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Britney Spears performing at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards
For The Record: Inside Britney Spears' Voyage From Girlhood To Womanhood On Her Transformative Album 'Britney'
In the newest episode of For The Record, revisit Britney Spears' classic 2001 album 'Britney' and consider how she cast off the fetters of teen pop to become a full-fledged artist
If there's a Tunes About Liminal Spaces Dept. in the Tower of Song, "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" certainly deserves a file. In the soft-rock ballad, a then-19-year-old Britney Spears laments that, while she's no longer the saucy young star who sang "...Baby One More Time," she's got miles to go until adulthood. "All I need is time/ A moment that is mine," she sings on the former track.
"It's talking about a girl in a relationship and the boy doesn't understand what she's going through," Spears told MTV News in 2001 of "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman," a single off her third album, Britney. "Before she opens up to him, he has to realize what she's about." The song's sentiment about being caught between two epochs of life is genuine, but it belies what a forward leap Britney was for Spears.
"This is the first album I have ever really written and taken my time on," she told MTV News. "So when I actually listen to the whole album, it's just that much more special. I don't know if I'm the best songwriter in the world, but I had a lot of fun doing it and hopefully I will get better and grow."
Indeed she did: On Britney, Spears took more control of her work than ever before, co-writing six tracks — a first for the artist.
Twenty years after its release, on Nov. 6, 2001, Britney remains a seminal pop document, one in which Spears became her own artist and revealed her true essence to the pop landscape and wider world.
Spears named Britney after herself as she felt it reflected who she truly was. "I was inspired by a lot of hip-hop and R&B while I was on my last tour," Spears said in the same MTV News interview. "I was inspired by JAY-Z and the Neptunes ... I wanted to make [Britney] nastier and funkier."
The latter played a key role in the album: The Neptunes produced the lead single, "I'm a Slave 4 U," a dance-pop banger that hit the Billboard charts hard in a multitude of categories. It also clanged in the eyes and ears of conservative groups. At the MTV Video Music Awards in 2001, she performed the song with a live albino Burmese python around her neck.
As it turns out, as Spears prepared for what would become one of the most iconic performances of the 21st century thus far, she "broke out in hives" every time the snake touched her, as its handler, Mike Hano, noted.
"It's easy to screw up that kind of thing," he told Insider in 2021. "You know, it gets wrapped around your arm and doesn't want to let go. It could have been really risky, because that was a live performance, one take." But it went off without a hitch, and Spears and the now-famous serpent — later named "Banana" — were left unscathed.
All in all, the performance remains a wildly memorable VMAs moment that imprinted her new, more adult image on audiences the world over. While Spears later deemed the performance "dumb," she also took to Instagram to acknowledge its importance.
"I will tell you this ... before I went on that night I was feeling kinda out of body with nerves!" she recalled in 2021, adding that then-boyfriend Justin Timberlake helped her through it. "Justin saw I could hardly talk, so he held my hand and gave me a 5 minute pep talk, which obviously worked!"
Britney goes beyond any expected pop templates via heftier writing contributions from Spears. It also benefits from skillful interpolation of outside material — in this case, a well-known rock anthem made her own. "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," an Arrows song made a 1981 hit by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, was right in Spears' wheelhouse and aligned with Britney's newfound grit.
Plus, it fit the bill for a karaoke scene in Crossroads, her then-upcoming movie debut centering on three girls who take a cross-country road trip. "I actually sing it all the time for karaoke, so it made sense," she told MTV News between crunching potato chips. "I wanted [co-producer] Rodney [Jerkins] to come in and redo the song. It's a very girl-power song."
Elsewhere, the song "Overprotected" — which was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 45th GRAMMY Awards in 2003 — addresses themes of manipulation and control, which takes on a new meaning in the light of her almost-terminated conservatorship and the #FreeBritney movement, which has been percolating from 2008 to the present day.
