Welcome to ’99 Rewind, our celebration of 25th anniversaries of the films, TV, and music from 1999. Today, we’re looking back on Britney Spears’ lightning bolt debut …Baby One More Time.
Few pop stars have experienced the cultural shifts that Britney Spears has weathered. She became a star almost instantly with her 1999 debut, …Baby One More Time, as young fans made her into an idol, while pearl-clutching adults bemoaned her provocative image. Then, the media, the culture at large, and her abusive conservatorship all contributed to her public burnout — and so the story goes.
With the graces of time, we can acknowledge the trauma inflicted on Spears for so many years — from her audience, from the media, from her management, from her peers, from her own family. But in doing so, it’s easy to overlook the joy and spirit that made Spears shine in the first place. By her own telling, Spears was determined to have as much fun as possible with her first LP, and …Baby One More Time is perhaps the only album she made when she was actually happy.
There’s ecstatic joy coursing throughout the record. It’s in the undeniable craftsmanship of its title track, which Spears described as “one of those songs you want to hear again and again.” It’s in Spears’ vocal confidence, which spans from a raspy growl to a bright, chipper soprano. It’s even in her ballads — a major feature of …Baby One More Time — which are sung with more maturity than most 18 year-olds can muster. And it’s definitely in “Soda Pop,” a ska-leaning track that sounds like it was co-written by Baha Men.
Given Spears’ upbringing as a child performer and Mouseketeer, it’s a common inference that she never had any agency to begin with. But Spears’ recent memoir The Woman in Me begs to differ. She describes the making of her debut album as “the moment in my life that I had the most passion for music,” characterized by extremely late nights at the studio: “If you knew me then, you wouldn’t hear from me for days. I would stay in the studio as long as I could. If anyone wanted to leave, I’d say, ‘I wasn’t perfect.’”
Her determination was met and matched by Max Martin, whom Spears described as “magic.” Martin’s pop songwriting and production prowess is so meticulous that it feels almost lab-designed; his melodies are puzzle pieces designed to fit exactly as planned. Such a strong emphasis on detail can result in demanding sessions, and considering Spears’ young age, it would have been easy for Martin and his fellow Swedes to dominate the process. Still, Spears recalls the Cherion Studios experience positively, as a major turning point in her artistry. “Max listened to me,” Spears writes in her memoir. “When I said I wanted more R&B in my voice, less straight pop, he knew what I meant and he made it happen.”