With the release of her new single "Make Me...", Britney Spears adds another song to her list of leads. What started in 1999 with "...Baby One More Time" ands ends with "Make Me" equates to one of the strongest sets of first singles from any pop artist. When you listen to these songs in chronological order, you'll hear artistic evolution, snapshots of the dominating pop sound of the time, and your own nostalgia stitched into these songs.
Below are Britney Spears' lead nine singles from her soon-to-be nine studio albums, ranked least best to best.
09. Work Bitch - 2013
2013's Britney Jean was billed by Britney and her team as Brit's "most personal album to-date." Fans of course immediately expected a Ray of Light-influenced opus where she sings about her private life, her struggles, and owned the wisdom that comes with being in the industry for so long. That's what makes the trend-chasing, EDM-heavy first single "Work Bitch" so jarring. While it certainly "works" in the gym and at the club as a serviceable dance track, it doesn't have the magic Britney Spears brings to a song when she's tapped into the material. The British accent and campy lyrics showed off her fun side, but ultimately it's a hollow song that's anything but intimate or personal.
08. Hold It Against Me - 2011
Pop was all over the place in 2011. Across the pond, the thundering, wobbly-dance craze of dubstep was taking over the clubs and inching its way to radio. Britney brought the trend to North America and included a dubstep-esque breakdown in the middle of the lead from her 7th album, Femme Fatale. "Hold It Against Me" is a Bonnie McKee co-write that, while clever, sounded a tad dated upon arrival. However, the "I might be a little hay-zay" is classic Britney.
07. Me Against The Music (feat. Madonna) - 2003
Britney fans debate on whether In The Zone or Blackout is her best album (Spoiler: it's In The Zone). Unlike the imposter Britney Jean, In The Zone is her most personal album to-date. Here, she addresses her tumultuous relationship and breakup with Justin Timberlake, masturbation, and self-empowerment. To introduce the public to the record, Britney chose the Madonna duet "Me Against The Music." On paper, this should be outta this world: the Queen of Pop joins forces with the Princess of Pop on the first single from the album fans, critics, and tabloids all lusted after. Britney worked with producer Tricky Stewart to create a song that mimics Justin Timberlake's first solo single "Like I Love You", a Neptunes/Pharrell production. Because of that, the song doesn't quite feel like a Britney single. Still, it's a club-ready bop that preceded a fantastic album.
06. Womanizer - 2008
Circus is an important album in Britney's discography. It's the first record she released after her over-publicized breakdown, a time many feared would be the end of her career. To show fans and critics alike that Britney Spears The World Conquering Pop Star was still alive, she threw herself into what ultimately matters most: the music. Kicking it off was "Womanizer," a synth-y, sassy number that had Britney's signature delivery all over it, an earworm chorus, and a sexy video to accompany it. It's a solid representation of an album that jumps around stylistically, but curates sounds Britney knows how to capitalize upon.
05. Make Me... (feat. G-Eazy) - 2016
While the hit potential and cultural impact is to-be-determined, "Make Me..." catapults itself into one of Britney's best leads for a few reasons. Most importantly, this actually sounds like a Britney Spears song. While not the strongest vocalist, Britney typically knows how to use her voice to her advantage. The blend of sensual R&B and angelic falsetto is perfect for this mid-tempo, lush summer song. Second, "Make Me..." shows us what Britney can do when she's connected to the material. With a co-writing credit, you can hear and feel that Britney genuinely enjoys this song. Finally, the sound is a marked shift for her. Not since "I'm a Slave 4 U" has Britney pivoted so sharply. While it certainly sounds current with its hints of tropical pop and smooth beats, "Make Me..." is a new sound for her, and unlike the other slow jams on radio. Hopefully, the song will find further strength in the context of her upcoming, 9th studio album, as well as the soon-to-be-released, Dave LaChapelle-directed video.
04. Oops!...I Did It Again - 2000
The red catsuit. The Titanic-inspired bridge. The choreography. "Oops!...I Did It Again" is one of Britney's most iconic songs, and one of the most memorable moments of the teen pop era. After playing with naughty school girl motifs for her first album, Britney plunged into full-on sex kitten for her sophomore effort. She confirmed what conservative parents feared about gerinfluence on their kids. "Oops!..." builds on the sound palette of "...Baby One More Time" but ramps up the pop and the drama. It was the perfect song to continue riding her wave of success. Of course, the ultimate expression of the song came during Britney's momentous 2000's MTV VMA performance. For that reason alone, "Oops!" is essential.
03. Gimme More - 2003
It's Britney, bitch. Everything about "Gimme More" is the perfect snapshot of Britney Spears at this time. Quite frankly, Britney gave zero fucks during the Blackout era. She knew she was consistent tabloid fodder, and she didn't care. She was a proud mom on a stripper pole, and she didn't care. Even with her entire existence in constant scrutiny, Britney once again turned to music as her release. Blackout is essentially a lineup of up-and-coming producers and writers featuring Britney Spears. Still, she is key to every song's impact. "Gimme More"'s stripper-inspired video is perfect for the seedy, grimy sound while Britney's dark hair casts her as possessed by her own debauchery. Like her best singles, this was Britney pushing her sound forward. Even now, "Gimme More" sounds contemporary and timeless.
02. I'm a Slave 4 U - 2001
If "Oops!" was the arrival of Britney the sex kitten, "I'm a Slave 4 U" was the arrival of Britney the sex tigress. Max Martin and his teen pop gloss are all over Britney's first two records. For her third album, Britney needed to evolve in order to stay relevant and continue her ascent towards the throne. To accomplish her mission, Britney worked with an emerging producer named Pharrell Williams to inject a deep, hip-hop-flavored sound to contrast against her breathy delivery. The result is the first overtly sexual song in Britney's catalogue, one that set a precedence for fan favorites like "Breathe On Me" and "Touch of My Hand." "I'm a Slave 4 U" was a bold move at the time; it was completely unlike anything on the radio at the time, and unlike anything Britney had done before it. In other words, it's one of her finest moments as an artist.
01. ...Baby One More Time - 1999
There really isn't another choice for Britney's best lead single. "...Baby One More Time" is the teen pop song of the era. Anthemic in all the right ways, "...Baby One More Time" introduced us to Britney not with a handshake, but a hip thrust. It's meticulously constructed to lodge itself in your brain immediately. The moment those nostalgic piano notes hit, you're taken back to that golden age of pop music. "...Baby" has just the right amount of sweetness to sound natural from a 16 year-old singer, but enough sensuality to make it appealing to adults. Vocally, Britney was in top form; she's assertive, soulful, and terrifically taps into the yearning nature of the lyrics. "...Baby"'s blueprint is somewhat minimal, but the climaxes are perfectly placed. For example, the recall of the bridge over the final chorus makes the song blast off until it explodes into a thousand stars. "...Baby" is Britney's signature song, and one of the best pop songs in existence.
Listen to all of Britney's lead singles in chronological order below via Spotify.