‘Glory': The Rapturous, Artsy Fartsy Ascension of Britney Spears (Album Review)
Britney Spears has a routine: she starts her day with a cup of motherf--king tea, spams her Instagram with photos of flowers, desserts, selfies and embarrassing memes, plays Pokémon with the boys, exercises and, on occasion, teaches dance classes to little girls.
At night, she goes to work (bitch) at her now 3-year old Piece Of Me residency at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas; a tightly choreographed, confetti and glitter-filled spectacular set to two dozen hits from her double decade career as the indisputable Princess of Pop.
That's her life now. No clubbing, no partying, no paparazzi chases, no chaos: she's a self-described boring, caesar salad-eating 34-year-old mother who also happens to moonlight as one of the biggest pop stars in the world.
It's all the more shocking, then, to discover that nine records deep, following what was largely considered her gravest musical misstep to date (2013's Britney Jean) and just a year after the insipid "Pretty Girls," she's delivered one of the most artistically, musically and vocally ambitious albums of her career.
"I want to do something very artsy fartsy," Britney decided two years ago as she started to record Glory.
Granted, her self-assessments can be misleading. "My most personal album to date" is a mantra that still strikes fear in the hearts of fans to this day, and every album since Blackout has been "cool," "interesting," and, of course, "urban."
But this time, she wasn't just talkin': Glory actually is a chill, not-so-poppy record. And different. And artsy fartsy. And urban. It's also strange — her oddest offering in over a decade. In fact, Glory plays most like the Spearitual sister to her most varied, vibe-y record: In The Zone.
Just as she did back in 2003, Britney swerved with her Glory collaborator roster, due in large part to Executive Producer and A&R Karen Kwak, whom Britney affectionately refers to as "My Amazing A&R Karen." Consider that her official title.
Rather than corralling pop's most predictable producers, Amazing A&R Karen opted for fresher talent, including songwriting dream team Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels, responsible for much of Selena Gomez's Revival and Gwen Stefani's This Is What The Truth Feels Like, Burns, Warren "Oak" Felder, Ian Kirkpatrick and Mattman & Robin.
With a capable crew in place and a desire to do things differently this time around, Glory sees Britney getting into the same Zone she entered 13 years ago to take it to the next level bay-beh, all while referencing elements of 2007's icy opus Blackout and, to an extent, 2008's Circus and 2011's Femme Fatale.
It all starts with a simple introduction.
Britney’s never had a proper album opener. Within just the first few seconds of “Invitation,” an ethereal cross between Janet Jackson and Enya, it’s obvious that Glory is more sophisticated than anything she’s ever done before.
"Here's my invitation, baby / Come feel my energy," she coos in all her heavily vocoded, celestial bliss, like an angel sent down to deliver us from boring pop and bad sex. "Put your love all over me."
As the opening implies, blindfold in hand, Glory is largely an invitation into Britney's boudoir. Most of the lyrics could be tossed into your next eggplant emoji-filled sexting session: it's about putting on a private show and bangin' all over this bedroom.
Deeper inside, the reggae-tinged, Midnight Fantasy-scented "Slumber Party" keeps the vanilla candle-lit love affair burning strong, like a lush continuation of In The Zone's "Showdown" over a decade later.
Clawfoot baths filled with bubbles, candy lotion, home videos and other seductive pleasures are on the menu in the relaxed, make out session-worthy enticement. “If there’s seven minutes in heaven / Make it double, triple,” she purrs before letting out a moan: “…like a slumber party.”
No-strings-attached anthem "Do You Wanna Come Over?" is the album's more unsubtle invitation: it reads like a Grindr exchange, and sounds like a mix of Blackout's "Get Naked (I Got A Plan)" and a riotous, chant-y mid-'00s Girls Aloud banger. The fierce guitar riff recalls "Toxic" — and yes, maybe the eternally "suffering" Justin Timberlake's "Like I Love You," too. (It also happens to be perfect for synchronized Pikachu dancing.)
Bad day? Sucky mattress? No problem: Britney's offering back rubs, kissing and touchin' at her place. Whatever you want, whatever you need: she'll do it. Uh huh...
