meta-scriptIcona Pop Are Leading The Nordic Invasion |


Icona Pop Are Leading The Nordic Invasion

An enterprising group of Scandinavian artists, songwriters and producers are staging an international music revolution

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

Similar to their Viking predecessors who sailed from Scandinavia in search of new lands, a veritable horde of Nordic producers, writers, artists, and entrepreneurs are conquering the pop music world in a way perhaps not seen since the British Invasion of the '60s. The Nordic countries, particularly Sweden, are proving to be unstoppable musical juggernauts.

Though it boasts a population of roughly 9.5 million — only slightly larger than that of New York City — Sweden is the largest exporter of pop music per capita in the world (and the third largest overall behind the United States and England, according to the Swedish-American Chambers of Commerce USA). It is estimated that Swedish pop music exports totaled more than $800 million in 2008 alone. But Scandinavia's tremendous musical influence has gone unnoticed in some parts of the world, likely because the main players are part of an elite group of behind-the-scenes writers/producers.

Scandinavian studio gurus such as GRAMMY nominees Andreas Carlsson, Max Martin and Shellback, and GRAMMY winners RedOne and Stargate are the masterminds behind hits for global artists such as Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Pink, and Taylor Swift, among others. In 2012 Martin and Shellback ranked on Billboard's Top 10 Songwriters Airplay chart. And Martin alone is responsible for selling more than 135 million singles, with more than 38 songs topping 1 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The success of these writer/producers marks a change from the late 20th century when Sweden was better known for its performing artists, including ABBA, Ace Of Base, Europe, and Roxette. But recently, Swedish electro-pop duo Icona Pop (featuring DJs Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo) have bucked the writer/producer trend, earning fame for their inescapable hit "I Love It," which was certified double platinum in the United States and has spent more than six months on the Billboard Hot 100.

"There's an excitement," says Jawo. "People are proud, because it's pretty hard to come from a little country like Sweden. It's great when you come back to Sweden, and you can see that people are so happy for you."

Icona Pop's Swedish-based talent agency Company Ten hopes to produce even more Scandinavian hits with up-and-coming singer/songwriters such as Erik Hassle, Elliphant and Zara Larsson. But despite the in-demand nature of Scandinavian pop, helping artists gain exposure outside their native country is far from easy, according to Company Ten General Manager Adis Adamsson.

"Most people don't understand what it takes to break internationally because they don't see all that other work," Adamsson says. "It's a lot about trying to get record deals, and finding a way into the market. It's about setting everything up with other managers, the record labels, the agents, [and] the publishers. It's about trying to find songs, collaborators, co-writers, mixers, [and] producers. I'm constantly traveling between London, New York and L.A."

The hard work is paying off for Company Ten, which recently signed a first-look agreement for its artists' recordings and releases with Sony Music Entertainment and has future hopes to conquer the music world by focusing its promotional efforts in the United States and England.

"When our artists are touring or doing promotion in America or wherever, we say they're also doing promotion in Sweden," Adamsson adds. "That's because the best promotion you can do in Sweden is to be successful internationally."

GRAMMY Playlist: The Nordic Invasion

A sample of some of the biggest hits of the past two decades crafted by Nordic writers/producers Andreas Carlsson, Max Martin, RedOne, Shellback, and Rami Yacoub 

Icona Pop's breakthrough success is the latest notch on Scandinavia's hit-making belt. The past 12 months have seen an explosion of chart-topping songs with a Nordic connection. In 2010 production trio Stargate (Mikkel Eriksen, Tor Hermansen, Hallgeir Rustan) earned a GRAMMY for Best Dance Recording for Rihanna's "Only Girl (In The World)." Martin and Shellback co-composed and produced Taylor Swift's GRAMMY-nominated single "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." Martin also co-produced Katy Perry's smash hit "Wide Awake." Additionally, Rihanna's recent hit ballad "Stay" was co-produced by Swedish songwriter/mixer Elof Loelv. And on his recent single "Feel This Moment," Latin GRAMMY nominee Pitbull sampled "Take On Me," the '80s hit by Norwegian synth-pop pioneers A-ha.

Scandinavia is also mining its share of influential dance/electronic artists with Afrojack, Avicii, Swedish House Mafia, and Tiësto, while artists such as the Knife, Lykke Li and Röyksopp are redefining pop. Nordic heavy metal is a genre unto itself, spawning internationally revered bands such as Amon Amarth, Meshuggah and Opeth. The country has also made waves on the technology front with online distribution service SoundCloud and the popular streaming service Spotify, which today is used by more than 20 million people worldwide. Scandinavia is also home to Clavia, manufacturer of the revolutionary Nord brand of keyboards heard on countless hit tracks.

It's clear that Scandinavia is on a major musical roll, but one question remains: Why? What political and cultural factors are fueling this historic revolution in the Nordic music industry?

