Britney Spears’ ‘Circus’ Turns Five: Stan & Deliver

Bradley Stern | December 2, 2013 6:00 am

Stan & Deliver gives fans an opportunity to shake, cry and sing the praises of the albums they love from their faves.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that Circus even happened. Only one year prior, things were looking undeniably grim in Britney‘s world — nightly paparazzi chases, the hair salon, that VMA performance, pink wigs, tabloids, flash bulbs, sobbing, hospitalization. And yet, there we were, one year later: The Grand Return of Britney Spears.

Circus is sometimes considered one of Britney’s “safer” eras, in that the music wasn’t quite as cutting-edge and club-ready as Blackout or In The Zone. In fact, it was an album of returns: A return to Balladney with tracks like “Out From Under,” “Unusual You” and her super-saccharine ode to her children, “My Baby.” (Or, as it’s known in some circles, “Tiny Hands.”) It was a return to the ever-reliable Max Martin (“If U Seek Amy”). It was a return to the stage at the VMAs, stepping out and looking (drop dead) beautiful with a confident smile and snagging awards. And yes, it was a return to “Radar” too.

While it’s probably not going to go down as Britney’s greatest record to date, Circus is probably her most underappreciated effort: The album’s got an incredibly diverse array of sounds and styles — from #SomethingMoreUrban (“Kill The Lights”), to some trippy hangover delirium (“Blur”), to dance floor massacres (“Mannequin”) to all-out spacey, funky insanity (“Mmm Papi”). In the end, though, it all came together to form one defining statement: Britney’s back and better than ever, bitch.

To celebrate the album’s 5th birthday (which is also Britney’s birthday — HAPPY BIRTHDAY, B!), we’re taking a look back with the help of some Brit Brit stans and fellow writers. (And while you’re at it, make sure to check out our Blackout Stan & Deliver, as well as our In The Zone 10th Anniversary Backtracking.

Are you ready to return to the Circus?

Name: Conor Behan | Location: Ireland | Twitter: @platinumjones

1. Womanizer

Britney’s sixth album Circus had a lot riding on it. Previous release Blackout was the strongest of her career but was marred by Spears’ much publicized personal struggles. With Circus she was presented as blonde, brash and back in control of her “girl next door who is sexy but ultimately a goofball” image.

After the dark pulsating R&B electro pop of Blackout singles like “Gimme More” and “Piece of Me” it was interesting to wonder what Team Spears would deliver to kick off her return. Thankfully the result was something of a marvel. Womanizer still sounds utterly frenetic and intense today, a big whirring slab of robo-pop with a chorus that moves at a frightening pace.

“Womanizer” opens with a juddering synth line that sounds like a siren before Britney intones with plenty of menace about a no good lover. There’s plenty of repetition of the songs title in the pre-chorus build but it’s so over the top that it just adds to the song’s gleeful disregard for typical pop structure. Then follows that bold hook telling the track’s titular cad that the jig is up. Anthems of women booting out a cheating partner litter pop but few of them have the kind of deadpan disses and barbs that Spears drops throughout.

“Womanizer” rightly became an enormous hit, easily sitting alongside her other memorable singles as something of a signature tune and was covered by everyone by Girls Aloud, Lily Allen and Franz Ferdinand which only cemented it’s status as one of the year’s biggest pop songs.

As a song too it fits the pattern of Spears unleashing suitably weird pop numbers that both knock out her contemporaries and place her one step ahead of them musically (think Toxic’s ingenious production, I’m A Slave 4 U’s R&B gone wonky groove or Gimme More’s suggestive darkness). Womanizer’s relenteless tempo but clever structure, it’s delivery and sense of humour and pin-sharp production still sound great today. In fact it’s a bolder listen than some of the dance cuts on Britney Jean (Sigh) and will likely age a lot better.

Alongside the song itself the music video was an important piece of Britney iconography that sealed the song’s fate as crucial to her back catalogue. A sequel to her clip for “Toxic,” Spears reunited with that video’s director Joseph Kahn for a visual that showed Britney was back as someone who could glower for the cameras and deliver a performance of note, something that was in question after the Blackout era.

Spears rocks a number of wigs, displays plenty of humour and flashes a killer body throughout while providing plenty of signature Britney hairflips. It moves at as breakneck a pace as the song itself and it’s a reminder of how Britney at her best utilizes the music video like only a true pop icon can. It’s sexy, smart and packed with visual treats.

“Womanizer” saw Britney regain her rightful place as a hitmaker and performer with plenty of punch and while the Circus album doesn’t always hit the mark, there’s little doubt that its lead single got everything right.