Every Britney Spears Song Ranked
The world keeps counting her out, and Britney keeps coming back stronger than ever. So let’s celebrate one of the most influential artists of the last 25 years by counting down every song she’s ever done — from world-changing hits to under-appreciated classics to “E-Mail My Heart.”
All hail the pop queen: It’s Britney, bitch. The legend. The innovator. The one and only Mrs. Oh My God That Britney’s Shameless. The woman who’s built up one of the all-time great pop songbooks, even as the world keeps trying to dismiss her as a fluke. It’s crazy how we’re nearly 25 years into the Britney Era, yet people still underrate her artistic impact, because they fixate on her image or her fashion. But of all the gifts Britney Spears has given this planet, it’s her music that comes first.
So let’s celebrate that music. And let’s break it down: all 170 Britney songs, counted from the bottom to the top. The hits. The obscurities. The flops. The deep cuts, B-sides, bonus tracks, covers, duets, loosies, soda commercials. Her club classics. Her radio jams. Her buried treasures. “E-Mail My Heart.” All of it.
As Rolling Stone’s resident Britney expert since the TRL days, I’ve been writing raves about her brilliant music since “…Baby One More Time” was her only song. I got used to people telling me how wrong I was to praise her records to the skies — hell, Britney was one of those people. (How she laughed at me when I told her “Satisfaction” should be a single! Well, you called that one right, B.)
But she’s one of the most influential, innovative pop savants ever, with a massive impact on how music sounds now. It’s been a long-running kick to see her keep evolving, from MTV teen princess to Vegas diva to avant-disco pioneer. No matter how many times she gets written off as a joke, she always surges back, stronger than yesterday.
These days, people love to argue about Britney — her scandals, her controversies, her brave fight for independence. Yet it’s still so taboo to give her credit for her actual music, because people want to pretend she’s some kind of innocent bystander on her own hits. Sorry, but that’s just not credible, given the freakishly consistent sicker-than-the-remix excellence of her artistry. She’s always made the fizziest, splashiest, bestest pop tunes of the moment. I get why you might have issues with calling it “brilliance,” but I do not happen to share those issues — she’s on her own Mount Olympus of brilliance, and always has been. She deserves to be celebrated as one of history’s boldest pop visionaries, not just a case study in celebrity.
The songs on this list aren’t ranked by commercial success, just the level of Britney splendor. Every fan would compile a different list — that’s the beauty of it. You’re guaranteed to disagree, especially when you get to “Dear Diary.” Some of these songs are classics; some are total disasters; one is “E-Mail My Heart.” But let’s face it — they’re never boring. Britney does not do boring.
We’ve seen so many pretenders to her throne come and go. We’ll see more of them. People keep waiting for Britney to be over. They can keep waiting. When people stop claiming Britney’s over, I guess that’ll mean she’s finally over. But they won’t. And she won’t be. So thank you for these songs, Britney Spears. And gimme more.
170. ‘Chillin’ With U’ feat. Jamie Lynn Spears (2013)
A lovey-dovey duet with her sister, Jamie Lynn, from the dark days of the conservatorship. The Spears gals bond over all their happy family memories, clink wine glasses, and sing, “When I’m witchoo, I’m chillin’, I’m chillin’!” Riiiiight. Considering Britney’s testimony about all that went down with her sister and her parents in her long years of captivity, “Chillin’ With U” deserves its own wing in the That Aged Poorly Hall of Fame.
169. ‘Big Fat Bass,’ feat. Will.I.Am (2011)
Imagine how bad a Will.I.Am production for Britney called “Big Fat Bass” might be. Now multiply that by 10. You have just imagined “Big Fat Bass.”
168. ‘E-Mail My Heart’ (1999)
Look, Britney wasn’t wrong. Everyone is doing e-mails! But 23 years later, does she get any credit as a prophet? No! “E-Mail My Heart” has been mocked as Britney’s worst song since the day it came out; even songwriter Eric Foster White admits he’s humiliated by it. (When asked if there’s anything he’d change about the song, he replied, “Not write it?”) Fine, go ahead and laugh, but “E-Mail My Heart” sounds impressively undated now, a prescient warning about social media addiction. “All I do is check the screen, to see if you’re OK” — is that so different from how you’re spending today? Admit it, Britney accurately predicted your damn life.
So is it actually a good song? I was hoping you wouldn’t ask that. No. Kinda sucks. But still not as bad as “Chillin’ With U.”
167. ‘Right Now (Taste the Victory)’ (2001)
If anyone could turn a soda commercial into a great piece of pop trash, it’s our girl. But not this time. Docked a few notches for the title.
166. ‘Crazy,’ Kevin Federline feat. Britney Spears (2006)
Yeah, so K-Fed’s hip-hop career didn’t go far. Who saw that coming? “Crazy” is from his album Playing With Fire, soon after he and Brit immortalized their whirlwind romance in the MTV reality show Chaotic. Yet his rap fame, like their love, was a butterfly too beautiful for this cruel world. He boasts about his “Tupac juice” thug life: “As I march through the valley of the shadow of death/Dark hair on my chest/Wife on my left!” Brit sang the chorus, but even she sounded embarrassed, and this is the woman who sang “E-Mail My Heart.” Federline soon moved on to star in Celebrity Fit Club, alongside Sebastian Bach and Bobby Brown.
165. ‘Pretty Girls,’ Britney Spears and Iggy Azalea (2015)
Ms. B has the ever-amazing ability to redeem flimsy songwriting with her larger-than-life personality — that’s her superpower. But she can’t rescue “Pretty Girls,” a half-assed attempt to reinvent the “Hollaback Girl” wheel, already a reject from the U.K. girl group Little Mix. Neither Brit nor Iggy seemed to want credit for this flop. (Brit axed it from her next album.) Let’s just say the charms of Iggy seem a bit elusive here.
164. ‘Scream and Shout,’ Will.I.Am feat. Britney Spears (2012)
Remember when Johnny Knoxville went on Jimmy Kimmel Live to present an allegedly deleted Britney scene from Jackass 3D? Where she gets locked in a Port-o-Potty, then launched on a bungee cord, for a sewage cocktail of total disgustingness? Then she punches Knoxville in the nads? Good times. (And totally fake, obviously — Brit was on the show that night to do “Till the World Ends.”) Anyway, “Scream and Shout” sounds how that stunt looked, except she’s locked in a Will.I.Am solo album.
163. ‘What It’s Like to Be Me’ (2001)
Justin Timberlake shows off his beatbox skills in this song — just a few months before he slimed her in “Cry Me a River.” Sorry, but a Justin-Britney collabo from 2001 is like Germany duetting with France in 1940.
162. ‘Tik Tik Boom,’ feat. T.I. (2013)
Britney sounds totally bored, but that just proves our girl has taste. T.I. is in even sorrier shape, boasting, “She love the way I eat her, beat her, beat her/Treat her like an animal, somebody call PETA.”
161. ‘Heart’ (2000)
Britney delivers a tearful apology to her most long-suffering companion: her heart. “Heart, I know I’ve been hard on you,” she sniffles. “I’m sorry for the things I’ve put you through.” Listeners who sit all the way through this ballad might have their own apologies coming.
Britney delivers a tearful apology to her most long-suffering companion: her heart. “Heart, I know I’ve been hard on you,” she sniffles. “I’m sorry for the things I’ve put you through.” Listeners who sit all the way through this ballad might have their own apologies coming.
160. ‘I’ll Never Stop Loving You’ (1999)
Not to be confused with “I Will Still Love You.”
159. ‘I Will Still Love You’ feat. Don Philip (1999)
Not to be confused with “I’ll Never Stop Loving You.”
158. ‘It Should Be Easy’ feat. Will.I.Am (2013)
Britney was the singer who proved how fiercely expressive a voice could be with digital robo-glitch distortion — she uses AutoTune the way Elvis used the echo chamber, the way Bob Dylan used the harmonica, the way Hendrix used feedback. Some of her most soulful performances come through a haze of synth fuzz. It’s just one of the many ways she changed how pop music sounds. But Will.I.Am can’t even hear it, so he just punches in her vocals syllable by syllable, till it sounds like a “blink twice if you’re in danger” hostage crisis. An atrocity, especially the way he makes her sing the line, “You bring me Zen.”
157. ‘Body Ache’ (2013)
One of those filler tracks so anonymous that you wonder if Britney’s even heard it. If she missed “Body Ache,” lucky girl.
