Friday, March 11, 2011

Single Review: Britney Spears - "Till the World Ends"

By Vertigo Shtick Contributor Kurt Bitter

I was originally afraid for Femme Fatale-era Britney Spears, but that has now all changed. Upon first hearing that Dr. Luke would be co-producing much of Spears’s seventh studio album my body began to enter this strange state consisting of alternating convulsions and uncontrollable sobbing. I’d imagined that the much-awaited (third) comeback of the legendary Miss Britney Spears would amount to no more than a re-working of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream or Ke$has Cannibal or some dreadful hybrid of the two. After all, Dr. Luke was responsible for most-if-not-all of the production for both albums, and while they’ve both enjoyed commercial success, are generally “good” or maybe “great”, and definitely fit the persona of their respective pop starlets, the reigning Queen of Pop (yes, the crown was passed to her via salivary diffusion on August 28, 2003 - see photo at bottom - and will remain with her until a similar transmission occurs SoHelpMeJesus) deserves much more than the creative remnants of one pop star’s sophomore album or a somewhat-grungy newcomer’s debut.


It was as if pop’s King Midas of Sweden himself, Max Martin, had received the rather strongly-worded telepathic messages I’d been sending to him and had decided, or convinced someone with the proper authority to decide, to release “Hold It Against Me” as the lead single from Femme Fatale. To put it simply and bluntly, "Hold It Against Me" is effing amazing and a sheer pop triumph. As the creator of this blog put it, “it’s as if Britney took a step back, looked at all the pop music that had been released in the past two years and said, ‘okay, this is all very good. But this is how you do it.’” 

"Hold It Against Me" is very current, very envelope-pushing, and very Britney. It has none of the blatantly obvious Dr. Luke “tricks” that have worked so effectively in the past at securing other artists a coveted #1 position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. I’d also argue that it’s somewhat of a risky track to release as a lead single. How would the general public react to an underground dubstep breakdown which, as evidenced by the activity on various nightclub dancefloors, practically NO Americans know how to groove to? What would be the reaction to dropping the beat out of the first chorus, putting Spears’ less-than-universally-praised vocals front and center? And what about saving the full-blown chorus until the final 35 seconds of the song – is three minutes too long for the average listener to wait for a total sonic eargasm? The song’s success easily provides the answers to these questions. Needless to say I was overjoyed with both the song itself and everyone else’s reaction to "Hold It Against Me," but even before the song’s music video had debuted I began to worry again, this time about Spears’ second single.  I experienced no convulsions and shed no tears this time around since my faith in Dr. Luke had almost been entirely restored, but I was now experiencing a different type of unsettlement, as though a mound of glitter and blue lipstick had settled to the bottom of my stomach. I’d learned that Ke$ha had penned the upcoming “Till The World Ends” and frankly… I was scared.

For the record I do not dislike Ke-dollar sign-ha. I actually enjoy her music quite a bit. It took me a while to admit it to myself, but her music is very good at being what it is meant to be. I also realized that while she may appear to be a lazy, messy party-girl with poor hygiene, she actually spent not a negligible amount of time crafting this persona for herself. So while she may in actuality be dirty and she may be messy and she may be a partier, lazy is something that she is not. And that was especially reassuring to me because the last thing we need involved in the third coming of "Godney" is any bit of laziness. The precedent for perfection has been set when it comes to Spears’s comebacks, and this dates precisely back to the morning of September 7, 2008 when Jamie Spears prepared a perfectly executed plate of cheese grits utilizing unarguably the perfect amount of Velveeta to fuel his daugther’s VMA takeover.

And so “Till The World Ends” eventually arrived, supposedly a week ahead of schedule after being “leaked” online.  Some critics immediately hailed the song as one of the best of Spears’s career, but I tend to disagree.  The song is very very good and has certain anthemic qualities that set it apart from most of Spears’s other tracks. I will give credit where credit is due, and I’ll say that Ke$ha’s ability to write for an artist other than herself far exceeded my expectations. The song simply feels like it was written for Britney, and in this era I think that this is absolutely necessary. Spears’s largest rival at the moment is Lady Gaga, and for Spears to release anything too lyrically or thematically different from her repertoire by delving into, shall we say, “deeper” themes would undoubtedly draw unnecessary comparisons to Gaga. From a lyrical standpoint I’m thrilled with the way “Till The World Ends” turned out.


In terms of the song’s production I had a harder time forming an opinion. Dr. Luke’s “tricks” are back en masse, including but not limited to: 1) a “repeat” chorus, where a number of lines are sung and then repeated once more, with some extra clickety-clack added the second time around; 2) pauses in the middle of the song, which I think worked for "Hold It Against Me" but not for “Till The World Ends;” 3) air effects, which happen to inexplicably excite me; and 4) prominent clapping. There may be more, or I may be missing some, and it’ll take an official instrumental version of the song for me to get a full grasp of what’s actually going on. While I am getting a bit tired of these tricks, however, it’s impossible for me to ignore how clean and precise the song’s production truly is. I find it extremely refreshing that the bass notes during the verses aren’t your standard four-on-the-floor fare. I love the little airy accents thrown in with mathematical precision that remind me to breathe when I’ve been listening too hard. And how could I ignore the sheer frenzy that is the second chorus for which the song is named? And magically, Britney’s voice manages to soar above all of this. Not in the way that it’s all you can pay attention to, but in the way that amidst all of the whooshing and pausing and clapping and laser-gun-shooting Spears is there, singing to us, and her message is clear.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that after my first listen I could see that “Till The World Ends” had "Ke$ha" written all over it. After the second listen I found that Dr. Luke had written “and Dr. Luke” on it as well. And after the tenth listen I noticed that Spears had crossed off the other two names and written “it’s Britney, bitch”. For a pop song that very obviously is the combined effort of multiple people, I think the fact that the clear marks left by the songwriter, producer, and singer do not impinge on the song’s cohesion speaks to how professional the songwriter, producer, and singer truly are.

So what’s next? Just as I thought I could rest soundly knowing that Femme Fatale was in good hands, Rolling Stone writer William Hermes took to Twitter after an album listening preview to say that the album’s vocal processing is “often fking brilliant but EXTREME”. After stopping momentarily my heart began beating once more. I took a large breath, and I surrendered to the fact that I’ve been thinking too hard about all of this and I should probably heed the advice of “Till The World Ends” and just “let it happen.” 

And please, don’t hold any of this against me.



Passing the crown...and saliva.
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