This post is as much about Britney Spears as it is about Max Martin, the Swedish powerhouse who wrote it and practically every other song from the ’90s that we’ve ever covered on this site (and more than a few that we haven’t). Despite its sudden pushing of me off the cliff into puberty in a similar way to which ‘Toxic’ did for my brother, Spears’ debut and her arrival into the vernacular wasn’t actually intended for her. It’s perhaps one of my favourite music anecdotes that this song was originally written for TLC, who rejected it. Imagine, that couldn’t have been T-Boz or Left Eye on the hook. It’s like a parallel universe. Pop writers are freaking amazing.
Back when she was a teen, Britter’s management label also changed the title to ‘..Baby One More Time’ because apparently US audiences couldn’t delineate between sex and violence in the same way they need people to tell them that their knives are sharp and their coffee is actually hot. Not that it made any difference once the video came out and kids like me started discovering that they were actually carrying functional genitalia and all those schools complained about how she misused the uniform, right? When you think about the aesthetic of this tune, it’s classic Max Martin; Euro-inspired, piano-pop styling with gigantic hip-hop drums and slick bass. In fact, a decade later with the jacked up raves of Avicii and Guetta, not to mention the production style of Calvin Harris, we haven’t actually moved that far from the formula at all. But Spears trumps a French guy with a beard any day of the week.
Martin not only put together the lyrics and arrangement for this hit, he sang backing vocals on it, too. It’s not like he didn’t have practice at the art form; two years before he’d laid down four Backstreet Boys number ones, two for 5ive and *NSync and that little love jam for our feature of last week, Robyn. That Britney sings it is the same coincidence that has Katy Perry doing ‘Firework’ and Rihanna doing ‘Only Girl In the World’, but obviously a voice is a voice, regardless of how good the dude with the keyboards in the background is. Sure, he made a great, memorable and ultimately gold-plated vehicle, but Britney was the one who drove it. It’s her Southern-fried slang on ‘bay-by bay-by’ that draws the listener in, and it’s that dead-on delivery that was probably auto-tuned within an inch of it’s natural life that allows us to forgive her for almost everything she’s done post-2007. Will it stand up in another ten years? Probably not. But that’s precisely why we’re here, in all our splendiferous, archiving glory, to ensure that at the very least, our kids will stumble onto it in some abandoned school corridor of the future..
Britney Spears – ‘…Baby One More Time’