Part I: The Background
Britney Spears was one of the biggest pop stars of the early 2000s. I wasn’t really old enough to be following pop music religiously when she was at her peak, but nevertheless, I was well aware of her hit singles. Who wasn’t, at the time? Britney got her start on the TV show The Mickey Mouse Club in the early nineties before dropping her debut album right at the tale-end of the decade. Though she rose to popularity at the turn of the century, she didn’t exactly usher in a new age of pop music; much of the same musical ground had already been covered earlier on in the decade by The Spice Girls. Nevertheless, Britney secured her place in the history of pop music with this album (and its follow-up Oops!… I Did It Again). She didn’t have much creative control over the album—actually, her input is quite minimal. But it’s a hell of a record all the same.
Part II: The Music
…Baby One More Time: The hit single that started it all. It hooks you in right from the opening piano riff. This Max Martin–penned track can only be described as a piece of sheer pop brilliance. Everything about this track catches your attention, from the slick guitar licks to the glorious 90s harmonies (why did pop music ever turn its back on harmonies?). The lyrical content paints a picture of Britney as young, naïve, and innocent; but at the same time, she’s confident and not afraid to speak her mind. The track is packed to the brim with hooks, from the verses, to the prechorus, to the chorus. RATING: 10/10
(You Drive Me) Crazy: We get the same, slick 90s production style here—complete with harmonies—only this song is much more… aggressive. I’ll just go ahead and say it: this song rocks. And that’s not something you can say often for modern pop music (does 90s music count as modern anymore though?). There’s even a short but sweet guitar solo! I would’ve been in elementary school (and, as I said, barely paying attention to the pop music world) when this came out, but I still get nostalgic listening to it. But that’s not to say its only strength is in the nostalgia factor; this is a damn good song. RATING: 9/10
Sometimes: To contrast with the high-energy of (You Drive Me) Crazy, here’s a ballad. It’s got a catchy beat, and doesn’t forego melody for sentimentalism. Her ballads would improve with her sophomore outing, but this song isn’t even remotely offensive in a musical sense. Here, Britney displays her vulnerable side, and that’s reflected in the soft and emotional vocal delivery. The song really does a great job of deconstructing the female object of desire as this elevated being raised up on a pedestal; Britney’s just as human as her admirers. RATING: 7/10
Soda Pop: What the hell happened? This is complete and utter garbage, and it damn near ruins the album. Whoever wrote this was taking the phrase “pop song” much too literally. The song features Mikey Bassie, who I will admit I have never heard of outside of the context of this album. It’s not that he doesn’t fit in well with the song; it’s that the song doesn’t fit in well with the album. It’s just a little too bright and cheery… it’s sickening. That’s the word I’m looking for. Have I given away the fact that I don’t like this song? RATING: 1/10
Born To Make You Happy: Thankfully, the next track returns to the trademark Britney Spears sound. Only the floating pads give the song a much dreamier feel. Lyrically, this song covers the same ground as …Baby One More Time, but it’s not as appealing. Why? Because it’s not anywhere near as bold. In the former song, Britney practically demands that her ex-lover take her back. Here, she’s essentially pleading with them, claiming that she basically only exists for the purpose of pleasing him. Musically, this is still a nice bit of ear candy though. RATING: 7.5/10
From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart: Another ballad, and it’s much sappier this time, as it’s a song about heartache. This one lacks the restraint of Sometimes and indulges in all of the nausea-inducing tropes of the modern ballad. But let’s not forget: this is still a carefully crafted pop album. Quality control must’ve been absent when Soda Pop was being recorded, but that’s not the case here. There’s enough melody here to keep you interested for… 5 minutes? Oh come on. For a song that doesn’t really go anywhere, that’s kind of pushing it, don’t you think? RATING: 6.5/10
I Will Be There: Easily my favourite song on the album. Arrangement-wise, this is the perfect blend between rock and pop instrumentation; the rhythm guitar riff that serves as the song’s centerpiece is downright infectious. This is also probably my favourite vocal performance on the album; Britney shows the kind of restraint that a song like this calls for while still subtly working in her little vocal flourishes. Oh, and it’s no surprise that this song’s also got those lovely 90s harmonies to propel it during the chorus. What really bolsters this song though is its positivity—it’s a song about being there for someone. That pronoun is crucial here; it’s what makes the song universal. The song isn’t explicitly romantic. It could just as well be about friendship, and that’s what gives it such a wide appeal. RATING: 10/10
