‘Make Me': The Musical Rebirth of Britney Spears
If Britney Spears starts off slow, can she still make us oooh?
She's a massively successful Las Vegas entertainer, a prolific perfumer, an iconic Instagrammer and an exceptional earner with two kids on her arm, but her presence on radio hasn't been felt — barring a brief Britishney assist three years ago on will.i.am's "Scream & Shout" — since 2011's Femme Fatale.
In spite of scores of smashes and a reputation as a Living Legend™, the idea of reinvigorating the Britney Brand this year, a brand that is otherwise focused exclusively on filling seats at a greatest hits residency, feels like more of a challenge now than ever.
There was a more obvious, tried-and-true approach to opt for with this upcoming album, as she's done for the past few cycles now: a hard-edged, thunderous dance-pop record that kicks down the doors and says to the world, effectively, "It's Britney, bitch."
"Work Bitch." "Hold It Against Me." "Womanizer." "Gimme More." All killer. All club bangers. All fire. But this time, it's different.
Three years of fine-tuning her sound after the release of her Most Personal To Date-but-not so critically acclaimed Britney Jean, the kick-off for Album Nine is...well, a chill one.
Welcome to the "artsy-fartsy," "not so poppy" side of Britney Spears, a pop star born anew.
Friday, I'm dreaming a mile a minute about somebody...
"Make Me," the Burns-produced, Joe Janiak co-penned lead single from Britney's ninth studio album, out today (July 15) after months of delays and a whole lot of leaking, aligns perfectly with the sound du jour: "moody R&B," to describe it loosely, a vibe that caught on following a wave of acts like The Weeknd, Tinashe, BANKS and FKA twigs.
That shadowy sound now colors most of the defining pop records of late, from Selena Gomez's Revival to Zayn's Mind of Mine to Rihanna's ANTI. With this song (and the unexpected throwback soul of "Private Show"), Britney's swerved into the oft-promised "left-lane" pop territory she's hinted at for years — but like, actually.
No shame in the game / Just cut the s--t, be honest...
That's not to say Britney hasn't dipped into more sensual, R&B-infused sound throughout her career. She's always dabbled, from Oops!...I Did It Again's "When Your Eyes Say It" to In The Zone's "Touch Of My Hand" and "Early Mornin'" to Femme Fatale's "Inside Out." (And let us not forget the many experimental unreleased cuts, like "Welcome To Me.")
But the production on a lead Britney Spears single has never felt quite so lush and slow-burning as it does on "Make Me," allowing her voice to take center stage in this particular Private Show™.
You know what you gotta do tonight...
"Pretty Girls" only beamed down to Earth a little over a year ago, but "Make Me" makes last year's Iggy Azalea-assisted summer jam feel like a childish dare between two friends after one too many caesar salad dinners in comparison.
Gone are the silly British voices, Smurfs 2 sing-along songs and bees to the hon-ay — "Make Me" is the product of a sexy, single grown-up woman in lust.
You're the spark that won't go out...
Plenty of Britney's best work, like "Breathe On Me" and "And Then We Kiss," is brewed up with the bedroom in mind. "Make Me" follows suit — it's unsubtly about sex, in fact.
Slaps of bass, sexy licks of guitar and Major Lazer-like squawks fill out the airy spaces between Brit's melodically purred come-ons (that heaven-sent falsetto moment in the second verse!), leading up to a clap-happy pre-chorus. But the true beauty of "Make Me" lies in its climax of a chorus, as she erupts into coos of euphoria. "OOO-ooo-OOO-ooo-OOO!" Waves of pleasure. Waves!
My heart's on fire when you're around...
As opposed to much of Britney Jean, a pick-and-mix of robotic dance-pop and contemporary Christian hymns of questionable vocal integrity, and even her Giorgio Moroder collabo "Tom's Diner," which was weighed down by needless vocoder effects, "Make Me" sees the glorious return of Vocalney. (Hell, this one's nearly an a cappella in comparison to her last few singles.)
There's a warmth in her voice: compare it to the speak-sung "Work Bitch" commands ("go call the gov-ah-nuh!") or the chilly delivery on her electro-pop opus, Blackout. That album is a masterpiece in its own right, but this is an artist who actually sounds present in her work again.
And for all the panic that ensued among fans upon learning a rapper would be appearing on the track, G-Eazy's presence is as inoffensive as Drake's contribution to Rihanna's smash, "Work." She does often crave something more urban. (With any luck, Eazy will bring along a few more ears from his own world who might not have immediately opted to listen to a Britney Spears song.)
No rules / From the bar to the car, let’s take it back to my room / Ignite in the heat of the moment...
One of the hurdles that some fans bizarrely refuse to get over is that Britney is not the same Britney of 1999, 2001 or 2003 — and that's fine. No pop star (or human) should be doing what they did over a decade ago. (It is true, though, that she's looking and dancing better than she has in years.) She's the undisputed Princess of Pop — of course! — but the constant nostalgia pieces about her decade-old awards show performances and side-by-side comparisons to her early dance routines grow occasionally tiresome.
There's no need to constantly invoke the past: she's thriving again — right now. In the present. And at last, we have music that reflects the pop superstar's visibly renewed spirit (Spearit) that we witnessed in her triumphant 2016 Billboard Music Awards performance and her newly re-imagined Piece of Me show.
Just want you to raise my roof / Something sensational...
While today's radio darlings like Meghan Trainor and Tumblr teen heartthrobs like Charli XCX play dress-up with the sound and style of the late '90s and early '00s, the very not-a-girl-now-very-much-a-woman herself who personified that bubblegum pop era is now shifting in a new direction.
With "Make Me," Britney effectively breaks her "banger" formula with this new era (she does love herself some formulas, just ask Albert Einstein) in what is her most fresh, convincing bid for renewed interest at radio since 2011, and her most ambitious sonic switch-up since 2003's In The Zone.
It's both unexpected and instantly recognizable as the stuff of Britney, as much as the potpourri of religious memes, Google Image searches for cheesy corn and #SexySunday selfies that fill her very active Instagram feed.
And coming from an artist nearly twenty years deep into her recording career, the change of pace feels especially go-ooo-OOO-ooo-d.
Listen to "Make Me" on iTunes.
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