Britney Spears is a vessel: songwriters, producers, and visionaries know she'll take their ideas and turn them into hyperrealities. Even when she's not the captain, Britney knows what it takes to steer the ship.
That's what makes 2013's Britney Jean so baffling; how could a woman who delivered gems like "Oops!...I Did It Again" and "Toxic" put her name on a rushed, half-hearted effort, to the point of Britney not even singing parts of it?
After releasing "Pretty Girls," a dated-upon-arrival, Iggy Azalea-assisted track, fans feared another Britney Jean debacle. When the song didn't perform to expectations, Britney and her team took a healthy step back. They asked themselves the important questions: why do people care about Britney Spears? How do we familiarize this current generation of Beliebers and Lovatics with the woman who influenced their sound and style? What are the signature elements of Britney Spears' music?
Glory, her ninth studio album, curates the best of Britney Spears in a 2016 landscape.
Glory opens with a subtle, warm "Invitation." Britney sings in a fragile falsetto, a method she employs throughout the album's 17-track deluxe edition. She sounds comfortable and sensual, inviting her lover to wear a blindfold: "I just need you to trust me / Oh, that you see more with your eyes closed." Critics will lazily compare this brand of hazy, erotic pop to more recent efforts by Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande. However, it's important to remember the role Britney had in shaping this soundscape before the women who followed her. Songs like "Breathe On Me" and "Touch of My Hand" were the blueprints for hits like "Good For You" and "Love Me Harder."
02. Make Me... (feat. G-Eazy)
Lead single "Make Me..." gave fans a glimmer of hope for this record; rippling synths give way to a prismatically pulsating chorus, all underneath an unmistakably Britney vocal. Compare it to something like "Til The World Ends," which is club-ready, but lacks any soul. Britney doesn't have the vocal chops of her peers, but she knows exactly how to use her voice to sell a song. "Make Me..."'s chorus in her hands becomes a choir of electrified coos. The G-Eazy feature doesn't add much to the song, but it doesn't completely ruin the flow either.
03. Private Show
Released ahead of the album to promote her new fragrance of the same name, "Private Show" is a playful strip song with a down-home vibe. Vocally, Britney hasn't sung this naked since 2007's "Hot as Ice." To some, it will sound jarring and a bit unpleasant. What Britney lacks in power she makes up for with character, and "Private Show" has it in spades. Bouncing from sassy to sexy to silly, the track introduces a new vibe to the record, but thankfully not one that persists.
04. Man On The Moon
Britney hasn't had a melody like this in over a decade. "Man On The Moon" has the somber innocence of her first two records, and could even be a sequel to "Lucky" due to its emotional pull. Written by a team that includes pop upstart Phoebe Ryan," "Man On The Moon" shows Britney competing with the stars in the sky for affection. Lyrically, it's one of the strongest on the record with its Lana Del Rey, spacey undertones:
Last night I was in your arms so strong
One small step and, baby, you were gone
Now there's meaning in the saddest songs
All I do is cry and sing along
Drinking alone in my party dress
Would you come back if I looked my best?
Put on a smile and I said to myself
Patience, darling, wait for the night
Darkness comes and love comes alive
I've been right here dreaming of you
Waiting for my man on the moon
When the bridge hits, a rush of spoken French and strings delivers that emotional climax the song deserves. If this isn't a single, it will certainly be a fan favorite.
05. Just Luv Me
Once again, the temptation to call this Selena Gomez-influenced will be strong, but it's inaccurate. In actuality, "Just Luv Me" could have found a home on 2003's In the Zone. Minimal production and Britney's dry, pleading delivery adds a vulnerability to the song, which was produced by Cashmere Cat (Ariana Grande, Ryn Weaver, Charli XCX) and Robopop (Kesha, Lana Del Rey, Marina and the Diamonds). Rumors are this is up for consideration as the second single, a justifiable choice with its current sound.
With an appropriate title, "Clumsy" shakes up the flow of the album to its detriment. While it's serviceable, the song's dated drop sounds like a volume knob being turned back and forth, making it hollow and anti-climactic. "Clumsy" is catchy, and sounds like a galactic hoe-down, but ultimately feels dwarfed by its surrounding songs.
07. Do You Wanna Come Over?
The throbbing, driving beat. The sarcastic questioning. The pure sex of the chorus. "Do You Wanna Come Over?" sounds like a Britney classic on first listen. While the male shouts in the chorus can be a bit much, Britney balances the vibe with a simple "Uh huh." It's the same cool, confident Britney we've heard on songs like "I'm a Slave 4 U." The production plays special attention to detail: the off-melody backing vocals, sounds of an aluminum can being opened are meticulously crafted. "Do You Wanna Come Over?" may end up regulated as gay club fodder, but this is a giant banger only Britney could deliver.
08. Slumber Party
Look no further than "Slumber Party" to hear the progression of Britney Spears, and one of the album's strongest single contenders. Dreamy synths that sound like blowing bubbles, syncopated handclaps, and warm island breeze vibes make "Slumber Party" effortlessly classy and camp. The chorus is a total earworm and brilliantly written:
Cause we got them candles hanging
Hanging from the ceiling low
We use our bodies to make our own videos
Put on our music that makes us go fucking crazy, oh
Go crazy, oh
Like a slumber party
The ending explodes with a fiesta of horns and beats, plus Britney injecting some of her signature adlibs, creating a "Slumber Party" worth attending.
