I’m crazy for putting myself under so much stress to rank all nine of Britney Spears’ studio albums but what’s even crazier is that she’s been around now for TWENTY years. 2-0. Two decades. Within those two decades she’s shown us some incredible dance moves, given us unforgettable bops and been a huge inspiration not only to me but to millions of others across the globe. I remember being a little girl and thinking that one day I could actually BE Britney and even though that never became a reality, she will forever be one of my greatest influences. So, to honor the legendary Miss Britney Spears, I’ve decided to put all of her nine studio records in order from worst to best, choose my top three songs, and even throw in some honorable mentions from compilation albums and unreleased tracks. Making this was incredibly difficult and took what felt like twenty years of my own life to write, so without further ado, let’s get into it.
Keep in mind that this article is completely my opinion as music is subjective and should be interpreted as such.
#9. Britney Jean, 2013
Ugh, this one was rough. Britney Jean was meant to be Britney’s most personal and heartfelt record to date, and was apparently supposed to be set as a kind of concept album. Unfortunately, this concept falls very flat among heavy EDM production. What I expected with this one was the best Britney has done lyrically and vocally, along with amazing music videos and choreography. What we got, however, were a couple of fun, electronic dance tracks (“Body Ache”, “Till It’s Gone”, “Tik Tik Boom”), some really awkward ones that just don’t flow (“Chillin’ With You”, “Alien”) and mid-tempo songs like “Perfume” and “Don’t Cry” that just aren’t pleasant to listen to. There are so many problems with this one but among all of them is the fact that this record contains producers such as Diplo, wil.i.am, and David Guetta and not one of them could have produced a good, cohesive pop song. The overall production of the record is oversaturated in excess synth and although Britney is generally a dance pop artist, it doesn’t feel genuine to who she is. Even Britney’s easily identifiable vocals are lost in the auto tune and computer editing. Some of the worst of the worst include “Chillin’ With You” because of the awkward tempo change after every verse, “Alien” considering it sounds extremely under done and lazily put together, and “Don’t Cry” which showcases some of the absolute worst lyrics on the entire record. Of course the entire thing isn’t a complete train wreck; there are a few good moments here, mostly from the songs “Body Ache” and “Till It’s Gone” which sound more like her previous release, Femme Fatale. “Passenger” is also a pretty solid pop song and although not my favorite, it’s listenable at least. And in the dead center of this hot mess we have “Tik Tik Boom”, another song that actually makes sense and is well put together. However, overall this was a disappointment from the princess of pop and doesn’t showcase her true potential in any way.
Top picks: “Tik Tik Boom”, “Body Ache” , “Work Bitch”
#8 & #7. …Baby One More Time, 1999 & Oops!…I Did It Again, 2000
Trying to tell these two albums apart is like trying to tell apart twin babies: it’s not going to happen. I also don’t want to speak too heavily on these two because in reality, there’s not much to speak on. That’s why I’ve put these both in the #7 and #8 spots in no particular order because they are essentially the same record. And there’s really nothing wrong with that; it’s actually a very common thing among recording artists to have their first two releases sound incredibly similar. However, as enjoyable as these two records are, the immaturity and lack of growth between them diminishes from their star status, even though they contain some of Britney’s best hit songs (keep in mind that it’s very quite possible for a great song to originate from a lackluster album). Of course songs like “…Baby One More Time” and “Oops!…I Did It Again” were destined to be pop hits, among other favorites like “Lucky”, “Born To Make You Happy”, “(You Drive Me) Crazy” and “Stronger”. Some other great ones include “I Will Be There”, “Where Are You Now”, “From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart” and “Thinkin’ About You”, especially the latter two of these which showcase Britney’s vocals at their best. Yet, even though all of these songs can be relatable even for anyone well past their teenage years, it’s hard to get past the youth like feel of both of these albums with predominant themes of heartbreak and love. At a certain point, you have to admit that these records as a whole just didn’t age well. Nonetheless, these two are some of my favorite nostalgia inducing records and are perfect snapshots of pop music from the late 90’s and early 2000’s. These were both really great starting points in Britney’s career, which included some great music videos and some of her best live performances too.