156. ‘Before the Goodbye’ (2001)
Some of us will always adore Brit Brit in her tearjerker-ballad mode — even in her early TRL days, she could transform slush into magic. Some of us even go to bat for “Dear Diary.” (Just keep reading.) But even I have to admit this one is just depressing. A bonus track from Britney, where she tries to teach herself to be all “OK, fine” about all the ways men will let her down and destroy her self-esteem. Yeeesh.
155. ‘Love Me Down’ (2016)
Her dancehall infatuation has taken her on some ups and downs. As you can guess from the title, this is a down-down-down.
154. ‘My Baby’ (2008)
Mama B’s ode to her kids is too sweet-hearted to dislike (“I smell your breath, it makes me cry”), but not a track meant for anyone else to hear twice.
153. ‘When I Found You’ (2001)
The Britney songbook recycles so many similar titles, which might come from her preference for Swedish songwriters who learn English on the job. “When I Found You” is not the same song as “Now That I Found You,” but who’d bother to tell them apart? Probably not even Britney.
152. ‘The Girl in the Mirror’ (2000)
A soliloquy where Britney tries to get to know the “Girl in the Mirror” better. She’s crying! She has stories in her eyes! Lullabyes and goodbyes! “Girl in the Mirror” got cut from the U.S. version of Oops! I Did It Again — that’s right, we’re talking about a ballad too sappy for an album with room for “Dear Diary.” Respect! It surfaced on NSync & Britney Spears: Your #1 Requests … And More!, a CD sold exclusively at McDonald’s, which makes all the sense in the world.
151. ‘Thinkin’ About You’ (1999)
How many times have you sat around the apartment on a stoned Saturday afternoon asking yourself, “What exactly is the most Steely Dan-influenced Britney song?” All the time, right? The answer: “Thinkin’ About You.” So won’t you smile for the camera?
150. ‘Brightest Morning Star’ (2013)
A sincere attempt at capturing the pathos of Madonna’s “Little Star,” though it could have used a few more minutes of effort in the songwriting department.
149. ‘Where Are You Now’ (2000)
A reject from her debut, exhumed for the second album. Points deducted for the line “close the doors of doubt.”
148. ‘Shadow’ (2003)
In the Zone was such a shocking departure for Britney at the time, going full-tilt into club smut and burning her Mouseketeer bridges. A true visionary, doing true visionary shit. “Shadow” is the only hedged bet on the album — a wretched Matrix ballad the label could take to radio in case her dance experiments failed. But fortunately, her experiments didn’t fail — quite the opposite, as you’ll see way up on this list — so “Shadow” just got left behind by history.
147. ‘(Drop Dead) Beautiful,’ feat. Sabi (2011)
Best moment: the feline “Oooow” that kicks it off.
146. ‘Someday (I Will Understand)’ (2005)
Britney, awaiting the birth of her first child, prays for insight into “God’s plan.” But truth be told, the Lord would probably rather listen to “Toxic” like the rest of us.
145. ‘Hold On Tight’ (2013)
Even though Britney Jean was stronger than people gave it credit for, they sure made her sing a shitload of goopy ballads, which isn’t really her jam.
144. ‘Trip to Your Heart’ (2011)
You know the scene in The Godfather when Marlon Brando weeps over Sonny’s body and says, “Look how they massacred my boy”? Part of being a Britney fan is feeling that way at least once per album. “Trip to Your Heart” on Femme Fatale — why? How did this happen? Who would do such a thing to her? We never wanted this for you, Britney.
143. ‘What You Need’ (2016)
If only she covered the INXS song — or even better, “Devil Inside” or “Don’t Change.” Or “Never Tear Us Apart”? “New Sensation”?
142. ‘What’s Going On’ with Various Artists (2001)
A celebrity charity video for “Artists United Against AIDS Worldwide,” produced by Jermaine Dupri and Bono, with a brief Britney cameo.
141. Til It’s Gone’ (2013)
“You never know what you got till it’s gone”? Guess this is the closest we’ll get to a Joni/Britni duet.
140. ‘Don’t Cry’ (2013)
Another chintzy ballad from the botched second half of Britney Jean. Her “Don’t Cry” doesn’t even compare to Axl Rose’s.
139. ‘Now That I Found You’ (2013)
One of the weirdest production disasters in her entire catalog. For the first 90 seconds or so, “Now That I Found You” is a sparse love ballad, with subtle U2-style guitar, not far from what Taylor Swift did on “Tis the Damn Season.” So promising! Then somebody opens the wrong door and it turns into the fugliest goddamn faux-Abba disco-polka jingle you’ve ever heard in your life. Britney deserves a do-over, not to mention an apology from the producers.
138. ‘I Run Away’ (2001)
There’s a bloody brilliant sonic flourish in this commitment-issues lament — at the 3:20 point, Britney trills, “I run awaaaaay,” and her voice warps into an eight-second electro-splutter until it trails off into dying sparks. Hats off to production-writing duo Brian Kierulf and Joshua M. Schwartz, the unsung heroes behind so many peak Brit moments.
137. ‘Trouble’ (2008)
Britney calling a song “Trouble” is like Springsteen calling a song “Car” or Olivia writing one called “Sad.” Trouble is the oxygen she breathes, and that’s why we love her.
136. ‘Don’t Go Knockin’ on My Door’ (2000)
This breakup song perks up at the end, when Britney stages a little phone-chat intervention with herself — it’s like a TRL version of William Butler Yeats’ “A Dialogue of Self and Soul.” “OK, so listen, so then he goes, ‘No matter what I do for you, it never seems to be enough.’ Eeeew! I can’t believe he said that!” But Brit tells herself the hard truth. “One minute everything’s fine, and the next minute, you’re freaking out — it’s like you’re never satisfied!” It segues right into her version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
135. ‘Let Me Be’ (2001)
She takes a stand against her latest worthless guy, warning him she won’t be crawling back. Nice candle metaphor: “You try to breathe me/But you can’t blow me out.”
134. ‘One Kiss From You’ (2000)
Your basic “Oops!… I Did It Again” teen romance.
133. ‘Shattered Glass’ (2008)
The cool thing about “Shattered Glass” is how Brit pronounces it “glaaay-yeee-aaas.”
132. ‘Just Luv Me’ (2016)
Not to be confused with “Just Like Me.”
131. ‘Just Like Me’ (2016)
Going from “Just Luv Me” to “Just Like Me” on the same album is high concept — a real-time graph of diminished expectations. And Julia Michaels co-wrote them both.
130. ‘Intimidated’ (2001)
If you wade deep into the soundtrack of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius and get past the opening tracks from Aaron Carter and NSync, you will arrive at “Intimidated.” There’s still time to turn back before you reach Aaron’s “A.C.’s Alien Nation.” You’ve been warned.
129. ‘Ooh Ooh Baby’ (2007)
Cute but cloying, in a way that doesn’t fit the bleary late-night murk of Blackout.
128. ‘Trouble for Me’ (2011)
When Brit decides to aim for a Rihanna clone job, she doesn’t go halfway. She’s got some excellent lovergirl patter here, as she says to the trade, “Sweet talk, let’s go, tell me something credible.”
127. ‘The Hook Up’ (2003)
You have to admire Britney’s commitment to making her reggae cred happen, but this can’t hang with “Soda Pop.”
126. ‘Liar’ (2016)
A three-minute splash of bhangra percussion and harmonica breaks.
125. ‘The Answer’ (2003)
You gotta love how this Puff Daddy production steals the absolute last thing anyone would think worth stealing from “I’m a Slave 4 U,” i.e., the melody. But it could have used more personality, considering that it’s Britney and Puffy, the moment’s twin titans of pop hot-mess-itude.
124. ‘When Your Eyes Say It’ (2000)
Now this has personality. “When Your Eyes Say It” is all personality — a nifty example of how she can make a little Britney go a long way, relying on her winsome voice to sell this Diane Warren ballad. Love the poetry recital in the middle, when she gushes, “I love all the ways you show me you’ll never leave!”
123. Various Artists, ‘Hands — A Song for Orlando’ (2016)
A benefit single after the 2016 shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, featuring Selena Gomez, Kacey Musgraves, Mary J. Blige, Gwen Stefani, RuPaul, and many others. Britney takes the opening lines.
122. ‘You Got It All’ (2000)
The Jets’ 1986 ballad was ubiquitous at the time, a real tear-jerker. “You Got It All” seemed destined to be a permanent pop standard, a song we’d always hear at malls, proms, weddings — but for some reason, it did one of history’s weirdest disappearing acts. Nobody remembers it now. (One reason might be the bungled title: Everybody thought it was “You Got It All Over Him,” which is how the chorus goes.) I cherish this song, but I admit Britney’s version doesn’t exactly help the cause, since she misses half the notes in the melody. Justice for forgotten Eighties slow jams! (And don’t even get me started about Gloria Estefan’s “Anything for You.”)
