Hit Us, Baby, 30 Times: Celebrate Britney Spears’ Birthday With Her 30 Best Songs
Listen to these hits (and non-hits!) while vowing never to make a 'not a girl, not yet a woman' joke again
For the past decade, we’ve all been in Britney Spears’ Twenties. It wasn’t a mere chunk of 10 years as much as an era that hit every cultural speed bump. Today, Brit turns 30 and we honor all the chaotic joy and anguish she’s brought to our collective lives with a rundown of her 30 best songs.
30. “Rock Me In”
A playful Circus bonus track with one of Spears’ most groovy choruses. “Rock Me In” has fewer sharp edges than the rest of her 2008 album, and would have suited the star’s Austin Powers cameo perfectly.
29. “Unusual You”
A woozy, melodic departure from the bustle of Circus. After enduring nearly three years of nonstop media scrutiny as her personal life crumbled, Spears sounds earnestly relieved to find someone who isn’t breaking her heart Ã¢â,¬” in song, at least.
28. “Mona Lisa”
“She’s the original / She’s unforgettable,” Spears sings on a 2005 track from her Britney & Kevin: Chaotic EP. This is the sound of Britney’s brain when she decided it’d be a good idea to introduce the world to Kevin Federline via reality show. So, in short, amazing.
27. “Don’t Keep Me Waiting”
Travis Barker provides the booming beat on this Femme Fatale bonus track, which sounds blissfully organic, loose, and fresh next to the tightly wound synth-pop on the rest of the disc.
Spears’ first single that could legitimately be called a “comeback” track paired slicing synths with a stuttering chorus. There isn’t much to the melody, but it’s more than worth it to hear Britney winkingly sing, “You say I’m crazy? I got your crazy.”
25. “Early Mornin’ “
Moby contributed this flute loop head-nodder to In the Zone. His rippling production more than makes up for the fact that Brit spends most of the track yawning and giggling.
24. “Do Somethin’ “
A single from 2005’s Greatest Hits: My Prerogative that’s 100 percent pure swagger.
23. “Get Naked (I Got a Plan)”
The weirdest, dirtiest, grimiest song on Blackout. Freakier than “Freak Show”!
22. “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”
Worth its weight in Cheetos for providing the punch line to a billion Britney one-liners, this Dido-written ballad from Britney is grade A schmaltz.
21. “Break the Ice”
Spears shakes the paparazzi long enough to get to a rave.
One of the Neptunes’ magical collaborations with the Princess of Pop Ã¢â,¬” a Chic bass line, bare-bones beat, and three and a half minutes of Spears cooing about those nasty boys.
19. “Why Should I Be Sad”
An almost literal narration of Spears’ failed relationship with Kevin Federline fed through Pharrell Williams’ suave filter. The only ballad on Blackout caps the album with a defiant question nobody was expecting to hear from Britney’s lips.
18. “(You Drive Me) Crazy”
Close your eyes, don’t picture Melissa Joan Hart and Adrien Grenier, and simply enjoy the thick late-’90s pop thunk of this Max Martin-penned smash from Brit’s 1999 debut.
17. “I’ve Just Begun (Having My Fun)”
Don’t say she didn’t warn us.
16. “How I Roll”
Will.i.am had Spears singing about the “Big Fat Bass,” but this twitchy schoolyard ditty is the most wacked-out, adventurous piece of the Femme Fatale puzzle.
The song so nice Brit released it twice: Once on Blackout and again on Circus as a bonus track. Its buzzy synths are a better fit on the former, sandwiched between No. 12 and No. 21.
A cautionary tale about the trappings of fame sounds so much better sung in Spears’ most pinched pout.
13. “If U Seek Amy”
Proof the weight of Spears’ epic public meltdown couldn’t beat the brattiness out of Britney. The nudge-nudge-wink-wink name is only half the fun of this frantic, dancey Max Martin production.
12. “Piece of Me”
In which Spears helpfully explains why the music industry is panicked, I mean, please: Because she’s likely to get on the TV for stripping on the streets while getting the groceries. This lil’ bump-n-grinder from Bloodshy & Avant is shameless pleasure.
11. “… Baby One More Time”
We never forgot the first time.
Max Martin brings back the sonic formula that served Spears so well on “… Baby One More Time.” But two years older (and 20 years savvier), Spears squirms under the thumb of her responsibilities.
9. “Me Against the Music”
A combative track from Tricky Stewart that pits Brit against Madonna in a battle for dance-floor supremacy. Spoiler alert: They kiss and make up!
8. “Oops!… I Did It Again”
Some foolish soul left Britney lonely on “… Baby One More Time,” but this time she’s playing with some poor sap’s heart, twisting the knife with her ultimate reveal: “I’m not that innocent.”
7. “I Wanna Go”
Femme Fatale‘s second-best banger gives Spears a chance to send a not-so-subtle message to the executors of her conservatorship: She’d really, really like to take her freak out tonight. Maybe trade pants with a cocktail waitress, or just meet up with some paparazzi at a CVS after dark.
Peter, Paul, and Mary get name-checked in Spears’ peppy ode to threesomes.
Spears’ only extraordinary ballad. “Everything” pairs a plunky piano with dramatic strings and Brit’s most anguished whisper-croon. A trite formula for sure, but there’s something genuinely haunting about this one, which Spears co-wrote after her breakup with Justin Timberlake.
4. “I’m a Slave 4 U”
A seemingly tuneless Neptunes track that slithered its way into our minds and wrapped its albino python around our hearts. All the moisture in the song’s insanely well choreographed video may have aided that process.
Britney’s first self-empowerment anthem from Oops!… I Did It Again is still her best: a strutting finger-wagger that’s somehow also a fist-pumper. The empty beat before the synths return to smack you in the face at 2:40 is 2000’s best moment in pop.
2. “Till the World Ends”
With the combined songwriting genius of hitmakers Dr. Luke, Max Martin, and Ã¢â,¬” yes, it’s true Ã¢â,¬” Ke$ha, Spears pulls together a bona fide dance-floor raver with genuine peaks and valleys. If you can’t pull together enough serotonin to feel the ecstasy of this tune’s last 30 seconds, you have made a wrong turn.
The track that transformed Spears from a cutesy teen dream into an artist in her own zone. Producers Bloodshy & Avant dumped out their whole bag of tricks on this 2003 song Ã¢â,¬” keening strings, surf guitar, a melody that twists from major to minor Ã¢â,¬” and Spears held it all together with a curiously alluring vocal. The best pop stars know how to let themselves become artistic playthings; here Britney hits her marks perfectly without losing her natural charm. We’re hooked as badly as she is.