Aside from all the (not that) innocent fun she's having on Glory, Britney's yearning for luv goes deeper than pillow fights and late-night invites.
The Julia Michaels co-penned "Just Luv Me" is perhaps the album's true centerpiece. It also sounds as if Britney heard Selena Gomez's "Good For You," called up Amazing A&R Karen and said "Let's show 'em how it's really done."
It might be an unsubtle bite of Selena's Revival hit, but "Just Luv Me" sounds better, and more sophisticated, coming from a seasoned icon. As a well-versed disciple of Madonna and Janet, Britney is a master of breathy seduction, and this intimate, shadowy affair is the pop star doing what she does best.
"You don't gotta say it / I know that I'm worthy," she cooly assures. She knows what she wants — this is the same woman who insisted she don't wanna be so damn protected, after all. There's just one simple, real simple request: "Just luv me."
There's one line in particular that feels like a classic Britney-ism: "I don't need nobody when I'm breaking / All I need is your love and a little bit of patience." It's like a nod to "Overprotected' ("I don't need nobody telling me just what I wanna"), and even something Britney said in her 2008 documentary For The Record: "I'm really not interested in pity...what I could use is some understanding."
The production is so rich and luscious — thanks, Cashmere Cat and Robopop — that each listen reveals a new sound: each finger snap triggers a shiver; every moan an epiphany.
As steeped in lusty moans as Glory is, Britney's often at her most captivating when she's feeling lonely — or even betrayed.
She's played both sides of temptation before, from forgetting about her boyfriend on "Amnesia" to neurotically spraying Rocker Femme Fantasy all over herself to mark her territory on "Perfume." And "Just Like Me" is Glory's best tale of infidelity.
Riding in on a twangy guitar, Brit's headed out on a trip, Crossroads style, to her man's place. "Hundred fifty miles away, singing out my lungs / Driving fast all through LA, warming up my tongue," she growls, sauntering through like a sword-wielding Kill Bill badass with some unfinished business.
She walks up to the door, turns the key and sees him on the bed — and...her.
"She looks...just like me."
It's the best "she's not me" pop song since, well, Madonna's "She's Not Me."
Deluxe track "Liar" similarly finds Britney in Southern girl sass mode, strutting in on a harmonica riff and a "We Will Rock You"-esque stomp. She rarely sounds angry on song, but here, she's as spittin' mad as Carrie Underwood, "Before He Cheats" style.
"I ain't f--kin' with your dirty laundry," she warns the no-good womanizer. For time-traveling conspiracy theorists from 2003 and/or attendees of the #JTExposedParty, you're in luck: "I'm left in the ash from the bridges you burned," she sings. A reference to the bridges burned in "Cry Me A River," perhaps? It's yours to interpret.
She's not always so strong(er than yesterday): the Phoebe Ryan co-penned, space-age "Man On The Moon" is what happens once those tears come at night, and is one of her most "I'm Sad"-ney moments since "Everytime."
Yet again, Britney finds herself feeling extraterrestrial (like an al-i-en), staring up at the sky alone in her party dress. She's keeping the faith, but are some of her most devastatingly grim lyrics to date.
"I can't compete with the stars in the sky, I'm invisible." Gulp. Is that you, Lucky?
From the Imogen Heap-like intro, to the watery surf guitar, to that string-laden blast-off (complete with French-language countdown!), the production on "Moon" is exquisite. And really, who could predict this wouldn't even be the last time she's singing in other languages on Glory?
International Relationsney doesn't stop the party in France.
"Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortés)," one of the three Mattman & Robin-produced gems of the album, is a delightfully flirtatious, breathy bout of come-hither pop directed at her next (Mmm) Papi. Sure, she only sings one actual line of Spanish, but still: Geri Halliwell's "Mi Chico Latino" has never been prouder.
"Don't get me wrong, I appreciate ya," she urges. She's talking to you, Latin America.
"You don't wanna cross the line, but I'mma make you change your mind," she tempts atop twinkling bells and romantic flourishes of guitar. "No seas cortés." (Translation: Don't be polite.) Throw in a spoken-word bridge — uttered by another woman, but it's okay, especially if you pretend it's Christina Aguilera ("yo sé que me quieres tratar bien..") — and you've got one compelling Spanish-language argument for cutting straight to the sack.
