This week marks ten years since the release of Britney Spear's indisputable magnum opus Blackout - and while a lot has changed in Britney's life and in pop culture since 2007, one thing that remains is the album's incredible influence and staying power. Ten years on, Blackout remains one of the most pivotal releases in pop music history, ushering in the era of dance-pop that has permeated the airwaves ever since and sounding just as current today as it ever has.
Surely some of the credit for this has to go to the album's masterful production, handled mostly by R&B producer Danja and Euro-dance connosieurs Bloodshy & Avant. Blackout struck back in the midst of the R&B revival which furrowed in Timbaland, Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake, and somehow it seems that most of the songs crafted during that time have remained completely ahead of the times and edgy; even if 'Break The Ice' were released today, it would still be completely different from anything else on the radio. It says a lot that quite literally all of the songs on the album can still be bopped to in 2017.
But part of Blackout's success of course has to go to Britney's public image at the time of release. Back when Britney Jean was in its formative years, Britney's team referred to it as an intended Blackout 2.0; but they missed the fact that recreating Blackout was completely impossible without forcing Britney's personal life into full on meltdown mode. Blackout was believable and impressive as an album because of its stars personal troubles, most of which stemmed from her divorce with Kevin Federline - and while we won't get too far into them here, it's fair to say that everyone remembers the image of Britney with a shaved head splashed onto the front cover of every magazine. The album was a safe haven for Britney to direct her energy into, and a window through which the public could try to understand her by even while her public image jumped from Disney star to mother to drug taker to complete disaster artist.
The versions of Britney found on Blackout were similarly variable, but the album maintained consistency thanks to its forward thinking production. Naturally, there's sex kitten Britney, who had previously appeared on songs like 'I'm A Slave 4 U'; although this time she was elevated to a new level of raunch. 'Gimme More' is the most notable example of this, but its also apparent in album tracks such as 'Freakshow', which predicted dubstep years before it hit the mainstream, and 'Get Naked (I Got A Plan)', which has to be Britney's straight up sluttiest song in existence. While Brit had always exhibited a sexy persona, it was always juxtaposed with the girl next door image that she'd cultivated in her Mickey Mouse Club days, which toned it down and put any hints of sexiness under a wedding dress strapped into a chastity belt. But with Blackout, all pretention of the good girl was gone, and naughty Britney was officially here to stay.
That's not to say that songs about love were off the table though, and in fact the slower songs on Blackout were among Britney's most vulnerable, lacking the cheesiness of 'Lucky' or 'Sometimes'. 'Heaven on Earth' is a sweetly simplistic love song made interesting thanks to it's synth-laden production; 'Outta This World', a bonus track, is a tender and soft harmonisation with co-writer Keri Hilson; and 'Why Should I Be Sad?' is a candid, and yet defiant ending to the album which holds the promise of change to come.
By far the most unique version of Britney on the album, however, has to be the one found in 'Piece of Me', the album's only real hit and the song that would go on to name Britney's ongoing residency at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. Produced by Bloodshy & Avant, the same team who worked on 'Toxic' and 'My Prerogative', and with background vocals courtesy of the incomparable Robyn, the song is Britney's version of MJ's 'Leave Me Alone' - a kiss off to the media forces which try to bring her down and an assertion of the fact that she is in control of her image. It's a side of Brit that had never been expressed artistically before, but had been seen in her numerous run-ins with the paparazzi during which she screamed at them, pushed them or attacked them with umbrellas, and it's timing couldn't have been better. With that one smirk during the final scene of the 'Piece of Me' video, Britney had us convinced that she was not only in on the joke but was also pulling the strings herself in order to come out on top.
Of course, the Blackout reign couldn't last forever, and it only took a year for Britney to make her triumphant return with Circus, which was a pretty mixed bag of an album overall. On the one hand, the version of Britney we saw during the Circus era seemed more stable and her performances were much more predictable; but on the other hand, without the pain of her breakup and with the pressures of her conservatorship Britney's work lacked genuinity and edginess. It was only with the release of last year's Glory that that seemed to change, and Britney's personality seemed to be her own to control once again.
Even with a true successor to Blackout unobtainable, it's a blessing that the album can still be listened to its entirety without skipping a single track. Listen below, and together we'll celebrate a time in which Britney had so little to live for, and yet during which she turned out one of pop's all-time masterpieces. We love you, Britney!
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