Britney Jean is the eighth studio album recorded by Britney, serving as the singer’s second eponymous record after Britney (2001). The album was made available for music download on December 3, 2013 through RCA Records. It marks Spears’ first major activity since the dissolution of her long-time record label, Jive Records, in 2011. The singer began recording material for Britney Jean in May 2013, eventually continuing into October of that year. On numerous occasions, Spears has described the album as the most personal record from her catalog. Having assumed an integral position in its production, she co-wrote each track and collaborated with songwriters and producers including Sia Furler and will.i.am to achieve her desired sound. Furthermore, the record features guest vocals from Spears’ sister Jamie Lynn, T.I., and will.i.am.
“Work Bitch” was released as the lead single from Britney Jean on September 17, 2013. The track debuted and peaked at number 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and charted moderately in international territories. “Perfume” was released as the second and final single from the album on November 4, 2013, and peaked at number 76 on the Billboard Hot 100.
To the date, the album has sold over 650,000 copies worldwide and 275,000 in the United States.
- Release date: November 29, 2013
- Recorded: May–October 2013
- Genre: Pop, EDM
- Length: 36:04
- Label: RCA
- Buy it on iTunes: Standard Edition – Deluxe Edition
Background and production
In 2012, while serving as a judge on the second season of the American version of The X Factor, Spears was spotted in the recording studio with producer Rodney Jerkins. Songwriter Elijah Blake commented that Spears was “definitely trying to push the envelope” by “playing with new textures and stomping on new grounds and genres.” Their collaborations, however, were denied by Spears’s representative, though he confirmed that producer Hit-Boy worked with Spears to create a “global sound” fusing elements of hip-hop and pop. Producer Scoop DeVille had also worked with Spears for the album’s early stages. Additionally, Britney had also recorded an unused song with rapper Wiz Khalifa for the album. In an interview with Shape Magazine, she described the album’s initial concept as having a hip-hop feel, saying “the record is definitely going to be more hip-hop than pop this time around.”
In May 2013, Naughty Boy and William Orbit were announced to be working on the record; the former expressed his satisfaction with his collaborations with Spears, adding that he had wanted always wanted to “do something a bit different.” He commented that he is “a big fan of pop music and that culture”, and wanted to “keep that going […] in [his] own kind of style.” Later that month, will.i.am was confirmed as the executive producer of the project. He described that his recording process differed from his past experience with the Black Eyed Peas, elaborating that “[he and Spears] had these juicy sessions, where [they had] been bonding, building the trust and comfort.” The album’s associate executive producer was Anthony Preston for will.i.am music. In July 2013, Spears acknowledged through Twitter that she “wrote such a special song” with Sia Furler, which was later revealed to be Spears’ favorite track, the ballad “Perfume”. The following month, she reportedly traveled to Lake District in the United Kingdom to continue work with Naughty Boy and Orbit. Naughty Boy later stated he wasn’t able to work on the material for the album with Orbit because he “wasn’t able to come to L.A. at the time [as he] was promoting ‘La La La’ around the world.”
On numerous occasions, Spears has considered Britney Jean to be the most personal record from her catalog. She stated that her experiences in recent years, including her break-up with ex-fiancé Jason Trawick, encouraged her to “dig deeper and write songs that [she thinks] everyone can relate to.” Spears added that the production of the record was an “amazing experience” and that her colleagues “helped [her] bring [her ideas] to life.” Spears told Rudolph, “I want Will to be a central figure in the album; I don’t want to have hundreds of songs sent over.”
