Rachel M. Johnson is a lover of all things pop culture. She's been writing about music and entertainment online for years.
The incredible Britney Spears has had a musical career spanning over 20 years. Her impressive resume includes nine studio albums, six of which topped the Billboard 200 charts. What has always been interesting with the "Pop Princess" was her musical style evolution over her career. Spears went from a bubblegum pop teen to girl next door to sexy and sensual vixen. She has a staying power that few can match. Let's delve into the first half of her everlasting career and take a look at the albums that made her a star.
"With '...Baby One More Time,' I didn't get to show my voice off. The songs were great, but they weren't very challenging."
— Britney Spears on her debut album
...Baby One More Time (1999)
On January 12, 1999, 17-year-old Britney Spears released her debut album ...Baby One More Time. Just a few months prior, she had burst onto the music scene with a lead single of the same name. The song, which was originally written for R&B group TLC, became a smash hit and reached number 1 in every country it charted in. An accompanying music video also garnered heavy media attention and featured Spears as a student from a Catholic high school, who daydreams that she is singing and dancing throughout the school. The single would help cement Spears's place in pop music.
The young songstress would go on to release an additional four singles: "Sometimes," "(You Drive Me) Crazy," "Born to Make You Happy," and "From the Bottom of My Broken Heart." Upon the album's release, reactions from critics were mixed. Some felt it was premature and juvenile, while others praised it for its fun dance tracks. The album debuted atop the US Billboard 200, and was certified 14x platinum (diamond) certification in the United States, with over 14 million albums sold. To date, ...Baby One More Time has sold 25 million copies worldwide.
With this debut album, Spears was credited with influencing the revival of teen pop, and quickly became labeled as the "Princess of Pop." Other artists such as Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, the Backstreet Boys, and *NSYNC would also be a part of the teen pop movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
"But in my opinion, [Oops!] is a lot better than the first album. It's edgier--it has more attitude. It's more me, and I think teenagers will relate to it more."
— Spears on her sophomore album
Oops!...I Did It Again (2000)
On May 16, 2000 Spears would go on to release her sophomore studio album, Oops!...I Did It Again. Like her debut album, the music incorporated teen pop and dance-pop styles but also explored a more R&B undertone as well. The record received general praise from critics and went on to sell a massive 1,319,000 copies in its first week. It broke the previous Nielsen SoundScan record for the highest debut-week album sales by a female artist. The album reached number one in 15 other countries, and would go on to receive a diamond certification and sell over 20 million copies.
The lead single of the same name peaked at number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was a hit with the critics. The now famous video included Spears donning a red jumpsuit and showed the singer dancing on Mars. She would also release "Lucky", which told the story of a lonely movie star who despite appearing to have it all, was unhappy on the inside. "Stronger" and "Don't Let Me Be The Last To Know" were also singles, and both were applauded by critics for their sound and vocal abilities.
In the video for "Stronger", Spears sings of self-empowerment and decides to leave a cheating boyfriend. The singer performed a dance routine in a chair, which was inspired by Janet Jackson's "The Pleasure Principle" and "Miss You Much." Her final single for the album, "Don't let Me Be The Last To Know" was a ballad co-written by Shania Twain. It was one of Spears's favorites from the album and attained moderate success.
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"This is the first album I have ever really written and taken my time on, so when I actually listen to the whole album, it's just that much more special."
— Britney Spears on her self-titled album
With the release of her eponymous album on November 6, 2001, Spears was looking to transition from her teen pop style into a more mature, adult sound. The album incorporated many different genres of music, including dance-pop and R&B, and also elements of hip hop, rock and electronica. Lyrically, the record shied away from her previous bubblegum pop sound and embraced a more provocative, sexual influence. Spears also had more creative control and input during production of the album. The album debuted atop the charts and had first-week sales of 745,750 copies. Its release and success made the singer the first female artist to have her first three studio albums reach number one. To date, it has sold over 10 million copies.
"I'm a Slave 4 U" was the first single from the album, garnering mixed reactions from music critics. Many praised the song for its mature feel and edgy lyrics, while others felt Spears was trying too hard to shed her girl next door image. The songstress would go on and have an iconic performance with a large albino snake, singing the song at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards. Other singles included "Overprotected," "Boys," and "Anticipating," all of which had modest success on U.S. charts.
With the release of her debut film Crossroads (2002), Spears included the single "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman", which critics praised as the breakout song on the album and a powerful ballad. Though it underperformed in the U.S, it reached the top ten in five countries including Australia and the United Kingdom. A cover of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" also accompanied the film, and was included on the album.
"I think this record is where I am at right now in my life. It's sensual, it's sexual. I'm probably writing about that subconsciously because I don't have that right now."
— Spears reflecting on "In the Zone"
In the Zone (2003)
After the conclusion of her Dream Within a Dream Tour in July 2002 and her break-up with Justin Timberlake, Spears took a break from her career. After the brief hiatus, she began work on a dance-oriented album with elements of trip hop, house and hip hop genres. Its themes range from dancing, love, and relationships, to empowerment and sex. The album, which features collaborations with Madonna and the Ying-Yang Twins, was released on November 12, 2003. In the United States, the album received positive reviews, primarily for its incorporation of different styles and Spears's songwriting skills. It sold 609,000 copies in its first week, debuting atop the charts.
The lead single from the album "Me Against the Music" featured Madonna and was a heavy dance track that saw moderate success in the U.S but peaked in countries throughout Europe. The video received praise from critics, who applauded the cat-and-mouse chase and sexual roles of the two singers. Her next single, "Toxic" attained worldwide success, reaching the top five in 15 countries. The video showcased Spears in an array of disguises, portraying a secret agent out for revenge against her ex-lover. "Toxic" cost more than 1 million to film.
Spears also released a pop ballad, "Everytime." Perhaps one of the singer's most touching and raw songs, its lyrics are a plea for forgiveness for hurting a former lover. Many speculated the song to be a response to Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River," but Spears never addressed the rumors. The song peaked at number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Spears's vocals and lyrical content were praised. The music video featured actor Steven Dorff as the pop star's boyfriend, as they are hounded by paparazzi and get into a fight. Themes of reincarnation and religion are also found in the video. Her final single, "Outrageous" had a hip-hop feel and a video had been in production, until Spears hurt her knee and had to undergo arthroscopic surgery. The video was subsequently cancelled.
© 2018 Rachel M Johnson