121. ‘I’m So Curious’ (1999)
Charming fluff from the debut, written by the mysterious Eric Foster White, who penned half the album. A song like “I’m So Curious” seems easy to dismiss, but if you listen close, you notice how smartly it’s crafted to flatter her strengths.
120. ‘Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortes)’ (2016)
A gorgeous Latin trip with acoustic-guitar ripples, as she warns, “You don’t wanna cross the line, but I’m-a make you change your mind.”
119. ‘Deep in My Heart’ (1999)
Cornier than corn itself, in the most endearing way, “Deep in My Heart” goes for an early-Nineties Club MTV house vibe, complete with harp glissandos. Plus, Brit pledging her love will last forever.
118. ‘Autumn Goodbye’ (1999)
Sadly, every summer love must have an autumn goodbye, as Britney reminds us that it always ends in “red leaves and blue tomorrows.”
117. ‘He About to Lose Me’ (2011)
The most shameless Gwen Stefani rip ever. Britney’s guy didn’t feel like taking her to the club tonight, so she went out by herself, and uh-oh — “Here I am holding hands with somebody seriously beautiful.” Don’t wait up, doomed dude at home.
116. ‘That’s Where You Take Me’ (2001)
Give Max Martin credit for squeezing every last drop out of the formula. You can practically hear the label guys begging: “Hey, Max, maybe you could write her one that sounds kinda like ‘I Want It That Way’? Or exactly? Hell, give it the same chorus!”
115. ‘Toy Soldier’ (2007)
Brit takes the Blackout blueprint into straight-up comedy, leering at a guy who’s “not talking, he’s just walking like them city boys from New York!” He could be the always-wearing-shades rocker the Shangri-Las lusted for in “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” (“he’s good-bad, but he’s not evil”) a few decades down the line.
114. ‘Hard to Forget Ya’ (2016)
After 20 years of parallel history, it was high time Brit did a flat-out Spice Girls tribute. Damn good one, too.
113. ‘Ooh La La’ (2013)
Brit rocks the Smurfs 2 soundtrack. A hell of a lot better than that Justin Gargamel song about the trolls. Dirtier, too — “Spin me around the way I like” is a surprisingly non-G-rated sentiment.
112. ‘Hidden Track’ (1999)
A spoken-word thank-you from Brit tucked away at the end of her debut CD. “It means so much to me that you enjoy listening to my songs as much as I love singing them!” Then she gives a preview of the new Backstreet Boys album: “Hit it, guys!” In other words, her debut album ends with an ad — now that’s concept, right? But you can also hear the innate musicality of her voice, even when she’s just reading a script. Perfect for filling empty spaces at the end of a summer-‘99 mixtape.
111. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (2006)
Otis Redding would be proud. Who would’ve guessed Britney could get away with attempting one of history’s most revered soul ballads? Every singer on earth knows you can’t cover Otis, unless you’re Aretha, but Britney kneels before this song with the blind humility of a fan, which is the only way to do it.
110. ‘Scary’ (2011)
A Japanese bonus track from Femme Fatale. Groovy use of a horror-movie theremin, plus she rhymes “I need some hypnotherapy” with “I wanna take over your body like it’s Freaky Friday.”
109. ‘Outta This World’ (2007)
An early test flight for her sci-fi side, with Brit raving “I keep seeing universes about you.” The title is in a great girl-group tradition, saluting one of the Chiffons’ greatest hits, “Out of This World.”
108. ‘I Will Be There’ (1999)
The most shameless Natalie Imbruglia rip ever. Like everyone else in 1999, Brit was clearly obsessed with “Torn,” and she gives off such Natalie vibes she might as well be lying naked on the floor.
107. Anticipating (2001)
A bubbly flashback to Seventies roller-skate disco, going for the Chic sound with the god Nile Rodgers himself on guitar.
106. ‘Make Me …,’ feat. G-Eazy (2016)
A slo-mo tale of love in the club, dragged down by the collaborator: an odd choice for a lead single from an album as solid as Glory. G-Eazy raps, “I can tell that you’re a dangerous woman,” making you wonder if Britney got stuck with this terrible guest rap after Ariana turned it down.
105. ‘Walk On By’ (2000)
The B side to “Stronger,” an exuberantly boy-crazy mash note. “Every time you smile, angels cry?” System of a Down were totally bumping this shit and taking notes in Y2K.
104. ‘Can’t Make You Love Me’ (2000)
Britney has her own unique flair for puppy-love bubblegum, which is how she brings so much pizzazz to an otherwise ordinary ditty, chanting, “I’m just a girl with a crush on you!”
103. ‘Lace and Leather’ (2008)
It’s weird how many slap-bass solos appear in her songs — makes you wonder how she and Flea never made any blood sugar sex magik together. Dig that mock Ernie Isley guitar break, too. “Lace and Leather” was the go-to song on the Femme Fatale tour when it was time for the “pull up a random male fan for a lap dance” interlude.
102. ‘Gasoline’ (2011)
When Britney demands you fill up her tank with gasoline, it goes without saying she isn’t driving anywhere: She just wants you to strike a match and watch her go up in flames. It’s awesomely pathological how Pyro Britney reaches into her falsetto to shriek “Set me on fire!”
101. ‘Get Back’ (2007)
Great title — so when do we get an eight-hour Peter Jackson documentary about the making of Blackout?
100. ‘Matches,’ Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys (2016)
How did it take more than two decades for the one duet between Britney and the Backstreet Boys? It was worth the wait. They have the relaxed confidence of exes sneaking back for a sure-thing quickie between divorces, with great lines like “If they dusted me for prints/They’d find you all over me.” “Matches” is where “It’s Britney, bitch!” meets “Backstreet’s back, all right!”
99. ‘Swimming in the Stars’ (2016)
Astro Britney finds true love in outer space — one of the surprisingly reliable themes of her later years. “Swimming in the Stars” is a touching love song, looking up at “seas of city lights.” Nice Depeche Mode Speak and Spell-era synth gurgles, too.
98. ‘What U See (Is What U Get)’ (2000)
Britney insists on expressing her own identity, warning her dude not to try changing her. “Now you think I’m wearing too much makeup? That my dress is too tight?” Speaking of too tight, Max Martin remains hilariously obsessed with getting paid as many times as possible for the exact same track, so this might as well be titled “Oops! I Did ‘Oops! I Did It Again’ Again.”
97. ‘Tom’s Diner,’ Giorgio Moroder feat. Britney Spears (2015)
Legendary disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder gave her a solo spot on his 2015 album, Deja Vu, with her version of the classic Suzanne Vega tale of a NYC diner. (Fun fact: the same one in Seinfeld.) “Tom’s Diner” has a long story in dance music, when it surprisingly became a fave of Nineties techno and hip-hop remixers; then it became the first track ever turned into an MP3. But Brit makes it her own.
96. ‘Cinderella’ (2001)
She was outgrowing Cinderella imagery by 2001, but this time Princess Brit walks out on Prince Charming, telling him “I don’t believe in fairy tales.” It could be her prototype of Taylor Swift’s “White Horse.” Also love the regal diction like “I shall break free” and “I won’t return to thee.”
95. ‘Amnesia’ (2008)
An old-school Phil Spector girl-group tribute with one of her most benign memory-loss plots: When she sees the hot guy in the parking lot, she forgets her name, phone number, even the fact that she’s wearing her boyfriend’s ring. It happens.
94. ‘Outrageous’ (2003)
“Outrageous” was written and produced by one who shall not be named (rhymes with “bizarre bizelly”), with the singer asking “Aren’t I super-glamorous?” It was slated as a theme for the mega-flop Halle Berry flick Catwoman, but Brit managed to dodge that bullet, proving yet again she’s got nine lives like a kitty cat.
93. ‘Everybody’ (2007)
Britney sets out to seduce the night over the Eighties synth-groove of the Eurythmics’ New Wave classic “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” It might seem like an all-too-obvious sample, especially since the Eurythmics had so many cooler hits: Britney should try “Sexcrime (1984)” or “Who’s That Girl?” But she nails the right vibe of sexual obsession, especially when she whispers, “So intense when your scent’s in my vicinity.”
