this new place, she reminded me of my female friends back home having grown up a lot, and able to actually go on dates, to the cinema, etc. rather than kiss-chases and daisy chains etc.. it was a “look what you could have won if you’d stayed at Bowland and in, you know, salt-of-the-earth rural East Lancashire.” So in those drab times any new teenage crush was welcome.

    I probably fancied Britney like mad for about a week then moved on to someone from Hepburn or the Honeyz, but anyway, the local sixth form I’d move back to in 2001 still had a uniform policy (I certainly wasn’t complaining about the girls then!), so I thought she was a 16-17-18 year old, older than me, depicting a 16-17-18 year old (legal in the UK obviously), nothing more, nothing less, and the outfit was apparently her idea, not some dirty old man’s. Plus the popularity at the turn of this century of “School Disco” club nights, I thought the women in revealing outfits were just depicting sixth formers, or having a laugh about the high school “cliques” brought over from America, you know, the carefree atmosphere of films like American Pie (it was obviously a smutty film, but smutty about baked goods ;) ) I didn’t think there was any kind of dark subtext.

    Fast forward to the present and I have serious ambiguity about this whole concept. You can take the angle of “well a 29 year old with a 17 year old would be very creepy but it’s just a uniform, fancy packaging, there’s no law against having fantasies about people of legal age etc etc etc” but apparently a lot of people at these school disco nights dressed in that knowing outfit, using a knowing, ironic “slutty” image but with certain tropes – pigtails (ok they were in BOMT as well), lollipops, drawn-on freckles, which point to a much younger, verging on pre-pubescent “schoolgirl” than someone doing their A-levels. Some of the American Hallowe’en costumes I’ve seen on this theme (though they “sexualise” practically any female (sexist much!) fancy dress outfit beyond lunacy) also make me think “You cannot be serious”..

    And that taps into some people’s very twisted world, and makes them legitimise their sick behaviour – prominently, the stream of celebrity convictions in the last two years. Relating it to this video is a massive grey area – many British TV series have used Britney’s outfit as a theme for humour – Shameless, Phoenix Nights – but also the brilliant Jimmy McGovern’s The Street where an (adult) teacher who enjoys his (consenting adult) wife dressing like that is mistakenly accused of “flashing” and is emotionally tormented by neighbours who accuse him of being a sex offender (but only for the latter).

    However, there are some celebrity individuals who have started with this “innocent”, “borderline” fantasy and then slipped down a slippery slope to simply horrendous things (don’t want to name those people as they make me feel ill, it would spoil the debate).. and don’t get me started on Japan.

    The most telling contemporary experience of this was a comparison of university experiences. In 2005, at UCLAN second year journalism, there was a “school disco” in Fresher’s Week, and walking up the stairwells of my halls, it was full of (18-21) year olds in similar outfits to Britney’s, short skirts that left nothing to the imagination etc. Any red-blooded straight male could have had a heart attack on the spot.

    When I returned to university in 2013 at UWE Bristol, there was another “school disco” theme, but this time people dressed much more conservatively, just normal clothes with a few “geek glasses” and school ties. I couldn’t help thinking to myself “That could be because of the recession or changing fashions, but it could also be because of Yewtree” :-/

  110. 110
    Tom on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Goodbye smiling Britney :(

    Luckily she’ll be back. Sadly, so will the bunch of clowns replacing her.

  111. 111
    Steve Mannion on 1 Oct 2014 #

    At this rate maybe both banners should be Popular-based (the two most recent)!

  112. 112
    Tom on 1 Oct 2014 #


    It was 16 years ago today….

