I’m not sure I can convey the loathing I felt towards Britney Spears when she first debuted. I hated both her music, the singles of which were catchy enough they were hard to ignore, and what she represented: manufactured pop. I told myself she was a puppet. In 1998 and 1999 it felt like we were being inundated by teen puppets, especially for teenage boys who listened to classic rock and were starting to discover prog rock. To me, not only were her songs inane and annoyingly catchy, she was a symbol for how much had horribly declined from the classic stuff made before I was born. There was one other thing: she was marketed extremely well and hormone-dominated boys like me couldn’t stop watching her videos, especially for the title track (obviously). I am a few months older than Britney, by the way, so I don’t feel too icky about this.
Time and age have dulled my antipathy to manufactured pop. It is a thing that exists and will likely always exist to some extent, even with the internet. I tend to respect the stuff more when the singer has at least some creative input and agency, but I no longer dismiss most of it as trash that nobody should listen to. I get why people like it. I don’t, but whatever floats your boat.
This is definitely much better than I thought it would be. It’s front-loaded, though, so at least some of that has to do with hearing three songs I know right off the bat and thinking “Oh, no filler so far.” It definitely goes downhill after the three biggest hits, but it’s mostly catchy.
There is one egregious misstep in “Soda Pop.” If a 17 year old white girl released that song today we’d have a long internet conversation about whether or not she should or could. Whether or not it’s problematic, it doesn’t work – Britney isn’t that kind of singer.
The rest of it is suitably inane, no song more so than “E-Email My Heart,” which definitely describes my state of mind in 1997-98, when I thought email would somehow rescue me from my inability to talk to girls. I guess the best thing I can say for it is that it captures some degree of teen silliness around emerging technology. But it is dumb.
This is not music to stimulate your brain. But it is often very well made, it doesn’t sound too dated to my ears, and it is much, much less awful than I imagined it when I first contemplated the idea of listening to it on its anniversary.