92. ‘If I’m Dancing’ (2016)
A gratifyingly weird hip-house stitch up from Glory. Producer Ian Kirkpatrick gives “If I’m Dancing” the same spritz he brought to Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” and Selena Gomez’s “Bad Liar.” Plus some Prince-style lyrics: “My shop has been all pink and red/But he wants blue and green instead.”
91. ‘Inside Out’ (2011)
Britney sits at her mirror, primping so she can look extra seductive when she breaks up with her dude. Except when he knocks on her door, they start making out, just for old times’ sake, then suddenly they’re not broken up anymore. They turn each other inside out, because they know each other inside out. A celebration of ex sex, especially the way she twists that familiar line, “Hit me one more time!”
90. ‘Mmm Papi’ (2008)
“Sometimes it would take 10 minutes to write a song, like this Spanish twang song called ‘Mmm Papi,’” Britney told Rolling Stone at the time. But “Mmm Papi” is proof that banging it out in 10 minutes is sometimes the way to go. The title made people expect her reggaeton move, but it sounds more like her tribute to Smash Mouth — mod Sixties guitar filtered through Nineties neo-lounge production, as Britney does the peppermint twist in her go-go boots.
89. ‘Better’ (2016)
A bighearted song about learning to trust again, after getting burned — there’s a beautiful moment when she sings, “Show me what’s under your T-shirt/And bare it like it’s your first time/You take it off like you’ve never been hurt.” The faux-tropical production is badly dated, but the song holds up, especially when the music cuts out and she raves, “So good, so good, so damn, so good, so damn, so good, so right, so good!” What she said.
88. ‘Perfume’ (2013)
Britney teams up with Sia for a strange torch ballad about a love triangle — she anoints her man’s naked body with her own distinctive aroma so that the other chick can smell the Britney on him. Like “Jolene,” it’s a triangle where the real action is between the ladies, with the dude as a mere conduit. What kind of scent was she smearing on this guy? Probably it’s her signature fragrance, Cosmic Radiance. Or maybe Fantasy Twist? Curious: In Control? She’s got a lot of fragrances.
87. ‘SMS (Bangerz),’ Miley Cyrus feat. Britney Spears (2013)
A true meeting of minds, from Miley’s smash Bangerz. Their Salt-N-Pepa-inspired duet could have used more Britney, but she nails her 30-second cameo, spitting “Catwalk, slick talk, flirting with the big dog.”
86. ‘Blur’ (2008)
One of those morning-afters when you wake up and the first thing you say is “Turn the lights out/This shit is way too fucking bright.” “Blur” is a hangover scenario that feels all too vivid, especially when she asks, “What’s your name, man?”
85. ‘Private Show’ (2016)
A controversial song for sure — many Britney fans would rank it at the absolute bottom. “Private Show” might seem like a dippy tune about humping a stripper pole, but it’s so much more: It’s her Black Mirror episode. She thinks she’s sharing an intimate lap-dance moment with her guy, begging him to close the curtains — until she notices there’s an audience eyeballing her. For Britney, that’s real life as she knows it. Her private show is public property. (As she told Entertainment Tonight, “‘Private Show’ is inevitably a sexy song and it promotes feeling sexy and girls feeling alive, and I think that’s fun for girls.”) The fact that the single really was a private show — i.e., nobody bought it, played it on the radio, or even noticed it came out — just adds to the mise en scene.
84. ‘My Only Wish (This Year)’ (2000)
How is it possible this is her only Christmas song? It’s an outrage, considering that NSync got their own Home for Christmas album, complete with Justin singing “I Never Knew the Meaning of Christmas” (until he met Britney). “My Only Wish (This Year)” was the leadoff track on the Jive sampler Platinum Christmas, which also had the Backstreet Boys, TLC, and the Dave Matthews Band. Britney writes a letter to Santa, asking him to leave a boyfriend under her Christmas tree: “I can’t be alone under the mistletoe/He’s all I want in a big red bow!” Like all men in Britney’s life, Santa disappoints her.
83. ‘Dear Diary’ (2000)
One of the most divisive songs in her catalog — for obvious reasons, people really hate this one. But they’re just wrong, wrong, wrong. Britney speaks to the lonely teenage girl in all of us, confiding her secrets to her journal because nobody understands her. (“Dear diary — today I saw that boy!”) Totally love the mega-cheese Eighties keyboard goop — something about the intro triggers the sensation of hearing Delilah on the radio in the pizza place at 2 a.m.
82. ‘Invitation’ (2016)
Like everybody else in 2015, Britney got blown away by Selena Gomez’s Revival, one of the past decade’s most influential pop albums. (You could say it did for the 2010s what Blackout did for the 2000s.) Selena’s “Hands to Myself” was the best Britney-style pop hit in years, so it makes sense that with “Invitation,” Brit took her own sip of that metaphorical gin and juice. She explores some mild kink, whispering “I know it might sound crazy but I’m-a put you in this blindfold/I just need you to trust me.”
81. ‘Coupere Électrique’ (2016)
The world needed to know: What does it sound like when Britney’s singing in French? Exactly like Britney!
80. ‘S&M (Remix),’ Rihanna feat. Britney Spears (2011)
Britney joins Rihanna for a remix duet of the Number One kink trip “S&M.” She spices it up, begging Rihanna to collar her with lines like “I don’t scream mercy/It’s your turn to hurt me.” They teamed up for a memorable live performance at the Billboard Music Awards, with Britney dolled up in handcuffs and leather like a bunny gimp.
79. ‘Soda Pop’ (1999)
Britney’s ska era is so underrated. She rubs her dub all over “Soda Pop,” a reminder of how irie huge Sublime and Sugar Ray were in the Nineties. Guest toaster-for-hire Mikey Bassie is the first, and possibly the last, to compare Britney to “the great poets Homer, Agamemnon, or even Zeus.”
79. ‘Why Should I Be Sad’ (2007)
The most bummed-out moment on Blackout, produced by the Neptunes, with Britney washing a worthless ex-husband out of her hair and scoffing at “the stupid freaking things that you do.” It ends her darkest album on a hopeful note, with Britney resolving “It’s time for me to move along/I’m tired of singing sad songs.”
77. ‘Overprotected’ (2001)
“I believe in taking chances”? You don’t say, Britney. In “Overprotected,” she’s a princess sick of being so darn sheltered — she needs to break free, be part of that world. The celebrity fatigue seems real, despite Max Martin’s same-old track. Best hook: the weird sample of Seventies glitter rockers Sweet yelling, “Action!”
76. ‘Clumsy’ (2016)
“Clumsy” is one of those Britney songs that feels accidentally autobiographical, even when it’s disguised as a mindless party bop. The tension builds until Britney gulps “Ooops!” and a wall of in-the-red synth fuzz slams down — the noise a needy party girl hears in her head when she suddenly realizes she’s felt too much, asked for too much, been too much. But she jumps forward into the beat, dancing one step ahead of that noise with all her too-muchness intact, chasing those handclaps to the next party. Ooops, she did it again.
75. ‘The Beat Goes On’ (1999)
Britney’s first recorded Cher tribute. Her debut album ends with the Sonny and Cher classic — and she turns it into a mission statement, boldly inserting herself (and her teen-girl audience) into the long tradition of pop music. Like the song says, “History has turned the page.” Brit started out as a little kid belting “If I Could Turn Back Time” at talent shows, so her Cher fandom comes full circle here. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc2UywvKyp] La-di-da-di-di. La-di-da-di-da. The beat goes on.”
74. ‘Phonography’ (2008)
“Everybody’s got some freaky tendencies!” Ah, yes. Britney gets into the unbelievably hot and heavy world of phone sex, and since it’s from 2008, the tech jargon is a bit dated. But that’s part of the charm, especially when she moans, “I like my Bluetooth/Buttons coming loose/I need my hands free!” Britney and her Mr. Telephone Man stay up all night with their Sidekicks, talking sexy about ringtones and star 69. Bonus points for not adding a MySpace subplot.
73. ‘Bombastic Love’ (2001)
Sure, but it’s good formula. “Bombastic Love” is Britney kicking and screaming to fight off adulthood, celebrating teen lust as rebellion against the uptight world. Max Martin cranks up the hyperbolic beats to meet her feral yowls, until it lives up to the title.
72. ‘(I’ve Just Begun) Having My Fun’ (2003)
“I’ve Just Begun (Having My Fun)” came before her marriage, but even at the time, it gave “just-divorced mama out for blood” energy. A post-breakup Britney hits the town, ready to break hearts and raise some hell. Prudes got their hackles up about this hit — so what else is new? The synth-funk buzz evokes the Gap Band in their “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” heyday.
