A guest blog written by Alim Kheraj. You can agree/disagree with him here.
Artist: Britney Spears
US chart peak: 86 (but only as “The Darkchild Remix”)
Release date: December 12, 2001
Writers: Max Martin, Rami Yacoub
Producers: Max Martin, Rami Yacoub
Quintessential Max moment: The rising melody before the end of the chorus as Britney sings, “I can’t help the way I feel, but my life has been so overprotected”
Video synopsis: Britney, in a bid to escape the press and prove that she doesn’t need protecting, dances energetically around a deserted warehouse in a bedazzled denim outfit
Despite being at the height of her imperial phase, for Britney the early 2000s weren’t easy going. While she had just reached the giddy heights of having the fastest-selling female solo album in American chart history (a feat only beaten by Adele in 2015), Brit’s third album, 2001’s ‘Britney’, was marred with complications.
Leading the campaign with the image dismantling ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’, Britney failed to crack the Top 20. This was partly due to a radio “blacklist” by ClearChannel Communications over something to do with tour sponsorships, a deal with Pepsi, AEG and lots of money. Essentially it meant that, between 2001 and 2007, none of Britney’s songs performed as well as they should have due to lack of radio play.
Enter, then, ‘Overprotected’. Released right at the beginning of the radio blacklist, this song is a classic late 90s/early 00s Max Martin affair.
The spoken word intro (“I need time. Love. Joy. I need space. Love. I need me. ACTION!” – amazing) presents a Britney on the cusp of adulthood, the uncertainties of her teenage years lingering in the vulnerability of the croaky whispers. Then, Max’s production hits you around the face with four propulsive smacks of a snare drum, and Britney is re-born: “Say hello to the girl that I am.”
The wild teenage confidence that Britney exuded on ‘Stronger’ is more refined here, despite the uncertainty of the song’s lyrics. Of course, this is all helped along by Max Martin’s dedication to funk laden production; wah-wahing guitars and the slap bass of the verses find a home next to the acid bass of Chicago house music and the Regency harpsichords in the chorus, creating a mashup only Martin could produce.
Complimenting this, however, is what makes ‘Overprotected’ stand out as one of Britney and Max’s best collaborations: Britney’s vocal delivery. It feels like every syllable has been meticulously engineered to push Britney’s pronunciation into new and deliciously mutated places. Each vowel has been stretched, adding emphasis where emphasis needn’t be (the most notable is at the end of the middle-eight, where Britney turns the word “me” into a luscious purr).
The song’s, and it’s accompanying music video’s, crowning glory is the middle-eight. Bringing back the spoken word intro and stripping away the production, we’re presented, again, with an alternative Britney, one who approaches her desired emancipation with poise and grace. Suddenly that acid bass swoops back in as Britney says “fuck it” and demands her freedom. This builds as the bass changes octave and Britney’s voice is layered as she delivers the final blow: “I’m so fed up of people telling me to be, someone else but me!” WHAT. A. MOMENT.
Finally, that last chorus. Not only does Britney deliver some killer vocal adlibs, but around the 2:40 mark the song achieves a moment of pop perfection as strings are introduced just as the melody of the middle-eight swings back around. It’s euphoric in the way that only pop music can be, signalling the loosening of the shackles holding the Princess of Pop back. With one final assault from the chorus and it’s all over. There might not be a better ending to a song in pop history.
Apart from the odd moment here and there, Britney’s never really been overtly personal in her music (alright ‘Britney Jean’, take a seat). That’s what makes ‘Overprotected’ an essential part of the singer’s discography; it’s message of emancipation, freedom and making mistakes were scarily prophetic when taken in the context of her later professional and personal life.
So what happened to make ‘Overprotected’ stall at number 86 (FFS) on the Billboard chart? Well, not only did the radio scupper any chances of a hit, but the song was also given a wholly unnecessary remix by Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins. Unfortunately, this remix stripped away any excitement of the original, pushing Britney’s vocals back in the mix, and allowing for (now dated) production to take centre stage.
Perhaps the song’s “flop” status accounts for its omission from Britney’s current Las Vegas residency. Or, perhaps, the eerie foreshadowing of the lyrics has wiped it from Team Britney’s collective memory. Regardless, ‘Overprotected’ is a song that deserves to be celebrated in pantheon of Max Martin and Britney Spears songs. It’s a fucking classic.
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.