Ten Years On, ‘Blackout’ Is Britney Spears’ Greatest Album to Date
A track-by-track rundown of her fifth and most 'I love sex!!' record, in all of its culturally emblematic glory.
2007 was many things for Britney Spears: dramatic, traumatic, iconic. A divorce from Kevin Federline and an exhausting custody battle over their two kids, a shotgun Vegas wedding to childhood friend Jason Alexander and a general struggle to maintain agency over her own life inevitably culminated in a heavily publicized breakdown. It was described at the time as "the most public downfall of any star in history," crystalized in a widely panned VMAs performance in which Britney half-assed it through the debut of "Gimme More" in the most perfectly articulated statement of IDGAF up to that point. It also took place in the foreground while Spears—somehow—worked on her fifth and most foreboding album Blackout. The result is—SOMEHOW—one of her greatest bodies of work to date.
Released on October 25, 2007, Blackout is the first album to credit Britney as the executive producer—which makes sense, given that it has Britney all over it. Lyrically revolving around womanhood, ravenous media voyeurism, being horny and getting absolutely battered, it's a whirlwind of nihilism dressed up as the best night of your life. Every track sounds like reveling in an objectively unhealthy decision and having a lot of fun while doing it, like the smirking face emoji made audible. It's designed for sticky floors, bumming a cigarette off a stranger and doing a pick-me-up shot at 2AM before heading back onto the dancefloor with renewed vigor. It's taking downers after uppers after downers, or going home with a member of the bar staff. It buzzes with the jittery energy of someone chasing a high to avoid a problem, relentlessly consuming in retaliation to being relentlessly consumed. Essentially: Blackout is an album that disappears into its own darkness, but what you find when you're there is one shameless, endless party.
Retrospectively, Blackout has been hailed as one of the most influential pop albums of its time, impacting the sonics of pop as it would continue to evolve through Lady Gaga and Kesha. In honour of its tenth birthday, we have rounded up a cast of Britney scholars to revisit Blackout track-by-track (bonus ones and all)—casting our eyes back over an album that not only stands as a definitive turning point for Britney Spears as a cultural icon, but as an emblem of the manic excess and crushing downfall of 00s celebrity culture as a whole.
Here it is: the moment Miss American Dream™ was forever shelved and replaced by a fabulous hoe in a black wig and fishnets literally moaning the phrase "IT'S BRITNEY, BITCH" while doing the absolute least with a stripper pole. Elsewhere in the video, three high society-looking blonde women (one of whom is also Britney) are excitedly making eyes at Britney and her dancers from across the room. That said, they could also be making eyes at three dudes drinking solemnly among themselves to the side. Impossible to tell. It's a small detail, almost imperceptible considering the amount of attention placed on all the hair-whipping, but perfectly encapsulates the duality of Britney's Blackout persona. Yes, it's an expression of female empowerment and desire for liberation. Equally, it's written from the gaze of someone who is very much DTF. Emma Garland
"PIECE OF ME"
"I'm Miss American Dream since I was 17", states Britney motherfucking Spears while wearing a cropped fur vest, fingerless leather gloves and the lowest-riding jeans seen this side of 2005. This second single from Blackout is Britney at her most self-aware, sticking two fingers up at everyone that tried to break her down. "You wanna piece of me?" she asks, making it sound like a threat, an invitation and an accusation all at the same time. "YOU WANT SOME?"
The whole thing ends with Britney and her lookalikes doing a choreographed dance routine in the ladies' toilets, the stuff night-out dreams are made of. As an aside, I would like to use this opportunity to put forward a motion for Britney Spears saying "derriere" to replace 'cellar door' as the most aesthetically-pleasing term in the English language. Niloufar Haidari
Top Shagger Britney reporting for duty. Again. "Radar" is basically about how she's spotted someone she quite fancies, actually, and now the poor bastard's in her crosshairs there's absolutely no way she won't be riding him like Shergar at her soonest possible convenience. The track oozes with the lust that permeates Blackout at a cellular level: hear it in the vocal performance (Britney's the only person who could make the phrase "interesting sense of style"—how I'd politely describe a fedora-wearing cousin's clothing preferences—sound like a filthy sext), and in the quickened heartbeat of synths so metallic they hurt your teeth. Lauren O'Neill
"BREAK THE ICE"
A lesser pop album, front-loaded with the early singles, would usually begin to run out of steam by track four. By the time "Break the Ice" comes around on Blackout however, it's only getting started. It's a boastful story of sexual prowess, with Britney evidently taking great pleasure in her own abilities. The heavy breathing on the chorus ("Baby, I can make you feel *breath* *breath* *breath* *breath*") doubles as an emblem for the unchained emotion of the entire album; the unashamed desire that it pulses with, like me watching the skaters outside Queens Road Peckham overground. Lauren O'Neill
"HEAVEN ON EARTH"
Straight out the gate with a beat like a crossover between New Order's "Blue Monday" and Boogie Pimps "Somebody to Love," this is a euphoric banger that sounds like that rush of a new, early-days love. Rumor has it that Britney found the song hard to record because of its romantic lyrical content and her recent separation from hot-loser second husband K-Fed, but it eventually became her favourite track on the album. I hope she's singing it to her 23-year-old beefcake Iranian boyfriend as she lives her best life. Nilu Haidari
"GET NAKED (I GOT A PLAN)"
The fizzing debauchery here—popping 808s, dirty house of horrors synths, Britney's almost pornographic purring—was like an aural fantasy of how, as a young gay boy, I imagined every gay club to be: sweaty anonymous bodies grinding up on each other while people casually cop off in the corners. More than that, though, "Get Naked"—with its cocky lyrics and demented production—is the perfect summation of all of Blackout's parts. Its scorching explicitness ("If I get on top, you're gonna lose your mind / The way I put it down on you, you know should be a crime") was Britney pulling at the shackles clasped on her years before, while Danja and his team of pop wizards crafted a new life for her. In this way, Blackout is the perfect metaphor for an young gay kid learning to reject heteronormativity. Get naked… Would you mind? Hell no. Alim Kheraj
