Today marks the 10-year anniversary of Britney Spears’ fifth studio album, Blackout. The iconic LP, which was released in the midst of the superstar’s highly publicized breakdown of 2007, was praised by fans and music critics alike for its bold and innovative sound. It’s truly remarkable that Britney was able to create a timeless collection of edgy, electro-pop bangers, as she reportedly battled addiction and an undisclosed mental illness amid a painful custody war with ex-husband Kevin Federline.
(Photo Credit: Jive Records)
Just eight months before Britney blessed our ears with Blackout, she made the world collectively gasp when she shaved her head during a fateful trip to Esther’s Haircutting Studio in Tarzana, CA, on Feb. 17, 2007. In the weeks that followed, the troubled pop princess, then 25, checked into and out of rehab, and infamously attacked a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella. Her worrisome antics were heavily documented by the media for months on end — a rather distressing time for the Britney Army.
While the former teen idol seemed to spend her days driving aimlessly around LA, taunting the paps, and avoiding court dates (mostly regarding the custody of her two sons, Sean Preston, now 12, and Jayden James, now 11), she was quietly putting the finishing touches on Blackout, which she began recording in 2006. And fans couldn’t have been more thrilled when they caught wind that our beloved Brit-Brit was releasing the follow-up to her incredibly successful 2003 album, In the Zone, which spawned hits such as “Toxic” and “Everytime.”
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Though the In the Zone era signaled a slight departure from Britney’s sweet-but-sexy image, Blackout confirmed that she was far from overprotected, definitely not a girl, and finally her own woman…even if her freedom came at a cost. For the first (and only) time, Britney — who had parted ways with her longtime manager, Larry Rudolph — served as the executive producer on an album. She may have fallen off course during those dark days, but Britney was, at last, steering her own ship. And, astonishingly, the outcome was spectacular.
Despite her shaky performance of Blackout’s lead single, “Gimme More,” at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards, it was impossible to deny that the track itself was brilliant. The song’s opening line, “It’s Britney, b---h,” was a defiant declaration that Britney Spears, who the world first fell in love with in a schoolgirl skirt at the tender age of 17, was much more complex than anyone had thought. In fact, she wasn’t just a sex symbol or a money-making commodity; she was a human being.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
On “Gimme More,” Britney sings about sex, dancing, and going to the club (a common theme in her music catalogue). But she also explores the public’s intense fascination with her every move during that distinctively calamitous phase in her life. “Cameras are flashing while we're dirty dancing,” she coos in her signature breathy tone. “They keep watching, keep watching.”
The chart-topping diva delved deeper into her complicated relationship with the paparazzi on Blackout’s second single, “Piece of Me.” As you may recall, Britney had her fair share of ups and downs with the horde of photographers who trailed her 24/7. Although she once exhibited violent behavior toward them, they eventually became her daily companions and pseudo-family. At one point, Britney even briefly dated a pap named Adnan Ghalib.
“I'm Mrs. 'You want a piece of me?’ / Tryin’ and pissin' me off / Well get in line with the paparazzi / Who’s flippin' me off / Hopin’ I'll resort to startin' havoc / And end up settlin' in court,” she sing-talks before asking, “Now are you sure you want a piece of me?”
Aside from "Gimme More" and "Piece of Me," Blackout — which Britney’s label, Jive Records, said represented “blocking out negativity and embracing life fully” — was laden with gems that showed off the many new sides of the singer. Standouts include dreamy, mid-tempo tracks like “Heaven on Earth” and “Outta This World,” pulsating dance anthems like “Break the Ice” and “Get Naked (I Got a Plan),” and musical diary entries such as the Pharrell Williams-produced “Why Should I Be Sad.”
On “Toy Soldier,” a song that was once rumored the be Blackout’s first single, the Grammy winner seemingly celebrates her newfound artistic independence, stating, “‘Cause new Britney’s on a mission.” If Britney’s mission was to create her most influential music to date, then she definitely accomplished it. The sonic masterpiece left an indelible mark on the music industry, and its impact is apparent in the work of Britney's pop descendants — including Lady Gaga, whose 2008 debut album, The Fame, was profoundly inspired by Blackout.
Since then, Britney — whose career is now monitored by her father and court-appointed conservator, Jamie Spears — has released a string of formidable (albeit relatively safe) albums, including Circus, Femme Fatale, Britney Jean, and Glory. However, Blackout and its air of wild abandon will always hold a special place in her heart. In a rare moment, the current Vegas headliner, now 35, who hardly acknowledges the year 2007 in interviews, recently opened up about Blackout’s significance with The Fader.
“[I had the] freedom to work with more urban sounds and influences. It really inspired me! I also got the chance to sing more and stretch my voice in ways I hadn’t done before,” Britney recalled. “The magic of Blackout was actually pretty simple. It just wasn’t so thought out. I just did what I felt and it worked. Sometimes less is more I guess.”
Long live Blackout.