I Will Still Love You: Really? Has it been too long since the last ballad? Did we really need another one? This one’s another duet, this time with a guy named Don Philip, who—once again—I’ve never heard of. And this one just takes a huge nosedive into sappy sentimentality; it’s an ode to eternal love. This one gets a failing grade in my book, despite having a couple decent melodies. Britney’s vocals actually do manage to get a little soulful here, which somewhat redeems this otherwise bland song. RATING: 4/10
Deep In My Heart: This dance-infused track only appears on the international edition of the album. It’s a bit of a departure stylistically, being more keyboard-driven than the rest of the album. Lyrically, it’s another song about the power of true love, but what really makes it is the disco-influenced arrangement and the keen sense of melody. RATING: 9.5/10
Thinkin’ About You: If there’s one song that scream teen-pop on this album, this is it. The chorus is just so cutesy, and not in a good way. The pre-chorus offers some interesting melodic turns, and Britney once again gets a little more soulful with her vocal delivery. Unimpressive album filler. RATING: 6/10
E-Mail My Heart: Oh, how dated this sounds. Hell, it probably sounded cheesy even back when e-mails were still the primary method of online communication. By the way, did you notice that the ballads on this album just get worse and worse as the album goes on? And it’s another one of those pathetic pleading-for-an-ex-lover-to-take-you-back songs. At least there’s a bit of an interesting melodic fluctuation at the end of the chorus, but considering we’re near the end of the album now, which is usually reserved for more evocative, introspective deep cuts, this song inevitably disappoints. RATING: 4/10
The Beat Goes On: Here’s something odd. A sixties cover? What business does that have on a Britney Spears album? I think that just goes to show how manufactured this album is—I’ll bet you she wasn’t the one who decided to do this cover. I guess it’s a serviceable cover, but it’s just not that interesting, unfortunately. And as an album closer, this fails big-time. RATING: 3/10
Bonus Tracks: There are also (at least) four bonus tracks on this album. There are two remixes of …Baby One More Time, which I’ve don’t really care for—they’re lazy dance mixes that have nowhere near the same edge as the original. I’ll include the other two tracks in my review though. We get another ballad: I’ll Never Stop Loving You (RATING: 5.5/10). There’s a bit of an R&B vibe to this song. I actually like it better than some of the ballads on the actual album. Sometimes the decisions about what to include and what not to include just puzzle me. And that’s especially true for the other bonus track: Autumn Goodbye (RATING: 8/10). This should’ve been the album closer—it’s another dance-influenced track, and is right up there with the best this album has to offer.
Part III: The Album
Aesthetic: I don’t think it’s going to come as a shock to you when I say that this album has an excellent aesthetic. It’s perhaps not as polished as some of her later offerings, but this album really does capture that quintessential late 90s/early 2000s sound. The album is named after the smash hit single—go figure. I own both the standard and the international versions of the album, and they’ve got different covers. But both covers depict Britney as this pure, innocent girl next door. I’m not sure which cover I like better—in the standard edition cover (the pink one), the focus is on Britney and her cute little pose. In the international edition cover (the white one pictured below), the focus seems to be on her blonde hair; the colour scheme is very aesthetically pleasing. SCORE: 4/5
Artistic Merit: Not so much on Britney’s part—she does do a bit of work with her vocals here, but some might argue that her vocals are quite cookie-cutter. I don’t really care to get into any of that. What I will say is that this album boasts excellent craftsmanship and some top-notch pop song writing (even if it does get a little dodgy at times). SCORE: 2/5
Flow: My only complaint here is the oversaturation of ballads. I mean, there aren’t even that many of them, it just feels like it because of the way the album’s sequence and because of how long some of them are. Also, the album kind of tapers off towards the end if you don’t count the bonus tracks. SCORE: 6/10
CLOSING REMARKS: I like this album a lot more than the score I gave it. While the debut isn’t as consistently strong as its follow-up, there is a naive sophistication that some of her later works lack; the fact that it’s not quite as polished as her later efforts is what gives it a lot of its appeal. And for a heavily manufactured album, the songwriting is exceptional.
FINAL SCORE: 64