GLORY by Britney Spears
Favorite Tracks: “Invitation,” “Make Me…,” “Man on the Moon,” “Do You Wanna Come Over?,” “Slumber Party,” “Love Me Down,” “What You Need,” “If I’m Dancing”
“That was fun,” Britney Spears purrs in her distinctively playful inflection when the music stops on “What You Need,” the brassy closing number to her latest offering GLORY. It’s a simple, cheeky ad lib, but it’s also the wholehearted thesis statement of her ninth album. For the first time in a very long time, Spears actually sounds like she’s having fun, and the music is better for it.
GLORY marks Spears’s most adventurous effort to date. It opens with a ballad, an odd choice and not one she’s made before, but it’s the perfect introductory track. On the airy, dreamy “Invitation,” an earnest Spears asks her lover to “let inhibitions come undone.” She’s literally promising a sexual paradise—with blindfolds and all—but just as she hopes this physical journey “sets us free,” her album as a whole offers a sense of escapism, not just for her audience, but for herself as well.
The album’s lush, gleaming production doesn’t draw listeners to the dancefloor like Britney’s records typically do; instead, it transports us to No Place In Particular, where people are “dripping in smiles” and sex “smells like a cologne and candy lotion.” Sonically, it isn’t too far off from what her pop peers have been pumping out over the last year, and yet Spears occupies a space in music that belongs solely to her, albeit with the help of numerous producers.
So it doesn’t matter that she’s not ahead of the curve like she used to be. Her 2011 release FEMME FATALE, though quite trendsetting, saw Spears on autopilot, the most detached from her music she’s ever been. On GLORY, she’s animated and her infectious spirit shines in each song. And it’s almost a relief that Spears spends most of the album revelling in the casual hook-up rather than offering anything autobiographical, given that 2013’s BRITNEY JEAN was a lazy, rushed, and ultimately failed bid at what was branded her “most personal album yet.”
Instead of pioneering or confessional, GLORY is just bizarre in the way that the best Britney music is. (After all, “Toxic” wasn’t born out of thinking inside the box.) Spears puts her Vegas showgirl act to work in the soulful doo-wop “Private Show.” She channels David Bowie while yearning for a far-off lover on “Man on the Moon,” cooing, “Houston, I know there’s a problem here / Must be a hole in the atmosphere.” The trippy, eccentric “If I’m Dancing,” is an ode to a sitar-playing man who makes her see “candy-coated heart shapes” and prefers a blue chakra to a red one. In the most unexpected change of course, she pleads in Spanish for her beau to stop being so polite on “Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortes),” and she sings the entirety of “Coupure Électrique” in French. Did you ever think you’d hear a trilingual Britney Spears album?
And though she’s not a remarkable singer, Britney once again shows off her uncanny ability to sound distinctly like herself. Her lilty murmur soars into a euphoric falsetto on the lead single “Make Me…,” which features today’s premier white rapper G-Eazy on what is thankfully the album’s only collaboration (Britney is always better solo). She whispers sweet nothings on “Just Luv Me” and makes a crooning booty call over the plucky flamenco chorus of “Do You Wanna Come Over?” She revives that nasally, Rugrats-y pitch on “Private Show” and barrels into a husky, twangy chant on “What You Need”; so versatile, yet so Britney. Even the way her voice curls around the word “baby” can take you as far back as her ‘98 debut.
Now that she’s no longer leading the pack, traces of newer artists underscore the album. You can hear Ellie Goulding in nocturnal numbers like “Invitation.” The electro-acoustic “Better” is perfectly suited for a PURPOSE-era Justin Bieber while the spacey “Just Like Me” could easily be tackled by a newly-matured Selena Gomez. As it turns out, early “Britney meets the Weeknd” descriptors of the album were not entirely off base. Still, Spears manages to make each song her own, and none of them feel like they’re grasping for hits; in fact, none of them stand out as obvious radio smashers, and at a time when so many artists prioritize the single over a cohesive album, that’s a good thing. This is a body of work Spears seems proud of, and she should be.
Clearly, Britney has learned from her most recent missteps, but is GLORY finally the comeback we’ve been waiting for? Nearly a decade has passed since her very public breakdown, and yet it’s still recapped—sometimes in excruciating detail—whenever she comes up in conversation. In the years that followed that chaotic, stormy chapter in Britney’s life, there has been a tremendous amount of goodwill for her to succeed, with each album treated as an opportunity for a return to pop prominence. But the Britney of yesteryear—the one who so expertly balanced bubbly sweetness with provocative sensuality, the one whose fiery performances were routinely cemented in pop culture history, the one that existed before K-Fed, before she got her hands on hair clippers and an umbrella, and before we were ever begged to “Leave Britney alone!”—that Britney never truly emerged from the rubble.
As a longtime Britney loyalist, I found it easy to excuse her lackluster dancing, the well-documented allegations of lip syncing, and the aloof, sometimes even zombified, interviews that characterized her post-breakdown career. Sometimes I would ignore it altogether and focus on the positive: her eclectic and endlessly entertaining Instagram account, the sporadic awards show appearances, and isolated moments of her Vegas residency that showed flashes of “2003ney,” a term used affectionately by her fans to describe a seeming return to form. Pointing out trace evidence that the old Britney still existed seemed to be the natural response to naysayers, who only seemed to grow in number because her fan base was shrinking so rapidly.
But something changed at the beginning of this year. Those public appearances became more frequent. She delivered stellar and energetic performances in Vegas—not just in fleeting Where’s Waldo moments—but for the entire show, every show. And when she described her impending album as “chill,” “artsy fartsy,” and different than her previous work, she exuded passion and excitement, finally matching her fans’ vested interest in her career after a long spell of going through the motions. Whoever prevented this growth in the past—be it her label, her oft-criticized management team, or even Spears herself—finally loosened the restraints, giving her the creative space to thrive. Seeing what 2016ney is capable of makes it clear that Britney never needed to make a comeback. She only needed to evolve.
Yes, GLORY inspires epiphanies; this album is that good.