A closer examination yields some possible answers. The Nordic economies are assertively capitalistic — the Global Competitiveness Report 2013 ranked Sweden as the world's fourth most competitive economy. That economic aggressiveness is coupled with strong governmental support of the arts. The Swedish Arts Council provides financial support for promising musicians, while the Swedish government awards a Music Export Prize for internationally recognized achievements in the music industry by Swedes. Past award recipients include Roxette, the Hives, Swedish House Mafia, and Robyn.

Though Sweden's writers/producers are notoriously mum about their methods of operation, the world got a glimpse into their techniques in 2009 when Max Martin protégé Savan Kotecha offered a peek into the work habits of his mentor.

"Working around Max, I saw how to craft songs properly," Kotecha said during an interview in 2009. "He works on songs until they're right, even if it takes weeks. He taught me to not get so attached to a certain part of a song that you can't kill it [in exchange for] something better."

That sort of uncompromising perfectionism promises to strengthen Scandinavia's global musical profile. Denmark's Emmelie de Forest recently won the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest — Europe's equivalent to "American Idol"— further cementing Scandinavia's conquest of the music world.

Next for the Nordic pop industry is Icona Pop's debut album, This Is…Icona Pop, set to drop Sept. 24. Industry experts will be paying close attention as the duo attempt to build on the international success of "I Love It." Dismissing the pressure, Jawo offers a comment that could serve as a metaphor for the entire Nordic pop industry.

"It's been a crazy, chaotic time for us, and it just keeps getting better and better," she said. "We're living our dream right now."

(Bruce Britt is an award-winning journalist and essayist whose work has appeared in The Washington PostUSA TodaySan Francisco ChronicleBillboard, and other publications. He lives in Los Angeles.)

Zara Larsson Press Photo 2024
Zara Larsson

Photo: Paul Edwards


How 'Venus' Helped Zara Larsson Find Joy In Her Journey: "I Have Cemented Myself As An Artist"

Nearly 10 years into her career, Zara Larsson feels like she's starting over with her fourth studio album, 'Venus' — and she's ready for the world to truly get to know her.

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2024 - 03:50 pm

For international artists, making it in America can feel like a pipe dream — something only reserved for a handful of pop stars every few years. For Swedish pop singer Zara Larsson, it's a dream that is coming true slowly but surely.

In 2015, Larsson released "Lush Life" and "Never Forget You," two singles that both hit No. 1 in her home country. A year later, and America eventually caught on: both singles hit the Billboard Hot 100 — with the latter reaching No. 13 — and helped make 2016 Larsson's breakthrough year. In 2017, her second album (and first to be released internationally), So Good, went platinum in America; since then, she's collaborated with a wide array of stars, from Kygo and Young Thug to BTS and David Guetta.

Yet, it feels as though Larsson has remained her fan's best kept secret. As she's continued to see massive success in Europe, headlined several tours, and opened for the likes of Clean Bandit and Ed Sheeran, she's also continued bubbling under the surface — landing a fair share of Top 40 hits on U.S. pop radio, but ultimately waiting for the stateside success to stick. 

One thing that's kept Larsson going, though, is knowing that she has always remained true to what matters most: her music and her artistry. Rather than succumbing to the pressure to hop on a music trend or create a viral sound, Larsson opts to look to the future, thinking positively that her moment will come. Venus, her fourth studio album, will hopefully help that moment come true.

The 12-track album is an ode to the various types of love Larsson has experienced over her life so far — the most prominent, of course, being the love for her music career. In the music videos for Venus tracks "On My Love" and "End of Time,"  Larsson revisits versions of herself from her past, which served as a visual representation that she's still following the right path. 

"Looking back at a lot of video material from when I was editing, I see who I was as a baby and a kid back then, and it's so clear that I was always meant to do this," Larsson tells "[Venus] is the essence of me and who I am and always have been." 

Venus is pop at its finest, with Larsson crafting an album that juxtaposes infectious floor-fillers like "Escape" with more introspective tracks like "Healing." The through line between her previous work and Venus is obvious: Larsson just wants to make people feel as deeply as possible. What's different is that now, she sounds confident and in control; she's not trying to chase anything except her own happiness and uses music to soundtrack those emotions.

In between a much-needed trip to Thailand and the release of Venus, Larsson chats with about staying true to her artistry, working with female producers, and more.

This year marks 10 years since your debut album. How would you describe the way you've grown and developed as an artist between then and now?

Ten years is a long time. I just turned 15 when I released my first song. It's hard to say what exactly grew in my music [or] in me as a person because I think they do intertwine. 

What's interesting about this album is that I feel like, in a lot of ways, it goes back to my very first album, 1. It wasn't released internationally and a lot of people think So Good is my first album. Venus has the essence of me — it's fun, not that serious, and a little sassy. 

I've been lucky enough to always have people around me who listened to what I wanted to do and say. It's tricky because you feel like you need to reinvent yourself but, at the same time, you want to stay true to yourself. I'm really excited to let the world hear Venus because I do feel like it reminds me of my very first album. 

You mention having a team around you that supports you. I read a previous interview you did and you essentially talked about how the industry was full of men and you scared them by being 15 years old and saying no. How has that mindset carried you over your career so far?