“I wanted to just go to lunch for two months, which is totally different from how you typically do it. I said, ‘Let’s talk about what you’re excited about. Let’s talk about things you’ve done in you career, what you’re happy about. Let’s talk about spending time with your kids, let’s talk about your breakup. Let’s talk about how now you’re single, how independent you might feel.’ We started talking about all that stuff. So I said, ‘do you mind if I write this down? I don’t mean to impose but I want to interview you. I need this to create a filter.'” — will.i.am describing his relationship with Spears during production of Britney Jean
Britney Jean has been described as a concept album about “the loneliness of pop life”. The opening track “Alien” deems celebrity an isolating experience that Britney describes in terms of feeling like an extraterrestrial over synth bleaps, which according to some critics, “it echoes William Orbit work with Madonna on Ray of Light”. The second track “Work Bitch” is an EDM song, where Spears sings about what it takes to be rich, famous and beautiful, repeatedly encouraging listeners to “get to work, bitch.” The third track “Perfume” is a 1980s-influenced power ballad, which Spears described as “incredibly special to me because it hits close to home, and I think the story is relatable to everyone. Everyone’s been through an insecure moment in a relationship that’s left them vulnerable and I think this song captures that.” The fourth track “It Should Be Easy”, which features will.i.am, insists that love “shouldn’t be complicated”, with Britney imagining a bright-normal-future with a man who’s stolen her heart, with “robotized” voice and EDM beats. The song was heavily criticized for the excessive use of Autotune, credited by will.i.am.
The album’s fifth track “Tik Tik Boom” finds Britney begging a lover to make her “tik, tik, tik, tik, boom” over trap beats. It was described as a “club banger” and “the closest the album comes to bringing Blackout 2.0 to life”, featuring a “sex-drenched” appearance from rapper T.I.. “Body Ache” follows with its lyrical theme about dancing hard in a club, over shrieking sirens and EDM beats, whilst “Til It’s Gone” gives value to the stability of a good relationship, albeit after it dissolves, with its electronic and EDM sounds. With the eighth track “Passenger”, which noodles around with some EDM impulses before imploding into “brooding” pop-rock, Britney emotes about finding happiness after being willing to cede control. “Chillin’ With You” features Spears’ young sister Jamie Lynn into a song about grasping at happiness over lush trap, EDM and country pop sound. The album’s closing track on the standard edition, “Don’t Cry”, opens with a Spaghetti Western-esque whistle, and it finds Britney refusing to give in to post-relationship grief. Some critics labelled it “her best vocal performance on the album.”
- “Work Bitch”
- “It Should Be Easy” (featuring will.i.am)
- “Tik Tik Boom” (featuring T.I.)
- “Body Ache”
- “Til It’s Gone”
- “Chillin’ With You” (featuring Jamie Lynn)
- “Don’t Cry”
- “Brightest Morning Star” — Deluxe edition (bonus tracks)
- “Hold on Tight” — Deluxe edition (bonus tracks)
- “Now That I Found You” — Deluxe edition (bonus tracks)
- “Perfume” (The Dreaming Mix) — Deluxe edition (bonus tracks)
- “Work Bitch” (The Jane Doze Remix) — Japanese and Chinese edition (bonus tracks)
- “Work Bitch” (7th Heaven Remix) — Japanese and Chinese edition (bonus tracks)
Release and artwork
In May 2013, record producer Danja, who collaborated with Spears during its production, commented that he “[doesn’t] know when the next [Blackout] is going to be, but [he believes] there’s going to be another one.” On August 20, 2013, Spears re-launched her website with a countdown ending on September 17, originally speculated to be the release date of her then-unannounced lead single. On September 17, Spears announced on Good Morning America that her album would be released on December 3, 2013, in the United States, the day after her 32nd birthday. On October 15, during an appearance on Capital London, she announced that the record would be titled Britney Jean, a nickname used affectionately by her family and friends.
On October 24, together with an open letter to her fans, Spears unveiled the album artwork. The black-and-white image depicts a close-up image of Spears with the term “Britney Jean” colored in blue lettering inside a pink heart near the bottom of the cover. A report from ABC News Radio likened the usage of Spears’ middle name in the album’s title to being inspired by Janet Jackson’s eighth studio album Damita Jo, saying “taking a page from Janet Jackson’s 2004 album, Damita Jo, Britney Spears has combined her first and middle names — Britney Jean — to come up with the title”. A writer for The Huffington Post later suggested that the neon-style typography was inspired by the cover of Miley Cyrus’ fourth studio album Bangerz (2013), which itself depicts a blonde Cyrus wearing a short black coat with the title “Bangerz” stylized in fluorescent neon lighting in front of palm trees. While the typography was compared to that of Bangerz by a writer from The Huffington Post, Britney Jean marks the third album artwork from RCA Records to use a neon-style typography design, Bangerz from Miley Cyrus being one and the other being Mechanical Bull from Kings of Leon. Byron Flitsch of MTV News shared a similar sentiment, and added that the artwork was reminiscent of Spears’ fourth and seventh records In the Zone (2003) and Femme Fatale (2011).
