Britney Spears’ Seminal ‘Blackout’ Turns 10: Backtracking

Mike Nied | October 25, 2017 4:58 am
Britney's 'In The Zone' Turns 10: Backtracking
We look back on Britney Spears' iconic 2003 LP, 'In The Zone.'

“It’s Britney, bitch.” With those three words, Britney Spears introduced “Gimme More” and kickstarted what would become her most iconic era. Released 10 years ago today (October 25), Blackout cemented the hitmaker’s status as a living legend and helped shape the sound of pop music for the following decade.

2007 was a challenging year for the pop princess. After announcing her split from Kevin Federline, the new mother spiraled into the darkest depths of a Hollywood nightmare. At a time when her life was defined by utter chaos, Blackout offered an escape. Amidst frenzied paparazzi car chases, late nights in the club, crotch shots, botched performances and custody disputes, the project is all about letting off some steam, preferably with a drink in hand.

Britney firmly moved from the precipice between girlhood and womanhood on 2003’s In The Zone. This time around, she transitioned from the sexually-mature woman to a wildly-rebellious sexpot. The album was tailored for dancing and took on a sheen of “something more urban” than her standard pop.

Although listed as the executive producer, Britney is shockingly absent in the credits. After co-writing on the majority of her previous record, she took a more hands-off approach this time around. Instead, she relied on a bevy of pop’s most reliable to deliver surefire hits.

Danja, a protege of Timbaland’s, was one of the most successful to join the team. He delivered a handful of hip-hop laced bangers that would build out the core of the project. It is almost fitting that he played this role. A year prior, his mentor did the same for Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds. The album redefined his career after the organic soul of the former boy bander’s solo debut.

Now, the rising producer had the opportunity to helm a project that was would prove to be equally monumental. He was the driving force behind “Gimme More,” which represented a plunge into dark pop. In the accompanying music video, the siren bounced around a stripper pole under menacing neon lights. Compared to her normally pristine visuals, the Jake Sarfaty-directed release was less refined and sparked countless rumors about Brit’s frame of mind.

Those rumors boiled over following a performance at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards. Dressed in bedazzled black lingerie, the ever-reliable artist missed the mark on stage for the first time in her career. As she stumbled offstage headlines were already whirling; she was torn to shreds for the amateur number. Despite the lack of strong promo, the track peaked in the top three of the Billboard Hot 100. The world may have been ready to tear down Britney for her outlandish behavior, but they clearly were not ready to turn her off on the radio.

The project’s second single, “Piece Of Me,” offered a chance to respond to the media furor. Reuniting with Bloodshy & Avant, the masterminds behind “Toxic,” she delivered a warning to the press. “I’m Miss American Dream since I was 17,” she growled on the opening line before bemoaning the media’s obsession with her. “Now are you sure you want a piece of me?” she asked threateningly. The single would become the second top 20 hit from the project.

The track is a testimony to how prolific Spears’ career was at the time. Thanks to the endless headlines, anyone could write convincingly about her life. The accompanying music video was shot by Wayne Isham. In it, she tantalized a horde of photogs as they stalked her for their next stories.

Britney returned to the dance floor for the project’s third single, “Break the Ice.” On it she acknowledged her three year hiatus between projects and delivered a certifiable bop as a way to make it up to her fans. “It’s been a while. I know I shouldn’t have kept you waiting, but I’m here now,” she promised. Danja’s production swirls underneath her panted moans and builds up for one final racing crescendo before fading out.

An animated music video accompanied the release and revisited the super spy from her “Toxic” visual. Directed by Robert Hales, it sends the starlet on an action packed adventure as she battles a horde of bad guys and foils a plot to unleash a clone army on the world. The fear of being cloned became a recurring theme, one that she had visited previously on a version of buzz track “Mona Lisa.”

As her personal life continued to spiral to new lows, the album’s campaign was cut short ahead of plans to release “Radar.” Another production courtesy of Bloodshy & Avant, the song was an instant fan-favorite upon release. One of the most straightforward pop anthems on the collection of club cuts, it sees Britney lusting after a potential fling.

Although the era came to abrupt end, there were countless tracks on the album that could have become solid hits, “Get Naked (I Got A Plan)” being just one. The lascivious anthem verges on explicit but is expertly produced as Britney desperately pleads for a good time over a pulsing production. “If I get on top you’re gonna lose your mind,” she wantonly vows between throaty moans and purred commands to “get naked” and “take it off.” “Freakshow” is another potential hit, and is notable for incorporating dubstep’s darkly throbbing bassline a full four years before Britney mainstreamed the trend on “Hold It Against Me.”

Although the album was defined by frenzied lust and hip-hop productions, a couple quieter moments made the cut. “Heaven On Earth” is a tender, disco-tinged ode to a lover. “Your lips, you’re fine, you’re heaven on earth,” she cooed after tenderly counting down all her lover’s qualities.

Pharrell Williams contributed the LP’s closing track, which offered one of the most unfettered glimpses into the pop star’s frame of mind. It explored her tendency to fall for the bad boy, and how her latest left her damaged. “Britney, let’s go,” Pharrell urged as the standard edition of the album ended with one of the only somber moments.

And move on she did.

Just over a year after Blackout’s release, Britney experienced another rebirth on Circus. The difference between the two albums, released within 14 months of one another, is evident at a glance. On the cover of first, the raven-haired club maven is all sharp angles and jarring colors. On the latter she is serene.

Dressed in a wispy, blush costume and with her hair teased into luscious blond curls, she was the picture of innocence once again. On “Blur,” one of two contributions from Danja, she seemed to acknowledge the drastic shift between eras. Over a sparse production, she lamented a night of questionable decisions. “Can’t remember what I did last night. Everything, everything is still a blur,” she dispiritedly crooned.

The lyrics relate almost perfectly to her dangerous descent and subsequent return to form. Like any hungover princess, she returned to the club the morning after to blearily reclaim her dignity and move on with life.

Although the new album seemed a stark departure from her darkest days, Britney has never let go of her moody opus. 2009’s The Circus Starring Britney Spears Tour featured a set list heavily lifted from the project, and the album provided countless hits for future tours. Spears told Fader “Freakshow” is one of her favorite tracks to never be released as a single, and she still performs it in Vegas today.

Ten years later, Blackout remains one of the most defining pop releases in the new millennium. Although it was her first album to miss the top spot on the Billboard 200 Albums chart, it has lived on in infamy and has appeared near the top of “best of” lists for the last 10 years.

Recently, Britney has teased fans to a frenzy by promising to release another record of a similar quality. She came close with 2016’s Glory, the deluxe edition of which closed out with a track called “Coupure Electrique.” Roughly translated from French, it means blackout. Hopefully her forthcoming album, coming as she prepares to celebrate 20 years in the industry, recaptures even more of the frenetic energy of her career-defining album.

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