"Say hello to the girl that I am / You're gonna have to see through my perspective," she sings. "I need to make mistakes just to learn who I am / And I don't wanna be so damn protected."
The seemingly clairvoyant line about the freedom to make mistakes is telling when considered with 20 years of distance and perspective. Without the destructive pressure cooker of current circumstances surrounding her — a story startlingly told in The New York Times' recent documentary, Controlling Britney Spears — could she have leapt further and further artistically on her own terms?
It's impossible to say for sure, but Britney remains a pivot point: The album establishes Spears as much more than a coquettish young thing singing catchy songs, but someone more than able to take the wheel, navigating her spaceship from girlhood to womanhood with grace.
"It's not my intention to leave my young fans. I just want an older generation to pick up on it as well," she said in the MTV interview. "I couldn't do ...Baby One More Time number three. I had to change it up and pray people think that's cool."
Spears' prayers were answered: Two decades later, Britney's impact remains unassailable — python or no python.
N.W.A's DJ Yella, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and MC Ren
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N.W.A Are 'Straight Outta Compton': For The Record
What started as an attitude that helped put Compton on the map grew into a worldwide music revolution celebrating the streets
A debut album that landed like a sledgehammer, 1988's Straight Outta Compton has become a legend in its own right. The featured N.W.A lineup was Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren. The album was produced by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, and released on Ruthless Records, the label co-founded by Eazy-E and N.W.A manager Jerry Heller two years before.
Although it sold well initially, its landmark status rested on the controversies surrounding its gangsta lifestyle themes and attitudes. Its provocative tracks described the world N.W.A knew through their own eyes, including the title track, which elevated the group's hometown of Compton, Calif., "Express Yourself" and "Gangsta Gangsta." The album also included "F* Tha Police," which resulted in the FBI and U.S. Secret Service sending threatening letters to Ruthless Records and the group's banishment from many venues.
Credited as one of the most influential hip-hop records of all time, in 2015, Straight Outta Compton the film appeared, dramatizing the 1988 impact of the album, with Ice Cube portrayed by his son O'Shea Jackson Jr. Confrontations with law enforcement and antagonism based on "F* Tha Police" form a core element of both the 2015 drama as well as the drama on the streets that has never stopped.
Among the album's many aftermaths, Eazy-E died in 1995, Ice Cube went on to produce and star in his extensive filmography and the adventures of Dr. Dre touch on many other histories, including those of Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. Meanwhile, in recognition of its critical importance to music history, Straight Outta Compton was inducted into the Recording Academy's GRAMMY Hall Of Fame as well as the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry.
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Alanis Morissette's 'Jagged Little Pill': For The Record
Learn about the singer/songwriter's big GRAMMY night at the 38th GRAMMY Awards with her third studio album
For a generation of music lovers, the '90s hosted a boon of hits that have now attained classic status. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill is arguably at the top of the list.
Released June 13, 1995, as her third studio album, Morissette worked on the project exclusively with producer/writer Glen Ballard. She plumped the depth of raw emotion to craft the LP's 12 alt-rock tracks, marking a departure from her previous pop-centered releases.
The Canadian native's honest approach to Jagged Little Pill flipped the industry upside down. The album went on to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and produce three No. 1 Billboard singles: "You Oughta Know," "Hand In My Pocket" and "Ironic."
As of 2015, sales of the album surpassed 15 million copies in the United States, making it one of only three albums to reach that milestone behind Metallica's self-titled album (16.1 million) and Shania Twain's Come On Over (15.6 million).
Further solidifying its legacy, a musical stage production based on the LP will premiere in spring 2018.
Jagged Little Pill also brought Morissette her first four career GRAMMY wins at the 38th GRAMMY Awards. She took home the coveted award for Album Of The Year and Best Rock Album, while "You Oughta Know" earned Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song.
"I actually accept this on behalf of anyone who's ever written a song from a very pure place, a very spiritual place," Morissette said during her Album Of The Year acceptance speech after thanking Ballard. "And there's plenty of room for a lot of artists so there's no such thing as the best."
