Maybe losing relevance is the best thing to ever happen to Britney Spears. Once the teenage prom queen of pop music, Ms. Spears is practically a legacy act compared to the constantly mutating environment of current pop music. No matter what pop music was in the last 16 years, the world always made just a little bit of room for Britney.
In the last five years, the star power of Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus seems to have finally blocked Britney from pop chart dominance, and maybe that’s a good thing because now she can do whatever the hell she wants. She doesn’t need to tend to the modern trends of pop (as she did with the overproduced reach for club bangers on Femme Fatale) or try her own spin on the sound of her contemporaries (see Britney Jean, the best Rihanna album Rihanna never made). She can sample as many pop tastes as she wants and mix it on her record. Sexy doo-wop? Yup. Eastern-tinged jungle beats? Sure. Spanish guitar-tinged electro-ballads. Of course, it’s Britney!
All of that and more can be found on Ms. Spears ninth studio album, Glory. Certainly inspired by her recent run of shows in Las Vegas, Glory is the most varied album of Britney’s career. The general mood is sex, with Britney either trying to woo a guy, turn on a guy, run back into a guy’s arms, or party with a guy. First single “Make Me…” is a slow grooving bump and grind bedroom jam where Britney wants you to rock her body. Britney rides the beat very well and her aching voice combined with some vocoder work makes it sound like the hottest robot you’ve ever heard. Britney works with nearly every musical environment she’s given, whether it’s singing “ay ay ay”s in the smooth “Slumber Party,” or when the “la la la”s roll off her tongue in the tropical booty shaker “Love Me Down.” She flexes her full range of sultry low tone and wild high pitch on “What You Need,” which closes the album on a silly but bouncy note.
The album’s mouth of madness is on “Clumsy,” which merges clapping synth beats on the verse with a huge, stadium-ready chorus. It’s like Fifth Harmony meets Calvin Harris with Britney flexing her cocky attitude, followed by the convulsing “wub-wub” beat of “Do You Wanna Come Over?” where Britney sounds like she’s strutting on the runway in Paris. The free range of sound and the wild circus of her Las Vegas stage show has seemingly inspired Britney to be more loose and arrogant-sounding than she’s ever been before, and it looks great on her.
But most experiments have their low points, and Glory is no exception. “Man on the Moon” tries to use as much space-imagery possible to tell a love story, but it borders on parody and the music doesn’t have a high point. “Just Luv Me” sounds a bit too much like Justin Bieber’s “I’ll Show You” only she talks about asking her man to be patient with her despite the fact that she’s been coming on to him for four tracks straight. She tries having an interesting narrative on “Just Like Me,” telling the story of her ex falling for a girl like Britney, but Britney and “interesting narrative” doesn’t go together well.
Aside from that, Glory is only skin deep with weak lyrical content and nothing too interesting. Britney’s big talent is musical camouflage, being able to slide into different styles of pop and make it work for her. But it also disguises how uninteresting she is as a performer, with nothing but sex appeal and her delicacy to back her.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from Glory, it’s that Britney Spears is better left the way Chris Crocker wanted it. Free of the demands of modern pop stardom and the trends of pop radio, Britney finally sounds comfortable in her current mashed up sound. She can be whoever she wants to be and doesn’t need record sales or chart toppers to validate herself. It’s the direction we all thought Madonna would take (before she got desperate), but it suits Britney much better. It’s nice to see that girl next door from 1998 grow up into the cool mom of pop music, god bless her.