Pop music has the ability to take on many roles and become so many things. It can be iconic, it can be memorable, it can be just a one hit wonder you hear on the radio every once in a while. But whatever the case may be, I don’t think many people consider pop music to have many developed or matured qualities about it. And in most cases, where dance tunes with simple lyrics dominate, that is true. But not when it comes to In The Zone. This was record where we saw Britney Spears evolve further into adult themes and embrace growing older, while ditching her previous classic pop sound and orienting this one around an urban feel. It’s still fun, dance pop music but with a more sophisticated, confident vibe to it. With this one, you really do get the best of both worlds. It’s the album that contains possibly her best known song, “Toxic”, along with a collaboration with the one and only Madonna on “Me Against The Music” and the emotional ballad, and fan favorite, “Everytime”. Beyond just that, however, this record has so much more to offer. The entire project is a blast but some of the absolute finest moments are found in the rest of the songs beyond just the singles.
“Touch Of My Hand”
This song was quite the controversy when it came out almost twenty years ago, and for a few reasons. It deals with the topic of female masturbation which made a lot of people uncomfortable, but also coming from an artist that was mostly known for tame pop tunes, this one turned a lot of heads. But I find it hard to be upset about a song that is this beautifully written and produced. While many other artists are explicit and obvious in the way they present sexual matters, this was written with enough ambiguity that it doesn’t feel so overexposed. The instrumental is a standout on the record, infused with Asian inspired strings and autotune on the bridge, with other effects such as the reversed intro, chimes and synthesizer. This entire record is tethered around being sensual without overtly sexual and this one is the most perfect representation of that.
Pop ballads have always been a part of Britney Spears’ discography but this one is probably one of her absolute best. It focuses on a broken relationship where a person may be physically there but emotionally unavailable, with lyrics and vocals that are so somber you can literally feel the emotion seeping through them. It’s soft and tinged with electronic touches which builds into the strong chorus with a prominent drum beat. It really doesn’t sound like anything from the times, and with it being so well written and mature feeling, this is easily one of her best songs on this record and beyond.
One of the first few tracks on In The Zone, “Showdown” is a song that was truly ahead of it’s time, especially in terms of production. It’s very simple at it’s base level but with additions like bubble noises, the electric guitar during the bridge, and background vocals, it becomes a very fun, chill dance number. I find this one to be perfect for 2003 but it’s legacy extends far beyond that. If this was released as a single, it definitely would have been extremely popular.
“The Hook Up”
This is one of the BEST dance songs in Britney’s entire catalog and is one that would be a hit it if it was released today. The cool influences of reggae are brilliant and this was something completely new for her at the time. The overall instrumental of the song is interesting because it’s less electronic and pop production based and focuses more on natural instruments such as electric guitar and drums. Lyrically this one is basically teaching a dance, which is a concept many artists starting using later in the late 2000’s. Especially today, where songs go viral if there is a dance that goes along with them, this would have been huge if it was released now.