There’s often a bit of debate as to who really is the Queen of Pop. This prestigious title has been held back and forth by many, including Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Madonna – just to name a few. But to me, pop music would never be the same without Britney Spears. Back in her hey-day, she was slaying artists left right and centre with her infectious music, sharp moves and toned midriff. In honour of Britney Day earlier this November, we thought we’d take a trip down memory lane to look at one of her most iconic albums, In The Zone. Released in 2003, this album was the game changer to Spears’ career, where she explored new sounds including trance, house and hip hop. Bubblegum pop no more; this was the start of Spears’ transition from girl to woman.
To be fair, Spears attempted a metamorphosis with her previous album Britney; the thing was, no one could take it seriously with raunchy tracks like I’m a Slave 4 U placed side by side with boppy tracks like Anticipating. In The Zone was about to change everything though – the album was sexy, straight-forward and utterly convincing. From the album’s get-go, Me Against The Music, Spears’ tongue-twisting verses and rousing chorus had the world instantly hooked. Paired with that kiss with Madonna, Spears subsequently shred her old image to pieces. The same could be said for the synth masterpiece that was Toxic, which explored a darker edge to the singer. Produced by Bloodyshy & Avant, Toxic earned Spears her very first Grammy Award. And who can say it wasn’t well deserved? From its alien-like synths to Spears’ breathy hooks, the track instantly rose to the cult status that it’s at today – instantly recognisable from the first few notes of its intense intro.
Moving away from the dance genre, Spears also contributed to the R&B culture that was dominant in the noughties. Max Martin is noticeably absent from this record; instead, the pop star enlisted help from the likes of R. Kelly, Trixster and The Matrix. The new change was clearly evident in tracks like (I Got That) Boom Boom, featuring the lesser-known Ying Yang Twins. Boom Boom was a tentative step towards hip hop, but Spears fused distinctive pop elements that made the track uniquely hers. There was that odd track The Hook Up, with a reggae influenced beat that had Spears singing in a Jamaican accent. Outrageous leaned a little more into the street genre, with Spears rapping the chorus and referencing herself as ‘B-girl’. Musically, the track was almost hypnotic with its exotic, snake charmer melody. Though the music video featuring Spears in baggy basketball gear, licking Snoop Dogg’s face, was a bit of a cringe – but points were earned for her brazen nature and seductive execution of the chorus.
Speaking of seductive execution, Britney exposed a racier side to her that was never before seen. This was the starlet at her most sensual stage yet; to put it frankly, her musical liberation and sexual awakening. The panting masterpiece that was Breathe On Me had her listeners gasping for air afterwards, whilst Touch of My Hand boldly explores the topic of masturbation. With their subdued synths and subtle trance beat, both tracks are raunchy bedroom hits with the clear aim to get listeners in the mood. Extra props for the use of the erhu (or at least, something that sounds awfully similar to this traditional Chinese fiddle) throughout the track, adding a captivating and exotic element into the song.
There is, of course, one track that we simply can’t skip in this Record Rewind. We all know that Britney Spears has experienced a fair share of heartache in her life; a side to her that is often publicised despite her efforts to remain private. Yet she chose to expose this side of her, just this once, through the simple yet vulnerable gem that is Everytime. At face value, it may just appear as a simple pop ballad comprised of a sparse piano and dim percussion. And sure, Spears’ vocals aren’t exactly on Mariah Carey’s level, nor will they ever be. But dig deeper and you’ll find that the soft voice, the twinkling piano and the doleful sighs are an indicator of her most personal track to date. It’s deemed such an iconic track in Spears’ career because never again would she expose that level of raw fragility again – at least, not through song. In The Zone was already packed to the brim with every influence imaginable – dance, pop, reggae, hip hop, Asian and Middle Eastern. In a way, Everytime was the much-needed cherry on top; that element that made Spears’ fourth studio album truly memorable.
The rest then, is history. The album went on to move 609,000 copies in its first week, in just US sales alone. To date, it has sold over 3 million copies in the US. Internationally, the album charted within the top ten in eleven countries. After the release of In The Zone, Spears was catapulted into a whirlwind of promotion and press, staging performance after performance, interview after interview. And within months, Spears was to embark on a gruelling world tour that was The Onyx Hotel, cementing the album’s legacy and reasserting her title as the Queen of Pop – at least, of the noughties.