Everyone was fascinated with email at the end of the last century. It was a novelty form of communication, one you could use to continuously send annoying chain letters, risking bad luck forever if you didn’t forward the message on, but also where heartfelt notes jumped from paper to screen. Nora Ephron made an entire movie about it. In one Sex and the City episode from 2001, Carrie, a Luddite, turns to email to reconcile with Aidan (the third worst of her boyfriends) and scrambling on the phone with Miranda, believes he can see her when she’s online. During the episode, Carrie writes a long, convoluted message to Aidan before abandoning it, toiling over the perfect way to say “I miss you” until that’s exactly what she sends. To send a physical letter with those three words and wait days for a reply was a waste of paper. Calling someone on the phone was unnerving. But email? Email opened up a whole new world of safety behind a screen.
This all seems rather quaint now, but in the late 90s, digital communication was very new to us. Pop music tackled it, because of course it did. In 1999, on Britney Spears’ debut … Baby, One More Time, the singer’s sugary songs took a swerve down the modem connection on “E-Mail My Heart”. The track was a more specific reference to how intimacy could be conveyed digitally than had been shared at the time. New technology is awkward and we do a lot of tripping over ourselves before we figure out how to incorporate it into life and culture. Email and digital communication as a whole have changed a lot since 1999. These days you can definitely text me. I’m reachable via Instagram DM. I’ll even use Facebook Messenger. Twitter DM? Sure! Hell, I’ll still take a phone call! But don’t think about emailing me if you want to talk about your feelings. “E-mail My Heart” is an endearing reminder of the novelty of email. It's tempting to look at is as a relic of the past, but in that song Spears was actually predicting the future of digital communication.
Spears’ “E-mail My Heart” has been dubbed by a few publications as the weirdest inclusion on her iconic debut, which turned 20 over the weekend. Sonically, it’s remarkably 90s: Acoustic guitar, piano, choral-like backing vocals that make no sense. It hasn’t aged well. Spears whips through the song at a head-scratching tempo—rushing almost to get the hell out of there. The lyrics to “E-Mail My Heart” are not profound: “e-mail my heart and say our love will never die.” It’s dramatic, yes, sensationally so. And corny. (And a testament to how much technology has changed, since we’ve dropped the hyphen in email completely.) It feels dated because email takes time when a text or a DM is reactive, instantaneous. Pleading with hyperbole, much like Spears did on the track, is commonplace via text or DM or however you talk to someone else, and maybe that kind doesn’t really happen through email anymore though. But it’s 100 percent happening through a screen or a phone in some way. Digital communication and technologies have pervaded our lives to a point that there are several other options to reach a person. “E-Mail My Heart” is from a simpler time. Now it’s something more like iMessage My Heart. Yet, one could not possibly be able to exist without the other.
Dating has changed a lot in 20 years. Now it’s rare, peculiar even, but potentially unsafe to meet someone in a bar or grocery store or wherever people used to meet. (Who even knows about that anymore?) That’s archaic! Once, while I was waiting for a drink at a bar, I overheard an outraged girl ask how dare some guy speak to her in person. Imagine that! On Tinder and OkCupid, I messaged hundreds of potential suitors (a generous term for what they were), each time going through the same sort of information roll-call: what we did, what we liked, who we were, when we’d meet. Some were more forthcoming and abrupt about their intentions about fucking, and on some “E-Mail My Heart” shit, pleading with me to respond or they’d die.
Looking back, we probably should have predicted that it wouldn’t take long for a sentiment like “E-mail My Heart” to seem out of date. But it isn’t so much as weird as it is a charming time capsule from 1999, and indicator of what was to come. Which is why Britney Spears’ peculiar track isn’t that weird but more of a preservation of a charming point in our history. The entire world was unnecessarily hysterical about Y2K, a computer glitch that couldn’t handle the century turning over, causing chaos with calendar dates among many other things. Surprise, nothing happened! Email is a foundational piece in a long line of evolved communication. Now there’s a song about Tinder. Drake consistently raps about Instagram and his DMs there within are legendary. Email might not be where most of the action happens, but like Yo Gotti said, it goes down in the DMs. Britney knew.
This article originally appeared on Noisey US.