On November 25, Britney Jean was made available for streaming for free all that week because the album tracks had been leaking for days, including the 30-second snippets of every song and even full tracks were leaked on the same week. So to avoid the whole album being leaked by hackers a week before the official release date, they decided to put the album for free streaming.
The album has 2 different photographers: Frances Iacuzzi and Michelangelo Di Battista. Michelangelo took most of the photos used on the album, including the cover. On the other hand, Frances took the pictures of Britney with his kids.
– Photoshoots > 2013 > Michelangelo Di Battista
– Photoshoots > 2013 > Frances Iacuzzi
Unlike her previous records, excluding her fifth studio album Blackout (2007), Spears did not heavily promote Britney Jean and no promotional performances in support of the album took place. However, she appeared on Good Morning America to announce her two-year residency show at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, titled Britney: Piece of Me, on September 17. Spears then traveled to the UK to promote the lead single and the album on Alan Carr: Chatty Man. She also appeared for interviews on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Entertainment Tonight, and Surprise Surprise. Britney Jean was additionally promoted through the documentary I Am Britney Jean, which premiered through E! on December 22; it covered the production and lead-up to its release and the launch of Britney: Piece of Me. The original airing of the special in the United States was viewed by 0.706 million viewers, garnering above-average Sunday ratings for the network, while it was viewed by 0.63 million viewers in the United Kingdom. Britney: Piece of Me began on December 27, with tickets having been first made available on September 20.
“Work Bitch” was released as the lead single from Britney Jean on September 15, 2013, one day earlier than expected after a low-quality version was leaked by “one bad apple”. A writer for MuuMuse described the track as a “massive return to form” and an “exciting way to kick off a brand new era”. It debuted and peaked at number 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100 with 174,000 first-week downloads, and charted moderately on national singles charts internationally. An accompanying music video for the track was premiered on October 1, where Spears is depicted as a dominatrix-like character. It received general acclaim from critics, with particular praise directed towards her dancing. However, Spears herself commented that she felt forced into maintaining her provocative image, elaborating that she “cut out half the video because I am a mother and because, you know, I have children, and it’s just hard to play sexy mom while you’re being a pop star as well”.
“Perfume” was released as the second and final single from Britney Jean on November 3, 2013. It received generally favorable reviews from music critics, and was compared to Spears’ earlier song “Everytime”, taken from her fourth studio album In the Zone (2003). The track debuted and peaked at number 76 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In the documentary I Am Britney Jean, Spears mentions “Alien” becoming a single from the album at some point, but this never came to fruition. Official remixes for “It Should Be Easy” were commissioned and serviced to clubs in January 2014, however, a spokesperson for Spears confirmed that it would not see a release as a third single and that the remixes were “commissioned purely to be used in nightclubs”. Official remixes for “Tik Tik Boom” were also commissioned and serviced in February 2014.
Despite not being released as a single, “Alien” charted at number eight on the US Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles, and 147 on the French Singles Chart, organized by the Syndicat National de l’Édition Phonographique. “It Should Be Easy” charted at number 121 in France, number 88 in Canada and number 71 in Switzerland due to digital downloads. “Tik Tik Boom” charted at number 16 on South Korea’s International Gaon Digital Chart.
