Britney Spears rode the late-’90s teen-pop wave to superstardom, setting records and defying the odds by making the transition from child celebrity to bona-fide pop star to gay icon—all in the first 10 years of her career. She kicked off her second decade, which came on the heels of a very public personal and professional near-implosion, with a string of smash singles that rivaled her initial run of iconic hits. The singer’s 2013 album, Britney Jean, was met with a lukewarm reception from critics and audiences, but even if her ninth album, Glory, out this Friday, fails to reignite the charts, she’s already cemented her status as America’s premier pop princess. To prove it, we’ve compiled a list of Britney’s 15 best singles.
While one regrets the thought of Britney now being forced into the Madonna role of pop star collaborations, “Pretty Girls” (the first and then abandoned lead single from Glory) is amenably trashy enough to wipe the floor with all the doubts. Against the dubious qualifications offered up by Iggy Azalea, Britney’s trademark overweening Auto-Tune almost sounds like the new purity, and the skulking tempo matches the overall lack of effort from either party. It’s all over before the amount of time it takes to jump to the front of the line, and that’s all it needs to do. Henderson
“My loneliness ain’t killin’ me no more!” Britney belts on 2000’s “Stronger,” referencing a key phrase from her debut single, “...Baby One More Time.” Notable at the time of its release mostly for the CGI-heavy music video in which the singer tussles valiantly with a metal chair, “Stronger” is, in retrospect, a standout among Max Martin’s many teen-pop productions from the era, boasting a melodic, ABBA-esque hook, robust dance beat, and a menacing foghorn that announced a sexier, more sophisticated, and yes, stronger, Britney. Sal Cinquemani
“Hold It Against Me”
A good pun is as gratifying as a bad one is worthy of an eye roll. In light of Kesha’s accusations of rape against the track’s co-producer, Dr. Luke, the title of “Hold It Against Me” has the distinction of being both. In my review of 2011’s Femme Fatale, I lamented the single’s “cheesy pickup lines” and “generic Eurotrash beats and dated trance synths.” By the time the album dropped a couple of weeks later, though, the track, in all its cheesy, generic glory, had burrowed its way into my psyche like a brain-eating amoeba and remains lodged there five years later. Cinquemani
“Oops!…I Did It Again”
A classic “in case you didn’t know what I’m all about from my debut #1 hit, here, let me just repeat that for you” follow-up single, right down to the ellipses, “Oops!…I Did It Again” won no points for creativity, but at the very least firmly established Britney’s camp credentials. Midway through the impenetrable Max Martin edifice, the singer breaks it down for a fantasy interlude, imagining herself being asked to the prom by the homecoming king bearing Titanic‘s Heart of the Ocean. Henderson
Britney isn’t exactly known for her ballads, so it’s worth noting that an EDM remix of “Everytime,” the third single from 2003’s In the Zone, was partly responsible for the song’s ascension toward the top of the airplay charts. The original version, however, is an understated heart-tugger, reportedly a response to ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River”: “I may have made it rain/Please forgive me,” Britney sings, her downcast vocals an equal part of a minimalist arrangement that includes piano, sparsely placed backward loops, and a simple yet evocative music-box melody. Cinquemani