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Updated: Nov 8, 2018

Year: 2000

UK Chart Position: 1

This song is so brilliantly meta it hurts. Pop music has of course been littered with clever clever Svengali songwriters using a blank canvas as a conduit to impart their skills, puppeteers pulling the strings on unsuspecting fame hungry wannabes. But is this template quite so clear cut? When the canvas is genuinely blank, it doesn’t work as well. No matter how good the ingredients, the puppet has to provide an ingredient of their own. The best examples of manufactured pop alchemy are when there’s an understood transactional agreement between master and servant. Kylie honed the transition with S/A/W from ‘innocence’ to ‘sexed up” with a knowing wink which she’s never fully abandoned. Xenomania pushed the “ballsy schoolgirl” approach with Girls Aloud, with both parties knowing exactly what they were doing. Here, Britney plays dumb very cleverly, to produce a masterpiece that is both funny and piss-taking, confident in its ability to self-deprecatingly reinforce its superiority over and over again.

The Cheiron/Max Martin blueprint so brilliantly realised in “Baby One More Time” – shuddering, synthesized orchestral stabs, chugging steam-train tempo, echoing, sledgehammer base parts, a ‘pots and pans’ approach to percussion – are honed and revved up here, the conceit being “Oops, of course we’ve released the same song. Silly us. But admit it - isn’t it fucking brilliant?” As an answer to your critics, it is of course, no answer at all. It’s almost a form of ‘humblebragging’ in song form. It’s a non-apology, the equivalent of a politician saying “I’m sorry if you were offended by my amazingness.” A brilliantly confident way of re-asserting your own genius, covered in a wafer-thin veil of humility.

Lyrically, Britney isn’t breaking new ground. Her trajectory has gone from pleading ingénue (“when I’m not with you I lose my mind”) to assertively playful mistress (“I played with your heart’). But despite the playfulness, there’s still a flash of steel to her underlining that “I’m not that innocent.” But whilst going from simpering school girl to in-control sass may be a well-trodden path, Britney proves she’s in on the joke with the Titanic-referencing middle eight, which is nothing if not brazenly confident. After a brief show of faux-clueless half-remembered pop culture knowledge (“But I thought the old lady dropped it in the ocean?”), Britney ends with the curt, faked-smile dismissiveness of “Aww…you shouldn’t have’. Ouch.

The moment: At 2:29 when she comes back with an aggressive, final “Oops…I”

In a word: Ball-breaking

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