Unreleased albums are funny pieces of work. Sometimes an artist will scrap and entire project just because they want to start over, sometimes the files get lost or destroyed, and sometimes they get stolen, never to return. But in the case of Britney Spears’ unreleased album, The Original Doll, none of these things apply. Rather, it was announced by Britney at the end of 2004 that she was about halfway done with a new album of that name, yet it never actually saw the light of day. She personally went to a radio station in California and gave them a copy of her new single to play. It was called “Mona Lisa” and took a dark turn from her usual bright, pop tunes. But for reasons unknown, the record was claimed to have been unbeknownst by her label and although a refined version of “Mona Lisa” was released on her Chaotic EP a year later, the rest of these songs were seemingly shunned from existence. We may never actually know which songs were officially supposed to be on the record, however after doing some research we can infer when certain songs were record and for which era. Although this album technically doesn’t exist, with the help of other fans and leaked songs online, I’ve managed to find some sort of clue as to what this record was going to sound like.
As most of you probably already know, Britney had released four studio albums leading up to 2003, with the most recent one of those being In The Zone. What I find interesting about Britney Spears as an artist is that if you take the time to actually listen to her musical progression, you can hear how much she, and her sound, matures over those four records especially. Zone was a masterpiece for anyone in their early twenties, just like Britney was a masterpiece for anyone finishing up their late teens and Oops! and Baby were perfect for young teens. So for someone who is getting older and experiencing more of life, the good and the bad, we could have expected her next album to be a little more mature and risqué. But, as stated previously, that record did not come easily and after a four year gap, Britney’s fifth studio release was Blackout and there was no sight of The Original Doll.
Blackout was risqué and definitely more mature, but not in the way Doll was supposed to be. It’s speculated that some songs on Blackout are re-workings of Doll and Zone rejects, which makes perfect sense. If you take a listen to some of these tracks, they create the perfect bridge between the two records. Going through and trying to find a cohesive track list for the album was tough but after a while I’ve managed to compile a pretty solid group of tracks. The Original Doll was intended to be a display where we see Britney take complete artistic control of her work, her life and her happiness. So many songs on here allude to how she feels about certain things and portrays her as the person she really is, not just as a pop superstar that some think she was set up to be. It shows her at her peak confidence, not afraid to speak her mind, with lyrics about her success and the people who have wronged her. Unlike her previous work, this was raw and straight to the point, and would have been something nobody saw coming from the princess of pop.
In comparison to “Mona Lisa”, the only confirmed track on project, we have a few others that sound incredibly similar in terms of their dark tone, including “Rebellion”, “Dramatic” and “Baby Boy”, which leads us to think it was meant for the record. All three of these are slow burns, feature soft, wispy vocals and a definitive intimidating feel. They’re all lyrically very easy to interpret, however, we can’t define exactly what Britney was exactly referring to. But with lines like “Be wary of the others / The ones closest to you / The poison they feed you / And the voodoo they do” (“Rebellion”) and “You used me / Tried to abuse me / The fame, the life, the fantasy / Now back to reality” (“Dramatic”), we’re shown a small glimpse of the reality of her relationships. The person (or people) behind the meaning of “Rebellion” is up for grabs but I can’t help but think “Dramatic” is specially about Justin Timberlake and his hit single “Cry Me A River”, which he used to capitalize off Britney allegedly cheating on him (which was never confirmed nor denied). Another song that leads us to that conclusion is “Look Who’s Talking”, which feels like a direct response to the song. She sings “This song is all about me / Damn right, it’s all about me”, and instead of feeling narcissistic, it actually comes off as very in control, and appears to be her way of telling her truth but also poking fun at the situation. This song in particular has a really cool vibe to it, along with “Money, Love, and Happiness”, where both have a distinct 80’s inspired pop feel. On the flip side, we have a few songs oriented around R&B, flowing in from Zone, like “Get It”, “Welcome to Me”, and “Peepshow”. We’re presented with a hip hop dance tune, a sultry piece with guitar riffs and a stripped down song with an acoustic intro. This is just a handful of the unreleased music I’ve found and it’s already quite a distance from even just a few years prior.
There are so many more unreleased tracks and unfortunately I don’t have the time to discuss all of them. But if you’re interested, there are plenty of fan made albums on YouTube that’ll give you a good idea on The Original Doll. This record is so mesmerizing to think about simply because it’s so shrouded in mystery, and one that Britney has never spoken of since. That’s a little weird, right? Normally, there’s some sort of explanation as to what happened, but not this time. And it makes me believe her team when they say they knew absolutely nothing about this album she was planning, as most of the songs still sound like demos anyway. It sounds like she recorded them herself and used minimal producers, which is something she stated she wanted to do for her next record. This was her way of trying to speak her truth and feel liberated from the pop machine she got sucked into. Other artists were allowed to be a little scandalous and evolve through their art, so why wasn’t she? The Original Doll was meant to be controversial and I’m sure it would have the same potency today as it did back then. Maybe someday we’ll have the full work to listen to, as it was meant to be portrayed. But for now, at least we still have an enormous discography doused with hits and an array of unreleased songs that’ll make you feel like the baddest bitch around.