To celebrate “Work Bitch”, 10 of Britney's essential weirder, sometimes overlooked deep cuts
This week Britney Spears releases "Work Bitch", the first single from her forthcoming eighth studio album. It's a highly-quotable, thumping club banger ("look hot in a bikini? You better work bitch!") that has the post-EDM thump of "Scream & Shout" but, with her airy vocals and speak-raps, hints at new experimentation to come. Dev Hynes, William Orbit and Hit-Boy are all rumoured to have production credits on her upcoming record, and so to hail the unpredictable pop princess' return, we count down ten of her weirder, sometimes unrecognised deep cuts.
From Britney’s 2001 album, Britney, which is arguably one of her best (when she first balanced her Max Martin sound with the sound of others like The Neptunes, Rodney Jerkins, and yes, Dido) we have this stunning spin twirl of a song. “Anticipating” which was written and produced by Brian Kierulf and Joshua M. Schwartz with some writing by Britney herself. Possibly the most fairy tale-esque, girly song Britney has ever recorded “Anticipating” is lithe and balmy with long, extending sashays of strings that spin upwards and cut downwards. Love at first sight here. Imagine if this had a video.
“Soda Pop" is Britney doing some serious belting (the likes of which doesn’t show up much anymore). She sings the lyrics with arguably too much intensity. It’s like a better precursor to Vanessa Hudgens’ insane “Sneakernight” and it mines that particular brand of late 90’s, early 2000’s acoustic pop (see Len’s “Steal My Sunshine”).
“How I Roll”
I still think this is the most exciting song Britney has ever recorded (barring “Graffiti My Soul”, later given to Girls Aloud) with its amalgamations of old and new. It’s ebullient as hell, bounding around on what sounds like shears used to trim bushes and clops and plops. Somehow relaxed and manic at the same time, Britney’s breathing is flicked and switched around. Sounds more like “Soda Pop” than “Soda Pop” ever did. Important to note: the girl who worked on “Heaven on Earth,” Nicole Morier, worked on this too as did one part of Bloodshy.
“Don’t Go Knockin’ On My Door”
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s a lot of pop videos were set in strange vortexes with the artists wearing brightly colored, currently trendy sportswear-esque outfits doing dance routines (Dream’s “He Loves U Not,” Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name,” “Bootylicious,” Jessica Simpson’s “Irresistible,” N’Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye,” A*Teens’ “Mamma Mia” and “(Bouncing Off the Ceiling) Upside Down”). Britney did her share of these videos and the sound of Max Martin sounded like it was meant to be played in these strange vortexes with endless dancing space and paneled colored walls. Many songs on Oops!…I Did It Again have these cleaving sounds that enhance the drama as if meant to accompany sharp, posing dance moves in pink cargo pants. The skipping around sound of “Don’t Go Knockin’ On My Door” also has Britney doing her now signature nasal work hook and ends with a hilarious scripted telephone conversation with Britney and a gal pal that calls to mind Taylor Swift’s spoken word interlude in “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together” except better.
“Brave New Girl”
Towards the end of In the Zone, comes “Brave New Girl” brought to us to the people who also did “Anticipating.” It makes total sense as a continuation of “Anticipating” with similar lyrical territory. I remember reading a review of this album in The Boston Globe and how this song sounded very Madonna – you can just hear the “Ray of Light”/”Don’t Tell Me”/”American Life” intimations bursting out of it. Quietly mental.
“Heaven on Earth”
While the first three tracks on Blackout are intense, “Heaven on Earth” zeroes in from the get go with its laser pointer sharp and specific synth line, and weirdly often feels like the song is chomping down on itself. It’s one of the few songs not produced by Danja or Bloodshy & Avant on the album yet it fits in perfectly. It’s the perfect marriage of vocalist and song. Just like “Toxic” was on In The Zone. “Fall off the edge of my mind” for sure.
“Kill The Lights”
Probably my favorite song on the very meh Circus, “Kill the Lights” has this endlessly insinuating brass part that circles the track like a shark around its prey. Of course, Danja is involved. And the way Britney sings “killed” at the end of the chorus is gleeful and her menacing, measured belting of “yeah” at the end all make for a mini-Blackout during the Circus. Blackout was instinctual-sounding, Circus wasn’t.
Hard to pick between these two since they come right after one another on Blackout. Bloodshy & Avant who did the “Toxic” worked on them both as well. In “Freakshow” you can see the connection to “How I Roll,” and then it goes into “Toy Soldier” whose beat has brass farts as if calling forth to “Kill the Lights.” The whole thing snaps and slithers.
“I Will Be There”
For this last one, let’s take it back to Britney’s beginnings with “I Will Be There” from …Baby One More Time, which basically sounds like Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” and a B*Witched song. With a guitar sliding and twanging and some possible wind instrumentation, “I Will Be There” is “nothing but a t-shirt on” Britney.