Backtracking: Britney Spears’ Debut LP ‘…Baby One More Time’ Turns 20
This is a story about a girl named Britney. Britney Spears to be exact – the Princess of Pop. The living legend has sold nearly 100 million records and helped usher in a new generation of stars. She’s danced with a snake, kissed Madonna, dropped a couple perfumes, contributed several gems to the pop bible and jumped over drama and landed on her feet more times than we can count. And it all started 20 years ago today (January 12) with the release of her debut album …Baby One More Time. At the time, she was a doe-eyed, 17-year-old from Kentwood, Louisiana. But with the LP she laid the groundwork to become one of the biggest pop stars in recent memory. Before we can talk about the album, we need to acknowledge the lead single and title track.
Arriving October 23, 1998 from Sweden by way of Max Martin, it remains a slice of timeless perfection. Opening with a signature three note progression, Spears rapidly comes in searching for a second chance with an ex. “My loneliness is killing me. And I must confess I still believe” she coos. “When I’m not with you I lose my mind. Give me a sign. Hit me baby one more time.” Over the years, it’s gone through a variety of iterations, my favorite being a jazzy rendition from the Onyx Hotel Tour. But the original will forever remain a benchmark against which we compare emerging acts. Of course, the video made it even more iconic. You’re probably familiar. In it, the pop provocateur shimmied down a hallway while dressed in a schoolgirl uniform.
One part vixen, one part ingenue, she captivated the audience with her first of many viral videos. And she cemented her status as One To Watch by simultaneously topping the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 with the album and single. “…Baby One More Time” kicked off a run of mega-successful releases. Next up was “Sometimes.” Here, B-Girl retreated to a more youthful image as she sang about being indecisive and in love. Shot on a pier, the accompanying video helped propel the bop to number 21 on the Hot 100. It may not be shown much love on recent setlists (it’s highly unlikely that it made it onto the now-postponed Domination), but it holds up as a cute moment in Spearstory. Thankfully, the next single – “(You Drive Me) Crazy” – has had more staying power.
“You drive me crazy. I just can’t sleep. I’m so excited. I’m in too deep,” Brit belts over a vibrant production. This one rocketed back into the Top 10. And the accompanying video – a retro-themed delight complete with cute costumes and some impressive dance routines – features a cameo from Hollywood It Girl Melissa Joan Hart. Like “BOMT,” “Crazy” pops up at almost every live show. And 20 years later, it is still guaranteed to get the party started. European fans got a special treat in the form of “Born To Make You Happy.” The wistful anthem hit the top spot in the UK and Ireland, becoming yet another testament to her star power and impressive appeal. As a side note, I can’t mention the song without remembering the gorgeous performance it received during the Dream Within A Dream Tour.
“From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart” closed out the era with one more hit. The tearjerker showcases her emotional range as she laments the end of a relationship. “You promised yourself, but to somebody else. And you made it so perfectly clear. Still I wish you were here,” she earnestly croons on the bridge. For the video, she linked up with adult film director Gregory Dark. Instead of shocking once again with an eye-popping visual in line with her debut, this one introduced a new side of Spears – Actress-ney. In it, she deals with the heartbreak of moving away from her childhood love. Coupled with strong radio support, it was enough to cap up the era with another Top 20 hit. That may have been the end of the singles on the album, but many of the other songs are just as iconic.
“I Will Be There” is a personal favorite. On it, Brit pledges her support to a loved one. “When you need someone, you just turn around. And I will be there.” One listen is bound to spike your serotonin levels if you’re feeling down. “Soda Pop” is the first of what would be many pop oddities that push Spears’ musicality in unexpected directions. This reggae-infused slice of bubblegum is both ridiculous and classic fun. The same could be said for her take on Cher’s “The Beat Goes On,” which closes out the standard edition. And, of course, there’s “E-Mail My Heart,” which has been single-handedly attributed to making email the chief form of human interaction in a new age. “Everyone has been doing emails” since it dropped.
Twenty years later, …Baby One More Time remains one of the best debut albums from a pop act. It set Britney Jean Spears – small-town southern belle – on the trajectory to become the living legend she is today. Before she could utter “it’s Britney, bitch” or drop an anthem like “Toxic” or “Till The World Ends,” she had to set the scene. And thank Godney that she did. Join us in revisiting the LP below!