Britney Spears the Rapper gets a run-out on "Freakshow," and while it's not her crowning achievement (that's this—and also this—naturally), it's very close. It's well-trod territory to say Britney's "not the world's strongest singer" but her voice shines particularly bright against the sparse, bass-y production here. Also, as an attention-seeking Aries, this is my national anthem—nothing but respect for MY sexy, exhibitionist President. Lauren O'Neill
This song is about cum. More specifically, it's about wanting an absolute warrior in the sheets; a well-trained sex person to do you right after a series of encounters with the sort of "toy soldiers" who make jokes about men who are bad in bed but whose idea of a good night's work is sticking it in dry and jackrabbiting for 35 minutes. Britney, the people's representative, has heard your complaints. She's heard them and she's come through with an inspirational thot anthem to remind you of what you deserve. Emma Garland
"HOT AS ICE"
Despite having watched every sweary episode of the Britney and Kevin reality show Chaotic (with my mum, in embarrassed silence), I was still pretty shocked and thrilled the first time I heard the barely distorted use of the word "fuckery" on "Hot As Ice." If it's shocks and thrills you want, this song has you more sorted than the Deliveroo guy who shows up when you're dry-mouthed the morning after. There are strange, panting "ah-ah-ooh-ah" vocalizations, the "pew-pew" sound effects, the fact that the whole thing sounds like a twisted electro-hymn complete with gospel style call-and-response parts. But my favorite is the way Britney refers herself to as a "living legend." It's like she knew one day this record would be added to the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame archives in 2012 alongside universally people like The Beatles and Amy Winehouse? Grace Medford
"OOH OOH BABY"
If you find yourself offended by what I'm about to say, consider your feelings irrelevant and incorrect: "Ooh Ooh Baby" is a better version of "Womanizer"—breathy, racy, sexy, with lyrics that you can enjoy both as an unsuspecting 11-year-old and as a fully-formed adult deviant ("I can feel you on my lips / I can feel you deep inside"). Contrary to accepted music history, Spears actually invented the use of the word 'baby' in music, and in "Ooh Ooh Baby" she uses the word no less than EIGHTY-SEVEN TIMES – over a flamenco guitar, no less. Nilu Haidari
When people talk about Blackout very rarely do they mention "Perfect Lover." This ends now. Not only is it an undeniable banger, but it's also one of the best songs Britney has ever recorded. I've always seen it as the older, wiser and less inhibited sister to "Breathe on Me" (another of Britney's greatest). This isn't a saccharine ode to love and doesn't try subtly flirt with the idea of relationships either—seeing a theme yet?? It's about the raw, animalistic nature of sex, plain and simple. Shagging. And what I love most about it is that Britney is the one calling the shots. Yusuf Tamanna
"WHY SHOULD I BE SAD"
Maybe the most direct and overt song in the Britney canon, this deals explicitly with the breakdown of her marriage to former backing dancer Kevin Federline over a Neptunes beat that brings the main body of the record to a mellow ending. "Why should I be sad?" asks Britney, after listing off all the things it would be more than understandable for her to be sad about. "Why should I get mad? Feel sad? Who knows!" she continues, metaphorically shoving all her issues into an over-filled cupboard, slamming the door quickly and hearing them thud against the back, but holding shut until the next time she opens it, forgetting all about them, and they crash around her shoulders. Of all the life lessons I have learned from Britney over the years—and they have been numerous!—the blasé attitude to trauma outlined in the lyrics of this song has been the most valuable. Grace Medford
"OUTTA THIS WORLD"
Perhaps rightly relegated to bonus track territory, "Outta This World" is a rarity among the songs that Britney and Danja worked on. Lyrically there are no wonky sexual come-ons or snarling rebuttals—just breathy admissions of affection. Ultimately, though, "Outta This World" fits in with Blackout's mission to create a fantasy world for Britney to inhabit. While her personal life spiralled, the album was meant to be an escape from the relentlessly creepy gaze of the hundreds of cameras and troglodyte Perez Hilton wannabes (and Hilton himself, tbh) who charted her every perceived misstep. The romanticized lyrics—harking back to a Britney long since destroyed by the fame machine—couldn't have been further from the experiences of the newly separated mother of two. But then what Blackout does so well is take you somewhere else, whether that's to the club sniffing poppers with your shirt off or to a fucking castle full of fairytale romance. Alim Kheraj
Yes! A laser effect-laden banger about rubbing your butt on someone in the club assembled upon a sample of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)"! This is the future liberals want! Written by Britney and J R Rotem—who she enlisted to work on the album after hearing Rihanna's "SOS"—the song was originally offered to Rihanna and The Cheetah Girls before being downgraded to a bonus track. Which is a shame, really, because Britney singing "The night is still young to be seduced" in the melody of "Some of them want to be abused" before immediately sliding into a Nelly Furtado "Promiscuous"-era rap verse punctuated by a flurry of air horns deserves to be canon. Emma Garland
Rumor has it that this was originally meant to be the album's lead single, before "Gimme More" became anthemic, obvs. So in the grand scheme of things I'm not mad they relegated this to a bonus track. "Get Back" can come off like a Danja feat. Britney song because the production is really where the magic is, even if it does feel and sound very 2007. But still! The part where the beat's slowed down and then springs back into action continues to give me chills today. B-girl also holds her own rap/singing the verses and commanding everyone to get their ass on the dance floor and really, it's hard to say no. Yusuf Tamanna