Sunday, June 15, 2014

Britney Spears - Blackout (2007)

When I was a child, my father had a job in Moscow, and he would bring back CDs every time he came home. One time, he brought me a Britney Spears album, ...Baby One More Time, and since then, I have been hooked. Britney was my idol back then (don’t laugh!) and, in a way, symbolizes my childhood. I suppose that’s really the main reason why I like her so much – she reminds me of the times I was a happy, carefree child, dancing in the living room to Oops!... I Did It Again or dramatically singing along to Lucky. As I got older, I started to like her music less and less – it either got worse (highly likely; don’t even get me started on her 2013 release Britney Jean) or my taste just changed.
That being said, I still like some of her songs and albums partly because of the memories I associate with them. There is one Britney album, though, that I absolutely love and have loved since it was first released. It is called Blackout and is Britney’s fifth studio album, released in 2007. It is known as her comeback album as her previous release, In The Zone, had been in 2003. I don’t expect you to be aware of all things Britney, so I will shed some light on why Blackout can be called her comeback album and why it’s so important.
In October 2004, Britney married American dancer Kevin Federline, who she had met only three months before. Spears took a career break to start a family, and went on to give birth to two sons – Sean Preston and Jayden James. Britney and Kevin couldn’t make their marriage work, so they ended up getting a divorce in 2007. After that, things started going downhill for Britney, who checked herself in and out of rehab, lost custody of her children, and generally just went crazy. In February 2007, she shaved her head with electric clippers while laughing hysterically at a hair salon in Los Angeles, and got several random tattoos done in one session. This was naturally all over the news, but for those of you who still don’t know what I’m talking about, here is a reminder: 
So, obviously, Blackout received some serious attention from the media when it was released in October of that same, hectic year. The album consists of 12 songs and features producers such as Danja, Jim Beanz, Bloodshy & Avant, and The Neptunes, among others. With names like these, you can’t really go wrong. The result is a collection of futuristic electropop – way ahead of it’s time. Every song is upbeat, catchy, and gets stuck in your head for ages. It was unlike anything else I’d heard before, and definitely unlike anything Britney had previously released.
Normally, you would expect to find a couple ballads on a Britney album, maybe something about her children, and a few love songs thrown in there, too, but that’s not the case with Blackout. It opens with Gimme More, and when you hear Spears say (which some call the most important line in pop culture) “It’s Britney, bitch!”, you immediately know that this is not going to be a typical Britney album. The song is catchy, it’s fun, and shocking too, letting the listener know that Britney is no longer all sugary sweet, and can be seductive too. But Gimme More is just the beginning of a very unusual Britney album.

The next song on the album, called Piece Of Me, is one about the media, with lines such as “I'm Miss bad media karma / another day, another drama” and “I'm Mrs. 'You want a piece of me?' / tryin' and pissin' me off / well get in line with the paparazzi / who's flippin' me off”. It has kind of a euro pop sound, which wasn’t that popular at the time. Radar has that same euro pop sound, but it’s spiced up a bit with bone-chilling synths and vocals that are a bit robotic and stretched out so much that they almost sound unnatural.

The vocals are the only real issue of the album for me. While I like how every song sounds, it can’t be denied that the person singing doesn’t really sound like my beloved Britney Spears. Her voice is constantly clipped, splintered, chopped; just generally interrupted and, of course, drenched in autotune. The result is that she, at times, sounds like a robot, and not like herself at all. Britney has one of the most recognizable voices in the music industry, and therefore it’s kind of scary how different she sounds on Blackout. On Freakshow, her vocals are messed with so much that she even sounds like a man at one point (but maybe that’s what the producers were going for?).
To be honest, though, the fact that Britney’s voice is altered so much on Blackout isn’t the worst thing in the world, because it doesn’t sound bad; besides, it kind of fits the vibe of the album. It is worth noting, though, that on some songs, Britney’s voice almost disappears just because you end up paying more attention to the different, exciting production and not so much on what the singer is saying. Heaven On Earth is one of those, a trance track that just sounds so interesting that I can’t be bothered to pay attention to the lyrics (even though they are quite sweet! It’s a love song... Obviously.)
Get Naked (I Got A Plan) has an amazing sound, too, and is probably the best song on the entire album. It’s dark, sexy, mysterious, throbbing, seductive, and even a bit frightening: you just don’t expect Britney to release a song in which she sings “Baby, I’m a freak and I don’t really give a damn / I’m crazy as a motherfucker, bet that on your man”. Basically, it’s a song about sex (like Perfect Lover towards the end of Blackout). Floyd “Danja” Hills, the man behind the song and most of the material on the album, sings the chorus of the song with his crazily stretched out vocals, making him sound a bit creepy, but it works in this case. Get Naked has so much going on at once that it can be overwhelming, but it sounds great nonetheless. It’s probably my favorite Britney song to this day just because it’s so different from her other stuff. 

Another track that truly stands out on the album is Freakshow, which, like Piece Of Me, is about the media, making fun of the paparazzi and everyone else following and criticizing Spears. That is not what makes it different from the rest, though: the song introduces elements of dubstep, and Britney isn’t really singing on the track, but rather rapping. It’s bizarre and I didn’t like it at first, but have grown to love the song over time. Freakshow is something you would dance to at a club. 

The very last song on Blackout is produced by The Neptunes and titled Why Should I Be Sad? In the song, Britney discusses her relationship with Kevin Federline and admits she was a complete fool for being so committed: “My friends said you would play me / but I just said they're crazy / while I was crying, praying / was it true?” It’s essentially a kiss-off to Federline, as Britney realizes she doesn’t need to get mad or feel sad over what happened, and is ready to move on. Perhaps at the time the song symbolized that Britney was, in general, ready to pull herself together and get out of the deep hole she had dug for herself. Therefore, it fits the album well and is a nice way to end Blackout.

Blackout is considered to be Britney’s best work to date, with many people expecting something like this from her again. It sounds so different from anything else she has ever done, and is the first time she actually voiced any real opinions about her personal life. I will always be able to play the album from beginning to end without skipping a track – even now, seven years after it’s release, it sounds like something that came out a few months ago. The sound of it just doesn’t get old. Even if you don’t like Britney Spears and think I’m out of my mind for praising something she put out, I suggest giving Blackout a listen anyway.

No comments: