Over the past two decades, Britney Spears may have made the headlines more for her personal life than her music, but it’s her music that defines her. Since redefining teen pop with …Baby One More Time in 1999, she’s continued to break new ground with each subsequent album, selling over 150 million units in the process. Here, we take a deep dive into the discography of one of pop’s greatest icons as we rank all nine Britney Spears albums from worst to best.
9. Britney Jean
Britney Jean’s problem is that there are too many producers, too many songwriters, and not enough Britney. When you’re dealing with an artist with as much talent as Spears, does any song really need nine songwriters and six producers to work? No. The end result is a rambling, shambolic collection of songs that simply don’t come together as a whole. It’s not completely without merit (the insanely catchy Til It’s Gone is a particular highlight), but overall, it feels like a massive lapse in judgment.
8. Oops!… I Did It Again
Spear’s second album has two of her biggest and best hits. Stronger is a stone-cold classic, with a stronger, more sophisticated sound than we’d ever heard from her and an irresistibly catchy hook. Oops!… I Did It Again is just as catchy, but the vocal hiccups and ticks are given too much free rein. Unfortunately, the rest of the album is a pretty mediocre affair, let down by sluggish covers ((I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction) and saccharine ballads (Dear Diary).
7. …Baby One More Time
Spears was just 16 when she recorded …Baby One More Time, and it shows. The promise is there, especially on the stupendous title track, but the rest of the album plays out like an album made by a kid, for kids. Which is fair enough. No one wants to hear a 16-year-old trying to sound like a grand dame of pop, and she certainly doesn’t do that. It’s not sophisticated, but it is fun, and for the strength of those full-throated “Oh, bay-ba, bay-ba’s” alone, it deserves respect.
As instinctmagazine.com says, after all the pandemonium that surrounded Britney’s very public breakdown in 2007, she came back fighting with Circus, an album that showcases a new and very welcome maturity. Musically, there’s a little bit of everything that had worked on her previous albums, but it’s bought together with a focus and confidence that resonated just as much with new listeners as with die-hard fans. There’s a little too much filler on the second half of the album to make it a classic, but the first half is banging. Best of all, she actually sounds like she’s having fun with it.
As spy.com writes, when …Baby One More Time was released, Britney was still seen as a school kid. A kid in Lolita clothes, but a kid just the same. Britney was where she entered her senior year. She’s not a girl, not yet a woman, and she’s still a long way off the seasoned, self-aware artist she’d become. But on tracks like Anticipating and the Neptunes-produced, I’m a Slave 4 U, the seeds are there.
4. Femme Fatale
2011’s Femme Fatale is often considered as one of Britney’s best re-inventions. It’s easy to see why. There might be a whiff of cheese about the lyrics, and the Eurotrash beats would have sounded dated 20 years ago, but when taken as a whole, it’s ravishing Some of the tracks (most notably How I Roll and Trip to Your Heart) hawk back to Britney’s bubblegum pop days, but that’s no bad thing. The standout title, meanwhile, has to be the banging Till the World Ends. It’s a little too disjointed and a little too ambitious to be up there with the likes of In The Zone, but it’s still an amazing fine effort.
Before Britney took up residency in Las Vegas, she had one last album to pull out of the bag. Incredibly self-aware, remarkably cohesive, and unapologetic in its sexiness, Glory is a moody, mature piece of dynamite. From the opening Invitation to the closing Coupure Electrique, it doesn’t trip up once, easily ranking as one of her most engaging performances in years. As slantmagazine.com says, Glory is an album-length reclamation of Britney’s autonomy.
If you came into Blackout without any knowledge of Britney’s history, you’d never know what had been happening in her personal life at the time (save for lyrics like “I’m Mrs. ‘Extra! Extra! This just in!’/I’m Mrs” and “She’s too big, now she’s too thin’,” from Piece of Me, which prove that whatever else Britney is, she’s not lacking in self-awareness). Released during the height of the madness following her breakdown, it’s a controlled, remarkably cohesive album that’s almost impossible to fault. It’s more urban and edgier than anything she’d done before, but the darkness only adds to the greatness.
1. In The Zone
If Britney reinvented teen pop in the 1990s, in 2003, she did the same for adult pop. In The Zone isn’t just the best Britney Spears album, it’s one of the best pop albums of all time, period. Any other album that featured Madonna would be all about Madonna. The fact that In The Zone is still all about Britney is a testament to just how much she’d grown in the four short years since her debut. The last vestiges of the pigtailed schoolgirl had been shaken off, replaced by a mature, sophisticated artist who knew her power and wasn’t afraid to flex her muscle. Her personal life may have been about to go up in flames, but professionally, she’d never been in a better place.