The quality of Britney’s voice on Glory cannot be emphasized enough: each “yeah” and “uh huh” is a revelation. But as an artist not known for her, uh, live performances, she doesn’t exactly have the reputation of being a vocal powerhouse. She can sing, of course — and for the first time in years, Glory makes it seem as though she actually wants to again.
There are much better songs on the album, but "What You Need" is Glory's highlight from a vocal standpoint, as she invokes her inner Duffy in a soulful jolt of full-on, catching-the-holy-spirit (Spearit) sangin'.
"I got what you want, I got what you need / Bringin' out the dee-va that lives in ma-ahy!" she cries, feverishly belting her way across church organs, fiery horns and hand claps. It's genuinely shocking: she hasn't soulfully hooted and hollered like this since the opening of Blackout's "Hot As Ice." (Or ever, honestly.)
Even if it's not her usual style, "What You Need" will go down as one of the most impressive displays of her voice. ("Private Show," on the other hand, is what happens when she pushes it a little too far — she's clearly having so much fun warbling in her own weird way throughout the doo-wop bop, it's hard to complain.)
Of course, this is still a Britney Spears record. Only when she's dancing can she feel this free, to quote a certain Queen of Pop.
Accordingly, she comes alive on the chakra-aligning, tongue-twisting, Ian Kirkpatrick-produced "If I'm Dancing," a dizzyingly fierce lovechild of M.I.A., Major Lazer, Björk's sputtering "Triumph Of A Heart"...and maybe the refined touch of Sophie Ellis-Bextor, too. (It's murder on the doncefloor.)
A fan favorite from the get-go (seen the memes yet?), the track plays like a twerk-happy worship session dedicated to her favorite form of therapy, and feels as thrilling as anything off of Blackout. These lyrics? "Butterfly from the bottom of the ocean"? As madcap as a Xenomania track.
"If I'm dancing, if I'm doooncing, if I'm doooncing...I know the music's good," she moans in her Britishney accent. Didja get that?
It's not the only exceptional offering from Kirkpatrick: he's also responsible for co-producing jangly raver "Hard To Forget Ya" with Oscar Görres. The Ed Drewett (!) co-write pops off into one of the album's most euphorically up choruses, vaguely recalling Kylie Minogue's jittery Kiss Me Once thumper, "Mr. President." "Something about cha, 'bout cha!"
She might not step a stilettoed foot in sweaty dance clubs anymore, but she's sure supplying the soundtrack for the evening.
Only last year has Britney ever truly sounded like she was blatantly trying to be "cool" for radio — that gave us "Pretty Girls." But the few times when she leans in on trendier territory on Glory as opposed to just following her own wacky muse, she far more convincingly delivers this time.
Along with "Just Luv Me," "Make Me... (feat. G-Eazy)" is the album's most obvious bid for radio relevancy, riding the downtempo R&B wave ushered in by acts like The Weeknd, Tinashe, BANKS and FKA twigs two years ago. Rather than going for the usual club banger of a lead single, Britney came calm. The song presents a different side of Britney — one that’s more mature, assured and capable than ever of contending on airwaves.
Deluxe track "Better" provides a similar sonic safety net, but bows to another sound du jour: "trop-pop" House, in a Kygo-meets-Justin Bieber-meets-Chainsmokers way. (Surprise: Bieber's "Sorry" co-producer BloodPop is the producer.) It's EDMney, bitch.
"When you know somebody / And they know your body / It's so much better," she sagely advises on the ode to gettin-to-know-ya-first before a springy beat drop; her warm voice channeling "That's Where You Take Me." It's a solid hit, and proof she could hop on some DJ's track if she really wanted a quick smash — and that "so good, so good, so damn, so good" bridge alone is worth the price of admission.
Elsewhere, she blends a bunch of familiar sounds until it becomes something entirely new. "Love Me Down" mashes Gwen Stefani's sing-rapping, "The Hook Up" breezy vibes, trap textures, Selena Gomez's "Same Old Love," and even a bit the "Pretty Girls" beat in one wild, genre-blurring production. It sounds like a total mess on paper — but with Britney at the helm, it's somehow single-worthy.
