Twas a simpler time, 2004, and Britney’s worst personal miscues were simpler too–a Vegas mini-marriage and a possible Dursting. Singles-wise, she’d hardly faltered. Oh, there were ballads–there will always be ballads. Then came “Me Against the Music.” The Madonna collaboration was indeed an Event (like a “State of Shock” for the new millennium!), but less so than their televised kiss, a landmark in mass-Pavlovian faux-titilation. The song’s creators, Tricky and The-Dream, hadn’t yet hit their stride: “This Is How We Do It” tune + “Like I Love You” guitars = Britney’s weakest lead single to date.
Likewise, much of In the Zone clambered with the desperation that increasingly afflicts modern mega-pop. Shunning teenpop-identified Max Martin, Brit’s crew cast a wide enough net to snare as producers both R. Kelly and Moby, who surely deserve each other. The upside was “Toxic.” A pair of Swedes dba Bloodshy & Avant had help from Cathy Dennis, who gets cred for “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and crud for “I Kissed a Girl,” and one Henrik Jonback, his specs yet unbeknownst to Google’s algorithms. And in the fine tradition of those Motown session dudes who thought post-bop was their true calling, B&A probably think their Roykskopp-lite doodles as Miike Snow represent their bequest to posterity. What serious musician would want to admit that adding Britney Spears to your music makes it better?
You can thank Kylie for “Toxic” as we know it. She had first dibs on the track and, for whatever reason (seek not to divine Her ways), passed. I can imagine her skimpy voice traipsing through this orchestral spy-thriller exotica, self-aware, ethereal, unperturbed. But with superstardom on the line, Britney is forced to raise the stakes–now “more adult” (and was any Brit incarnation ever not thus touted?), she smacks her lips over some unworthy paramour’s “poison paradise” while dodging potentially fatal slabs of synth and leaping across ominous gaps in the beat. Bad taste in bedmates has rarely sounded so sexy and dangerous. In real life, of course, it’s different. You can thank Kevin Federline for teaching your daughters that.