Top picks from …Baby One More Time: “Born To Make You Happy”, “I Will Be There”, “From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart”
Top picks from Oops!…I Did It Again: “Lucky” , “Don’t Go Knockin’ On My Door”, “Where Are You Now”
#6. Britney, 2001
Next on our list is Britney’s third record, her first eponymous one and a record that has a few really interesting moments hidden throughout. To begin, the only real highlight of this album is “I’m A Slave 4 U”. It’s the biggest highlight at least, with that iconic music video, the VMA performance with a live snake and choreography that’s still performed to this day. Another cool moment from this record is a collaboration between Britney and then boyfriend Justin Timberlake. Although almost everyone wanted them to do a song together and most have probably lost hope at this point in time, it actually happened ages ago. Timberlake co-wrote, produced and provided background vocals for “What It’s Like To Be Me” and it’s subtle enough that if you’re not paying enough attention or reading the booklet notes, you’ll miss it completely. But besides those few things, this is a record by Britney that looking back on it is quite predictable and rather safe. With songs about independence and finding out who you are, it’s a decent coming of age record albeit confusing song titles such as “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman” and unoriginal ones such as “Cinderella”. Standing out among the average songs we have “Overprotected”, “Let Me Be” and her cover of “I Love Rock And Roll”, which are all well produced songs about independence with a dance beat, proving inspiration at the least. Besides that, “Bombastic Love” is another notable track that has a darker vibe to it and also happens to be one of my favorites from this record, although Britney apparently did not want it included. A few forgettable tracks include “Lonely” whose bridge part fits awkwardly with the rest of the song, “Boys” which isn’t necessarily bad but not the most enjoyable song, and “Anticipating” which is a disco sounding track that doesn’t make sense among the others. Overall, though, this is one of my absolute favorites from Britney’s discography, even if it’s not her best artistically. It fits the feel of pop music from the time and was a step in the right direction at this point in her career. The more adult oriented lyrics and dance-y vibes throughout create an interesting contrast between her previous two records, establishing this one as it’s own stand alone piece of work and Britney as a strong young woman instead of a daydreaming teenager. It doesn’t feel artificial, although at times it may not feel like the most mature thing. And even though I can’t say that every song is perfect throughout, the growth as an artist is what makes this record worthwhile.
Top picks: “I’m A Slave 4 U”, “Let Me Be”, “What It’s Like To Be Me”
#5. Glory, 2016
Okay, I know that Glory is a fan favorite and this not being in the top three might spark some outrage. But in musical terms, as many great moments as Glory had (and it had plenty of those, let me tell you), it also had just as many irritating ones as well. (Also as a little disclaimer, I will be talking about the deluxe edition of this record because if you’re not listening to the deluxe version, you’re not listening to it correctly). To begin with the good stuff, let’s just talk about how Britney sings in Spanish AND French on this one which is completely new for a Britney Spears record. The entire thing is super chill but still pop and dance inspired and very fun to listen to literally anytime, anywhere. “Invitation”, “Coupure Electrique”, and “Make Me…” are the centerpieces of this more relaxed sound although there are some standout up tempo tracks on here. “Man On The Moon”, despite being rather weak in the lyrical department, is an incredibly pleasant song to listen to, as is “Love Me Down” and “Better”. “Liar” is another notable track that takes on a more aggressive approach compared to the rest of the songs with a strong beat, accusatory lyrics and heavy vocals and instrumentals. There is much less vocal editing on this record than her previous ones and something like “What You Need” showcases that perfectly by putting Spears’ vocals on front and center. It features some simple guitar instrumentation as well on “Just Like Me” which instead of ousting the song among the other electronica influenced tracks, it actually adds to the overall vibe of the record. With all of that being said, we can now move onto the things that just didn’t work with this one. To begin with the worst song on the entire record, we have “Clumsy” which stays true to it’s name and is the clumsiest song on here. It’s annoying at worst and outdated at best and really doesn’t feel like it fits anywhere on Britney’s discography, let alone with this specific collection. Besides that, there are small parts of songs that are strange and which ruin the entire experience for me, such as the altered vocals of “whatever you want / whatever you need” on “Do You Wanna Come Over?” and the low key cringe-y lyrics that close out “Private Show” (which is so unfortunate because “Private Show” is hands down one of the most memorable songs on the record). Yet, besides the few flaws this record contains, it feels like Britney’s own, genuine effort. It’s unique in the sense that most radio music at the time of it’s release didn’t sound much like this, establishing Glory as a risky but unique sound. It’s also one of the most diverse records Britney has put out so far and makes for an interesting piece in her collection.
