Britney loves Rock N Roll, cause it suits her soul.
The Legendary Miss Britney Spears may be the Princess of Pop – and deservedly so – but she has never shied away from experimenting with other genres, whether it be flirting with dancehall on ‘The Hook Up’ or submerging herself into a trance (‘Trip to Your Heart’).
Proving herself to be one of the most versatile superstars of all time thanks to her incomparable talent of manipulating her delivery to suit just about any sound and tempo, she has repeatedly returned to one genre that she hasn’t yet fully made her own: rock.
While casual fans may only be familiar with her cover of The Arrows’ ‘I Love Rock ’n’ Roll’, the die-hards know that some of her fiercest moments – and finest vocal performances – have come when there’s a little more gee-tar than usual.
Back in an early pre-Glory interview in 2014, Britney revealed that she had a burning desire to delve further into the rock field, saying: “Even if it’s just […] go take a left lane into rock, or rock-pop.”
What came of Glory was a little different. The brilliant album plays with a lot of different sounds, from R&B to EDM, although the early intentions can still be heard on ‘Just Like Me’, ‘Liar’ and ‘Do You Wanna Come Over?’, to name a few. With acoustic and electric guitars used to build up songs, the rock-ier influence is certainly present but clearly took a backseat as the record took shape.
Now, of course, rock doesn’t simply equate to guitars being present, as some of her most badass tracks lean more to rock-pop while actually being electronic, like the massively underrated (and unofficial ‘Bridesmaids’ theme) ‘I’ve Just Begun (Having My Fun)’.
There’s a certain kinda energy that Britney gives on these ‘edgier’ songs – so to speak – that perhaps explains why she’s so into it. When you think back to the moments she’s taken a left turn before, particularly on tour, it’s more often than not been to bring out the rock chick inside.
Whether it be the incredible, **** visual interlude from The Circus Starring Britney Spears tour set to Marilyn Manson’s ‘Sweet Dreams’, the playful, rocked-up ‘…Baby’ / ’*******’ medley on the Femme Fatale Tour or even the inclusion of ‘I Love Rock ’n’ Roll’ for that iconic hair-flipping-on-a-massive-guitar moment during her jaw-dropping Billboard Music Awards performance, it’s clear that she loves it.
To go back to her first explicit foray into rock-pop, we must discuss her epic, sultry cover of ‘I Love Rock ’n’ Roll’. While first released by The Arrows, Britney was inspired by Joan Jett’s own cover of the track and how it transformed the song into an empowering anthem for women.
When the song dropped in 2002, our pop queen explained her affinity with the song, saying: “I sing that song all the time. It just made sense for me to do that.”
“I just love the song, and I love Joan Jett. It’s a very girl-empowering song,” she elaborated. “I just wanted to do it, and so I did.” And so she did, indeed.
Britney absolutely killed the track and the accompanying video was one of the first glimpses of her unapologetic, no-*****-given attitude as she smashed up guitars, gyrated on a motor cycle and generally slayed with her natural charisma and fiery kick. Licking oil off the ground? We see you, girl!
Taking a break from rock-inspired sounds on her fourth album ‘In The Zone’, it returned when Brit took the reigns and charged ahead with recording while on the road performing The Onyx Hotel Tour in 2004, which birthed some of her heavier moments.
Near the end of that year, a combination of excessive tabloid fodder and overprotective handlers had become too much for our queen, who claimed her independence with an emancipatory cover of Bobby Brown’s ‘My Prerogative’. Britney enlisted Bloodshy & Avant for her truly phenomenal cover, making it a grittier, electronic banger with electric guitar-sounding synthesisers and drums.
Even with the strong Bollywood influence, it’s a prime example of Rockney. She knew it too – the photo used for the artwork was taken from the photo shoot of the ‘I Love Rock ’n’ Roll’ music video.
Fans were treated to two major rock star moments on her 2009 tour, The Circus Starring Britney Spears, which was her first major tour in five years. Commonly referred to as the comeback tour, it was really the first live insight into her creativity after years of her narrative being controlled by the relentless media, who regurgitated her every single move from whichever angle sold them the most copies.
It was refreshing, then, to see the aforementioned ‘Sweet Dreams’ interlude displayed across the screens of the massive 360 stage. Writhing around to the sound of Marilyn Manson, the choice was absolutely genius, with Britney indirectly addressing the media that desperately tore her down.
With the haunting voice repeating “Everybody’s lookin’ for something” over a thumping bassline, she charges round a scene of masqueraded party-goers as if to realise the chaotic *** party-attending reputation they had dreamt up for her in the years before. By the time the build-up explodes, she’s lip syncing along to the pointed lyrics of “Some of them want to use you / Some of them want to be used by you / Some of them want to abuse you.” Honestly? Holy ****.
Then, halfway through the massively successful world tour, B-Girl decided to add a new song to the set list, and fans were massively surprised when it was a gutsy, fearless and oh-so-pissed-off cover of Alanis Morisette’s hit ‘You Oughta Know’.
In vein of ‘My Prerogative’ and the ‘Sweet Dreams’ interlude, ‘You Oughta Know’ was an extremely honest choice that directly addressed her personal life in ways that don’t happen very often in her discography.
Although she’d filed for divorce from Kevin Federline almost three years prior at that point, legal matters like custody agreements and spousal support were ongoing and always guessed about in the media. She may have addressed her pain on the heartbreaking-yet-light as a feather Blackout closer ‘Why Should I Be Sad’ but this cover was the first time she truly showed her anger. This choice was no ‘thank u, next’, it was the sound of a woman scorned.
“And I’m here, to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away
It’s not fair, to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me
You, you, you oughta know”
With every live performance of the track, Britney’s energy was palpable, even when watching it on YouTube via Blackberry. The song allowed her to say everything she wanted to shout out, while doing some rock star cosplay with a fierce bikini and denim cut-off.
These three moments are among her best ever because she was in control, in her element, being fierce as **** and equally vulnerable. She seems more comfortable getting personal when she can scream and groan over guitars, and we’re all here for it.
The same vulnerability came through on other notable ‘rock-pop’ moments including ‘He About to Lose Me’ and – the single that never was – ‘Unusual You’. Across Circus and Femme Fatale, she allowed herself to unleash her inner rock star more than usual, with Circus also including the super-fun ‘Rock Boy’ and ‘Rock Me In’.
While these songs were still glossed over with a pop sheen, Britney went all in to live out her Rocker Fantasy (available exclusively at Kohl’s) on the hugely under-appreciated ‘Don’t Keep Me Waiting’. A bonus track on 2011’s Femme Fatale, she enlisted the help of Blink 182’s drummer Travis Barker for the punchy, raw track, on which she belts out over increasingly-urgent production that comes to a climatic close.
Producer Darkchild commented that the track was outside of both his and Britney’s norms at the time but the risk paid off. Not only does the song absolutely slap but it made it to the final album, proving that she must’ve really loved it. For a whole album to be made up of songs with such stamina could be a little overwhelming and – obviously – more monotonous than what we’re used to, as every Britney album is eclectic when it comes to the sound, but when she’s got it in her – why not give us more?
At the peak of her musical experimentation between 2004 and 2006, Britney’s deep dive into electronica retrospectively seems to have been her carving her own lane in the rock-pop realm.
Whether she’s getting real or simply having fun on tracks like ’Hard to Forget Ya’ and ‘Do Somethin’’, it’s evident that something about the rock world liberates our pop princess and we fully support B10 to have more of this.
Also, B, while you’re at the studio, do you mind knocking out a studio version of ‘You Oughta Know’?