Blackout was, and likely will always be, Britney‘s most thought-provoking record.
Not because of what it was about, thematically speaking–songs like “Get Naked” and “Ooh Ooh Baby” don’t exactly provoke a lot of head-scratching–but because of how it came about: The late night drives, the high-speed paparazzi chases, Starbucks Frappes, Britishney, “You’re better off being homeless than being me, sir,” Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, panty-free partying, the OK! photoshoot disaster, the head shaving incident, the tattoos, “Go to the light and see Jesus!”, the umbrella attack, pink wigs, pole dancing, TMZ, Sam Lufti, Adnan Ghalib, the Ryan Seacrest call, the 2007 MTV VMA’s.
And in the middle of this whirlwind, an album was released: Blackout, executive produced by Britney Spears.
Locked inside a studio, hidden away from the public eye, Britney seemingly found solace within the pulsating 808 drums and scorching synthesizers provided by the likes of Danja, Bloodshy & Avant and The Neptunes. Yet there–buried beneath robotic vocoders, processing and layering–remains the undeniable essence of Britney: Within the haunting giggle on “Gimme More,” the happy-go-lucky “Da-da-da” of “Radar” and the playful brattiness of “Hot As Ice.”
That’s not to say there’s nothing personal about Blackout: “Piece of Me” is Britney’s ultimate middle finger to the paparazzi (and the public), while “Toy Soldier” found Britney angrily marching her way toward 2008 as a newly single mother. And the criminally underrated “Why Should I Be Sad?”, a scathing ode to Kevin Federline (“It just seems that Vegas only brought the player out of you”), gave us just the slightest, rarest glimpse into Britney’s genuine pain for the first time since “Everytime.”
The album has since become a fan favorite for many of Britney’s biggest fans, and deservedly so: It’s arguably her most hard-hitting, forward-thinking and relentlessly danceable collection to date. And while it may not be her most intimately crafted offering (to that, there’s In The Zone), no other Britney record feels so intrinsically tied to what was happening outside the studio.
Without getting too speculative, I’d venture to say that many fans identify with Britney’s struggle while making this record. I remember the feeling of dread each time she’d head out at night, and the heartbreak of seeing her crying on a curb while the camera lights flashed away. At the time of the breakdown, I still remember seeing fans shaving their heads in solidarity. Nobody knew exactly what was happening–just that she was visibly hurting. But she made it through, and she’s smiling today.
For anyone who’s ever felt lost, hopeless, fed up or fucked over, the Blackout era seems to speak to something much larger than an album full of incredible club cuts. Just as it seemingly was for Britney during the most turbulent period of her life in 2007, the album remains a dark, chilly escape from the world for fans today.
On the eve of Blackout‘s 5 year anniversary, it’s only too eerily fitting that Sam Lutfi, Barry Weiss, Jamie and Lynn Spears have been inside a courtroom this past week, bickering over exactly what happened and pointing fingers regarding her erratic behavior. It all seems useless and frustrating, given that the one person they’re fighting about isn’t even sitting in the same room.
Truthfully, we’ll never really know what happened during those terrifying months (that is, unless she writes that “good, mysterious book” one day.) We can only speculate–through paparazzi videos, court testimonies and perhaps even some insight gleaned from Britney’s unreleased work (“‘Cause in rebellion, there’s a sparkle of truth.”) But in the end, only Britney knows. After all, people can take everything away from her…but they can never take away her truth.
And so, a toast to Blackout, Britney’s mysterious masterpiece.
Blackout was released on October 26, 2007. (iTunes)