Top picks: “Coupre Electrique” , “Slumber Party” , “Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortes)”
#4. Femme Fatale, 2011
I’ll be the first to admit that this record isn’t the most artistically creative piece of music. The charts in 2011 were dominated by electropop hits and Femme Fatale was no exception. Clearly this was not the most original idea at the time and on top of that critics were eager to point out Britney’s lack of involvement on this project, where she received no songwriting credits (besides the Japanese bonus track, “Scary”). Along with that criticism, points were also docked for her synth laden vocals and weak lyrics. HOWEVER. I’m not going to deny that all of that might be correct. But this record wasn’t supposed to be personal and that’s what makes all the difference. “Femme fatale” roughly translates to refer to an attractive woman but a dangerous one at that. This record is meant to be empowering and fun, and the delivery of that concept could not have been any better executed. With an overall theme of partying, dancing and sex, this record is packed with fierce anthems perfect for a night out that never really seem to grow tired. And with electronic production without veering too far into the EDM realm, we’ve got some perfectly crafted radio pop hits that Britney is well known for. With the lead single being “Hold It Against Me”, we’re instantly introduced to a more candid side of Spears’ music, with lyrics like “If I said I want your body now/ Would you hold it against me”. Despite the fact that it all may seem a bit too sexual at times with other lines such as “I wanna go all the way/ Taking out my freak tonight” and “Cause what I’m looking at right now would make a big girl cry”, things never become unbearably explicit. Pulsating beats mixed with vocal alterations keep the focus more on enjoying the actual music than the words and there is nothing wrong with that. I wouldn’t even say that there is a single song that is necessarily bad on here but there are some that are better than others. “Inside Out” is one of the best songs of her entire discography, being centered around mid tempo, extremely intricate synth production that creates an entire world of it’s own. “Gasoline” is one that sparkles and undoubtedly brings the heat with a catchy summer inspired guitar riff, whereas “Seal It With A Kiss” and “(Drop Dead) Beautiful” contain some of the most notable melodies on the entire record. Even songs that have some severe vocal alteration like the bridge on “Hold It Against Me”, the breathy introduction of “How I Roll” or the stutters of “I Wanna Go” are enough to keep the tracks interesting and unique to themselves without being hard to listen to. Femme Fatale is faultlessly organized and I have no major complaints about it, besides the acoustic based closing track “Criminal” which doesn’t mesh well with the rest.
Top picks: “Inside Out”, “Seal It With A Kiss” , “Hold It Against Me”
Now that we’ve made it to the top three, I’d like to introduce some honorable mentions of tracks that are either on compilation albums, bonus tracks or just unreleased tracks found in the depths of the internet.
-“My Prerogative” (originally on Greatest Hits: My Prerogative)
Opening your first compilation album with a cover song may sound taboo but not when it comes to a cover that’s this good. Originally sung by Bobby Brown in 1988, Britney’s take on it has a darker vibe and tells the same story from her perspective, changing some of the lyrics to fit a female perspective to do so. It’s fresh and different than anything she had done up to that point and it doesn’t sound like she’s trying too hard to fit a certain way.
-“I’ve Just Begun (Having My Fun)” (originally on Greatest Hits: My Prerogative)
Although this song contains some pretty basic lyrics, the instrumental is some of the best in Britney’s entire discography.
-“Get Back” (bonus song on Blackout)
This song was supposedly going to be the lead single instead of “Gimme More” and it’s unfortunate enough that it never made it as a single but it didn’t even make the cut to be on the standard edition of Blackout either. I would describe this one as basically the spunkier sister of “Gimme More”. They sound very similar but are nonetheless each great tracks in their own rights.
-“Mood Ring” (bonus song on Glory, Japanese edition)
An absolute tragedy to humanity that this song never made it on the standard edition of Glory.
