The decline and fall of Britney Spears represents one of the darkest periods in American pop culture. After emerging onto the scene as America’s bona fide pop princess of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Spears experienced a very public breakdown in 2007, which culminated in one deeply distressing night in which she shaved her head and declared that she was “tired of everybody touching [her].” Following months of erratic, and sometimes dangerous, behaviors such as these, the Associated Press preemptively wrote an obituary for her, which, along with disturbing video evidence from this time, serves as a stark reminder of how brutally a celebrity can fall from grace.
If Spears’ breakdown highlights the ugliest parts of fame, then it is her rebirth that reveals its most forgiving aspects. In the years after her nadir, Spears has staged comeback after comeback and achieved three number one singles — the old Spears had only earned one. Though her most iconic song arguably remains the still fresh-sounding “Toxic” (2003), Spears also pushed dubstep to the forefront of pop with “Hold It Against Me” (2011) and released her best song of the decade so far with the clubby, bone rattling “Till the World Ends” (2011). Yet the debacle that was “Britney Jean” (2013) damaged the icon’s reputation as one of pop’s finest purveyors, as the undercooked album failed to resonate with both fans and critics.
The release of Spears’ latest album “Glory,” which debuted on Aug. 26, quickly reverses this trend, as it comes from a place of renewed creativity and boldness. Drawing upon the sonic palettes and subjects that made her previous albums “Blackout” (2007) and “In the Zone” (2003) such instant classics, “Glory” very much feels like a Britney Spears album for the late 2010s and follows the blueprint of Selena Gomez’s minimalistic “Revival” (2015). By working with a mix of in-demand and eclectic collaborators, including the Swedish production duo Mattman & Robin and English DJ BURNS, Spears succeeds in making her ninth studio album a big pop album worthy of its title.
“Invitation” is the first time Spears has opened one of her records with a true album opener. The track’s heavenly synths, coupled with her iconic, heavily vocoded coos, greet the listener with a seductive warmth. The chorus is built around the simple refrain of “Put your love all over me” as she invites her lover to get the chance to know her better, which is indicative of the album’s overall willingness to explore sexuality in a mature yet never-too-serious manner.
“Make Me…,” the lead single of “Glory,” represents a departure for Spears. The BURNS-produced track is inspired by the downtempo, moody R&B that is prominent on the radio right now instead of the usual dance-pop Spears is known for. Even though the song is tainted by an unfortunate guest appearance from Bay Area rapper G-Eazy, the chorus itself is simply gorgeous, as her voice is immaculately layered when she sings “And make me oooh, oooh, oooh, oooh” over lush guitars and a sexy bass.
The rest of “Glory” is an adventurous listen with a varied string of tracks keeping one engaged the entire time. The midtempo magic of “Man on the Moon” harkens back to the eerily prophetic “Lucky” (2000) as she laments a lover gone too soon when singing, “Now there’s meaning in the saddest songs / All I do is cry and sing along.” The Cashmere Cat-produced “Just Luv Me” feels like a sophisticated update to Gomez’s “Good For You” (2015), with its soft finger snaps and subdued vocal production.
After this tender moment of reflection, the album’s most high-energy moments follow. On the soul-inspired dance anthem “Clumsy,” Spears even references her own career as she yelps out an “Oops!,” a la “Oops!… I Did It Again” (2000), right before the monstrous beat drop. Mattman & Robin show up to produce album highlights “Do You Wanna Come Over?” and “Slumber Party” with the former eschewing the typical pop song structure often found throughout “Glory” and the latter offering a kitschy take on an “adult” sleepover.
Unfortunately for Spears, though “Private Show” and “What You Need” are two of the album’s more fun tracks, her voice has been so heavily produced on that them that they sound almost grating, which detract from an otherwise well-executed record. Yet, with Spears returning to the MTV Video Music Awards, the site of her infamous performance in 2007, her career once more seems to be on the rebound, offering one more chapter in the story of America’s most resilient pop star.