Britney Spears has finally returned with new songs after a lengthy hiatus of six years. That merits a party. This is the moment that all of pop music’s die-hard fans have been waiting for. Her duet with Elton John, “Hold Me Closer,” is a disco-style romp through several of John’s earlier classics. For die-hard Britney fans, hearing her sing again is a powerfully moving event. Seeing her enter a recording studio and let out a roar. Hear her get her “baby” out of the closet. We can finally say it with pride: this is the day we can admit that we still believe. (I am convinced that) It’s like the dawn of a new age, the return of a pop queen more powerful than everr.
Britney has been anticipating today for quite some time. Equally, we have. She is no longer overcome by her feelings of isolation.
After nearly 14 years in a nightmare conservatorship, she finally broke free, and this song, “Hold Me Closer,” is her first release. If she decided she no longer wanted to sing mainstream music, no one would blame her. Following her ordeal, she declared on social media, “After what I’ve been through, I’m afraid of people and the business!” in the previous December. They harmed me! To stop making music is my way of saying “Fuck you.”
But singing is Britney’s method of looking ahead and making plans for the future. I want to be bold like I was when I was younger,” she wrote this week. That’s what “Hold Me Closer” is all about. It’s moving to hear her find her voice again, singing the word “closer” three times in a row, getting louder and louder with each repetition, when she has every right to be angry. For her, the meaning of this song is straightforward: “I chose pleasure and joy today,” as she wrote in her post.
In the form of Elton John, whom she describes as “one of the quintessential men of our time,” she has another legend rooting for her. Of all the things that Elton is, the most devoted pop music fan stands out. He is the only major performer of his generation who consistently seeks out and enthusiastically supports new music. As much as he enjoyed highlighting Kiki Dee and Billie Jean King, he enjoys sharing the spotlight with modern divas like Dua Lipa, Miley Cyrus, and Rina Sawayama. And in “Hold Me Closer,” he’s done the same thing for Britney. The answer is yes; she has not collapsed.
Britney’s “Hold Me Closer” is a return to form, but then, so are most of her songs. She rarely experiences hits that don’t lead to a comeback. She has been written off, considered a joke, and deemed a puppet ever since her breakthrough in 1998 with the track “Baby One More Time.” Nobody’s ever had more people say their careers were over after seeing Ms. Bad Media Karma. It’s just another day, and there’s more drama. She has attended more of her funerals than even Rasputin did. However, as she foreshadowed a decade ago in “How I Roll,” she has the resiliency of a cat with nine lives.
Now is a fantastic time to honor the true Britney, one of the most talented and influential music stars of all time. This woman has amassed one of the most impressive discographies in pop music history as the media and fans focused on every aspect of her persona but her music. Unquestionably a game-changer in terms of how our daily lives now sound because of his or her visionary status. He or she is a pioneer. One who comes up with something for the first time. The song “Hold Me Closer” serves as a gentle reminder that she is, above all else, a vocalist. For Brit, every yesterday is like a lifetime in the game, and she’s stronger than all of them put together because of it.
Her 2016 album Glory was widely overlooked while being highly regarded by critics. Look, this isn’t your finest hour, the world. Return to Glory and pay attention to “Clumsy” and “Man in the Moon” if you want to understand “Hold Me Closer.” Enjoy “Swimming in the Stars” as a bonus track—Knee Knee was on a roll with Bowie-Esque Astro-love songs.
Strangely, no one seemed interested in listening. In typical fashion, Brit was taken for granted, and the Glory sunk without a trace. As was the case in 1998, when Rolling Stone was the only publication to recognize “Baby One More Time” as a groundbreaking album, no other publication paid this record the respect it deserved. Glory’s “supposedly nameless voice” is a sound trademark any pop lover can know in seconds, as noted by Rolling Stone, even as she transforms herself into a human mirror ball, glitzed out and blitzed out. Britney’s voice has a unique droid-soul glitch-twang that speaks to the bored, disgruntled, ready-to-explode catastrophe queen in all of us in songs like “Toxic,” “Lucky,” and “Piece of Me.”
While “Private Show,” Britney’s most reviled hit, may appear like a brainless banger about a strip club, it’s a fascinating Black Mirror-style statement about her internal state at the time. She’s having a passionate moment with her lover when she suddenly becomes aware that onlookers are observing. That’s why she shrugs and says, “I guess that’s the end. Will you let us try this again? Oh, forget that; I’ll take the mike instead. FAR too realistic.
Britney Jean, the album she released before Glory in 2013 and is also highly recommended. A deluge of depressing ballad goop ensured that Britney Jean would be forgotten. On the other hand, its mountains are truly magnificent. Britney’s “Alien” is the granddaddy of all Britney-as-Bowie ballads, where she morosely floats through space to the cosmic bleeps of William Orbit. And “Passenger” is her take on Beyonce’s “Halo”; it’s a soaring ballad about the thrill of discovering a friend she can let take the wheel. In many ways, the sighing “This is living!” at the song’s climax is representative of how “Hold Me Closer” makes its listeners feel.
The biggest taboo, though, is still taking Britney’s real music seriously, after her 24 years of talk. She’s not simply another celebrity case study; she’s one of our most daring pop geniuses, and she deserves our attention as such. As if she were a relic from a museum, she is typically treated with the same level of respect as a fatality, a wages-of-fame cautionary tale, or a passive vehicle for sob-story fantasies. But in reality, she is a creative genius. For as long as I can remember, this is the case. She is not your typical sweet little American metaphor; rather, she is a combatant who has methodically amassed one of the most impressive song catalogs in the history of pop noise.
She’s been churning out hits since she debuted in 1999, all the way up to the brilliant genius she is today. Britney Bitch is a collection of three albums by the singer: Blackout, Circus, and Femme Fatale. People will recognize her as a star or an “icon” (what they call you when they don’t want to accept you’re a true artist), but they won’t recognize her as a musical thinker, as if Britney’s presence at the birth of dozens of the century’s finest songs was merely a fluke. How often must she Do It Again before people finally recognize that she has a handle on things?
Done a decade ago, on the occasion of Britney’s 30th birthday, I wrote in Rolling Stone, “People keep waiting for Britney to be over.” They’re free to wait as long as they like. Maybe Britney will be truly finished when people stop saying that she is. However, she is now actively participating, with the support of Elton. Brit posted, “I’m kinda overwhelmed… ” It means a lot to me!! I’ve been doing more meditation and realizing how important personal space is.
The inspiration for “Hold Me Closer” originated from Elton, who mashed up “Tiny Dancer,” “The One,” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” He hoped that Britney would join in. She sounded great on stage, he told Laura Snapes of The Guardian. Nobody seems to think she can sing any longer, they said. She may not have been perfect from the beginning, but she was clever, so I think she can. Elton, like the rest of us, is holding out for more to come of this. I’m hoping this will give her the self-assurance she needs to return to the recording studio and realize that she is indeed bloody good.