In 1997, Britney Jean Spears was a highschool freshman aching to get out of the quiet stretch of Louisiana that bumps up towards Mississippi. Probably the most notable factor about her on the time was one off-Broadway credit score and her standing as a former Mouseketeer. A yr later she would develop into one of many largest pop stars on the planet, because of the power of her debut single, “…Baby One More Time.” Produced by Max Martin — a failed Swedish glam-metal rocker who was making espresso runs whereas his mentor, Denniz Pop, was producing “The Sign” and “All That She Wants” for Ace of Base — the music would go on to outline early ‘00s pop music.
Twenty years after its launch (on Oct. 23, 1998), we take a deep dive into one of the groundbreaking hits in history.
Jive Data had simply began branching out from its secure of R&B acts (they’d lately signed these Backstreet Boys) when a photograph of 15-year-old Britney landed at their workplace.
Barry Weiss, president of Jive Data: Jeff Fenster^ had come into an A&R assembly and proven us an image of this actually fairly younger lady on a purple and white picnic blanket, virtually like a tablecloth from a type of small, native Italian eating places. It was type of humorous. I feel she may need had a canine within the image as nicely. Virtually like Dorothy from Kansas.
Larry Rudolph, an leisure lawyer and household good friend of the Spearses, introduced her into Jive for an audition.
Barry Weiss: She was sporting a black cocktail gown and excessive heels. She sang reside for us: Whitney Houston ballads, Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton. She actually was a very good singer. She seemed superb. She was like, 15 years previous. And we sort of thought, Wow, that is actually left of middle. There’s no feminine pop artist on the market proper now.
John Seabrook, writer of The Music Machine: Contained in the Hit Manufacturing unit: Clive Calder, who was the top of Jive, signed her to a provisional contract. This was a really vital second in pop history: The signing of Britney Spears as a type of girl-next-door teenager, quite than as a Whitney Houston-esque diva. One of the calculations there was, Clive Calder was notoriously low cost, and Whitney Houston was notoriously costly. So Britney Spears appeared like she can be low cost too, as a result of she was simply a youngster from Louisiana, and wasn’t demanding in any method.
Star secured, the Jive group wanted, nicely, music. They turned to Swedish producer-songwriter Max Martin, of Cheiron Studios, who had labored with Ace of Base and co-produced some songs on the Backstreet Boys’ self-titled debut album.
Barry Weiss: There weren’t many U.S. mainstream pop producers that would do younger artists. The pop on the time was very proper down the center. However we have been in search of edgier, younger-sounding data. We had an A&R workplace at Jive in Hilversum, outdoors Amsterdam. Martin Dodd was our A&R man, and the Max Martin and Cheiron connection.
Max Martin*: I used to be in Florida and Jeff [Fenster] requested me to cease by the workplace in New York to satisfy this woman whereas I used to be in America. She was all dressed up. She was 16. She thought I used to be a 50-year-old producer from the old-fashioned. I had actually lengthy hair on the time — I seemed like Ozzy Osbourne. It was fairly apparent that she had one thing, regardless that she was very quiet and really shy.
Martin went house to Sweden and cranked out a music. Nevertheless it wasn’t Britney’s… but.
Max Martin*: I write on the Dictaphone. I got here up with the melody first. I wrote the refrain; you simply hum it in. Because of [my co-producer, Rami Yacoub], that songs sounds the best way it does. He’s rather more city and R&B than me. I’m extra of a melody man. So he’s an enormous purpose that the music turned out the best way that it did.
NaNa Hedin, backup vocalist: I keep in mind that I assumed the track was for youngsters however the manufacturing was crammed with a grown-up angle and with sounds that I actually favored. I used to be so impressed by how a man like Max and the opposite writers might write lyrics that obtained into the hearts and spoke to teenage considering. It actually represented [that] entire era, not them.
Barry Weiss: Martin Dodd had this demo, which was then referred to as “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” and he despatched it into us and stated, “This is a song Max had written for TLC, but they didn’t really want to cut the record.” I feel Arista needed Deborah Cox — she was the inheritor obvious to Whitney, and Clive Davis was actually into her. However Max was not down with that… When the music got here into us, we thought, let’s minimize this with Britney. Let’s ship her to Stockholm. The magic that labored with the Backstreet Boys, why wouldn’t it work once more for Britney Spears?