I've just always been a very opinionated person and determined in what I want to do. For me, it was so clear what I was feeling [when recording] — it was "No, I don't like this song" or "Yes, I like this song."

I have a lot of good people around me. At 15, I had a small team, and although they were men, I trusted them. They allowed me to release what I wanted to release. I wasn't signed to a major label at that point, but after I got signed to a major with lots of budget for styling and choreography, I have to ask myself if I like what I'm doing or making. 

I think that it is so important [to stick up for yourself] because I don't think it would feel good to release something that I don't like… even if it probably would feel great to have a hit. But, again, you can't guarantee a hit and when you release something that you really, really like, you can't lose. 

I've had to stand up for myself a lot of the time. I've never been truly alone in going up against the bigger dogs at the bigger company — I've either had my indie label, my manager, or my mom telling me that I know what I want. I think now, having my fourth album on the way, it feels like I have cemented myself as an artist. I don't feel the pressure of having to live up to other people's standards or expectations.

Touching on that, something that I love about your work is that you always stay true to who you are. Has ensuring your artistic integrity stays intact and keeping true to yourself rather than 'selling out' to try and get a huge hit always been a no-brainer for you?

I think so. It is hard because, at the end of the day, I can't lie — one of my biggest dreams is to have a sold-out stadium world tour. I would love to see lots of faces in the crowd and to have as many people as possible to connect with my music. But I don't [want to release] stuff that I don't like just because someone else thinks it's a good song. I don't want to hate the song when I perform it at shows. 

How did the creation of Venus differ from creating previous albums?

I wanted to make an album that felt like the first one I wrote [2014's 1]. The beauty of pop is that it's so broad, it allows you to dip your toe in anything. Venus is a step up in the quality of songs. The Goddess of love and beauty is Venus, so this album focuses on different types of love — platonic love, romantic love, healing from love, and just love from different perspectives. 

I think love rules my world, in a sense, and Venus captures where I am in life. I have so much love for my career and I'm in a very good place. I'm glad Venus is coming out in the first quarter of the year because everyone is excited and everyone has this new, refreshed energy. It feels inspiring.

In the "End of Time" video, we see you revisiting yourself as a kid. Did you feel like you were healing your inner child while creating that video?

Yeah. The story turned out exactly how I wanted it to. For me, it was about expressing a feeling of being a young girl and wanting so badly to be a singer and then being visited by an older version of myself. 

In the video, young Zara is going through a lot and she uses music as an escape into her own world. I feel like I have always done that. That's the beauty of pop and why putting on a fun song to dance to is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. You just enter a different world where no one can bother you. That was my childhood — me dancing in front of my mirror dreaming about one day being an artist. 

Arguably the most important love to ever feel is to believe in your dreams and your goals, so [the music video] was my way of saying to little Zara that we did it. 

Vulnerability is a thread that connects your songs together — do you see songwriting as a form of therapy, to get your thoughts and feelings out and make them tangible?

Yeah, definitely. The older I get and the more I do it, the better I get. It's just a really good way of putting your emotions into the world because the beauty of music and any type of art is to feel like people can relate to it. You feel like you're not alone and you feel understood. It's why we listen to happy songs when we are happy and sad songs when we are sad — we want to feel like we're not alone in what we are experiencing. 

Compared to your past albums, did the writing process for Venus change at all? 

For Venus, I worked with a small group of people. Sometimes, when you go from one session to another, it can be difficult to open up your soul. It does get easier when you've been working consistently with the same group of people, though. It's important for me to feel safe in a room and know that I can say whatever. 

I think a couple of years ago when I was in sessions, I would also be with nine people in the room or something, and they'd mostly be men, and that was really intimidating for me. I had to stand up for myself in those writing rooms. Now, I don't want to be the only girl in the room. I want other women in there. 

At the end of last year, I released an EP called Honor The Light and one of my favourite songs, "Memory Lane," was made with one of my favorite producers, Elvira Anderfjärd. 

With there being so many male producers, it's easy for them to lift each other and so much harder for women to get in the door. 

Exactly! I want to work more on having more women in these rooms in the future. Venus is my essence. Looking back at videos of me as a baby, it was so clear who I was even back then. That's the purest version of me. I want it to be very female-driven and empowering. So, now I have an all-female band because I want to play with other women. 

I loved "Memory Lane," by the way. What was it like working with Elvira Anderfjärd and Klara Söderberg from First Aid Kit on it?

We had a couple of days in the studio and we were reminiscing and talking about old memories. I felt like I'd reached a point where I was starting to be nostalgic about my childhood. 

For me, it's hard sometimes to talk about memories or personal stuff without being too cheesy about it. But I feel like this one turned out to be very personal and beautiful. I think it's also quite relatable even though you might not have been experiencing everything that I sing about, but you can look back at what you've been through and be thankful for it. 

I was reading comments about the song and so many people love it. I know reading commentary online can be difficult at times, but is it gratifying to know when people take your songs and apply them to their own lives?

It's crazy. It's honestly so weird because you can so easily search for things. It's so easy to read what everybody thinks of me or this new song. It's like being a fly on the wall.  