-“Kiss You All Over”, “Let Go”, “State Of Grace”, “Baby Boy”, “Just Yesterday”, “Hooked On” (unreleased leaked tracks from Blackout era, supposedly)
The Blackout era had enough leaked unreleased tracks to create probably at least three records on their own and here are just a few of the best ones I’ve come across.
-“Phonography” (bonus track from Circus)
A song about phone sex could never sound this good, unless your Britney Spears, then it works. But seriously, it’s such a bop that I’m sure nobody knows about. I’m not even going to write a description, just go listen to it.
-“3” (released on The Singles Collection)
This one was never released on an actual album, rather it was included in the Singles Collection compilation.
-“Love 2 Love U” (unreleased track)
A Spanish sounding dance song, that if you listen really closely you can hear Spears’ natural and real vocals. I’m not sure when it was recorded, but I’m assuming it was pretty early in her career.
#3. Blackout, 2007
Hello, and congratulations, we’ve finally made it to the top three. This is where decisions become a little harder to make and even though I’ve reconsidered this choice at least one hundred times, I’m confident about putting Blackout at number three. Blackout came out at such a tumultuous time and was really a surprise. I’m sure nobody expected Britney to return to music for a while at the time, if she ever returned to music at all. And instead of lashing out and putting out a record that showcased her world, she kept the spotlight quite far away from herself with this one. There was really no promotion for this one besides that MTV VMAs performance nor were there many personal moments on here. Blackout was also more oriented around a European pop feel, shifting away from the typical American music at the time. Everything about this record is so strange, new and out of many people’s comfort zones, but was nonetheless any marvelous. We’re introduced to the project with the now iconic “it’s Britney, bitch” line and the lead single “Gimme More”, which also serves as the perfect centerpiece for the record. Most of the songs are produced around this electronic, pop/dance vibe, including “Radar”, “Get Naked” and “Break The Ice” but we’ve also got some really cool moments on here that step away from that. “Ooh Ooh Baby” features a Spanish guitar and “Toy Soldier” takes inspiration from a military drumroll, while “Why Should I Be Sad” is the closest Britney has ever gotten to R&B. “Freakshow”, now a fan favorite, is a darker toned song with a wobble effect introduction and variously pitched vocals. “Perfect Lover” and “Hot As Ice” both have strong beats and are the most rock sounding songs on here, and are some of my personal favorites. Besides the actual sound of the songs, we’ve got to mention something about vocals and lyrics here too. Vocally, this may not come off as her best work considering the amount of production and background vocals that accompany hers. However, that brings us back to the idea about not being so autobiographical; Britney’s vocals sound like her and never get to the point where they’re overproduced and sound like she’s trying to be someone else. It’s a perfect mix of where we can tell that it’s Britney singing the songs but the special effects don’t keep the attention solely on her. The lyrics are the same way; despite a few tracks like “Piece Of Me” and “Why Should I Be Sad”, we’re only given a glimpse of what it’s like to be Britney. The main focus of the lyrics includes partying and sex, and just having a good time. Literally, that’s it. As much as many us probably hoped to hear something inspiring and authentic, this is exactly what we and Britney needed at the time. I think the thing I respect most from this era is the fact that even though Britney had every chance to expose everything going on at the time, she instead left the negativity behind and made some of the best pop songs of her career. The diversity of this record while never moving too far away from the dance pop core is noteworthy especially at a time where many other things in Spears’ life seemed uncertain. Blackout was a record that shouldn’t have existed at all, nor should it have been this fun and upbeat. It’s ironic, but then again, most of the best pieces of music are.