71. ‘Lonely’ (2001)
One of the first songs where Young Britney learns to talk tough to the menfolk. “What you think, I’m just another chick? Mess with Brit, boy, you must have tripped!” Last July, her boyfriend Sam Asghari posted an Instagram video of her bopping out to “Lonely” in the car, as she tells him, “This is a song I wrote that I was proud of.” He replies, “I love this song,” because he’s no fool.
70. ‘We Will Rock You,’ with Pink and Beyoncé (2004)
What could be more 2004 than a Pepsi commercial starring Britney, Bey, and Pink as ancient Roman gladiators in the Colosseum? These three warrior queens step into the arena, scare away the lions, terrify the emperor, and lead the crowd in a death chant of “We Will Rock You.” You can spot members of Queen clapping along in togas, plus Enrique Iglesias as the emperor. A much greater work of cinematic art than Bohemian Rhapsody, with three stars who could give Freddy Mercury diva lessons. Hope we get a chance to hear Britney sing “Somebody to Love.”
69. ‘Girls and Boys’ (2003)
It’s damn near impossible to do a dud titled “Girls and Boys”: cf. Prince, Blur, Good Charlotte. You think Britney’s gonna let that happen? She co-wrote this electro-porn morning-sex bop with Linda Perry. “Girls and Boys” should have been a monster hit, but it didn’t even make the album, getting stuck as a bonus track on the DVD version of In the Zone. A showcase for her 1980s New Wave style, in the hook (“Good little girls and good little boys make love togetherrrrr”), she quotes synth-pop pioneers Berlin and their 1982 pleasure-victim classic “Sex (I’m a …).” This song honestly should rank higher, but something has to be at 69, and this one earned it.
68. ‘Perfect Lover’ (2007)
Keri Hilson summed up Blackout aptly in The Fader: “We were given the specific direction that she did not want the music to mimic her personal life. So we figured, OK, so let’s create a fantasy world that she would be happy in.” That’s exactly what happens on “Perfect Lover.” Britney inhabits an artificial world all her own, falling in love with a beat that satisfies her more than any flesh-and-blood lover can.
67. ‘Out From Under’ (2008)
A poignant guitar ballad about a woman trapped in a suffocating relationship who finally escapes — a story Britney has lived on so many levels. Musically and lyrically, “Out From Under” feels like a prequel to “Passenger” a few years later.
66. ‘Like a Virgin/Hollywood,’ Madonna feat. Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Missy Elliott (2003)
The 2003 MTV Video Music Awards began with a bang: Britney dressed up in Madonna’s vintage white-lace bridal gown, emerging from a giant wedding cake to sing “Like a Virgin” onstage at Radio City Music Hall. Then Britney shares a forbidden kiss with Madonna herself. It segues into “Hollywood,” with Christina Aguilera and Missy Elliott. (I was a writer on the show, so we all snuck down to see these rehearsals — which meant an entire afternoon of Madonna and Britney making out.) Madonna put the MTV VMA performance on her Remixed & Revisited album.
65. ‘Seal It With a Kiss’ (2011)
Britney sets up a secret rendezvous — in public, these two pretend to be just friends, but it’s different “in the shadows where it’s hot.” There’s pathos in the way she keeps sighing “I want you like that.”
64. ‘Quicksand’ (2008)
Back in 2008, right in the final minutes before Stefani Germanotta blew up into the Mother of all Monsters, she wrote this bad-romance piano ballad for Britney. You can still hear Lady Gaga’s vocals in the background. “Britney is a nice girl,” Gaga said at the time. “I used to scream for her in Times Square, and now I work for her. When I was 13, she was the most provocative performer of my time!” (You have to admit, that’s shade worthy of a Bette Davis movie.)
63. ‘Up N’ Down’ (2011)
“I got all tricked out and came out to this thing/Looking so fire hot, a 20 out of 10” — love it when Freakney is feeling herself. “Up ’N’ Down” goes hard in her predator mode — “the beat just dropped and the room got sexy” — as she prowls the club, pouncing on the lap of her new conquest. Max Martin and Shellback help her go for vintage technotronic kicks. A flawless Femme Fatale banger that didn’t fit on the original album but defines it anyway.
62. ‘And Then We Kiss’ (Junkie XL Remix, 2005)
An unusual item in her songbook: “And Then We Kiss,” as remixed by Junkie XL, the kind of smoothed-out, sophisto Europop she’d never much fancied before. It would made a clever left-field pick for the closing credits of a movie romance with a bittersweet ending.
61. ‘Slumber Party,’ feat. Tinashe (2016)
Her steamy sleepover with Tinashe has a warm, woozy vibe that evokes Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope. If “Slumber Party” had been the leadoff single from Glory instead of “Make Me…,” that album might be remembered very differently now.
60. ‘Mannequin’ (2008)
The scariest of “Mannequin” songs — B flosses on the catwalk, but behind the glitz, she can feel herself turning into a life-size plastic doll. “I’m frozen, I’m posing” — what an image for the celebrity damage she was going through at the time. What can it mean that the title role in Mannequin was played by Kim Cattrall, who breaks Brit’s heart so rudely in Crossroads?
59. ‘Rock Me In’ (2008)
An underrated New Wave nugget from the Circus sessions, with jagged rhythm-guitar blurts from Greg Kurstin and Nicole Morier. If “Rock Me In” had come from some unknown band with studded belts, leather bracelets, and emo fringes, it could have brought down the house at the When We Were Young Festival.
58. ‘Early Mornin’’ (2003)
Finally, a song where we get to hear Britney yawn. “All right, I was out a little late last night,” she explains. “Got a little messy.” “Early Mornin’” is a superbly sultry R&B jam from In the Zone: She walks us through a night in her life, shaking her ass from club to club to hotel and back to club. She gets home by dawn, passes out on the couch, wakes up to do it all over again.
57. ‘Selfish’ (2011)
Let’s face it, Femme Fatale should have been a double album. Any other star in the biz could have built a career on “Selfish,” but for Britney, it’s just another amazing unknown bonus track. She flexes some of her favorite vocal poses in the mirror, to a Stargate synth-disco boom. She also tries some playful topping (“Sit down, shut up, who’s the boss now?/I’m about to show you now that I’m a girl and you’re a boy”), with fantasies quoting OutKast, Joni Mitchell, and James Brown.
56. ‘Chaotic’ (2005)
From her MTV reality show with ex-husband K-Fed — Chaotic, they called it, wonder why. Give Brit credit for capturing the sound of a dizzy romance spinning out of control. “Do you like the way I rock it? Boy, I think it’s so chaotic!” That’s fair warning.
55. ‘Man on the Moon’ (2016)
“Man in the Moon” is another one of her Bowie space trips — she’s so great at these that she should just do an all-out sci-fi Britney Stardust album. She pines over a Major Tom astro-boy who’s stolen her heart and then left the planet (“Send my message into outer space/Wonder if it’s gonna float your way”) and sobs, “Houston, I know there’s a problem!” The melody comes from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which makes zero sense, but that just makes it more strangely touching.
54. ‘I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll’ (2001)
Her cover versions are such a crucial part of her game, and this Joan Jett cosplay is a prime example. It’s an iconic scene in Crossroads: Britney enters a karaoke contest at a sleazy New Orleans dive, so she and her BFFs can get their car fixed on their road trip. Britney wins the cash prize by belting “I Love Rock & Roll” in a “Freedom” crop top, because America. Bonus: The karaoke host is played by old-school hip-hop legend Kool Moe Dee. Brit explained she did “I Love Rock & Roll” because “I love Pat Benatar!” (Close enough, right?) “It’s like she’s a rock & roll chick and she’s just having a good time, and it’s a very empowering song.” Twenty years later, Brit still doesn’t give a damn about her bad reputation.
53. ‘Born to Make You Happy’ (1999)
A 16-year-old weeping “I don’t know how to live without your love”? If that isn’t authentic teen-girl melodrama, what is? Best moment in the video: Britney and her guy slip off to the bedroom for a sensual pillow fight. Obviously, she wins.
52. ‘(I Got That) Boom Boom,’ feat. Ying Yang Twins (2001)
A milestone of cowgirl crunk, with Atlanta hip-hop duo the Ying Yang Twins and a banjo groove. Like our yeehaw queen says, “This is for all the Southern boys out there!”