Jive despatched Britney to Sweden to document her debut album.
Britney Spears*: I didn’t know what to anticipate. It was my first time abroad. That they had six songs, [and] I had every week.
Max Martin*: She was very properly ready. Since “…Baby One More Time” was the primary track, we actually didn’t know the place to take it. We simply stored on recording. We tried a few totally different types. After some time, I might hear her abdomen growl within the microphone. I requested if she was hungry. We’d been going for eight hours. She stated, “No, I’m fine.” I stated, “Let’s take a break,” and she or he had three burgers.
John Seabrook: In these days, and perhaps that is nonetheless true, Max made all of the demos himself. He would sing the totally different concord elements himself, too. Max has a tremendous voice, and only a few individuals have ever truly heard that demo. I did hear it, and Max sounds precisely like Britney, together with all of the little sounds that sound improvised; the mow-woww sounds. So Britney ended up sounding precisely like Max.
Chris Molanphy, chart analyst and pop critic: The rationale why it stays probably the most iconic songs of the 1990s teen pop boomlet is it’s sort of an ideal marriage of track and artist and songwriter. If Max Martin is John Hughes, he discovered his Molly Ringwald. His muse-vehicle for his specific model of writing. You’ll be able to’t image it being sung by anyone else.
Barry Weiss: I keep in mind once we received it again with Britney on it, she had that “oh BAY-BAY BAY-BAY,” these advert libs. We thought it was actually bizarre at first. It was unusual. It was not the best way Max wrote it. However it labored! We thought it could possibly be a very good opening salvo for her.
NaNa Hedin: The magic is the angle. Deep beneath the pop sound it has a horny rock insurgent angle, from a younger schoolgirl and her voice.
There was only one drawback: the refrain. Particularly: the “hit me.”
John Seabrook: Earlier than the track got here out, no one in America appreciated the hook, “hit me baby one more time.” Everyone thought it was some type of bizarre allusion to home violence or one thing. However what it actually was was the Swedes utilizing English not precisely appropriately. What they actually needed to say was, “hit me up on the phone one more time” or one thing. However at that time, Max’s English wasn’t that nice. So it got here out sounding somewhat bit bizarre in English. However once they tried to get him to vary it, he stated, “No, it can’t be changed. That’s it.”
Barry Weiss: I truly modified the lyric. I used to be involved about going to U.S. radio with a music referred to as “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” I don’t know if I’m pleased with this or not: I got here up with the “…Baby One More Time.”
With a lead single locked in, it was time to shoot a video.
Barry Weiss: I went instantly to Nigel Dick, the video director. He had completed the Backstreet Boys movies “Backstreet’s Back,” [and would later do] “I Want it That Way.”
Nigel Dick, director, “…Baby One More Time” video: Apparently, lots of people I labored with on the time informed me I ought to stroll away from the venture. “She’s an unknown girl. She’s 16 years old. It’s candy-floss pop.” I’d accomplished various stuff which was a bit extra meaty: Oasis, Weapons and Roses, blah, blah, blah. I simply thought the track was actually, actually good.
Barry Weiss: Nigel got here up with an concept, like, Britney is in outer area. She comes and lands on Mars on a spaceship, after which she breaks into this dance routine. [Editor’s word: You might acknowledge this because the video remedy for “Oops! …I Did It Again,” which Dick additionally directed.] I used to be like, “Wow, this is great!” And Britney checked out this and stated, “This is horrible. No way am I doing this. This is really cheesy. Let me get on the phone with Nigel Dick.”
Nigel Dick: She stated, “I want to be in a school with a bunch of cute boys and do some dancing.”
Barry Weiss: Her concept was the entire Grease factor, dancing within the hallway. She gave the kernel of the thought to Nigel, and he got here up with the remaining.
Nigel Dick: Your preliminary response to that is, I’m being informed by a 16-year-old-girl what I ought to do… [But] this woman is 16 and I’m a grown man; maybe she has a greater perspective on her viewers than I do. So I swallowed my delight.
John Seabrook: Britney knew higher than the adults what individuals needed and I feel that’s additionally vital, as a result of I feel the adults started to understand that they didn’t essentially know what the youngsters needed anymore.