09. Just Like Me
Glory finds its first moment of bite with "Just Like Me," a song tackling the shock of seeing your ex with a lover who looks identical to you. Once again, there's a sound reminiscent of her earlier work, specifically with the attitude found on 2001's Britney. Compared to the rest of the album, "Just Like Me" is relatively stripped down, includes an acoustic guitar, and has some of Britney's fiercest vocals.
10. Love Me Down
"Love Me Down" is another track fairly on trend with 2016 pop, but with a Spears twist. A wobbly intro reminiscent of the griminess on 2007's Blackout transitions into stuttering beats one might hear on a Gwen Stefani record. The repetitive chorus immediately lodges itself in your brain, and picks the energy back up to carry you into Glory's stunning second half.
11. Hard to Forget Ya
There's overwhelming nostalgia stitched into "Hard to Forget Ya." For one, it's the most assured and soulful vocal performance on Glory. The melody takes cues from the late 80s and early 90s work of her predecessors Janet Jackson and Madonna. Once again, the ad-libs Britney leans on to elevate her most dramatic songs storm in forcefully; she effortlessly glides over the ending while the chorus repeats. It's euphoric, anthemic, and feels like the album's victory lap.
12. What You Need
As with "Private Show," the vocals on "What You Need" will catch listeners off guard. She sounds the most unhinged, channeling a mix of funk and spunk. The growl she delivers during the line "bringing out the diva that lives in me," with 'me' sounding more like 'may,' is vintage Spears. This is basically the vibe Christina Aguilera and Cher went for on Burlesque, which will either rope you in or push you away. Regardless, the casual "That was fun" Britney utters at the end makes you want to give her a standing ovation, even with five songs to go.
You may recognize the name Bloodpop as the producer of Justin Bieber's monster hit "Sorry." For his contribution to Glory, he relies on the same tropical pop and trance vibes to give Britney her own variation. If released by Bieber, "Better" would be a monster hit. The highlight is the bridge, where the beat drops out to give way to a series of handclaps and falsetto vocal runs, before smashing back in. Coming from Britney, the song veers slightly towards being behind the times, but is nevertheless a serviceable bop.
14. Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortes)
This is where things get weird. Yes, the parenthetical does not deceive you: Britney speaks Spanish on "Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortes)," which in English translates to, "don't be polite." Appropriately, a Spanish guitar eventually erupts into a four-on-the-floor beat. Britney's emotive vocals highlight the songs desperate nature, featuring production from the imaginative Mattman & Robin (Carly Rae Jepsen, Selena Gomez, Tove Lo).
The fury from "Just Like Me" is back, but instead of disbelief, Britney sings with fire. There's a swagger, the sound of a scornful warning as Britney sings about not "fucking with your dirty laundry" and Kamikazee fire. Battlefield-style drums mix with a storming chorus you'd be more likely to hear on an angry Kelly Clarkson song make "Liar" a welcomed, rock-leaning direction. Again, this could have been found on earlier albums, and could even be the sequel to a woman burned by the protagonist of "Criminal" from Femme Fatale.
16. If I'm Dancing
The reason many see In The Zone and Blackout as the Holy Grails of Britney Spears' discography is due to their adventurousness. On the former, Britney bounces between genres and incorporates just the right amount of distance and intimacy. With the latter, the producers involved pushed Spears to sound like she had never before, and cast her in progressive soundscapes. "If I'm Dancing" marries those two worlds with hypnotic, electronic wonder. Britney sounds like an aquatic goddess, dipping and crooning as synths drop in and out of the mix. It's the closest she's gotten to sounding like Robyn or Grimes, and would be a promising direction for future albums.
17. Coupure Électrique
We end with a French kiss-off. Clocking in at just under two-and-a-half minutes, "Coupure Électrique" is a sparse electroballad in which Britney sings completely in French. Her pronunciation may need some work, but the fact that Britney is taking these sonic risks at this stage of her career revitalizes the excitement around seeing her continue to build an untouchable pop legacy.
A generation of music listeners grew up with Britney Spears. We watched her as the Catholic school girl, the cat-suited femme fatale, the snake charmer, the spy in a flight attendant disguise. She's withstood personal and professional tribulations that made many wonder if she'd burn out or give up. Thankfully, she's done neither, and Glory proves that Britney Spears isn't done carving out her place in music history. It's a triumphant return to form that not only stands on its own as a solid Britney Spears record, but also as one of 2016's most bombastic pop efforts.
Sure, the lyrics are impersonal. Yes, most of the songs are about sex and pleasure. We shouldn't be asking why that's so, we should be asking why not? Why do we assume a woman singing about pleasing a man isn't also trying to please herself? Why do music reviews of pop albums from women desperately search for authenticity and intimacy? Especially when the artist in question has had her most intimate moments invaded to the point of nearly losing her career, and her life. We don't come to Britney Spears for sprawling, radical political statements. From Britney, it's about the persona; we want someone who can collaborate with those who understand her, and create something with polish to soundtrack our nights out, our gym trips, and our relationships.
There's much to appreciate about this album, especially for fans who resigned themselves to accepting Britney Spears as a legacy act and nostalgic piece of their childhood. We're quickly approaching two decades of Britney Spears, and Glory is the perfect album to celebrate where she's been and where she's going.