51. ‘Brave New Girl’ (2003)
“There’s a brave new girl, and she’s coming out tonight” is such a quintessential Brit hook. She perfected the concept of shy girls copping a badass attitude and forcing themselves out onto the floor. “Brave New Girl” is serious Madonna worship — it rips both “Material Girl” and “Ray of Light”? — that could have made a perfect theme song for a high-school sitcom on the WB. Bonus points for the title, quoting Shakespeare’s The Tempest in the scene where island-girl Miranda sees other humans for the first time, the Britney-est moment in all the Bard’s work. (But we could go on all day about the countless Shakespeare-Spears connections.)
50. ‘Mood Ring (By Demand) — Pride Remix’ (2020)
There’s only one bitch. The real one. Britney.” Well then. The DJ Mustard-produced “Mood Ring” was originally a bonus track on the Japanese deluxe edition of Glory. But in 2020, with the Free Britney movement on the rise, online fans led a #JusticeForGlory campaign to get her 2016 album charting again. Brit dropped “Mood Ring (By Demand)” as a thank-you to the faithful in late May — then watched it top the U.S. iTunes sales chart, just in time for Pride. The song’s rebirth seemed to symbolize hers.
49. ‘My Prerogative’ (2004)
Britney raises a Cheeto martini to the Eighties hit from Bobby Brown, the Teddy Riley collab that helped invent New Jack Swing. But Britney really sinks her fangs into the chorus — “Everybody talking all this stuff about me/Why don’t they just let me live?” She sings “My Prerogative” like it’s her life story, which it is.
48. ‘Do You Wanna Come Over?'(2016)
A Britflix-and-chill booty call, cooing over a frisky acoustic-guitar loop. “Do You Wanna Come Over?” makes a late-night “u up?” text sound like a political statement, as she boldly declares, over and over, “Nobody should be alone if they don’t have to be!” Who could argue with that? As Britney told Matt Lauer in her classic 2006 Dateline interview, “I think everybody should be pro-love, you know?”
47. ‘Don’t Hang Up’ (2003)
An overlooked gem from In The Zone, an airy synth-disco focused on her breathy ardor. Don’t worry, B — if he hangs up, you can always e-mail his heart. She wrote it with one of her fave songwriting duos, Brian Kierulf and Joshua M. Schwarz, who penned TRL-era classics like Aaron Carter’s “Aaron’s Party (Come Get It),” Nick Carter’s “Girls in the USA (Featuring Mr. Vegas),” and Willa Ford’s “I Wanna Be Bad.”
46. ‘Rock Boy’ (2008)
One of everyone’s favorite Britneys: the leather-chick headbanger who sounds like she spent the Eighties prowling the Sunset Strip metal clubs with a switchblade in one hand and a spare can of Aqua Net in the other. “Rock Boy” is where she turns into MotNey Crue, snarling “Meet me in your dressing room” like she knows she’s the real star of the show.
45. ‘Showdown’ (2003)
“I don’t really wanna be a tease/Would you undo my zipper please?” Britney, always there to cut to the chase. “Showdown” is one of the first of her many killer collabs with Bloodshy and Avant, with Britney whispering her salacious come-ons.
44. ‘Over to You Now’ (2005)
A summit of electro-pop legends: Robyn and Imogen Heap pitch in to write a Britney disco banger. And even by her standards, it’s a filthy one. In “Over to You Now,” Brit invites her lover to go somewhere secret, somewhere new. “Do you like this? This place that I’m bringing you to? Because I do!” My, oh, my — wherever could this location be? “This special place, it’s in the basement,” she explains. “It’s kinda hard to find the entrance/You need some juice.” In case you’re not getting it, she keeps moaning, “Oh, my God!” Happy travels, you two.
43. ‘Passenger’ (2013)
The most shameless “Halo” rip ever — but there’s no sin in that, since every artist should rip “Halo” at least once. Britney hits the road with her lover at the wheel, finally trusting somebody enough to be a passenger. (“My hands in the air while you’re driving/This is living!”) Katy Perry, Sia, and the rest of the writing team came up with a seriously touching lyric, too. Britney earned her halo — I just wish “Passenger” came out in time for the Crossroads soundtrack.
42. ‘Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know’ (2000)
Britney tries to get a little emotion out of her boyfriend (hmmm — anyone we know?), but like the dude in an Olivia Rodrigo song, he’s not the compliment type. Herb Ritts directed the steamy beach video, in the mode of his classic clips for Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” and Madonna’s “Cherish,” with Britney wearing an impractical macrame bikini. “Don’t Let Me Be the Last To Know” was written by Mutt Lange and Shania Twain; as Shania-Britney moments go, it’s up there with the great Crossroads scene where Britney sings “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”
41. ‘Telephone (Demo)’ (2010)
Her demo of the Lady Gaga classic, before the songwriter turned it into her own hit. The bare-bones “Telephone” demo leaked in 2010; Rodney Jerkins strips it down to the sound of a plucked harp and a jaded party girl strung out on AutoTune paranoia. The song will always belong to Gaga and Bey, but the intensity of this demo is pure Britney.
40. ‘Touch of My Hand’ (2003)
It makes sense that one of her most openhearted love songs is a tribute to, well, the touch of her hand. She makes her solo date night so romantic, murmuring, “I can draw the blinds and teach myself to fly.” Britney has always called it one of her most personal songs, and one of her favorites. “I really love the vibe of ‘Touch of My Hand,’ ” she said. “I love the subject that, you know, I’m touching on because no one’s really talked about some of those things in a lot of songs written lately because people are scared to go there and to express themselves in that way. And, you know, I think it’s an empowering thing for girls.”
39. ‘Don’t Keep Me Waiting’ (2011)
Our girl is so underrated as a rock & roll queen, with air-guitar anthems like this one. “Don’t Keep Me Waiting” is Britney in “listens to the Strokes once” mode, a Darkchild-produced bonus from Femme Fatale, stuck on Meet Me in the Bathroom-era NYC garage punk. She slides from a Karen O squeal to one of her funniest fake English accents. If you’re matching Britney’s songs with her fragrances, this one is definitely Rocker Femme Fantasy, which combines top notes of blackberry, coconut, and whipped cream for a scent that is feminine, fresh, and light.
38. ‘Break the Ice’ (2007)
“My heart’s beating like an 808,” she pants — as if they’ve invented an 808 that can keep up with her. “Break the Ice” sums up the Blackout vibe: the red-eyed club-goggles electro-wooosh frazzle of a Saturday night that’s dragged on till Tuesday.
37. ‘Do Somethin’’ (2004)
Brit-Brit was on such a relentless creative roll at this point that people were worn out with the way she kept jumping from one great hit to another. “Do Somethin’” was her way of daring the world to keep up with her, as she jeers that it’s time to get your back off the wall and rise to the challenges of the Britney lifestyle. Excellent question: “What you gonna do when the crowd goes ayoooo?”
36. ‘Hold It Against Me’ (2011)
The first taste of Femme Fatale turned out to be a totally accurate teaser of a ridiculously great album. “Hold It Against Me” is her hyper-aggressive electro lechery, with a weird breakdown in the middle where she moans, blows kisses, and snaps her gum. The lyrics are in Austin Powers-Benny Hill territory: “If I said I want your body now/Would you hold it against me?”
35. ‘Radar’ (2007)
For legal reasons, “Radar” was featured on both Blackout and Circus, but with a song like this, expertly devised by Bloodshy and Avant, and the Clutch, nobody would complain if she slapped it on all her albums. She recorded her vocals the day after she filed for divorce, which might explain the extra heat she puts into ready-to-mingle sentiments like “Confidence is a must/Cockiness is a plus/Edginess is a rush.”
34. ‘From the Bottom of My Broken Heart’ (1999)
Could we just take a moment to honor this video? Grunge Britney, with her fuzzy bucket hat, oversize cardigan, and denim bell-bottoms. Sitting pensively in her tree swing, beads and braids in her hair. Purple eye-shadow. Packing up her suitcase to hop on the bus and leave her small-town home, because that’s what you do when your heart is broken. Some fans do not feel this song or this video. You just can’t reason with these people.
33. ‘Circus’ (2008)
“There’s two types of people in the world/The ones that entertain and the ones that observe.” Guess which kind Britney is? “Circus” is her defiant statement about living her life in the public eye, explaining, “I’m a ‘put on a show’ kind of girl.” “Circus” twists the invasion-of-privacy realities of celebrity life: Any time Britney walks into a room, she turns it into a spectacle where she’s the ringmaster, cracking the whip and turning the rest of us into her extras.