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Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN.': For The Record | 2018 GRAMMYs Edition
Celebrate the Compton rapper's successful fourth album, which brought home a total of five GRAMMY wins on Music's Biggest Night
Kendrick Lamar's phenomenally successful fourth LP, DAMN., landed with a bang in mid-2017 that saw fans digging voraciously into the full media experience of the album's release in an intense manner.
There were rumors based on tweets, there were secret second album release theories, there were even guesses at the tracklist's double-meanings that actually turned out to be true. Altogether, it made for a moment in pop culture that coalesced into an explicit public statement: Lamar was no longer content to merely capture the attention of hip-hop purists and music scenesters with their ears to the street; he was here to convert new listeners over from the mainstream without sacrificing the authenticity of his core sound. And along the way maybe raise a few middle fingers in the direction of his oftentimes befuddled political detractors.
"The initial goal was to make a hybrid of my first two commercial albums," Lamar explained to Zane Lowe on Beats 1 Radio. "That was our total focus, how to do that sonically, lyrically, through melody – and it came out exactly how I heard it in my head. … It's all pieces of me."
Lamar's soul-bearing reaped obvious rewards at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, with DAMN. generating a total of five GRAMMY wins, including Best Rap Album, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("LOYALTY."), Best Rap Song ("HUMBLE."), Best Rap Performance ("HUMBLE."), and Best Music Video ("HUMBLE.").
Along with its successes on Music's Biggest Night, DAMN. also proved to be a commercial windfall for Lamar, with lead single "HUMBLE." clocking in as his first-ever No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, with supporting singles "LOYALTY." And "LOVE." both charting in the Top 15. For its own part, DAMN. debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, has been certified double-platinum by the RIAA, and ended the year as the No. 1 album of any genre for 2017, by chart performance.
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Alabama Shakes' 'Sound & Color': For The Record
Wilder than before, the band's fusion of country and soul with immersive rock on their 2015 album defined a sound all their own
Alabama Shakes' 2012 debut Boys & Girls was such a wild success, no one expected the band would get even wilder on 2015's Sound & Color. But the band took their music way out, exploring a spacious, country-soul rock sound that would be more completely their own if it didn't seem so timeless.
"We're just a normal group of people who believe in writing and making something, and honestly, it was truly from a point of having fun," lead singer/guitarist Brittany Howard told our oral history of the album. "It wasn't to get famous or anything like that. We wanted to play gigs, that was our goal, but we didn't have anywhere to gig."
Bassist Zac Cockrell, guitarist Heath Fogg and drummer Steve Johnson write together with Howard, and the band shared in their Best Rock Song win, at the 58th GRAMMY Awards for "Don't Wanna Fight," as songwriters, in addition to winning Best Rock Performance. Sound & Color also won Best Alternative Music Album that year.
Alabama Shakes' 2012 debut brought them 55th GRAMMY Awards nominations for Best New Artist and Best Rock Performance for the song "Hold On." As a single, it remains their biggest hit so far, having reached No. 93 on Billboard's Hot 100. The following year the band was nominated for Best Rock Performance again, for "Always Alright" from the soundtrack to Silver Linings Playbook. A truly admired band, their album sales suggest Alabama Shakes falls better into the category of classics-makers than hit-makers. Their debut reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200 in 2013 and Sound & Color reached No. 1 in 2015.
Although Alabama Shakes hasn't released an album since Sound & Color, their performance of "Joe (Live From Austin City Limits)" drew another Best Rock Performance nomination at the 59th GRAMMY Awards. Earlier this year at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, Alabama Shakes' performance of "Killer Diller Blues" won Best American Roots Performance, the band's fourth win. The song was originally recorded by Minnie Lawlers, and as for other artists participating in the Jack White and Bernard MacMahon 2017 project American Epic: The Sessions, all final recordings were made on an antique 1925 Western Electric direct-to-disc system. How's that for a historic recording?