Top picks: “Freakshow”, “Hot As Ice”, “Break The Ice”
#2. In The Zone, 2003
In The Zone was and still is such a cool record but it’s one that I didn’t like or understand until many years after it’s initial release. It was a clear departure from everything Britney had done before and was a representation of her full adult transformation. Her third record, Britney, broke some adult boundaries but this fourth record established her as a young woman and no longer the sixteen-year-old girl she started out as. This record, above all else, was the most impeccable representation of what Britney was like at the time. She co wrote almost every track on here and with a more urban feel to it, this record felt like the most genuine, mature image of her we had gotten up to that point. Nothing felt forced or fake with this one; what makes this record so remarkable in particular is that it established Britney as a legit artist and solidified her spot on pop music history. This was by many considered her peak, and I can agree in terms of choreography from music videos and live performances, including artistic direction that it might have been in some ways. It’s a departure from her previous sound especially, considering this one has more reggae and hip hop influences instead of generic pop. However, there are probably two things most people remember about this era. The number one being “Toxic” which earned Spears her first and only Grammy award. The second thing being a duet song with Madonna, bringing two of the best female pop artists together in one song (which is simply amazing, even so many years after it’s release). But set aside those few facts and this record has so much more to offer. Some of the best parts of this one include the slow, sultry songs like “Breathe On Me” and “Touch Of My Hand”, both of which exhibit sexuality without being so obvious about it. Other notable moments include “The Hookup”, “(I Got That) Boom Boom” and “Showdown”, which are classic dance songs in themselves, but with a different vibe than what Britney’s done before. It’s a breath of fresh air without an identity crisis to go with it. “Shadow” and “Everytime” display a kind of vulnerability we also haven’t seen much on previous records which is another sign of personal and artistic growth. And are we really going to forget “Outrageous”? Sure, the lyrics kind of suck and the bridge in that song is so awkwardly placed, but “Outrageous” continues to be one of my favorite songs to this day. Besides the horrendous auto tuned song that is “Brave New Girl”, the entire project is cohesive and well produced. The beats and music are delightful, Spears’ vocals are natural for the most part and every songs flows gracefully from one to the other, no matter upbeat or somber. Four records and five years later, it feels like we’re finally introduced to Britney Spears, and it sure was worth the wait.
Top picks: “(I Got That) Boom Boom”, “Showdown” , “Everytime”
#1. Circus, 2008
Putting together the top three was difficult enough but choosing which record deserves to be number one was something else in itself. There were so many moments where I was going back and forth, rearranging the order and even considering putting two records in the number one spot. However, after careful consideration and a few hours of over analyzing everything, I’ve decided to put Circus as my number one. This record had a lot to live up to after Blackout and if it tanked, who knows what would have happened to Spears’ career. Serving as Britney’s “comeback” record and coming off something as spectacular as Blackout was, I’m sure nobody had a single clue what was going to happen next, nor did they expect it to be any good. With that being said, Circus surpassed all expectations and was a perfect follow up record to her 2007 release and a perfect bridge for the rest of her career. Blackout was impersonal and dance oriented while Circus takes on a slightly different approach without straying far from the same feel as Blackout. This one also had elements of electronic and dance music but incorporated lots of guitar in many different forms, strong beats, synthesizer and almost entirely natural vocals from Spears in some cases. Musically, every song on this record encompasses the circus theme, whether it be in a positive or negative light. It’s crazy and energetic, containing some fan favorites such as “Womanizer” and the title track “Circus” with even more overlooked songs that most listeners will miss. Songs like “Mannequin”, “Lace And Leather” and “Kill The Lights” all fit the overall theme perfectly and would have had some amazing videos to go along with them. The bass intro and distorted guitar on “Lace And Leather” especially take on a new side to Britney’s music, where even the ballad songs like “My Baby” and “Out From Under” are fresh without deviating from the main feel of the record. “Blur” and “Unusual You” are mid tempo, slight electronica influenced tracks that provide a break in between the rest of the high energy songs without boring the listener. Even lyrically, this record is packed with some great pop hooks and contains some of the best lines to come from Spears’ discography. From “There’s only two types of people in the world / The ones that entertain and the ones that observe” from “Circus” to the play on words with “If U Seek Amy” as a whole, this album is filled with moments so fierce it’s impossible to look away. Circus tells us this crazy story that is Britney Spears, from the dance hits, to “If U Seek Amy” and “Kill The Lights” that show how indestructible she really is, to more personal, stripped songs like “My Baby”. Every song is unique and special in it’s own way and each one is good enough that I can say with confidence that any song on this record could have been chosen as a single. That in itself is nearly impossible to come by. This record especially is truly a bold, daring and well executed collection of songs that seems to be forgotten a lot of the time. Circus is Spears’ most interesting yet cohesive work to listen to and is one that I wish she would perform more often.
Top picks: “Lace And Leather”, “Mannequin”, “Kill The Lights”