32. ‘Get Naked (I Got a Plan)’ (2007)
One reason Blackout came out so great: Everybody involved assumed it was a commercial bomb, so they could beta test any crazy idea, figuring there was no risk because nobody would ever hear it. “We were able to create without any distractions, or anyone giving us any real direction,” producer Danja said. “We were free.” You can hear that in “Get Naked (I Got a Plan)” — there’s no real song, just an electro-sludge loop and a brilliant title, yet that’s all they needed for five minutes of divine funk madness.
31. ‘I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman’ (2001)
From the cinematic masterpiece that is Crossroads. Britney writes this song as a poem in her diary, while on her road trip to reunite her birth mother, played by Kim Cattrall. (Which means her parents were Dan Aykroyd circa The Blues Brothers and Kim Cattrall circa Porky’s? Makes you think.) She sings “I’m Not a Girl” at the end, and we all realize things have got way learned. For some insane reason, the Oscar for Best Actress went to Nicole Kidman for playing Virginia Woolf, but Woolf herself would have been the first to say Britney earned it.
30. ‘Me Against the Music,’ feat. Madonna (2003)
Two goddesses. One cage. Yet both emerge victorious. Madonna and Britney go face to face on the dance floor, like Obi-Wan matching lightsabers with Darth Vader. They call this a “friendly competition,” but Brit’s a lifelong Madonna fan, so no way is she falling for that shit — she knows that with Ms. Ciccone, there’s no such thing as friendly competition. “Me Against the Music” brings out the beast in both of them. Every time Madonna coos, “Hey Britney!,” an angel gets her wings.
29. ‘(You Drive Me) Crazy’ (1999)
If you were a fan of the Backstreet Boys’ “Larger Than Life,” you probably also loved Brit’s “(You Drive Me) Crazy,” since they have the exact same backing track. Max Martin, have you no shame? “Crazy” became the summer-’99 theme for the Melissa Joan Hart/Adrian Grenier rom-com, with Britney playing a waitress in the MTV video. Melissa and Britney also bonded on a very special episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Melissa: “You’re always surrounded by people!” Britney: “Sometimes that’s the loneliest place to be.” No kidding.
28. ‘Kill the Lights’ (2008)
B goes hard in revenge mode, a fantasy of punching out papparazzi and going all Don Barzini on their cameras, screeching, “I kiiiiiill the lights!” It begins with a quote from the infamous 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast that panicked America into thinking it was a real Martian invasion: “Ladies and gentleman, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin!” In other words, “Kill the Lights” is the first Britney song that has Orson Welles as a co-writer, though you could argue she lived out Citizen Kane.
27. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ (2000)
Let it bleed, Britney. Our girl is an absolute genius at sacrilegious cover versions, and “Satisfaction” is her boldest, vandalizing the Rolling Stones and making her own claim on the rock & roll hell-raising tradition. You would not believe how mad boomer dudes got over this, but her arrogance is worthy of Mick Jagger himself. She twists the line “how white my shirts could be” into “how tight my skirt should be,” snarling in libidinal frustration. It’s only rock & roll, but she likes it.
26. ‘Work Bitch’ (2013)
Her love song to the hustle, chanting “You better work, bitch!” over a bitch-perfect tinsel-disco beat. She barks dominatrix commands in her finest Kensington-via-Kentwood accent, like the warden in a low-budget women’s-prison flick. Like so many of her hits, “Work Bitch” adds up the high costs of stardom, but it all just makes her greedier for more.
25. ‘Mona Lisa’ (2005)
“Mona Lisa” is a deep cut that only the most hardcore fanatics know — from the bonus CD that came with the Britney & Kevin: Chaotic DVD. But it’s one of her toughest, darkest comments on stardom. She co-wrote it with her live band, sounding pissed-off, in a “Lucky” sequel that begins, “This is a story about Mona Lisa.” But this Mona Lisa is a clone who hides behind her smile and plots her rebellion. She dishes the dirt about celebrity: “I’ve got a little story to tell / About Mona Lisa and how she suddenly fell… / Now I am taking over to release her from her spell!” No wonder the label didn’t want to release it. Britney previewed the song on Ryan Seacrest’s L.A. radio show in 2004, dedicating it to “the legends and icons out there.” It might be the most autobiographical thing she’s ever done, with lines like, “Everyone’s watching as she starts to fall.” Britney at her rawest and realest—a taste of her mythical lost album Original Doll.
24. ‘Hot as Ice’ (2007)
Britney was born the year Rick James ruled the radio with “Super Freak,” so it’s fitting she nails this tribute, starring as the kind of girl you read about in New Wave magazines. “Hot as Ice” is the most expert Rick James clone job since Cameo did “Word Up,” with Danja doing his nasty I’m-Rick-James-bitch background vocals. But it sounds totally Britney. “This ain’t no foolishness or fuckery,” she declares — spoken like a girl who wants to party all the time.
23. ‘Sometimes’ (1999)
The great forgotten Britney hit. “Sometimes” was her all-important second single, after “…Baby One More Time” put her on the map. Keep in mind, this was the summer of 1999, the all-time peak of one-hit wonders — back then, going from one hit to two was even tougher than the jump from zero to one. “Sometimes” was the hit that gave her a career. And much more than the debut single, “Sometimes” invented her image as the all-American teen queen of TRL Nation. (“I don’t wanna be so shy / Everytime that I’m alone I wonder why”—way too relatable.) She also introduced her trademark video move of rolling her eyes up at the camera. Ariana Grande clearly studied this video like a chess master studying Bobby Fischer. Blink-182 built a career on making fun of it. The video also has an all-time peak for MTV cheese: While Brit feels her feelings, her elfin dancers surround her on the pier in the shape of a heart.
22. ‘Criminal’ (2011)
She’s got something to confess, Mama — she’s in love with an evil outlaw who’s got no conscience (“None! None! None! None!”) and no heart. But anyone can hear that Brit is the “Criminal” she’s singing about. This Femme Fatale highlight is a bizarre Ray Davies pastiche, with a Village Green Preservation Society-style flute/guitar playing the melody from the Kinks classic “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.” How does she get away with crazy shit like this? Because she’s not like everybody else.
21. ‘Alien’ (2013)
The Bowie-Britney connection runs deep. It’s crazy how much these two extraterrestrial pop voyagers have in common — the Blondes Who Fell to Earth. “Alien” is a lonely space-girl ballad where Major Britney floats across the galaxy, looking for a planet where she might finally feel at home, over William Orbit synth bleeps. “I always felt like a stranger in a crowd,” she sings, her sad-robot voice filtered through layers of cosmic dust.
20. ‘Freakshow’ (2007)
It’s freakshow o’clock, which means Britney’s holding down the 10-to-4 shift, giving slut-drop seminars at the sweatiest club in town. And if the people stare, then the people stare — she’s going to give them a spectacle to stare at. (Hell, she’s a put-on-a-show kind of girl.) But before she leaves, she’s grabbing a couple of boys to go. Bloodshy and Avant perfect every detail, right down to the way she purrs, “So outside the norm!” This song has always been one of her personal faves — one of the only Blackout tunes where she gets a writing credit — and you can hear why in her voice. “Freakshow” is all about strutting through your everyday life like the whole planet is a tabletop for you to dance on, kicking expensive drinks into the world’s faces, and is she wrong? No. She’s not.
19. ‘Unusual You’ (2008)
That rarity of rarities, a Britney love story with a happy ending. In “Unusual You,” she gets candid about her past relationship baggage, and wonders how this new lover could be so different: “Didn’t anyone tell you you’re supposed to break my heart?” Bloodshy and Avant come up with a production that captures the wary surprise she feels, with an Abba-worthy melody ripped up and stapled back together.
18. ‘Till the World Ends’ (2011)
Britney delivers the Apocalypse Now of Eurotrash cheese-overload dance jams, as that throbbing pulse builds to a drop-the-bomb chorus. And the “Whoa-ho-ho” choir sounds like Cher leading an aircraft carrier of gay sailors.
17. ‘Boys’ (2001)
Brit teams up with the Neptunes to sashay into the club, grab the nearest sexy stranger, and turn the dance floor into her own little nasty world. To say the least, it’s a topic she would go on to explore in great detail. Great pickup line: “I’m not trying to sound conceited, but me and you were meant to be.”
16. ‘Breathe on Me’ (2003)
Britney whispers her way through an AMSR session of heavy-breathing erotic telepathy, with two lovers so in sync that they don’t even need to touch. “Boy, don’t stop because I’m halfway there,” she sighs, even though she sounds like she’s already been there and back in the 30 seconds since the song started. As she told MTV, “Breathe on Me” is “basically about being with a guy and not having to really be with each other, but just the intensity and the anxiety between not saying anything. You don’t even have to touch me, just breathe on me.” Also essential: Jacques LuCont’s clubbier Thin White Duke Mix, courtesy of Stuart Price, the beatmaster behind Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor.
