Britney Spears changed the face of pop music with Baby One More Time, and our lives were never the same.
I can still hear the clear, shiny plastic crinkle as 10-year-old me furiously worked to free Baby One More Time from its confines. Little did I know that the album would be a gateway drug to my addiction for pop music, and impact my and countless others’ lives for the better.
BOMT debuted January 12, 1999. It became a global sensation preceding the digital era –– before artists could Tweet a link to millions of people and before MySpace forced you to rate your friends from most important to least. If “Email My Heart” isn’t an obvious indication of how the era relates to present day, you’re stuck in the past like me.
Brit’s fellow pop peers like *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys were already making a splash by the time our fav skipped onto the scene, but her iconic lead single changed. the. game. I bet you can’t calculate how many times you’ve heard the three-note piano intro in your life, and to think it was almost a TLC track. Yup, Max Martin originally crafted it with the girl-group in mind.
“I was like: ‘I like the song but do I think it’s a hit? Do I think it’s TLC?'” T-Boz told MTV in 2013. “Was I going to say ‘Hit me baby one more time’? Hell no!”
The track was then given to Robyn, who also passed before it ultimately fell into Britney’s lap. “I was pretty young at the time, so I was nervous,” B said at the time, “but he was so nice and put me right at ease.”
The single was one thing, but the music video took on a life of its own. As you know, the Nigel ****-directed clip was Britney’s idea.
“They had this really bizarre video idea, this animated Power Ranger-y thing. I said, ‘This is not right. If you want me to reach four-year-olds, then OK, but if you want me to reach my age group …’ So I had this idea where we’re in school and bored out of our minds.”
The naughty but nice schoolgirl uniform was also Brit’s creation.
“When we’d decided we were shooting in a school the stylist asked me, ‘What do you think Britney should wear?’ And I replied: ‘Jeans, sneakers, T-shirt,'” director Nigel **** stated on his website. “Britney’s comment was: ‘Don’t you think I should be wearing a school uniform?'”
The album sounded unlike anything else at the time, and that still holds true today. 15-year-old Britney had not yet experienced true love, but she sings about having it, and losing it, throughout the record.
On “(You Drive Me) Crazy,” tinny cans jingle incessantly leading into Brit’s first verse about puppy love. If you’ve fallen in love before, you can relate to thinking about someone all hours of the night. It’s illogical, and the best pop songs are. On “From The Bottom of my Broken Heart,” Britney hopelessly sings about her first love, her true love, from the first kisses to the very last rose. “Deep In My Heart” is a sugary sweet ode to loving someone forever no matter how much time and distance separates them. “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” is another instance where the teen idol croons about an unwavering pledge to romance. It includes some gorgeous, otherworldly lyrics that could’ve should’ve easily branded the teen idol as Britney Shakespeares. “There’ll come a day when the world stops turning / And stars will fall from the sky / But this feeling will last / When the sun stops burning / All I wanna do is love you / Till the end of time.” Tell me that’s not pop poetry perfection.
There are two songs in particular that aged well in terms of Britney Spears™. “Born To Make You Happy” is actually quite melancholy considering how Britney’s fame reached stratospheric heights then sent her personal life plunging to unimaginable depths. “I’m sitting here alone up in my room,” she sings. Knowing 20-years-later Britney far prefers to hide out at home than venture into the real world where people, fans, staff, seemingly always want something from her. “I was born to make you happy.”
The other dark horse is “Sometimes.” The track helped solidify Britney as a bonafide pop star rather than a one-hit wonder like so many emerging artists became in the early 2000s. The lyrics are more introspective than she’d probably like to admit. “Sometimes I run / Sometimes I hide / Sometimes I’m scared of you,” she sings. On the surface, it’s an innocent love song, but it’s our first admission that Britney, despite posing on the cover of Rolling Stone in lingerie with a Teletubby or commenting on her virginity, is a very, very shy person. “It’s not that I don’t wanna stay / But every time you come too close I move away.”
“I Will Still Love You,” featuring Don Philip, is one of my personal favorites, though I can’t unsee Britney’s awkward X Factor encounter with Don every time I hear it, but it’s another gleaming love song, only this time Britney sings directly to her significant other. They eventually melt their vocals together before Britney steals back the spotlight with her signature sky-high ad-libs.
However, BOMT isn’t exclusively about romance. There are a couple of guilty-pleasure bops that make no real sense, and we prefer them that way. “Soda Pop” is a cult classic because WHAT THE HELL? “Email My Heart…” same thing. It was almost as if Max Martin remembered ‘oh yeah, we’ve already written 10 love songs so here’s a tune about a fizzy drink and that weird worldwide web thing people are doing now.’
Baby One More Time is 20-years old, and it changed how we view pop music then, and set a standard for how we listen to pop music now. It’s hard to imagine a world where Ariana Grande or Miley Cyrus could exist if it wasn’t for someone like Britney, who endured the swirling black hole of superstardom and came out triumphant. She’s a survivor, and Baby One More Time was the catalyst to teach us, the listeners, the ride-or-die ~I don’t care if Britney retires forever as long as she’s happy~ fans, that pop music is a sacred and precious gift, and thus so is Britney Spears.
“Can you believe that this album was released 20 years ago today??!! I can’t,” Britney said on the day Baby turned 20. “It’s definitely been the journey of a lifetimes, full of ups and downs, but I’m grateful for every single moment of it all. Getting to know you all over the years has been such an incredible experience, and has made this all worth it. Thank you for your support from 20 years ago, all the way to today. I am blessed.”
Thank you, too, Britney. You weren’t born to make us happy, but you did anyway.