It makes me so happy when people feel like they connect to a song and it makes them feel seen or makes them feel better. There was a point where I was searching and scrolling for the negative stuff because I was waiting for it. Like we talked about earlier, when I release something I want to feel like I don't give a damn, respectfully, what other people think. But, at the same time, I'm an artist so I care very much about what other people think. It's a weird tightrope that you balance on. 

Lastly, where do you hope Venus takes you next on your artist journey?

The GRAMMYs, baby! I've been doing this for a long time, over 10 years. I'm really living my dream life, I truly am. I just want to take it to the next level in terms of production with my show. Let's upgrade the venues and have fun! 

I want to be able to keep making albums, create projects, and go into a visual world. I want to keep directing music videos and have a Billboard number one. I could see myself on top of the world. 

I'd love for Venus to bring me around the globe and back again. I just want people to realize who I am and what I do, because I have a lot of ambition and drive. I was born to do this, and I'm excited about where that and Venus are going to take me. 

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Ariana Grande Eternal Sunshine


Everything We Know About Ariana Grande’s New Album ‘Eternal Sunshine’

Pop sensation Ariana Grande is gearing up to shine. Her much-anticipated seventh studio album is scheduled for release in March — here’s all the details we know about ‘eternal sunshine’ so far.

GRAMMYs/Jan 18, 2024 - 12:23 am

Superstar Ariana Grande has officially announced the release of her next studio album and per usual, she sent the internet ablaze. Fans of the two-time GRAMMY-winning pop singer can mark their calendars for Grande’s official return with eternal sunshine on March 8.

Grande has been topping charts for more than a decade after first breaking into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 with her debut single, "The Way," featuring Mac Miller, from her debut album, 2013’s Yours Truly

Just days before announcing eternal sunshine — her first album since 2020’s Positions — Grande released the lead single "yes, and?" which teased a new disco-inspired sound that has fans and critics alike abuzz for more. 

Ahead of the release, here’s everything currently knows about eternal sunshine

The Album Will Be Released On March 8

On Jan. 17, Grande unveiled the album’s cover art, title and March 8 release date on social media. The singer’s mom took to her daughter’s Instagram post to share her elation about the upcoming release. "woooohoooo!!! here we f—ing go!!!" she wrote. "you're incredible ... the album is perfection!!! so proud.. Xooxxox". We love a proud mom moment.

The Artwork Reflects A New Direction

Ariana Grande

In a striking departure from her neutral style, Grande dons red lipstick in the cover art for eternal sunshine. A powerful statement, this deliberate and unapologetic choice stands as a potent symbol of confidence, defiance, and courage.

The album’s cover art, featuring a close-up, partially obscured shot of Grande’s face with a soft motion blur, also reflects the tumultuous swirl of media attention surrounding her personal life. It sets the tone for the album, signaling a new era of boldness and artistic maturity. Grande appears to be reclaiming the narrative, transforming a symbol traditionally associated with stigma into one of strength and resilience.

She’s Working With Max Martin Again

Grande’s back to work with GRAMMY-winning producer and songwriter Max Martin, who has co-written and co-produced songs on five of her seven albums. After not collaborating on 2020's Positions, Martin is seemingly back on board for eternal sunshine, as he co-wrote "yes, and?". ( "yes, and?" was co-written and co-produced by another frequent Grande and Martin collaborator, Ilya Salmanzadeh.)

She’s Ready To Clap Back

As Grande released "yes, and?" on Jan. 12, she also sent a message with the music video; it’s a direct response to fans, critics, and commenters judging Grande’s life and career. 

The video opens with a skit that features naysayers, making watercooler commentary including, "I mean who cares if she’s happy. I don’t want happy, I want art," and "I think I liked her better when her ponytail was a few centimeters higher." After being ushered and sat in a room full of stone statues, the characters watch astonished as the statues crumble and Grande appears to stomp over the rubble before launching into the disco-inspired dance track. 

More pops of red appear throughout the otherwise monochrome video: a red invitation from “Ari” that appears in the first few seconds of the skit and Grande’s own glossy, manicured nails. 

Her Fellow Superstars Are Pumped

Momma Grande isn’t the only one excited for eternal sunshine. When Ari posted photos and video clips from the studio on Instagram in December, she had several celebs screaming with joy. 

"FINALLY," commented Selena Gomez, with Billie Eilish eagerly demanding, "UN MUTE PLS" and SZA adding, "Oh this bout to eat." But Grande’s frequent co-writer Victoria Monét may have put it best: "She’s HOME!"

She’s Already Back To Topping The Charts

Although Billboard charts were unavailable as of press time, "yes, and?" premiered at the top position on the Spotify Global Chart, marking her most significant streaming debut on Spotify ever. The single also secured the No.1 position on Apple Music Top 100 Global Chart and the official music video for the single "yes, and?" grabbed the top spot on YouTube’s Trending For Music category. 

If that success is any indication for what’s to come upon eternal sunshine’s full release in March, Grande’s return may be her most grande yet. 

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Britney Spears performing in 2016
Britney Spears performs in 2016.

Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images


Britney Spears' Biggest Songs: 15 Of The Pop Icon's Most Beloved Tracks, From "Toxic" To "Hold Me Closer"

As Britney Spears celebrates the 20th anniversary of one of her all-time classics, "Toxic," rounds up 15 tracks that encapsulate the star's peak performances and iconic moments.

GRAMMYs/Jan 12, 2024 - 06:57 pm

Britney Spears recently posted a message on Instagram that asserted she'd never return to the music business. She later deleted it, which could be taken as a sign that she hasn't made this big decision with such finality. But it was certainly an alarming statement to her diehard fans eagerly awaiting new music.

It's fair to hold out hope that Spears will want to be a public entertainer and recording artist again in some ways — after all, she did just release a memoir, The Woman in Me, in October, and the book reveals a healing woman. And, of course, she scored a worldwide hit in 2022 with Elton John in "Hold Me Closer." 

Even if she never releases another piece of music, Spears already has quite the legacy. Between five No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, six No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200, and a GRAMMY win, her mark on pop music is undeniable. Part of that impact is courtesy of "Toxic," the danceable smash that was released as a single in January 2004 (and won Spears her GRAMMY in 2005).

In honor of the 20th anniversary of "Toxic," surveyed the pop superstar's hits and deep cuts from 1998 to the present in order to break down some of the most essential tracks in Spears' catalog. Between beautiful ballads and brazen bops, let the reminiscing commence.

"...Baby, One More Time," ...Baby One More Time (1998)

Written and co-produced by powerhouse Swedish pop producer Max Martin — a frequent collaborator throughout Spears' career — the singer's debut single was rewarded with some of the highest honors of the music industry when she was just 17 years old.

"...Baby, One More Time" topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 42nd GRAMMY Awards. It has since sold over 10 million copies, and to this day remains one of her defining hits. (And to think it almost wasn't hers: According to Yahoo! News Australia, the song was reportedly originally offered to the Backstreet Boys.)

The song's instantly meteoric success was undoubtedly catapulted by its memorable video, which sees Spears dance her way through private school halls in a (now iconic) skimpy uniform. Seeing it performed visually cemented her image as a young, belly-baring flirt with girl-next-door looks, approachable style and enviable dancing skills, an archetype that little girls everywhere wanted to emulate.

"Oops!... I Did It Again," Oops!... I Did It Again (2000)

Spears further played with her innocent image on "Oops!... I Did It Again," a sassy song that suggests suitors aren't exactly safe with their heart in her hands. It was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 43rd GRAMMYs.

"I think I did it again," she sings at the top of the track. "I made you believe we're more than just friends." Spawning another classic video and another trademark look (this time, a red catsuit), "Oops" emphasized Spears' further pivot into naughtiness and had thousands learning her choreography in a pre-YouTube era. 

Another Max Martin and Rami Yacoub production, "Oops" stuck at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, but the album of the same name debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and set first-week records for sales by a woman artist at the time with 1,319,913 copies sold.

"Lucky," Oops!... I Did It Again (2000)

"Lucky" is a peppy song with a sprinkle of sadness on top. Its titular character is a Hollywood girl who seems to have it all, but there's no one to share her success with, so she is lonely and cries at night. It was a poignant sentiment, given her fame at the time, and was re-examined by fans in recent years as she fought for freedom from her conservatorship overseen by her father, Jamie Spears.

While it didn't manage to break the top 20 of the Hot 100, "Lucky" has always been a fan favorite. The song did break through internationally, though, becoming a No. 1 hit in three European countries as well as on Europe's overall pop chart.

"Dear Diary," Oops!... I Did It Again (2000)

Spears has worked with a global roster of songwriters and producers over the years, but the Oops! ballad "Dear Diary" marked a special moment for the star: it was the first album cut that she co-wrote.

While Oops!... I Did It Again largely showed a maturing Spears, the innocence and sweetness of "Dear Diary" served as a reminder that she was still just a teenager in the beginning of her stardom. The track also seemingly gave her the confidence to co-write more of her songs, as she had a hand in writing almost half of 2001's Britney and almost all of 2003's In the Zone.

"I'm a Slave 4 U," Britney (2001)

Spears went rather gritty on the lead single to her third, self-titled album. While earlier singles may have had a sexy wink within their words, the lyrics of "I'm a Slave 4 U" took a deeper plunge into the erotic zone. "All you people look at me like I'm a little girl," she sings defensively. "Well, did you ever think it'd be okay for me to step into this world?"

Along with the racy lyrics, Spears' visual performances of the song — a music video depiction of a steamy basement club night and a VMA performance that included dancing with an Albino Burmese python around her neck — added more cultural moments to her repertoire. 

"Overprotected," Britney (2001)

Spears' massive fame made her an early paparazzi magnet and led her to be sheltered by her management, record label and family. These topics are addressed head-on over the soaring notes of "Overprotected."

"Say hello to the girl that I am/ You're gonna have to see through my perspective," she declares on the opening verse. "I need to make mistakes just to learn who I am/ And I don't wanna be so damn protected."

