I’ll spare you the detailed chronicle of Britney Spears’s impact on the past two decades of pop music. Brit Brit needs no introduction because we’ve already grown up with her, from sugary Mouseketeer to barefoot at a gas station. The pop star has released a considerable amount of radio hits since her 2007 hiatus, but her current sound has yet to near its original glory (see: '...Baby One More Time,' 'Lucky,' 'Oops!... I Did It Again' or 'Toxic'). Britney tweeted in July that her latest album would be her most personal, so I streamed “Britney Jean” with hopes of taking in a new chapter of Britney history.
I had planned on skirting politics to focus on the music, but let’s face it: 'Work B*tch' is the soundtrack to Fordism’s wet dream. This said, the song that prescribes working your way to your next party in France also has some redeeming qualities, especially for a dancier breed of Britney fan. Pulsating electric percussion and guitar build up into the cut’s first drop. Because it’s first and foremost a dance song, the track that doesn’t follow a noticeable verse-chorus-bridge song structure. Instead, it cycles through beat-heavy electro drops in between short-lived vocal snippets where Britney asks listeners if they desire the luxurious gifts only hard work can buy (“You want a hot body? You want a Bugatti? You want a Maserati?”). Assuming the answer is yes, Britney reminds us that we’d better work (b*tch!) before segueing into each drop. I’m more bothered by the lyrics’ laziness than their negligence of labor theory, but 'Work B*tch' remains a worthy—albeit mindless—dance song.
Britney co-wrote 'Perfume,' a welcome deviation and the first track living up to Britney’s promise of a very personal album. The song recounts a love affair from the other woman’s perspective. It’s reminiscent of tender moments in Britney’s previous albums—think 'Everytime'—but the subject matter’s a little riskier: Britney’s already done the deed, and she hopes her lover’s wife catches her scent on him. 'Perfume' certainly isn’t the most subversive pop song ever written, but it’s at least a few notches naughtier than its high school cognate (Avril’s 'Girlfriend,' maybe?).
'Body Ache' interrupts the slowness for another installment of intense dance beats, this time with more developed and easier to follow verses leading into an uninspired chorus (“I wanna dance 'til my body ache” on repeat). This song is the boring cousin of 'Work B*tch' from the suburbs: it relies on the same dance club tropes without attempting to dilute its genericism with interesting lyrics or song structure.
'Brightest Morning Star' exhibits Britney’s enduring capacity for emotional pop ballads. The song could’ve easily been on '…Baby One More Time,' evoking a ‘90s-esque mood that renders lyrics like “You’re my light when it gets dark…You’re always in my heart” pleasantly sappy. It’s easier to bracket the cheesiness here because this strain of pop sincerity is too novel to dismiss. It’s also refreshing to hear lyrics that don't explicitly address a romantic interest; they’re emotionally heavy for a pop song but versatile enough to reference a close friend or family member.
“Britney Jean” isn't particularly innovative, but it shouldn’t have to be. Britney has given us a handful of pop gems throughout her 15-year music career, and I’m all right with taking the latter half of it with a grain of salt. I much prefer this to a desperate, carelessly executed attempt at rebranding. She’s better than that. And by “that,” I mean Lady Gaga.