britney-in-the-zone-2

Ten years ago today, Britney Spears released In The Zone, my favorite album of all time. (LOL, no big deal.)

The album feels unbelievably fresh in my mind: I remember watching the 2003 MTV VMA’s performance in late August, open-mouthed, as Britney crept up from Madonna‘s side and went in for the kill — a kiss that would turn the world out for over a decade and counting. (Sorry, Christina.) I remember gasping and running into my parents’ bedroom to tell my mom: “Britney just kissed Madonna!” I stammered. “What? They kissed? Hmm!” she concluded, returning to folding laundry on the bed. She was less impressed.

I remember hearing “Me Against The Music” in October for the first time in a car with my friend Erin and silently freaking out inside about the prospect of New Britney. I remember studying for my European History midterm by replacing the lyrics of “Me Against The Music” with facts about the Franco-Prussian War. (I don’t think I did very well, but I’ll be damned if the choreography wasn’t on point.)

I remember downloading every leaked track illegally on Kazaa weeks later. I remember my favorite Christmas present that year — a physical copy of In The Zone from my sister, who still had no idea why her brother loved Britney so much. I remember wearing that CD down to scratched mess, listening endlessly on my portable CD player and taking it with me to college. I remember “Toxic” dominating the radio, dominating MTV, and every other facet of pop culture. I remember “Everytime” scandalizing the nation thanks to a half-trickle of blood in a bathtub. I remember watching the Onyx Hotel Tour live on Showtime, excitedly dancing along on my bed and writhing along to the “Breathe On Me” performance while lusting over her dancer, Leo Moctezuma. I remember the horror of waking up and finding out Britney busted her knee (again), and fearing the absolute worst.

In The Zone will always be my favorite Britney record — not just because it’s got some good tunes — but because of when and how it came into my life: Britney, in all of her fedora wearin’, gum smackin’, low rise jeans-rockin’ glory, taught me everything I ever needed to know about being confident and owning my sexuality, especially during this era. In a time before #ItGetsBetter self-empowerment pop became radio’s favorite flavor, there was Britney, getting in the zone and shaking her boom boom against the music. She was a beast onstage, and a total dork offstage — and that was all I ever needed as my inspiration to be myself, no matter how lame that may sound.

As much of an emancipation record as In The Zone was for Britney, so too was it for me — and, I’m willing to bet, a few other fans too. And so, to celebrate the album’s 10th birthday, I’ve written a little something (err, a little 3000+ word something) at Idolator. When you’re ready, saddle up and get your rhythm…

You wanna get in the zone?