The anthem foreshadowed her future hit "Piece of Me" — and the struggle for independence she'd later fight for during her conservatorship — but ultimately showed that she isn't afraid to speak her mind and fight for what's hers.

"I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman," Britney (2001)

After two bold statements with Britney's first two singles ("I'm a Slave 4 U" and "Overprotected"), Spears pumped the brakes on the notion of her growing up too fast in the ballad "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman." The song appeared on her third album, Britney, and in the soundtrack for the road trip dramedy Crossroads.

"There is no need to protect me," she sings powerfully on the track, which appears to mirror her experience in real life at that moment in time. "It's time that I/ Learn to face up to this on my own/ I've seen so much more than you know now/ So don't tell me to shut my eyes." 

"Toxic," In the Zone (2003)

"Toxic" is an uptempo whirlwind of sampled Bollywood strings and Swedish pop drama crafted by the popular dance pop producers Bloodshy & Avant. Another single that took on a life of its own visually, the video served up another set of iconic looks: the deadly assassin, the sparkly nude bodysuit and the perky flight attendant.

"Toxic" remains Spears' biggest hit as of press time, now certified six-times platinum by the RIAA and the only song with more than one billion streams on Spotify. It also won Spears her one GRAMMY, for Best Dance Recording at the 47th GRAMMY Awards.

And 20 years after its release as a single, "Toxic" has had remarkable staying power on the pop charts. As of 2023, the song appeared on the Hot 100 in three different incarnations: the original track and the mash-ups "Toxic Pony" by Altégo and "Toxic Las Vegas" by Jamieson Shaw. 

"Everytime," In the Zone (2003)

By this era of Spears' discography, fans were more than used to autotune and other processed treatments on her singing — but "Everytime" is Spears in a more vulnerable and unplugged state. Co-written by Spears, the slow, melancholic ballad hit even harder because it was released after her public breakup with Justin Timberlake.

Fans hadn't heard anything quite as sad from Spears in her career as the pining lyrics of the chorus on "Everytime": "And every time I try to fly I fall/ Without my wings/ I feel so small/ I guess I need you, baby." The song became a fan favorite for the rawness of her vocal delivery, and was also a personal favorite for Spears during her Las Vegas concert residency.

"Womanizer," Circus (2008)

Spears' father began his role as her conservator in February 2008. Seven months later, she released "Womanizer," the lead single to her sixth album, Circus — which proved that no one was going to hold her down.

"You say I'm crazy," she sneers on the chorus of the engine-roaring uptempo track, which pokes fun at recent troubles with her ex-husband Kevin Federline. "I got your crazy!" she adds, sarcastically.

While the song's message focused on telling off a, well, womanizer, its commercial success showed Spears' new conservatorship meant nothing for her staying power. "Womanizer" was her first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 since "...Baby, One More Time" topped the chart in January 1999; it also earned Spears her seventh GRAMMY nomination, for Best Dance Recording at the 2010 GRAMMYs.

"If You Seek Amy," Circus (2008)

If the title to the sing-songy "If You Seek Amy" is said out loud, it sounds like a sexual proposition. And that's exactly what makes this Max Martin-produced track so enjoyable.

Despite everything she was experiencing in her personal life, it offered evidence that Spears still knew how to poke fun at her staying at the center of attention. It's a perfect time capsule to an era when she was most wanted by the paparazzi.

"Hold It Against Me," Femme Fatale (2011)

Spears' "Hold It Against Me" flips an old chauvinistic joke into girl power — another clever piece added to the singer's puzzle. After being objectified so much over the course of her career, this song was her bid to put an end to it.

"Hold It Against Me" continued Spears' late 2000s hot streak into the 2010s. It earned the singer her fourth No. 1 on the Hot 100, following the chart-topping success of "3," her cheeky ode to threesomes, in 2009. 

"Work B—," Britney Jean (2013)

Spears assumes a faux British accent for "Work B—," a bossy cut made for gyms or the club. "You want a hot body? You want a Bugatti? You want a Maserati?" she asks over an insistent beat. "You better work, b—… now get to work, b—!"

Shortly after the track was released in 2013, Spears told English talk show host Alan Carr that the song is a tribute to her gay male friends, with whom she uses the word b— playfully and affectionately as a term of endearment. It became both a gay club anthem and a top 20 hit on the Hot 100 chart, and the video revived interest in Spears' dancing chops.

"Slumber Party (feat. Tinashe), Glory (2016)

A slightly different sound for Spears compared to her pop and dance productions, "Slumber Party" features Tinashe with a lyrical cadence that is more in the R&B singer's realm. It's perhaps the Spears song with the most urban radio feel since "I'm a Slave 4 U."

Fans may also remember "Slumber Party" fondly for what was once a romantic reason: Spears' now ex-husband Sam Asghari was cast as the leading man in the lingerie-heavy music video; it's how they first met each other.

"Hold Me Closer" with Elton John, The Lockdown Sessions (2022)

What better way to celebrate a big feat than with a massive collaboration? Nine months after Spears' long-fought conservatorship was terminated, she dropped a team-up with none other than Sir Elton John.