  113. 113
    Chris Retro on 1 Oct 2014 #

    It’s alright – but having lived through the late 70s, the 80s & the 90s, I never saw it as more than a well-executed, of-its-time, pop record.
    Compared to the generic sounds of this decade it’s excellent, but I can’t get excited about it.
    If I was to pick a Britney Spears single, it would be either I’m A Slave 4 U or Piece Of Me

  114. 114
    Rory on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Nobody’s going to mistake Britney in this video for prepubescent. And that’s the point: she’s so obviously older that the objection becomes that the uniform itself is suggestive of younger children. American high schools skew older than UK secondary schools – 14-18 rather than 11-16 – which won’t have helped UK perceptions of this video. But we then end up with the bizarre situation where Billie Piper (b. 22-9-1982) showing a bare midriff in her “Girlfriend” dance routine in 1998 is fine, while Britney Spears (b. 2-12-1981) doing the same in this one in 1999 isn’t. So, attractive 16-17-year-olds are fine if they look like they could potentially be adults, but not if they look… well, what is the lowest estimate people would put on Britney’s age in this video? In both Billie’s and Britney’s cases, their ages were regularly mentioned in public discussions of their initial hits, so when I look at this I can’t see her as anything less than 16 or 17.

    If we’re going to make slippery-slope arguments, there are other slopes to consider than the one pointing downhill to Yewtree. The age of consent is what it is, and there doesn’t seem to be any push to raise it in the UK (which would be difficult at a moment when 16- and 17-year-olds have just been able to vote on whether to break up the UK itself, and could end up as permanent voters after the next general election). In Britney’s home state of Louisiana the age of consent is 17, the age that she was in 1999. If consent is to mean anything, it must also mean that people of that age have the right to portray themselves how they wish, whether as sexy or as squares.

    The crimes of Savile, Hall and Harris were about lack of consent, either because the victims were underage or, if older, didn’t consent. DLT’s conviction was in relation to an adult victim, but was still a case of lack of consent. If we start policing what autonomous individuals can wear, we’re potentially reinforcing the idea that victims of rape or abuse are “asking for it” by dressing in a way that turns their rapists and abusers on. If we criticise them for wearing clothes normal and appropriate for their age group, we’re implying they’re asking for it by being that age. Or being female, or blonde, or whatever. It’s unfair, and it targets the wrong people, and we should resist it.

    As for all those pervs aged 18-88: we shouldn’t let ourselves be drawn into policing or preventing thought-crime. Let them think what they think; it’s actions that should concern us. Those actions could be as slight as saying “I’d hit it” in a comments thread; there’s way too much of that online, and the more we can do to challenge it as fellow commenters, the safer we make online spaces feel for everybody (I hasten to add that Popular is an exemplary space in this regard). I don’t mean banning speech, I mean calling people out on things they’ve said, so that they and others can see where the limits of social acceptability lie. If we can extend that vigilance to the wider culture, we’ll end up with a society where anyone can safely wear what they want and dance how they want without fear that it gives some sort of permission to rapists and abusers to attack them. That’s what’s sad about any dressing-down impact of Yewtree: that it implies that young people think they need to in order to feel safer. I don’t think they’re wrong in thinking or feeling that, given the current state of things, but I do think our aim should be to make a society where they feel safer to be themselves, which should include dressing up for fun at a school disco at uni in the same uniform you were wearing every day only a year or two earlier.

    Depressing though its parade of household names has been, Yewtree has been a positive step towards this. One by one, high-profile perpetrators are being uncovered, sending a message to potential others that they won’t get away with it. It’s prompted all of us to look again at some of the dodgy characters with us today, here and now. Let’s save our criticism for them, for what they actually do and say, and not for the targets of their thoughts.

    [Edit:] tl;dr: Leave Britney alone!

  115. 115
    Rory on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Just realised that I’ve completely failed to note that “…Baby One More Time” spent nine weeks at the top in Australia in February-April 1999. Our last number one in common for several Popular months.

  116. 116
    swanstep on 1 Oct 2014 #

    @rory, patrick. ‘Older guys dealing with inappropriate thoughts about high school girls’ ended up being one of the themes of 1999 in the light of BOMT’s vid and then Kevin Spacey’s turn in American Beauty. Plenty of guys thought of Spacey’s character as a hero (no women felt that way about Annette Bening’s character) and I’ve always wondered whether that very sanguine judgment of him was rooted in those fans having recently experienced their own guilty responses to B.. Anyhow, T.A.T.U’s big bunny might be the natural place for further (anguished) reflection on this sort of imagery and audience-baiting in the pop of the period.