15. ‘Heaven on Earth’ (2007)
She feels love, she feels love, she feels love. This disco fantasy begins with Giorgio Moroder-style sequencers shivering in anticipation, then goes off the rails as Britney moans, “I fall off the edge of my mind!” Pure exhilaration.
14. ‘Womanizer’ (2008)
Eddie Van Halen liked to say he wanted his band to sound “like Godzilla waking up,” and that’s how “Womanizer” sounds. This hyper-loud synth-pop eruption is also a merciless attack on the masculine mystique, a topic Britney knows well. “Womanizer” is one of her most famous comeback hits, but she’s been counted out so many times that she’s racked up more comeback hits than anyone. With Britney, it’s the non-comeback hits that are rarities.
13. ‘Oops!… I Did It Again’ (2000)
When I interviewed Britney in 2000, she dismissed her new album as “totally ridiculous” and said next time she was going to get a house in Spain, learn guitar, and write the songs herself. OK, that didn’t happen, but “Oops! I Did It Again” is simply flawless. It all comes down to the brutal growl in her voice — she articulates a violently ambivalent sexual confusion, a girl flailing to figure out her desires before the world decides for her. Everybody who was expecting her to fall on her face — which means the entire music biz — got served when “Oops!” put her right back on top of her TRL throne.
12. ‘If You Seek Amy’ (2008)
It’s the way she snickers — “Ha-ha, hee-hee, ha-ha-ho!” — that makes this one slightly scary as well as brilliant. “If You Seek Amy” got attention for the playful censor-baiting chorus: “All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to/ If you seek Amy!” (Say it out loud.) But the beat is even funnier than the words. And by the end, all of the boys and all of the girls have a point.
11. ‘Stronger’ (2000)
“I’m not your property as from today, baby,” Britney sings, before she (or we) had any idea how many times she’d have to live out this song. “Stronger” has turned into her “I Will Survive” anthem, especially the heart-stopping moment where she yells, “Here I go,” then listens as her voice echoes back over the silence. She sounds stronger than several thousand yesterdays, but her loneliness ain’t killing her no more.
10. ‘Gimme More’ (2007)
It’s Britney, bitch! Any fan in 2007 would have been shocked — but delighted — to learn that future generations would revere “Gimme More” as an electro-sleaze classic. At the time, it was regarded as her pitiful career-ending crash. She debuted it at the MTV Video Music Awards, a notorious disaster where she just gave up and stopped halfway through. (After “Gimme More,” radio wouldn’t touch the other Blackout singles.) But whenever life gives Britney a flop, she turns it into flop-ade, and this song has come to symbolize the indestructible spirit that keeps this woman dancing back every time she gets knocked down flat. It’s called “Gimme More” for a reason — because all you people want is more, more, more, more, more! 9
Britney sat down at the piano in the aftermath of her traumatic split with Justin Timberlake and wrote this ballad. “Everytime” could be Britney flipping a finger at “Cry Me a River,” Justin’s back-stabbing attack on her. But it’s a more personal statement than that — it’s about resilience in the face of pain. “I really think I’m talking to everyone when I perform ‘Everytime,’” she told MTV. “It’s about heartbreak, it’s about your first love, your first true love.” That’s why so many of us feel this song to our core. Also, that Spring Breakers scene is genius.
8. ‘I Wanna Go’ (2011)
“I Wanna Go” sums up the Britney philosophy of life with all the minimalist blitzkrieg-bop power of the Ramones, all “1-2-3-4!” aggression. “There’s a countdown waiting for me to erupt,” she warns, but it sounds like this girl is already exploding right out of her skin. That manic 808 intro. The way she squeals, “Shame on me!” Her whistling solo. The electro-blurps in the “I-I-I wanna go-oh-oh all the way-ay-ay!” chorus. Most of all, the way Max Martin and Shellback warp her all-too-human voice into digital fist pumps, until the climax where she takes off uncontrollably, La-blee, la-blee, la-blee-blee-blee.
7. ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’ (2001)
One of her historic power moves: belly dancing with a python at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards to the blingiest Neptunes beat. “I’m a Slave 4 U” is the ultimate Britney song of dancing as liberation versus dancing as addiction. “All you people look at me like I’m a little girl,” she sings, perhaps slightly misjudging her relationship with the American public. But she lets out her kitty-kitty yowls with a bad case of cat-scratch fever. And the Prince-style spelling makes sense, since the sugar-walls strut of “I’m a Slave 4 U” splits the difference musically between Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” and Apollonia 6’s “Sex Shooter.”
6. ‘3’ (2009)
The world is still catching up to the profound weirdness of this song. Just when the industry had decided her career was over (for the millionth time), Knee Knee hit new highs of shameless perv-disco sex-machine adrenaline with “3,” a math lesson with an insanely bombastic groove. She has never been so blunt about not giving a fuck. No idea why she namechecks the 1960s folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary, not necessarily the most sensual pop stars of their era. (The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind?) But that just adds to the overall menage a WTF vibe. Fact: It is a violation of international law not to dance on a table when this song comes on.
5. ‘Lucky’ (2000)
This is a story about a girl named Britney. “Lucky” has hit home on so many levels, ever since she dropped it in Y2K. It’s the tale of a Hollywood girl who gets famous, gets envied, gets dreamed about, gets used and exploited. But if there’s nothing missing in her life, then why do these tears come at night? Britney goes deep into the dirty business of dreams, inspiring Taylor Swift to pen the great fan-fic sequel “The Lucky One.”
4. ‘…Baby One More Time’ (1999)
Planet Earth, meet Britney Jean Spears, the 17-year-old pride of Kentwood, Louisiana. Her debut hit “…Baby One More Time” was a radically futuristic pop manifesto, changing the way music has sounded ever since. Max Martin brought the megaboom production, but it wouldn’t have meant a thing without the menacing way she growls, “Oooh baby, baby.” As Britney told me in 2000, she stayed up late the night before the session listening to Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” (“What a sexy song”) to get the sound she wanted. “I wanted my voice to be kind of rusty,” she said. “You know, how it sounds really low in the lower register — it sounds really sexy. So I kept telling myself, ‘Britney, don’t get any rest.’” The result was more than a Number One smash—it was the dawn of a new music era.
3. ‘How I Roll’ (2011)
“How I Roll” was never a hit, but it’s one of Britney’s most glorious moments, a masterpiece of fiendishly inventive girl noise. Her studio team of mad Swedes (Christian “Bloodshy” Karlsson, Henrik Jonback, Marcus Lindehäll) really go off the deep end here. Every sound effect that jumps out of the mix — Brit slurring the word “speakerrrr,” digital finger snaps, a real beatbox pretending to be a human beatbox — builds the tension. There’s even a plot: An ordinary girl sits in her lonely room, dreaming of party lights far away, wishing she could escape to a place where she can show her knee socks and drink tequila on the rocks, where there’s music and there’s people and they’re young and alive. But the mean old world won’t let her break free, so she just sings along with the machines until she turns into a machine herself, because only the beat understands her. There’s your story of pop music right there.
2. ‘Piece of Me’ (2007)
Nobody saw this song coming: America’s sweetheart changes her name to Mrs. Oh, My God, That Britney’s Shameless, and decides to drop her evil vengeance on a world that made the fatal mistake of pissing her off. Britney vents all her raging hostility in “Piece of Me,” snarling “I’m Miss American Dream Since I Was 17,” getting real about the dark side of that dream and making every line feel like a threat. “Piece of Me” sounded way too weird for the radio in 2007, warping her Southern twang into a surly electro-punk sneer. But within a couple of years, everyone on the radio was trying to sound like this. Are you sure you wanna piece of her? She still makes it sound like a thrillingly dangerous question.
1. ‘Toxic’ (2003)
The great pop song of this century. The ultimate Britney Spears classic. A taste of a poison paradise. “Toxic” is all that and more, summing up Britney at her best and brashest. Swedish studio wizards Bloodshy and Avant prove that they’re the producers who understand her better than anyone. “Toxic” is a swirl of spaced-out glam-disco kicks, spy-movie strings, surf-guitar twang, a beat that should wear a warning, and Britney’s distinctive slithery drawl. She doesn’t just take “a sip from the devil’s cup,” she guzzles that bitch and crushes the cup on her forehead, slipping under the addictive spell of music itself, the one vice she’ll never give up. Intoxicate her now? She’s ready now.
From Rolling Stone US.