So we’re fairly deep in 2016 at this point, and that means this is potentially another year in which I could finally finish my epic chronicling of America’s best-selling albums. But considering I’ve got 20 more after this one and I only put out 8 of these during all of last year, well… I guess there’s always 2017.
Album: …Baby One More Time
Artist: Britney Spears
Release Date: January 12, 1999
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 14 million
Why Was This Popular?
Because America Loves Confident Children
Britney Spears is 34 years old. Just think about that for a little bit. This is a woman who’s put out 6 number one albums, has sold over 100 million records world-wide, has had multiple VMA controversies (and a lifetime achievement award), went through several high-profile break-ups (including two much-publicized marriages), has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, and has seemingly already started the “Vegas workhorse” period of her career. And she’s about the age where most people of my generation expect things to finally start going well after years of hard work and putting in your dues.
If there were any dues that Britney Spears had to put in, I suppose it would’ve been her years at The Mickey Mouse Club, but if we’re being real, Britney Spears didn’t need to put in her dues because she had — for lack of a better term — it. You know what I’m talking about. That star quality that us mere mortals do not possess, and are then forced to marvel at the natural charisma of someone like Miss Spears. Because I think that’s what makes a star like Britney Spears — not necessarily talent or vision, but a kind of superficial confidence that is captivating to behold, even if you’re not entirely sure why.
This is what I think made Britney Spears such a perfect exemplification of pop music in the earliest part of the 21st century. She wasn’t by any means a great artist (she never had a ton of input on the writing of her songs or the production), but a lot of people wanted to watch her and listen to her make mouth noises, just instinctively. This of course is the kind of once-in-a-generation quality that you’re born with or you’re not, and it seems clear to me that someone like Britney Spears was going to arrive at some kind of superstardom eventually. It’s just that she managed to land in the hands of the right music business-type people during a time when things were moving towards a shallower, more teen-based kind of pop music that needed someone with the kind of confidence and sex appeal of this young performer. Which is to say that yes, Spears always contained these elements to become a superstar, but I feel like every superstar also has to have that element of “right place at the right time”.
This right place at the right time was the then-pop juggernaut of a label, Jive Records, which had just put out debut albums by a pair of little known-groups called ‘NSYNC and The Backstreet Boys, and apparently were interested in doing something that didn’t contain so many dudes. Much like those groups, you could attribute a lot of Spears’ success to master pop songwriter/producers like Max Martin, Denniz Pop, and Rami Yacoub, who all hailed from the pop-abundant land of Sweden. But you could also attribute a lot of it to that damn music video for “…Baby One More Time”, whose naughty school-girl schtick would kick off the teenage sex kitten persona that would mark a lot of Britney Spears’ early career. Which I feel like is a little hard to talk about without feeling like a total creep, but basically what I’m getting at is that Spears had a kind of confidence and swagger that few 17 years-old had, and the idea of whether or not she really was that innocent seemed to fan the massive flames of her record sales.
Did It Deserve To Be Popular?
You could also pinpoint a lot of the success of this album and Britney Spears down to the first 10 seconds of it’s title track. “…Baby One More Time” begins with a simple piano riff that has the feeling of almost a pop version of the repeating notes of the Jaws theme, as if the song signaled the emergence of something impending and inevitable, whether you liked it or not. Then on top of that, you have Spears simply singing, “mmmbaby, baby”, while sounding a hell of a lot older than 17 years-old, which further plays into the appeal (and weirdness) of Britney Spears sounding like a full-grown woman, when in the eyes of the law she technically, you know, wasn’t.
But apart from the simple pleasures of this Max Martin-penned title track, there isn’t a ton going on on this album that’s of much consequence, and I think everybody involved knows it. Like a lot of pop albums, it gets its big singles out of the way with it’s first three tracks “…Baby One More Time”, “(You Drive Me) Crazy)”, and the obligatory ballad “Sometimes”, while the rest of the album feels a bit like your typical teenage fluff. Or at least, what I’d imagine most teenage fluff from this period sounding like, since I’m not an expert on the subject, but considering I’ve already listened to a Backstreet Boys and ‘NSYNC album for this series, I feel I’m starting to become one. Anyways, apparently later Britney Spears albums had more artistic input from Spears herself, and some had more hits than this one, so I could imagine them being better, it’s just that this one probably managed to make the biggest dent saleswise since it came out during the ’99-’00 peak of the record industry, and for that reason is Britney’s biggest seller.
So basically all you need to know about this album apart from the singles is that there’s a pretty good cover of “The Beat Goes On”, and I’m not joking, there’s a song called “E-mail My Heart”.
Would I Pay Money For This?
Much like a lot of The People’s Albums, this one falls into the category of an album I remember being in my house when I was a kid (I believe my sister owned a copy). So someone in my family did spend money on it, though maybe a friend gave it to her at a birthday party or something. But as for right now in 2016, I can’t imagine spending money on something less consequential. Ok, maybe I can (like an album by Mandy Moore or one of Britney’s other numerous imitators). But I’m gonna have to say “nope” on this one.
Next Time On The People’s Albums: I’ll be talking about Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell when the morning comes, and hopefully we’ll be glowin’ like the metal on the edge of a knife (and maybe I’ll finally figure out what the hell that means!)