  117. 117
    weej on 1 Oct 2014 #

    A bit late to the party with this one, but just wanted to say that it was oddly fitting that this entry was posted the day my second (and almost certainly final) child was born.

  118. 118
    Rory on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Congratulations, Weej!

  119. 119
    fivelongdays on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Yeah, I’m late to the party. I’ll keep it brief

    This is a very, very rare beast indeed – a full-on mainstream POP! song that I went out and bought. Why did I do that when (if you’ve been following my posts) it’s quite clear that I was into rock, metal (although there’s more on that in a couple of Popular years time) and the harder end of Indie? It’s because it’s a bloody good POP! song. It’s catchy and it’s got a great tune. More to the point, the charts/radio hadn’t been totally taken over by songs that (in retrospect) wanted to be this really rather badly. Plus, I was still 16 at the time, so I could fancy Britney without looking like a filthy old pervert. All things considered, I have no option but to let it scrape an eight.

    It’s a shame Tender didn’t get to number one though – I suspect I would have given it a higher mark than either Country House or Beetlebum.

    Travis were, as I think I alluded to on The Drugs Don’t Work’s thread, shit. I still believe (don’t you know I still believe!) the only reason anyone gave a toss about them is because when they played at Glastonbury ’99 they did Why Does It Always Rain On Me? (because you’re a nesh cunt, Fran) just as it started to rain for the only time at that festival. The BBC promptly jizzed their pants. Meanwhile I, and everyone I ever met who was at Glastonbury ’99, was seeing the far superior Ash on the main stage.

  120. 120
    Patrick Mexico on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Thanks Rory. That was an extremely difficult topic for me to put into words, and sorry if I was being a little unintentionally morbid or judgmental, but you’ve helped explain and conclude my argument perfectly. Great work.

  121. 121
    Patrick Mexico on 1 Oct 2014 #

    P.S. Congratulations Weej! Delighted Popular may have a “second generation.”

  122. 122
    Tom on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Congratulations Weej! Born under the sign of Nicki Minaj – has to be a good omen.

  123. 123
    Mark M on 2 Oct 2014 #

    Incidentally, a couple of mentions of Sabrina The Teenage Witch above, plus the fact that Melissa Joan Hart is in the video for a non-bunnied Britney single, might (or might not) make this a fair place to ponder the fact that the MJH/Joey Lawrence sitcom (used here to fill random slots in the E4 schedule) has somehow managed to get past 100 episodes. Seems some people really do hate everything that has happened in TV comedy over the last 30 years and yearn for something tangibly pre-Cheers. Alternately: bloody ’90s nostalgists!

  124. 124
    Andrew Farrell on 2 Oct 2014 #

    Pedantry: it’s at 82 episodes, but the new 20-episode season starts this month.

  125. 125
    Tommy Mack on 2 Oct 2014 #

    I’m so late to the party that it’s just a hungover Britney chucking plastic cups with fag butts floating in them into the bin…

    I had an irrational hatred of this at the time. I don’t know why, since I was well over my mid-teens anti-pop snobbery. The only reason I can think is, I was just about to launch my first band on the world and didn’t want anyone beating me to be the first to break up the fallow period ((C) John Peel) in pop music that the press were complaining about at the time (yes, my hubris was such that I saw Britney Spears as my rival…) Repeated exposure would eventually wear me down and I’d end up quite liking this though, as others have noted, there are loads of much better Britney hits. A quick YouTube play reveals BOTM as surprisingly organic and spartan sounding compared with the ear-bursting, studio-tinkered behemoth I remembered. It’s probably passage of time allowing it to mix with subsequent Max Martin productions/Britney Hits/Dre-type stuff I was listening to at the time.

    Re #114: Did anyone else see The Paedophile Hunter on C4 last night? Disquieting and morally dubious stuff.