The unexpected duo released "Hold Me Closer," a soaring duet that interpolates parts of John's beloved hits "Tiny Dancer," "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" and "The One" into a singular modern mix. And though Spears is more of a background vocalist, her first release in six years marked quite the comeback: "Hold Me Closer" topped the Billboard Adult Top 40 and the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs charts, and reached No. 6 on the Hot 100.

As of press time, "Hold Me Closer" is the last song that Spears has released to date. While it's possible that there may not be any more recordings to follow, it's also safe to say she has surprised the world more than once before.

How Many GRAMMYs Has Britney Spears Won? 10 Questions About The "Hold Me Closer" Singer Answered

Taylor Swift performing in 2015
Taylor Swift performs on the 1989 Tour in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in June 2015.

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/LP5/Getty Images for TAS


7 Ways Taylor Swift's '1989' Primed Her For World Domination

With the arrival of '1989 (Taylor's Version),' take a look at seven ways the original album prepared the country-turned-pop star for a global takeover.

GRAMMYs/Oct 27, 2023 - 03:50 pm

When Taylor Swift released "Shake It Off" — the lead single from her fifth studio album, 1989 — in August 2014, she couldn't have known just how apt the lyrics "I never miss a beat/ I'm lightning on my feet" would be to her career nine years later.

Since then, Swift has never missed a chance to shake up the industry, whether she's redefining artist and fan relationships or fighting for her masters. And Oct. 27 marks a special day in the Swift world, as it's not only the day her groundbreaking, genre-defying, and two-time GRAMMY-award-winning album arrived in 2014 — it also marks the day Swift takes it back with the release of 1989 (Taylor's Version).

At the time of the original's release, its name was inspired by the singer's birth year to mark a symbolic shift as she transitioned from a country singer to a pop star. She was tired of speculation around her love life, finding creative inspiration in other things, like a move from Nashville to New York and her friend's romances.

1989 sold over 1.2 million copies in its first week, making Swift the first artist ever to have three albums sell over one million copies in their first week. The album also helped Swift make history at the 2016 GRAMMYs, as its Album Of The Year win made Swift the first female solo artist to win the accolade twice. (She's since furthered her record with a third AOTY win for folklore in 2021.)

In the original liner notes, Swift touched on 1989 being an album about "coming into your own, and as a result... coming alive." In a way, she was prophesying everything she'd do in the subsequent nine years — from surprise albums to a larger-than-life tour to everything in between — by consistently reimagining and redefining what it means to be a pop artist today.

Now, the 1989 rerecording represents a different type of rebirth — one that, through the rerecording process, has given Swift a new perspective that has allowed her to come into her own all over again. "I was born in 1989, reinvented for the first time in 2014," Swift wrote in a note to fans on Instagram upon the (Taylor's Version) release, "and a part of me was reclaimed in 2023 with the re-release of this album I love so dearly."

As you blast 1989 (Taylor's Version), dig into seven ways the original recording helped pave the way for Swift to become a global superstar. 

It Proved Swift A Successful Genre Shapeshifter

After Swift's Red saw pushback from the country community for blurring the lines between country and pop, 1989 would see the singer take a hairpin turn and go full-on pop. The catalyst for a full-length pop album was Red's loss for Album Of The Year at the 2014 GRAMMYs — something that Swift admitted caused her to cry "a little bit" and then decide it was time to make the leap.

Like Shania Twain before her, Swift's move from country to pop caused controversy both within the music industry and in her own team. Her record label at the time were skeptical of the change — even prompting to suggest she still record some country songs — and required a "dozen sit-downs" to better understand why she wanted to leave country music behind.

Realizing that if she "chased two rabbits" by pursuing both country and pop she would end up losing them both, Swift opted to fully embrace the new chapter of her life that came with moving to New York, cutting her hair, and shaking off the media by leaning into where her music was taking her.

With racing production and synthesized saxophones, 1989's lead single, "Shake It Off," was a reintroduction to Swift's artistry — and hinted at the true mainstream pop star she'd soon become.

She Took A Stand Against Naysayers

As part of the campaign for 1989, Swift spoke about the critiques she's received as a female singer/songwriter that her male counterparts don't often face. In particular, she touched on artists like Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars, who also write songs about their love lives, but don't get similar pushback. Due to the autobiographical nature of her songwriting, love is a constant theme in Swift's work. But on 1989 she looked at it differently — and did so by taking aim at the media.

Where Red's "Mean" was written for the critics who never have anything nice to say, the tongue-in-cheek "Blank Space" is pointed directly at all those who suggest she's a maneater. Almost like a B-side to "Shake It Off" — which reminds that "the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate" — "Blank Space" serves as a satirical version of herself that gives a slight nod to how warped the media's perception is of her, singing "Got a long list of ex-lovers/ They'll tell you I'm insane/ 'Cause you know I love the players/ And you love the game."

