Song: ‘Hold It Against Me’
Artist: Britney Spears
US chart peak: 1
Release date: January 11, 2011
Writers: Max Martin, Dr Luke, Billboard, Bonnie McKee
Producers: Dr Luke, Max Martin, Billboard
Quintessential Max moment: The way the chorus is repurposed for its final go round
Video synopsis: Britney locked in a tower playing her own videos before she fights herself for freedom
Perhaps the overriding legacy of ‘Hold It Against Me’ – the lead single from Britney’s very good ‘Femme Fatale’ album – is that it represented the nadir of the ‘video teaser’. The actually-quite-disappointing-in-the-end Jonas Åkerlund video was ‘teased’ for TWO FUCKING WEEKS with each day bringing another fifteen second clip or whatever it was, the sense of urgency not ramping up despite the fact the song had leaked and its official release had been brought forward. Obviously things didn’t change immediately – labels still love to ‘tease’, of course – but it did at least feel like the sort of move that might haunt whoever made the decision in the first place.
In a lot of ways though, such a hugely misplaced reliance on video teasing was a very 2011 move and ‘Hold It Against Me’ is a very 2011 song. Keen to make a song that didn’t sound like any of his others (a rare treat at that point), Dr Luke wanted ‘Hold It Against Me’ to be “hard in the verse, and the bridge is super, super hard, but the chorus is super-pop”. Some of this hardness was inspired by pop music’s newest discovery, dubstep (a genre Britney had actually already dabbled in on ‘Blackout’ years before). So ‘Hold It Against Me’ gyrates and throbs in all the right places, with that featherlight chorus quickly smothered by a gloom wobble that threatens to suck the whole song back into its vortex (or something). It’s a brilliantly odd single, constantly flitting between genres and seemingly absorbing every single element of the pop world at the time into its periphery (the breakdown bit is hilarious), but it perhaps doesn’t quite hang together as effortlessly as some of ‘Femme Fatale’s other experimental moments.
There’s one very Max moment, lovely chorus aside, which happens in the last thirty seconds. Throughout the song said chorus just sort of hangs there in suspended animation, with the pace the song’s built up by that point just sort of falling away. After a middle eight bit we’re dropped back into that airless world only for the chorus and the song’s dubby instrumental to crash head on and properly give the song a kick up the backside. It’s a brilliant moment, but one you wish lasted a bit longer.
Did you know, right, that the song was originally meant for Katy Perry? Basically, Bonnie McKee was working with both Perry and Spears at the time and was running between rooms in a studio complex somewhere. “[Perry] came into the room in some tight, sexy little dress and I jokingly said, ‘Damn, Katy if I told you you had a nice body would you hold it against me?’,” she told the Hollywood Reporter. “I was like, ‘Bingo!’ and I wrote that song.”
So there we have it. Initially Dr Luke and Max thought the song could work for Perry but then quickly realised they were wrong. As far as McKee was concerned, ‘Hold It Against Me’ was all about channelling Britney’s assumed personality/reputation. “Britney Spears is just all sex, all day. It’s like, how many sexual innuendos can I come up with?”. How many indeed.
Soon after the song emerged The Bellamy Brothers criticised it for its apparent similarities to their own ‘If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me’, released in 1979. In the end they had to apologise after being sued for defamation, releasing the following statement: ”The Bellamy Brothers apologise to Dr. Luke and Max Martin for the Bellamys’ public statements and any false impressions suggested by the statements on their website that Dr. Luke and Max Martin copy the works of others.” Their views on the video were never made public.