    Re: #105 – Enitharmon, you are probably right about BOTM’s trebbly sound: I once DJ’d a seventies themed student party where they’d asked for a couple of hours of 70s stuff and them some ‘modern, cheesy stuff’. BOTM was the first record I played to mark the transition (after Chicory Tip which nearly cleared the dancefloor) and it nearly blew the speakers out, such was it’s sonic heft compared to the 70s stuff.

  126. 126
    James BC on 2 Oct 2014 #

    Thinking about the comment above saying BOOTM was offered to TLC first, I wonder if T-Boz was a big vocal influence on Britney. I don’t have the vocabulary to analyse it, but I’m sure there’s a similarity there. Diggin’ On You even has “baby baby” bits!

  127. 127
    punctum on 2 Oct 2014 #

    No idea about that, but Morley says in Words And Music that the song was first offered to Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. I’m a bit dubious about that.

  128. 128
    Mark M on 2 Oct 2014 #

    Re124: Ah, OK – the IMDB has counted in the yet-to-be-broadcast eps. Point stands, though.

  129. 129
    Chris Retro on 2 Oct 2014 #

    Yes, it is true …Baby One More Time was presented to TLC for their Fanmail album, but rejected for being ‘too pop’. I’ve always presumed therefore it was written in a key to suit T-Boz – I can almost hear a more subtle R’n’B version by TLC.

  130. 130
    Mark M on 3 Oct 2014 #

    Re129: Trying to imagine a TLC …Baby One More Time is a useful test of the ‘manufactured pop’ notion – would it have been identical because the singer(s) is (are) just a cog in the machine? I’m pretty certain, like you, that it would have been a wholly different beast.

  131. 131
    Tommy Mack on 3 Oct 2014 #

    You can kind of imagine it: as Chris says, more subtle, probably more sexy, less melodramatic, more digital, less instrument-y – none of Britney’s BOTM’s hints at Max Martin’s rock band background (e.g. guitar and bass fills etc)

  132. 132
    Tom on 3 Oct 2014 #

    Beyond the big radio hits, Fanmail can be a pretty hard-edged album sonically – very deliberately “cyber” and futurist in its approach – so a BOMT for TLC would have probably ended up closer to Britney’s 2004 sound than her 1998 one.

  133. 133
    Elmtree on 4 Oct 2014 #

    My generation’s Like A Prayer. Listening to it on headphones it still sounds radiant and gloriously unlikely: bubblegum gone denser. What an organic, weird combination: wah-wah guitar plus what sounds like a high-pitched calliope sound, and above all the force of those astounding synth stabs and piano. You can imagine someone spending hours trying different keyboard presets trying to get this right. And it doesn’t simply repeat itself-that bass purr around 1:54 is perfectly timed, and it has a breakdown that works. Many pop songs you can throw away after two minutes: this isn’t one of them.

    Meanwhile, the vocals really are perfectly recorded and tracked: the sudden moments where you can clearly hear double-tracking and vocals shadowing one another (and higher-pitched vocals that clearly aren’t Britney’s at climaxes) amp up the anxiety and desperation right to the end. I said Robson and Jerome’s records sounded put together from hundreds of takes: this makes that actually sound good. It makes everything in Britain at the time feel very cheap, and yet it’s not American at all, it’s Swedish. We could have done this if we’d had the smarts. Max Martin apparently says it’s all down to the Swedish education system, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all.

    But if the details are amazing, the totality is perfect. Leaving aside the ethics of making a teenager into a superstar like this, Tom’s comments about religious experience nail it for me. This hits the idea that the perfect teen pop song is about intensity perfectly: it feels very specific, it would fit in the narrative of a musical. And Spears’ voice doesn’t sound like much else: stage-schooled, obviously, but the huskiness is very striking. It really does feel like the first Britney Spears song. Ten.