Nigel Dick: [Shooting] was very straightforward. There was no actual drama. What I didn’t know on the time was that, in fact, you could have this expertise with the Mickey Mouse Membership. So far as I knew, she was only a schoolgirl from the South. [But] she was very relaxed in entrance of the digital camera. She was very, very drilled together with her dance routine. I’ve labored together with her 4 occasions, and I’ve but to work with someone who places in as a lot preparation, and was as desperate to rehearse, as she was.
Each article of clothes within the video was bought at Okay-Mart and price lower than $17. An inauspicious starting for what would turn out to be a well-known (or notorious, relying in your viewpoint) outfit for the underage performer.
Nigel Dick: I don’t have youngsters, so my understanding of what youngsters wore was restricted to driving house from the workplace and seeing youngsters standing by a bus cease. So I recommended they might be sporting denims and t-shirts and sneakers and would have backpacks, and Britney stated, “Well, shouldn’t I be wearing a schoolgirl outfit?” And I used to be very doubtful about this concept. However I used to be overruled.
Chris Molanphy: I can’t show this, however, the truth that all feminine teen pop stars for the subsequent roughly three years needed to shoot a video with their stomach button bared — Britney made that look iconic.
Vanessa Grigoriadis, reporter, “The Tragedy of Britney Spears”: She stated to Rolling Stone, “All I did was tie up my shirt. I didn’t do anything.” And this has all the time been the query with Britney: Does she know what she’s doing? It was very a lot on the sting of what was acceptable then.
Nigel Dick: Definitely, my preliminary response was, “Are you sure we should be going down this route with this young lady?” And the individuals who have been in management, the document label and whatnot, stated sure, that is the route we need to take.
Britney Spears**: There are such a lot of different youngsters on the market that gown extra provocatively than I do and nobody says something about them. How can I clarify this? I don’t see myself — hand on the Bible — I do know I’m not ugly, however I don’t see myself as a intercourse image or this goddess-attractive-beautiful individual in any respect. Once I’m on stage, that’s my time to do my factor and go there and be that — and it’s enjoyable. It’s exhilarating simply to be one thing that you simply’re not. And other people are likely to consider it.
Nigel Dick: I used to be sort of conscious that some individuals may really feel that that was exploitative. And because it turned out, I obtained an enormous quantity of grief about it as soon as the video got here out.
John Ivey, President of CHR Programming for iHeartMedia: I used to be programming Kiss 108 in Boston, so Jack Fader [head of record promotions at Jive] introduced her into the station. Right here she is available in, little child, no make-up. You’ll be able to inform how younger she is. However very sensible, already. That they had simply gotten the ultimate edit of the video [on] VHS. We went into this workplace and I’m sitting there watching it together with her, and I’m taking a look at her, and searching on the video, like, hey, what’s happening right here? It confirmed what was going to occur in a short time. Whenever you see it you’re like, omigosh, this entire schoolgirl factor, it’s somewhat attractive. However then I’m sitting right here and she or he’s actually little, she’s received no make-up on, she’s just a bit child.
Vanessa Grigoriadis: Once I was reporting this text, lots of people stated Britney needed to be attractive. And the people who find themselves managing her, all the blokes who have been so concerned in her picture, they have been making an attempt to make her look much less slutty, principally, was the phrase anyone used to me. And she or he needed to push the boundaries. I feel that it’s inconceivable to know if it’s truly true.
Britney Spears**: I assume it’s as a result of I do have a youthful viewers that, you recognize, mother and father fear concerning the position mannequin factor…. However once I was youthful, I seemed as much as individuals, however I by no means needed to be them. I all the time had my very own id. I’m an entertainer once I’m on stage…and they should clarify that to their youngsters. That’s not my job to try this.
“…Baby One More Time” was launched on October 23, 1998. It debuted on the Billboard Scorching 100 lower than a month later and spent 32 weeks on the charts.
Barry Weiss: We had her a on a mall tour, handing out cassette singles, in the summertime and the autumn. The video got here out fairly simultaneous with the track. It was simply an absolute explosion… By November it was only a worldwide phenomenon.
John Ivey: We felt prefer it was successful. There’s typically you get data, [and you think], I need to play it as quickly as I can. I do know I wasn’t the one person who felt like that. More often than not, for a document like that, I stated, I’ll begin it out at night time, see what the youngsters assume, and see what occurs earlier than we unfold it out to the day. And clearly it turned an enormous monster hit.
