Monday, September 29, 2014

Britney Spears, "Baby One More Time"

This is completely unrelated to my "40 for 40" btw ...

This is a tremendous writeup of Britney's debut single from the UK #1's blog, Popular. 

Tom really nails it here -- he sets the scene for the album sales-inflated late 90's, defends Spears against derogatory "manufactured pop" charges, and describes why the song was practically destined to dominate the charts.

His only stumble is in his take on Britney's voice and it's well-known limitations.  On "Baby One More Time", they covered up her deficiencies well, but without Autotuning her out of existence or drowning her out with background singers or other production tricks.  Ewing goes on to write that "it’s not until the breakthrough into full-on R&B and club pop that she (and the producers) can really start playing with it [her voice], and with her role in the song".

I think he's giving short thrift to Britney and to the superstar producers that would become household names in the next decade.  This is definitely a case where US/North American and UK/European experiences diverge.  In the US, before Britney, R&B oriented chart pop by female artists was dominated by the big voiced Diva.  You aspired to be Whitney Houston or else.  Toni Braxton, TLC, Mariah Carey, and Whitney herself all took turns barricading themselves at the top of the Hot 100 for years.  Just a few months before Whitney's breakthrough, diva worship reached its apex with the extraordinary success of Brandy and Monica's "The Boy Is Mine", which was #1 for the entire summer of 1998 (13 weeks).  The popularity of this music showed no signs of waning whatsoever.

But seemingly out of nowhere, Britney changed the narrative completely.  Suddenly, the focus was on the song rather than the quality of the voice behind the song.  Manufacturing songs and stars, rather than seeking out the most god-given singing talent and accelerating its rise to the top, became acceptable again.  This meant that producers were free to create rather than accentuate the same Boyz II Men-inspired vocal melodies again and again.

The Spice Girls owed their success to many of the same ideas, but Christina Aguilera and a million other teen pop idols weren't swarming the charts within months of their debut.

The idea of a manufactured star backed by a producer/svengali figure responsible for the studio magic was hardly new, it was just long overdue by '99.  Ewing even mentioned the Shangri-La's, who are a perfect comparison to Britney.  They weren't much better than passable singers either, but to analyze their vocal intonations would also be missing the point.

Within a few years, every teen idol and tabloid semi-celeb this side of Hillary Duff and Paris Hilton would be making albums -- hit albums even -- with the best producers money could buy, and nobody would blink an eye.

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