She Enlisted Powerful Pop Producers

After working with Max Martin and Shellback on two of Red's biggest hits, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "I Knew You Were Trouble," Swift recruited them again to bring their expertise and pop flair for her new era. (Martin co-wrote and co-produced seven of the 13 tracks, while Shellback worked on six of those seven; both were involved on two of the three deluxe tracks.) As a songwriter, Swift liked just how much writing with a pop mindset helped push her out of her own comfort zone, something she explored with Martin on Red.

Swift further expanded her list of pop-superproducer collaborators by teaming with Ryan Tedder on two tracks, "I Know Places" and "Welcome To New York." While it's the only time the two have worked together, it checked another dream collab off of Swift's bucket list.

1989 was also the first album Swift worked on with Jack Antonoff, who has since become one of her biggest collaborators. Though he only co-wrote/co-produced three songs ("Out of the Woods," "I Wish You Would" and deluxe track "You Are In Love"), Antonoff's work soon proved majorly successful for Swift and several other pop stars, including Lorde and Lana Del Rey. Antonoff even credits Swift as the "first person who recognized" his talent as a producer.

It Expanded On Her Narrative-Driven Storytelling

As Swift was growing up and becoming reflective, her music was mirroring that maturity. This led her to explore themes and moments in her life that would weave their way through the album and become part of a larger story. The secret messages she placed throughout 1989 detail how different songs work together as a larger picture.

After the release of "Shake It Off" and the announcement that 1989 would be a pop-centric album, some fans and critics were fearful that Swift's storytelling would weaken when placed in a typical pop format. Instead, the ethos of 1989 is entirely shaped by Swift's love of autobiographical writing. After becoming irritated by the media's obsession with her love life and calling her promiscuous, she pulled from larger creative artistic inspiration.

On the synth-heavy "Welcome To New York," the album's opening track, she sings about finding freedom after moving to the place that once intimidated her, whereas "New Romantics" is a call-to-arms that references the very synth-pop cultural movement in music in the '80s — something that inspired 1989 as a whole (more on that soon).

Songs like "You Are In Love," which was inspired by Jack Antonoff's relationship with then-girlfriend Lena Dunham, exhibits her ability to write about her friends' relationships. Even if she found inspiration in her own romantic life, she looked at it from a changed perspective — like on "Out of the Woods" which sound mirrored the anxiety she felt due to a fragile relationship. By using pop music as her own personal playground, she took what she learned as a songwriter in country music and created a place where pop music could be both catchy and emotional.

It Incorporated '80s Synth-Pop Production

At the time of release, 1989 was lauded as the most cohesive out of all of Swift's albums, due in part to the fact that she, Shellback, and Martin used 1980s synth-pop as inspiration. Citing the '80s decade being a defining era for experimentation in pop music, Swift saw how it mimicked her own journey as a redefined pop artist.

Despite 1989's exploration of heartbreak and pain, Swift and her producers juxtaposed the heavier themes with sounds that are similar to the larger-than-life tracks of the '80s, yet still resonated with listeners. It's a pairing and influence that Swift has incorporated throughout the albums that followed, like on "Paper Rings" from Lover, "Getaway Car" from reputation, and "Long Story Short" from evermore.

It Marks The Beginning Of Swift's More Mature Songwriting

Since most of Swift's songs were, at that point, mostly autobiographical and focused on her own love life, many cynics claimed that Swift should reflect and figure out why all of her relationships end in heartbreak. On 1989, she looks back on the experiences that shaped her — like losing a friend as heard on "Bad Blood" or predicting just how badly a relationship will haunt you on "Wildest Dreams."

"Clean," the final song on 1989, demonstrates Swift's prowess at using bigger concepts to both touch on her own personal experiences and still make it universally relatable. On the final track of the standard edition, she explores a broken relationship by using vices as a metaphor for being addicted to someone. It's a track that, since its release, has become a fan-favorite because of its relatable topics, like grief and healing.

Although songs across 1989 are tied together by love and heartbreak, Swift approaches the themes in a more introspective and independent way. Where earlier tracks like Taylor Swift's "Should've Said No" and Speak Now's "Better Than Revenge" are bathed in anger, on 1989 Swift views love with more experience, understanding that not everything is black and white — as heard on "Style" ("He says, 'What you heard is true, but I/ Can't stop thinkin' 'bout you and I'/ I said, 'I've been there too a few times'") and "This Love" ("When you're young, you just run/ But you come back to what you need.")

She Took Artist-To-Fan Engagement To A New Level

What has always set Swift apart from other artists is her level of fan engagement, whether on social media or in person. With 1989, she doubled down on her relationship with fans, introducing the Secret Sessions. 

In the lead-up to release week, Swift hand-selected 89 fans from across the US and invited them into her home. Swift personally entertained the crowd by playing them music from the album ahead of its release date and gave them bigger insight into the album-making process. She continued the Secret Sessions with 2017's reputation and 2019's Lover.

As she continues on the Eras Tour and releases 1989 (Taylor's Version), Swift also continues to redefine what it means to be a pop artist. Her era of pop stardom officially began with the release of 1989, and with its re-recorded counterpart, we get to relive that era all over again. 

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