  134. 134
    Rory on 20 Oct 2014 #

    Tom, I just wanted to note here my thanks for your steer on Britney’s albums @80. I’ve been listening to them all this month, and agree that they get better and better up to Blackout; they’re not bad after that, either, including the low-selling eighth. Her first album is a bit hit-and-miss, but ’00s Britney has turned out to be one of my greatest Popular revelations. When I was spurred by your posts to buy up ABBA’s back-catalogue, I already knew from their hits that it would be decent; similarly with Kylie’s post-SAW work; but Britney I hardly knew beyond this and one or two other songs. I can’t believe I let outdated musical prejudices blind me to such an impressive body of work, and can’t wait until we get to her later number ones here.

  135. 135
    Andrew Farrell on 20 Oct 2014 #

    thanks for your steer

    No call for that sort of language!

  136. 136
    Rory on 20 Oct 2014 #

    #135, sorry, you’ve lost me – is this a British English/non-British English thing, or formal vs informal, or something else? Thanks for the advice /guidance, I meant. (Or should I not be thanking Tom for it?)

  137. 137
    Andrew Farrell on 21 Oct 2014 #

    I am (mostly) joking – I’ve only ever seen ‘steer’ vilified as an example of corporatetalk – though of course some of that will break through to demob speech as well, it’s the first time I’ve seen that one in the wild.

    Edit: Though looking it up I see that I’ve seen that usage plenty of times, but only in the phrase “a bum steer” – I think I always thought there was a cattle metaphor going on there!

  138. 138
    Rory on 21 Oct 2014 #

    Oh, I see. I thought of it as online slang. Google’s showing nearly half a million hits for “thanks for the steer”, from all sorts. The OED dates the usage (“a piece of advice or information; a tip, a lead”) to 1899 in the US, and has British novelist M. M. Kaye using it in 1959.

  139. 139
    ciaran on 29 Oct 2014 #

    Nothing Compares to You will be the sole 90s ’10′ by the looks of it.

    BOMT was a revelation. A record that nearly everyone around me liked. Even the boys at my school didnt object to it and the prefect video with the all american girl in all her glory just made it the perfect package.

    That it kickstarted the teenpop bubble doesnt make me think any less of it.

    Dreary enough follow ups with 1 or 2 later exceptions. Luckily for popular we’ll get to discuss one of them.


  140. 140
    Tom on 29 Oct 2014 #

    Ciaran I like how you waited until “Sunscreen” went up to post that, as if Baz Luhrmann was somehow the decade’s last hope for a 10.

  141. 141
    ciaran on 29 Oct 2014 #

    Nah had nothing whatsoever to do with it Tom.(Honest). Havent had much of a chance to post in the last few months so playing catch up. It’s a remarkable coincidence!

    If ‘Sunscreen’ got a 10 it would have been a sign for you to fold up the tent.

  142. 142
    Gareth Parker on 29 Apr 2021 #

    A decent example of this type of music, but just not really my bag. 5/10.

  143. 143
    Gareth Parker on 8 May 2021 #

    Not a bad song, but I’m just not too keen on Britney’s vocal style. 4/10 from me.

  144. 144
    Stephen Emmett on 24 Aug 2021 #

    I could go on about how it’s a great record and all, but let me say this in short: this truly is the start of one of the best golden ages of pop music and what a brilliant record it is – every little bit of that is just three and a half minutes of 1999 pop magic. And what a deserved UK Number One it was. For that reason alone, I’m going to come clean and admit it: I 100% love this record and it deserves to be ranked extremely highly. It’s a VERY HIGH 10 from me.

  145. 145
    Mr Tinkertrain on 24 May 2022 #

    Much like Wannabe (as was noted above), this was a proper behemoth and felt like the start of something. Perhaps not in the way I’d have liked, but it did make a lot of the British pop of the recent past (B*Witched, 911, Billie etc) seem very lightweight indeed.

    The sheer overplaying of this means that I can’t ever love it, but it’s a decent enough track and as iconic as any song that’s come out in the past 25 years. 7/10.

    I’m a big Blur fan, but Tender has never been a favourite of mine (the follow-up Coffee & TV is much better). I seem to remember that, had Tender made number 1, it would have been the 13th week in a row that there was a new #1 – amusingly, the Blur album which featured Tender was called 13.

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