Welcome back to Radio Rants, where the hits just keep on…hitting. A lot. Let’s fire up the old Billboard Hot 100 and get crackin’, Bruno Mars and Katy Perry have been trading the number one spot for awhile now, so I wonder whose on top this we–
Britney? Well, this should be fun. Britney Spears first appeared on the pop scene with “…Baby One More Time” 12 years ago, a fact that probably just made you feel old. Since then, she’s been a whirlwind of pop stardom, poor life choices, controversies, meltdowns, and comebacks. With 2008’s Circus, Britney finally seemed to put her woes behind her (at least she wasn’t a walking punchline), and now we’re looking at “Hold It Against Me”, the lead-off single from her seventh (?!) studio album.
As far as pop music careers go, Britney’s has always been fascinating. In part because of it’s highs and lows, but mostly because no one at any point has pretended that she’s not a major label creation. Camp Spears enlists the top producers, industry insiders, and possibly the most overworked PR team in the business, and miraculously, they’ve been able to keep her career afloat for over a decade.
But back to the matter at hand. “Hold It Against Me” is a 2011 continuation of Club Pop Britney, probably because it’s the big trend right now, and it worked wonders for her on Circus. We begin with beat that, while not bad, is so generic that it could be in an action movie or a ridiculously expensive clothing store’s PA and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Britney is in “seductive” mode for the verse, which means ending every line with a sigh, and the lyrics are garden variety “I’m at a club and you look good“, putting them at a modest 4 or 5 on Britney’s personal Scale of Lyrical Forwardness.
The chorus is classic Britney: musically spacious with vocals etching out a sing-song melody pushed way to the front. “If I said my heart was beating loud/If we could escape the crowd somehow/If I said I want your body now”. ..wait, the song’s called “Hold It Ag–oh no, please don’–“Would you hold it against me?” …really? I had hoped we could leave the “lameass joke pick-up lines as serious song titles” thing in 2010 with Young Money’s “Bedrock”, but apparently, it’s coming to the future with us.
Keeping with most of Britney’s later work, “Hold It Against Me” is busy with synth lines and sound effects. The only time that it truly becomes too much is as the chorus comes to it’s last lines; Britney’s computer-covered vocals, the beat, touches of piano, and a handful of other backing synths bury the listener under a mountain of studio treated noise. But mercifully, only for a few seconds.
Most of the song is pretty vanilla, but around the 2:16 mark, the beat stops, and stuttering synths come in. The ensuing bridge is one of my favorite moments of pop music so far into 2011; it sounds like someone actually cared enough to make something that did better than average. It also has this surprisingly spontaneous feel to it, and Britney sounds like more than a Pop Idol cutout. As the bridge continues, it turns into some sort of halfway teen-pop shoutout that sound interesting, but ultimately slows down any momentum before the song’s more club-pop leanings kick back in.
So, “Hold It Against Me”. A bad song? Nah, not really. As with all of Britney’s post-breakdown hits, it was meticulously crafted down to the last bleepy synth and vocal sigh, and it even sounds overstuffed, as if the song’s meant to say, “This is pop music”. At the same time, we’re running low on lyric power here (“Pop it like a hood”?), and Britney doesn’t sound as in-control here as she did on “Womanizer”. Overall a catchy and danceable preview of the album to come.