Prior to its release in the United States, Britney Jean was initially predicted to sell 150-200,000 copies, with Hits Daily Double crediting the underwhelming numbers to “her very light promo schedule, with little or no TV around the release”. However, the day following its release, potential sales figures were lowered to 115-120,000 units. The album debuted at number four with 107,000 units. It is Spears’ lowest sales and chart debut for a studio set. Previously, her 1999 debut album, …Baby One More Time, tallied her smallest start with 124,000. In its second week on the chart, the album fell from number four to number 22 on the Billboard 200, making it Spears’ first album to only spend one week in the top ten. As of July 2016, Britney Jean has sold 272,000 copies in the United States.
In Europe, Britney Jean debuted at number 34 on the UK Albums Chart, selling 12,959 copies in its first week. In doing so, it became Spears’ lowest-charting album in the country; by comparison, her previous lowest-charting record In the Zone (2003) peaked at number 13. It dropped to number 87 the next week. Internationally, Britney Jean reached the top 20 and 30 in most countries. However, the album debuted at number one in China.
To the date, the album has sold over 600,000 copies worldwide.
Britney Jean received generally mixed reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 50, which indicates “mixed or average reviews”, based on 21 reviews. Jason Lipshutz from Billboard provided a favorable review, describing the project as a “transitional record [as] her first album released in her thirties”, and felt it was reminiscent of Spears’ third studio album Britney (2001). Nick Catucci of Entertainment Weekly shared a similar sentiment, stating that he “treasures” Spears for “[remaining] as enigmatic as the Disney-groomed, emotionally insulated teen who greeted us in the late ’90s”, and adding that will.i.am’s production “happily indulges the fantasies of endorphin-seeking EDM festival goers”. Writing for Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield described Britney Jean as a “concept album about the loneliness of pop life – with a high-profile broken engagement behind her, Brit gets personal and drops her most bummed-out music ever”.
Some critics felt the album was impersonal despite its marketing. The Chicago Tribune compared the album’s contents to its title, noting: “the hype about her most ‘personal’ album yet begins with the album title […] which promotes a sense of intimacy that the songs never quite deliver.” The Atlantic described the album as “her most disappointing release yet”, calling it “dull” and criticized the album’s content matter, noting that “glimpses into Britney Jean Spears, the artist, are, frankly, neither interesting nor informative.” Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph stated that Britney Jean “continues the striptease of Britney’s career”, and felt that its production prevented the record from coming across as a genuinely personal effort. Billboard noted that the album did “not fully shed light on its author’s current mindset,” and The New York Times described the album as being “about as personal as an airline preboarding announcement.”
The production on the album was also pointed out by critics. Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine provided a mixed review, criticizing the album’s “dated production and vocals that hark back to the days when Brit was selling 10 million [records]”. Barry Walters from Spin criticized will.i.am’s production on the album, claiming that the songs he produced “replace[d] melody with repetition and familiarity,” but praised Spears’s vocal delivery on “Don’t Cry.”
Prior to the release of the album, allegations were made by critics and fans that the vocals on the track “Passenger”, which leaked online ahead of the release, were not entirely Spears’s. Claims were made that Myah Marie, a backing vocalist present on Spears’s albums Circus and Femme Fatale sang lead vocals on a large portion of this song as well as other songs on the album. Marie denied these allegations, saying that “[…] I most certainly cannot take credit for her tremendous talent as a singer.” Spears’s team claimed that the song leak was a demo version. Chelsea Handler later accused Spears of not singing the lead vocals on “Perfume”, insisting “It’s obviously a new person singing. It’s not her.” Reps for Spears responded, “Myah Marie didn’t do any background vocals on the song and doesn’t have credit. [The] only backing vocals on Perfume are from Sia. Britney absolutely sings on Perfume.” Following the release of the album in December 2013, Marie was not included in the credits for “Passenger” or “Perfume”, though she was credited as a backing vocalist on a number of other songs from the album. Claims were made the following year, with the online leak of vocal stems from “Alien”, that Marie’s lead vocals were featured in this song as well.
To the day, it’s still believed that Britney didn’t sang the lead vocals in most of the song of the album, which is why it has become one of the least favorites Britney’s album among the fans.