- Me Against the Music (feat. Madonna)
- (I’ve Got That) Boom Boom (feat. Ying Yang Twins)
- Breathe on Me
- Early Mornin’
- Touch of My Hand
- The Hook Up
- Brave New Girl
Britney Spears’ 4th album, In the Zone, was released on November 12, 2003. The songs for this album began being written while Britney was on tour in 2002, and she had a major role in the writing and shaping of these songs – often opting to change the lyrics to more accurately reflect her life. Along with Spears herself, there was a diverse group of writers for this record, most notably, Madonna and Moby. Madonna also collaborated with Britney, performing “Me Against the Music”, which marked the first of two duets on this album. Critically, In the Zone served as a comeback album for Britney, after the middling reviews of her last record. It was perceived as the final stepping stone of her transition from teen pop star to adult recording artist. The sound of In the Zone was also lauded as an important signifier for the pop sound of the early 2000s.
I have to say I agree with the critics. This album is so cohesive, the songwriting so strong, and Britney is in full creative power. Unlike the last album Britney, where she was trying to find herself, In the Zone proves that she has officially arrived. It’s an apt album title too…this album is pure early 2000s pop perfection. There are songs about being in the club, heartbreak, and, of course, toxic lovers. It’s one of the albums where I have to recommend listening to every song, not because they are all the same quality, but because they all go together so flawlessly. Let’s go in the zone.
- Me Against the Music (feat. Madonna)*
This album begins with Britney and Madonna in the club. The title track is named here, appropriately since this song so succinctly sums up the vibe of the album: Britney is grown up, here to stay, and ready to party. It’s also of its time with the rhythm section pumping a club beat that begs for a dance breakdown. I can practically see the music video with all the quick flashes. Madonna and Britney trading verses here works very well, and their voices blend seamlessly; it is one pop star handing over the crown to the other. When they get to the catchy chorus, everyone’s gonna wanna dance.
2. (I’ve Got That) Boom Boom (feat. Ying Yang Twins)*
Rowdy start for continuing the party (and the album!). This song has the vibe of everyone in the Uber (or I should say taxi since we are in 2003) and heading from one bar to the next, everyone excited and riled up about the prospect of continuing the fun. The Ying Yang Twins are perfect for this vibe and their vivacious energy is so infectious. Also. I think I heard some twang in there? It works. Any song that gets me to dance in my seat while I am trying to take notes gets a hearty recommendation from me!
Featuring another one of Britney’s famed spoken word intros, which are always iconic. Her breathy vocals on the rest of this track adds a “whispering to your ex/potential hookup in the club amidst the pulsing beat of the music” vibe. The song features Britney singing “what goes around comes back around”, which is of course the title of one of Justin Timberlake’s most well known solo singles. “Showdown” predates Justin’s song by three years, but considering this album was released right after their breakup, it’s interesting to speculate if he may have been inspired by it.
4. Breathe on Me*
By far the most straightforward techno song on the album. Though running just 3:43, this song is practically begging for the 8 minute long club remix. A great example of Britney’s vocal effect adding tremendously to a song; in lesser hands this could have been so, so bland. I will say the lyrics, “you don’t need to touch me/just breathe on me” basically sound like a nightmare in the year 2021…but hey it was 2003! Anything goes??
5. Early Mornin’*
The first of the 3 songs on this album with explicit Mediterranean influences. It’s yet another song about partying but the aforementioned Mediterranean sounds add a sinister undertone to it. It’s clear that this girl is in a vicious cycle that needs to stop soon or else she might be in dangerous territory. It’s still a blast, and it’s clear Britney was having a blast singing it, but there’s darker themes happening here. An awesome example of how just one element can completely change a song’s interpretation.
ICONIC!! A song for that age, this age, and all future ages, “Toxic” is one of the very few perfectly executed songs that grab your attention from the very first note, and keep it until the very last. “I’m addicted to you/don’t you know/you’re so toxic”…the lyrics are relatable, there is some ‘50s Link Wray style guitar in the chorus to add even more to the feeling of timelessness, and Britney’s vocal is a pop delight. If someone put this song on in 2273 people would still dance to it. It’s that good.
The second song on the album with a heavy Mediterranean, almost Bollywood influence. The beat is infectious and it begs for everyone to dance along. A really enjoyable, funky little tune.
8. Touch of My Hand*
By far the most blatantly risqué number on the album. It begins with what sounds like a bugle call, quickly followed by the album’s typical techno beats. It has a lush, full sound, with layered vocals which add a distraction from the racy content and keep it from sounding too overtly crude. These sonic elements add up to a song that is very nice to listen to.
9. The Hook Up*
And after that diversion it’s back to the club we go, where we’re gonna “take it low/to the flo'”. The swirling reggae beat transports you to a beach bar, with a cocktail in hand, and twirling in your vacation clothes, and dancing until the “Early Mornin'”….see what I did there?
Our first taste of dramatic strings! This is a pop ballad that sounds very much like it could be a soundtrack song playing over the ending credits of an early 2000s movie. A nice dip into the deeper song pool, but nothing compared to what we will get two songs from now. However, the soaring chorus is so wonderfully 2003, it has to get bonus points for that.
11. Brave New Girl*
The beat of this track initially sounds almost Motown-esque with a club beat splashed in, and Britney rapping like it’s 1983 and she’s featuring on a New Edition song. The chorus is pure Madonna, particularly “Ray of Light”. It’s pure pop candy with some rap, rock, and techno thrown in. Not a stand out but so light and lively.
Britney’s best ballad ever, hands down. With those light, almost shy vocals, it might also be her peak performance on any album. From the soft piano flourishes at the start, to Britney’s shy starting vocal, this song takes you on a tragic tale of love lost and self-doubt. The song sounds as if Britney is singing the song whilst a storm rages all around her, and she is unable to pick up the pieces being ravaged by the storm of her heart. “Every night I pray/that soon your face will fade away.” So gut wrenching. The ultimate closer to an album of newfound maturity.