20 years ago, Britney Spears released her debut album “…Baby One More Time” and changed the course of pop music. The album carried the hit singles “…Baby One More Time” and “(You Drive Me) Crazy.” It was long before her infamous meltdown and before the iconic declaration, “It’s Britney B**tch,” but it established her as a bonafide celebrity.
Britney signed her record deal with Jive Records in 1997. She had almost been a member of the girl group Innosense, but had decided to pursue a solo career on the advice of entertainment lawyer Larry Rudolph. She was only 15 years old.
The music scene was prevailed over by rock bands and gangster rappers. Ballad singers like Whitney Houston and Celine Dion were dominating the pop scene. Bubblegum pop was settling in on the radio with songs like Aqua’s “Barbie Girl,” and The Backstreet Boys and The Spice Girls were beginning their successful stays. It didn’t seem like there was room for a new solo pop female to take over like Madonna had.
After signing, Britney started working with producer Eric Foster White. He had a large impact on crafting Spears’ sound as an artist, especially her distinguishable vocal delivery.
Jive Records had a feeling that Britney Spears could be their next big act. The label sent the teenager to Stockholm, Sweden to record at Cheiron Studios with Max Martin, Denniz Pop and Rami Yacoub. It was on this 10-day trip that Spears recorded half her debut album.
Out of these sessions, came her iconic debut single, “…Baby One More Time.” The song was written by Max Martin and had originally been pitched to girl group TLC. The group felt that the lyrical content of the song might condone domestic violence, and passed. In the years since the song has been released, Martin has explained that the lyric was born out of the language barrier. He mistakenly believed that “hit me” was American slang for “call me.”
But it was the song’s production that made it an undeniable hit. From the very start, the insistent three note piano motif makes the song’s presence known. The song’s instrumental was futuristic and brought together the world’s of R&B and bubblegum pop in a way that no one else had done yet. The vocal delivery on the track instantly distinguished Spears from her peers.
The song was an instant smash hit. It took over radio waves and television screens. The song was a hit, but it is the music video that made it iconic. This was the age of MTV, and the station had “…Baby One More Time” in heavy rotation.
The vision of the music video was helmed by Spears herself, with the star taking over and bucking the suggestions of her label and the video’s director Nigel Dick. Because the budding pop star was in her target demographic, she was able to articulate what teenagers really liked and would want to see. The now highly imitated outfits (I mean how many slutty catholic school girls do we see at Halloween every year) were the singers idea and purchased at Kmart.
The single went to number one in basically every country where it charted. In the US, the song debuted at number 17, went on to hold the top spot for two weeks and stayed on the Hot 100 for two years with 52 weeks in the top 10. It remains one of the best selling singles of all time.
The album was similarly successful. It received the RIAA Diamond certification within its first year of release, meaning it sold over ten million copies. At just 17 years old when the album was released, Spears became the youngest artist to accomplish a Diamond Certification, beating out Alanis Morissette who was 21 when she released “Jagged Little Pill.”
The subsequent singles from the album did not perform as well but were still successful. “Sometimes” and “From the Bottom of My Broken Heart” are far less progressive than “…Baby One More Time.” They air on the side of ballad, but her vocals hold back to maintain that nasally delivery.
“Born to Make You Happy” is the best ballad leaning single from the album. While the lyrical content is borderline appropriate for her age, the performance is the most convincing out of the three. She captures the lust and longing of a teenager who believes they have found the one, unable to know better at such a young age.
“(You Drive Me) Crazy” was the single that really boosted the album after “…Baby One More Time” faded. The single was remixed for the film “Drive Me Crazy” and both versions were released to radio for promotion. The music video featured the movies stars Melissa Joan Hart (“Sabrina the Teenage Witch”) and Adrian Greer.
“The Stop Remix!” remains the dominant version of the song, having appeared on her subsequent greatest hits compilations. The production on “(You Drive Me) Crazy” was in the vein of “…Baby One More Time:” futuristic and genre blending, with processed vocals.
Overall, the album is a big dose of nostalgia. The drum samples, the synthesized strings and melodies all feel deeply ’90s and early ’00s.
Most of the tracks don’t age well. A dramatic ballad entitled “E-Mail My Heart”? Yikes. There are also a lot of whitewashed attempts at mixing in reggae elements that are cringe worthy.
The strongest deep cut is “Autumn Goodbye,” which was a B-side of the “…Baby One More Time” single and released on some countries’ special editions of the album. The disco push that gives it an infectious twinkle, and the lyrics are mostly references to the changing seasons. The track has one of the most versatile vocal performances on the album and intriguingly layered vocal arrangement.
Along with introducing Britney Spears to the world, “…Baby One More Time” was also the debut of Max Martin. Martin in the visionary behind iconic songs like “Shake It Off,” “Its My Life,” “California Girls” and “I Want It That Way.” “…Baby One More Time” was his first song out of the Cheiron Studios camp where he was the lead producer. It was the beginning of his string of 22 number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100, including two more with Spears. In addition he has won the ASCAP Songwriter of the year award 11 times.
In the 20 years since “…Baby One More Time,” Britney Spears has remained a household name. Her turbulent career has been the public’s gossip fodder, but she remains one of the best selling artists of all time. With her debut, she became a revolutionary for pop music, and an iconic touchstone for the end of the millenium.