Of all the sound-hopping, nothing's more unexpected on Glory than its final number: "Coupure Électrique." It translates to "power outage"...or "Blackout," which also happens to be the title of what's commonly considered Britney's best record — a knowing tribute, no doubt.
Punctuated by lurching beats and a faint, radar-like pulse, like a lonely signal broadcasted directly from Blackout, Britney sends us off with sweet nothings...in French.
"J'oublie le monde, quand tu fais / Fais moi l'amour, mon amour" she coos. "Comme une coupure électrique." (Roughly: "I forget the world when you make / Make love to me, my love / Like a blackout.")
It's the stuff of fan-fiction; an avant-garde moment we could only dream of hearing, as she leaves us in total darkness and completes her Glory-ous ascent back into the heavens.
Bonjour et au revoir, Mademoiselle Godney.
Three years ago, fans angrily debated the legitimacy of her voice on the rushed, will.i.am-curated Christian contemporary-meets-EDM disappointment, Britney Jean. Two years prior, 2011's Femme Fatale served up an impeccable set of pre-problematic Dr. Luke dance-pop. But coupled with the most sluggish performances of her career, plus a nerve-filled stint on The X Factor USA, the forced feeling of the era was difficult to swallow.
Today, as she happily chows down on hot dogs in vacation home videos, cackles about Justin Bieber's weiner on the radio and bends-and-snaps with zest again in Vegas, Britney's never seemed healthier or happier. Glory is the embodiment of the woman we see today: not since Blackout has a Britney album felt so overwhelming upon first listen, and not since In The Zone has she sounded so present and involved — and on top of her vocal game.
Trying to decide where Britney Spears fits into the pop landscape today is pointless: she doesn't. She's been at this at least a decade longer, and several albums deeper, than most of today's chart-toppers. Lady Gaga stood in Times Square cheering for her as a fan outside the TRL studio. Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor were five when "...Baby One More Time" came out. Lorde was two. At least half of Fifth Harmony were barely infants.
But for members of pop royalty who've made it through the wildness in the same way she has, that's exactly when things got interesting again.
Eighteen years into her own career, Madonna was coming off the Kabbalah rush of Ray of Light and switching gears with Music. Janet, also 34 at the time, was recording hits like "Someone to Call My Lover" and "Doesn't Really Matter" for All For You. Mariah Carey was putting the finishing falsetto flourishes on Emancipation of Mimi follow-up, E=MC². Those eras are generally considered career-reinvigorating highs for each of those icons, and Britney's own collection now follows suit.
This chill, cool, weird-ass slumber party is a milestone, proving Britney Spears can still fit into the same playlist as Justin Bieber, but has the desire to go f--kin' crazy doe in her own unusual way, coming right as her discography was starting to get, well, questionable.
Glory might not be taken seriously (or even heard) by those outside of her fanbase, but it should be: the album, which boasts at least seven co-writing credits for Britney, is every bit as innovative as that of a more pop snob-approved act like Charli XCX, and impresses on all fronts — vocally, musically, whatever you want, whatever you need. That beer can-cracking sound within "Do You Wanna Come Over?" alone is worth a dissertation.
Time will tell in coming years, but Glory could be Britney's best album, period. It is, at least, already being referred to by many of her own fans as the third installment in her "Holy Trinity" of immaculate records: In The Zone, Blackout, and now, Glory.
Thank you, Amazing A&R Karen.
“She feels like it’s her in all her glory,” President and COO of RCA Records Tom Corson told Entertainment Weekly. “It’s a body of work she can stand behind. It’s a bold title, and it reflects her feelings about the record.”
Of course it's Glory: this is a return to the quirky, cutting-edge excellence we've come to expect from the Living Legend. This is a self-referencing nod to her legacy, from the "Oops!" in "Clumsy" to the French homage to Blackout. This is tapping back into The Zone. This is what better-than-best-case-scenario Britney Spears in 2016 sounds like.
Those glory days — the schoolgirl skirt and pigtails, the red catsuit, the snake — are a thing of the past. But whoever this woman is, she's sure giving Old Britney one hell of a run for her money.