Backtracking: Britney Spears’ ‘In The Zone’ Turns 15

Britney Spears solidified her status as a member of pop’s Royal Family with the unveiling of In The Zone in 2003. Five years into her career, the Pop Princess went through yet another creative rebirth. After ascertaining that she was no longer a girl but not quite yet a woman on 2001’s self-titled effort, here she made it clear that she was all grown up. Embracing her sexuality and liberating herself from others’ expectations, Brit soared to the top of the Billboard 200. The project became her fourth consecutive album to debut at the top spot on the chart, and it birthed a trio of Top 40 singles, starting with “Me Against The Music.”

After making out with Madonna at the Video Music Awards, Brit secured a coveted duet with the Queen of Pop. The duo linked up over a racing beat to exchange some flirty banter on the album’s lead single. They also reunited in the accompanying music video. Featuring some of the “…Baby One More Time” icon’s most intricately choreographed routines, it served as the ultimate promotional tool. After delivering a couple of (solo) performances, including one utterly brilliant set at the 2003 American Music Awards, the anthem landed at the number 35 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

It was a respectable showing. However, history was made with the unveiling of “Toxic” as the LP’s second single. Produced by Bloodshy & Avant, the beguiling bop became Spears’ first Top 10 hit since 2000’s “Oops!…I Did It Again.” It also netted the hitmaker her first Grammy after winning in the Best Dance Recording category in 2005. Linking up with director Joseph Kahn for the video, Brit played the role of the ultimate femme fatale. Traveling by plane and motorcycle and effortlessly executing a backhand spring, she extracted revenge on a cheating lover. But the most iconic moment comes when she writhes across the screen covered in glittering diamonds. Legends only.

Her hot streak continued with the selection of “Everytime” as the project’s third single. After heading to the club on her last two releases, Britney slowed things down with her co-written ballad. Over feather-light strings and restrained keys, she offers a heartfelt apology to a former lover. “I may have made it rain. Please forgive me,” she pleads. “My weakness caused you pain. And this song’s my sorry. At night I pray that soon your face will fade away.” Considered by many to be her best ballad, the earnest track landed at the number 15 spot on the Hot 100. It also received several incredible performances, most notably on the Onyx Hotel Tour.

Disaster struck on the video shoot for the album’s fourth single, “Outrageous.” After slipping while executing a choreographed routine on a slick street, the hitmaker was forced to undergo surgery for a knee injury. This brought a premature close to the era and its accompanying tour. However, there was still a wealth of potential singles on the tracklist. The erotic “Breathe On Me” was an obvious choice. “Oh, it’s so hot, and I need some air. And boy, don’t stop cause I’m halfway there,” she lustily commands over throbbing beats.

Everything builds to the chorus, where she purrs out one final request. “We don’t need to touch, just breathe on me.” The hidden gem remains a fan favorite and still gets plenty of love from B on tour to this day. As does “Touch Of My Hand,” an aural ode to self-love. On an album billed as her most mature to date, no song is more self-aware than the latter. “I’m not ashamed of the things that I dream. I find myself flirting with the verge of obscene,” she coos. “Into the unknown, I will be bold. I’m going to places I can be out of control.”

Other highlights included the equally sensual “Showdown.” and the Ying Yang Twins-assisted “(I Got That) Boom Boom.” The latter delivers something more urban as Brit and her collaborators get crunk over a fierce beat. Produced by The Matrix, “Shadow” also deserved so much more. The album’s second ballad often gets forgotten when compared to “Everytime,” but in reality it is just as deserving of love. There is also no discounting “The Hook Up,” which received an awe-inducing performance on The Onyx Hotel Tour. The dancehall-inspired banger could have sent Brit’s career in an entirely different trajectory had it been released as an official single.

Fifteen years later, In The Zone remains a highlight in Spears’ discography. The album put her one step further on the path to superstardom and birthed some of her most beloved material. Light up a vanilla candle and press play on the opus below to celebrate its anniversary!

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