While civilized people were stuffing their faces with cranberry sauce and the flesh of flightless birds, I was diving deep into the discography of one of 1999’s most iconic figures: Britney Jean Spears. Spears rocketed onto the music scene with “…Baby One More Time” in the late ‘90s and has gone above and beyond to remain relevant ever since. She’s accomplished this by releasing a string of commercially successful albums, randomly marrying and then (more understandably) divorcing Kevin Federline, enduring an incredibly public fall from grace in ’07 (long may the photos of Bald Britney reign), and by capitalizing on her comeback, culminating in the release of her latest album, Glory, in August of 2016.
Love her or hate her, Spears has proven she’s here to stay. Because of that, I gave in to the craze after realizing I kind of enjoyed one of the songs off of Glory. I have ranked the pop sensation’s albums from worst to best here for your reading pleasure. I restricted myself to her studio releases because I absolutely refuse to have time to listen to things like Britney and Kevin: Chaotic (2005).
Coming in at #9, we have Britney. It’s not a bad album. No one was more surprised than I was to discover that Britney Spears really doesn’t make “bad” albums. Some are just better than others. While this one had some solid songs, including “That’s Where You Take Me” and a pop-centric cover of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, it was missing the diverse appeal of Britney’s more recent hits and a lot of the catchy ‘90s pop feel of her first two albums. It’s like the middle child of Britney Spears albums, and best forgotten like most other middle children.
Hot on the heels of her meltdown, Spears released what my girlfriend swears qualifies as her officially-recognized “comeback” album, but I wasn’t sold. “Womanizer” was big, sure, but otherwise…most of the songs were easier to forget than a New Year’s resolution. But it was fine for a listen, and hardcore fans of Spears’ work will, I’m sure, find plenty to love here.
…Baby One More Time (1999)
This was it, the debut album that rocketed Spears to international stardom. Which, I suppose, gives it a nostalgia factor for Britney Spears fans and people who existed on the planet Earth in 1999. In recognition of this nostalgia, …Baby One More Time is higher on my list than I originally had it. For its time, it’s not a bad album. If you love ‘90s pop, this is essential listening. I was surprised by just how many songs I knew on this and another of Spears’ albums, leading me to…
Oops!… I Did It Again (2000)
Ah, yes, she did “do it again” in 2000, releasing another megahit of an album filled with hits like the title track and “Stronger”. Honestly, I liked this album. I liked it less than the things that come next, but not because there was something fundamentally wrong here. Oops!… is a product of its time, an album where a young Britney Spears doesn’t really do anything different than she did the first time around because she doesn’t really need to. At this point in her life, she hadn’t even met K-Fed; she was on top of the world. But because she was so comfortable in herself, the album lacks much of the experimentation and variety that characterizes her later albums, which lands it firmly at #6 on this list.
Britney Jean (2013)
This album wasn’t beloved by critics, but I thought it was catchy and fun. Sure, it didn’t quite measure up to what preceded it (more on that later), but it’s a fun album with some memorable tunes (I liked “Alien”) and a more modern take on the pop music that made Spears a household name over a decade before. It’s like a used shoe—it’s not for everyone, but it’s comfortable and familiar even though it’s new to you.
In the Zone (2003)
Spears’ fourth studio album rockets onto the list at #4. This is one that I really, really enjoyed, the first album to show Spears doing interesting experimentation with musical styles and trying to break out of her comfort zone. While her first three albums all blended together for me somewhat, In the Zone popped. There’s a raw sexual energy to songs like “Outrageous” that’s engrossing; “Toxic” was such a smash hit that it won Spears her first Grammy. There’s an energy to this album, marked by Spears’ artistic choices, and it’s an absolute joy to listen to.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should acknowledge that I did eat a PayDay candy bar while listening to this album, which may have had an effect on its ranking. It’s a universally acknowledged truth that you’re never as likely to enjoy pop music as you are when taking a bite out of a bar made of peanuts and caramel. That being said…
No one should have to deal with the personal and professional problems that plagued Spears leading up to and surrounding the release of Blackout. However, if you’re going to have a mental breakdown, this is the album to create while you’re doing so. Spears’ fifth studio album builds on the promise of In the Zone with a dark, atmospheric tone (a major shift for her). While none of the songs individually achieved the recognition of her earlier work, they function together to create an entertaining, worthwhile album in the Britney Spears discography that has something for everyone.
Femme Fatale (2011)
If there’s an album that, to me, signified that Spears had made it back from the brink after ’07, it wasn’t Circus, it was Femme Fatale. “Hold it Against Me” and “Till the World Ends,” the first two singles released for the album, were huge for the singer (I didn’t even consider myself a fan of Spears at the time and I still named an article in my senior yearbook after the latter). The songs on this album are laced with seductive vocals and electro beats, as exemplified by those aforementioned singles. This is the Game of Thrones: Season 4 of Britney Spears albums: not the best, maybe, but close to it and a can’t-miss cornerstone of pop culture.
I had a theater teacher in high school who used to exclaim “Glory!” on a pretty regular basis. Every time I hear the word, I think of her. Now, I’ll also think of Britney Spears. Glory is a masterpiece. “Man on the Moon”, “Slumber Party” (which has a phenomenal music video), and “What You Need” were the standout tracks on this album for me, but nearly every song was worth a listen…or five. I found myself returning to this album, not for this review, but for my own enjoyment.
It’s catchy and fast and fun, with Spears in full artistic control and making the most of it. She has said its one of her favorite albums of her entire career, and it’s easy to see why. Without a firm deadline for completion, she was able to create something transcendently good with her most recent LP, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Listening to this is like giving your ears that same feeling your tongue had the first time you had a chocolate covered pretzel—the flavors were conflicting, but complementary, and you just knew that you wanted more. And, after listening to 9 albums worth of Britney Spears, I can say with certainty that I want more.