The video got here out simply as MTV mixed two present packages (“MTV Live” and “Total Request”) into the brand new, Carson Daly-hosted, soon-to-be-pop-phenomenon “Total Request Live.”
Chris Molanphy: I’m positive when you have been 40 and needed to name TRL, you may. However nobody over 20 was calling TRL. So it was this mainline, hooked to your veins, of what youngsters have been most obsessive about. And it was both the stuff that made them really feel like a tough badass or the stuff that made them swoon. And Britney arrived simply as that is starting. The best way she was introduced as this schoolgirl gone dangerous, it had a mixture of Swedish pure pop crossed with somewhat frisson of edge. It couldn’t have been extra good for the period of TRL.
John Seabrook: MTV had, as much as that time, tried to withstand mainstream pop, as a result of they needed to be perceived as cool… However I feel with Britney, and the video particularly, and the truth that TRL had launched at across the similar time, it actually modified MTV.
John Ivey: Britney had the second degree. Individuals noticed this video and thought, what is that this woman? As a result of everyone latched onto this instantly. It wasn’t very lengthy after that, she was on Rolling Stone.
“…Baby One More Time” didn’t simply launch Britney’s profession: It kicked off the teenager pop growth of the late ‘90s, clearing the best way for a fleet of Britney also-rans and boy bands to dominate TRL and the airwaves just about till youngsters stopped watching TRL and listening to the radio. It additionally was the breakout second for Max Martin, who went on to turn into one of the profitable, influential pop producers in trendy history, and all of the Swedish producers who adopted.
Barry Weiss: What it was like was worldwide domination. And the differential with “…Baby One More Time” and why it was such a cataclysmic occasion, it was the reemergence of pop music.
John Ivey: It will be within the prime percentile of singles prior to now 25 years. As a result of it broke her as an artist and what she turned. It’s like Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” or Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” It’s the music that made her Britney Spears.
John Seabrook: It was instrumental in placing Cheiron and Max and Sweden on the map. Different Swedish songmakers obtained the concept they didn’t simply have to put in writing for Swedes or perhaps Brits; they might write for People and actually faucet into that massive market.
Barry Weiss: I imply look, was she concerned with writing these songs? Max Martin is a genius, okay? He’s sensible. He tailored these data for her. However she would by no means have had the profession with out her imaginative and prescient. She has this innate means to maneuver the media.
Joe Levy: The general public notion is that that is all created, that the document firm created this — the artist, the music, the picture. I’ve to inform you, if the document firm might have created multiple Britney Spears, they might have carried out it, they usually tried! And other people, Mandy Moore is an actress.
John Ivey: There have been a thousand Britney Spears wannabes.
Joe Levy: Britney Spears is somebody who, from the time she was a toddler, needed to be a star. The drive, the willpower, the ambition — it’s a must to give this lady the identical type of respect that Justin Timberlake will get. In any other case, I’m sorry, however you’re partaking in a double normal.
Twenty years later, “…Baby One More Time” sounds as sharp because it ever did: Sultry, catchy as hell, each completely of its time and like one thing that would have been launched this morning.
John Seabrook: I feel the melody is everlasting, or no less than, transcends its late ‘90s period. And I think the words, the first time you hear it, it’s all the time going to be one thing that makes you go, what? Can I say that? Can I sing together with that?
Barry Weiss: It sounds nearly as good now because it did then. It hasn’t weathered or dated.
Chris Molanphy: The best way the music is structured, how the refrain goes to this refrain of voices — the track is structured to ship most pleasure.
John Ivey: There’s some songs that simply have a timeless really feel. I think about when you stated, “Sing a Britney Spears song to me,” that’s the one individuals would sing the hook to. That’s what’s ingrained into your thoughts as what she is. And the factor is, if you take a look at her, she nonetheless seems to be the identical. I imply, she’s older, however you continue to see the identical child there… Once you take a look at Brit, you continue to see her. You continue to see the identical woman. And you realize, it’s a type of issues, I all the time have the sensation too that folks root for her.
^Jeff Fenster stepped down as Warner Bros Data EVP of A&R final December, after he was accused of sexual misconduct by a feminine former government
*From The Billboard Guide of No. 1 Hits
**From a 2001 interview with Leisure Weekly