This article originally appeared in the November 16, 2001 issue of the
Cue up track six on the new Britney (Jive) and prepare yourself for the Technicolor disco flash-back of the year, swooning string section, chunky Nile Rodgers guitar riff, and all. The song's called "Anticipating," and it captures the most famous 19-year-old girl in the world at her guileless, sentimental best: "I'll be anticipating/ This is our song they're playing/ I wanna rock with you/ You're feeling this right/ Let's do this tonight." "Our song" may or may not be the disco-era Michael Jackson hit "Rock with You," but the tune's lyrical allusion and wide-eyed funk foundation sure do point in that direction. Which is nothing if not appropriate, since by the time you read this, Britney will almost certainly have knocked the first proper Jackson album in 10 years, Invincible (Epic), from the top of the charts.
It's a symbolic transition on a couple of levels – not as many as when Nirvana's Nevermind (DGC) pushed Jackson's last album of new material, Dangerous (Epic) from the #1 spot in early '92, but still enough to raise the attention of megapop fans around the globe. The beleaguered Jackson has long been king of pop in name only; yet it's been years since a solo performer emerged with enough mainstream appeal to take his soft-drink-shilling place. Eminem's not gonna do it, so that leaves us with Britney, an outrageously telegenic and charming student of the 80's school of dance pop pioneered by Jackson and his girlie counterparts, sister Janet and arch-rival Madonna.
On Britney's first single, the Neptunes-produced tour de funk "I'm a Slave 4 U," she's up to the task. Premiered at the MTV Video Music Awards just a few days before the World Trade Center tragedy, it's a dark, cosmic sex jam with a whole lot of heavy breathing and brilliantly spare musical accompaniment. You can practically hear the revered young production duo giggling to themselves when Britney sings the "dirty" lines they penned for her: "What's practical, what's logical?/What the hell, who cares?" or, more to the point, "Baby, don't you wanna dance up on me?" It's a bold anti-pop move that only a star of Britney's magnitude could get away with, and it's enhanced by the cleverly concealed hooks its closest antecedent, Madonna's "Justify My Love," sorely lacked.
The Neptunes contribute one other X-rated moment: "Boys," which weds the eroticism of prime Janet to the raw groove of one of their most famous productions, Ol Dirty Bastard's "I Got Your Money." Britney pants along to the hand-claps that flavor the song's rhythm track, cooing and whispering at her suitor to "turn this dance floor into our own little nasty world." The album's called Britney for a reason, but the Neptunes' playfully innovative arrangements cannot be ignored. And with "Lapdance" – the debut single from their vanity project, N.E.R.D.- currently making inroads on cheese-ball rock radio (where everyone hates teenyboppers), they're having their cake and eating it too.