Artist: Britney Spears
US chart peak: 1
Release date: October 2, 2009
Writers: Max Martin, Shellback, Tiffany Amber
Producers: Max Martin, Shellback
Quintessential Max moment: The final rush of the choruses
Video synopsis: Sexy perfume advert filmed in an empty gym
Between 2003’s ‘In The Zone’ and 2009’s ‘3’, Max and Britney only collaborated once, on the thuddingly obvious ‘If U Seek Amy’. Recorded during a stop in Stockholm on her Circus world tour, ‘3’ not only became the one new song on that year’s ‘The Singles Collection’ retrospective, it also seemed to reignite their working relationship, with Martin going on to produce the majority of 2011’s ‘Femme Fatale’ album.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, because there’s a lot to say about the curio that is ‘3’ (there’s always something odd about a one off single, isn’t there. They always seem to exits in limbo and often the lack of context means there’s more freedom to take risks). Like 2004’s ‘Do Somethin’ (also recorded for a greatest hits album), it’s a brilliantly synthetic-sounding creation, with Britney’s voice stretched and manipulated through various filters until she sounds like a sort of marching sex robot. And obviously there’s sex everywhere in ‘3’. It’s about threesomes, for goodness sake. The pre-chorus is essentially about Britney being the meat in a man sandwich (or maybe a lady sandwich), while the chorus itself utilities folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary as sexual slang. Why not, eh.
In fact, there are stand out, did-I-really-just-hear-that? lines (or “juicy lines” as Max collaborator Savan Kotecha refers to them) throughout. There’s the way she sings “merrier the more” rather than “the more the merrier”, or the glorious imagery conjured up by the line “Twister on the floor” (“left hand blue!”). As the song develops there’s lots of “are you game?” and “I’m counting”, which sort of makes you think of a bossy PE teacher as opposed to an experimental sex Olympian.
By the middle eight though, the mood shifts, at least at first. “If you don’t like the company, let’s just do it you and me” she coos sweetly over a pretty keyboard riff. Ah that’s nice, you think, she’s aware that not everyone wants to share their bed with a stranger, it’s time for some sensible missionary. But the relief is short-lived. “You and me” she repeats, “or three, or four, on the floor”. FOUR?! Good grief Britney.
As mentioned above, musically ‘3’ is a synth-lead juggernaut that does that curious thing of building up to a chorus and then letting most of the momentum drop out leaving the whole thing in suspended animation. Given this is Max, the delayed gratification doesn’t last long and by the final two choruses the whole thing rushes towards it’s obvious, and well-earned-at-this-point, climax.
I contacted mysterious co-writer Tiffany Amber for her recollections of the writing process and here’s what she had to say:
“‘3’ was written in a tent in the midst of the Amazon rainforest after doing ayahuasca. Peter, Paul and Mary were there. It was cray.”
Thank you for that, Tiffany (if indeed that is your real name…).
‘3’ became Britney’s first single, and the fifteenth song in Billboard history, to enter the chart at Number One (where it stayed for one week). Britney would do it again with her next single ‘Hold It Against Me’, another collaboration with Max.