A guest blog written by Chris Haigh. You can agree/disagree with him here.
Artist: Britney Spears
US chart peak: 11
Release date: November 30, 2000
Writers: Max Martin, Rami
Producers: Max Martin, Rami
Quintessential Max moment: The rising pre-chorus and the killer middle-eight key-changer of a chorus
Video synopsis: Britney breaks up with a wholly unsuitable gentleman, engages in risky acts with a chair
Let’s get this right out of the way – it’s a travesty ‘Stronger’ never cracked the US Top 10. Travesty. The Emergency Pop Council were notified, of course, but they never got around to dealing with it. Regardless, ‘Stronger’ remains one of Max Martin’s best ever collaborations with Britney ‘Britney Jean, No Let’s Be Serious, Femme Fatale or Glory’ Spears.
The best early 2000s empowerment banger, before ’empowerment banger’ was even actually a thing, ‘Stronger’ cruises along on some blaring sirens that sound a bit like Brit was recording this on a noisy cruise ship, but which anchor the song easily enough.
The whole structure is classic Max Martin – surprising, dramatic opening; strong, punchy verses that demand you sing along to them; and an almost hypnotic pre-chorus of “You might think that I can’t take it, but you’re wrong…” that remains one of the best preludes to a chorus in a pop song.
The crowning glory of ‘Stronger’ has to be its chorus, though. What a chorus! It thunders out of the gate on an almighty burst of “STRON-GAH!”, the rest of the chorus never matching the soaring emphasis of the song’s title, but steadily pulsing along, and making for one of Brit’s punchiest and most karaoke-worthy choruses to chant along to.
It even has the most unexpected but brilliant throwback-slash-character-development in the chorus’ last lines (and which later get recycled to glorious, triumphant effect in the key-changing-chorus in the last minute or so), which reference ‘…Baby One More Time’.
‘Baby One More Time’: “My loneliness is killing me”.
‘Stronger’: “My loneliness ain’t killin’ me no more”.
See? Brilliant. How often do you get a pop act not only referencing their own previous bangers, but managing to make it a upward curve of brilliance? Practically never. Most acts bounce around like their last album didn’t even happen and they didn’t care about making it because it didn’t reflect who they are as a Proper Artist right now, whereas ‘Stronger’, no matter everything from Spears’ career onwards, actually went and resolved heartbreak. To quote Twitter, ‘iconic’.
The rest of the song powers along, Max and co. giving us two full middle-eights, the latter of which is a key-changing, propulsive reiteration of the entire chorus before it heads into its well-earned victory lap. It’s also helped (not that it needs it) with a cracker of a video (from Joseph Kahn no less) that sees Britney assert her independence over her feckless ex and engage in some reckless behaviour with a chair. What more could you ask for in an early 2000s music video?
Once again, Max ensured that ‘Stronger’ gave Spears another solid global smash, and in doing so cemented her status as pop royalty while avoiding ‘the sophomore slump’. Its echoes can be felt in more recent pop smashes (see Katy Perry’s ‘Part of Me’ and Ariana Grande’s ‘Break Free’), and what better pop legacy is that? It might get lost in Britney’s current setlist (and what an issue that is for an artist – having too many bangers to give them all fair crack at the audience), but there’s no denying that ‘Stronger’ remains a sleek and exhilarating example of how good pop music can be.
If you’d like to write a guest blog on a Max Martin song that didn’t make the US Top 10 then there’s information on how to do that right here.