by Emma Turney
Before the days of “It’s Britney, bitch,” full-denim red carpet outfits, and the infamous shaved head, life was much simpler. Britney Spears was just a 16-year-old all-American blonde singer on the verge of pop stardom. Her debut album, …Baby One More Time, released 20 years ago in 1999, changing not only Spears’ life but also the trajectory of pop music in the 21st century.
I was just a one-year-old when Britney’s debut album hit the world by storm. But like other millennials and Gen Z’ers of my time, it doesn’t matter if you were even alive for Spears’ debut, it would reach you eventually. The opening beats and drawling of the infamous lyrics ‘oh baby, baby’ on the title single is likely one of the most recognizable sounds in the world, comparable to the theme song for James Bond or the daunting sound from Jaws. Of course, a monstrous hit like this can’t be credited to a single person. The genius of Britney comes from the team that was built around her. “…Baby One More Time” was the first true hit from songwriter and producer Max Martin who would go on to be the most sought after collaborator in pop music. With Martin by her side and the R&B of the ’90s dwindling down, the stars were aligned in 1999 for Spears to become the biggest teen pop musician of the early 2000s.
Not only was Spears’ image perfectly curated, but the music itself signified a new era of pop and ushered in the Christina Aguileras and Katy Perrys of the 21st century. It is difficult to realize just how weird Britney’s sound was at the time. From the computerized gurgle of ‘hit me baby one more time’ to the video game sound effects on the Sonny and Cher cover of “The Beat Goes On,” Spears was in her own lane. If released now …Baby One More Time would sound like one of a million others, a point that shows the effect Spears has had on the industry.
Everything about Britney’s debut signifies the start of a long career, not just a great record. The conscious attention to detail on the title track from Max Martin feels seamless. So seamless, in fact, you probably didn’t even notice it. Every seemingly improvised run was chosen and executed by Martin himself as a guide for the final recording. Later in the album, we see Britney’s literal look toward the future on the desktop love song “Email My Heart,” which feels like the ’90s version of “Kiss Me Thru The Phone.” All throughout …Baby One More Time it is clear Britney and her team were looking forward to the future of pop music, not just recreating the same patterns.
Although Britney would eventually come out with records filled to the brim with timeless bops, it’s easy to overlook the gems in her debut. The epitome of early-2000s ballads is seen in the cinematic “Sometimes.” The track is Britney’s call to the very popular ballad genre created by the boybands of the time. Britney even deliberately references the Backstreet Boys on “(You Drive Me) Crazy” where she quite frankly steals the backing track for “Larger Than Life.” But again, this was a simpler time. Instead of this destroying Britney’s career before it even truly began, it propelled her (and honestly the Backstreet Boys) even farther forward.
Britney would go on to create better works of music (see the pinnacle Blackout), and definitely much worse records as well. But through all the ups and downs (some intense downs, if you know what I mean), she has continued to come out on top again and again. At only 37-years-old, Britney Spears has truly given the world so much; it’s time we finally say thank you.