Culture

It’s Britney Bitch: Every Britney Spears Album, Ranked

There's so much more to Spears' back catalogue than meets the eye.

britney spears ranking photo

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The #FreeBritney movement has once again cast a spotlight on Britney Spears. For good reason too. Spears publicly acknowledged the movement and has since been open with her battle to end the conservatorship she’s been in since 2008.

The #FreeBritney movement has been going on since 2019 but the media has become increasingly invested in it. Now, there’s an influx of documentaries from CNN to Netflix, shedding light on the situation but also seemingly cashing in on it. Spears has called them “hypocritical” and yet they continue, focussing on her legal battles while leaving her music in the shadows.

Spears hasn’t released music since 2016’s Glory, declaring earlier this year that she would also not perform until her Father Jamie Spears was removed as her conservator. Her father is no longer her conservator and it’s time to shed a light once again on Spears’ music. Since her 1998 debut ...Baby One More Time, she’s been a leader and innovator of pop music responsible for some of the biggest hits of our time.

Spears isn’t exactly known as an albums artist though. She’s a pro at serving an era and leaning heavily into a theme but the projects as a whole, while lauded for their singles, have been critiqued for the filler. Looking back, however, each serves as a window into Spears’ mindset at the time, revealing an artist who always seeks to challenge and consistently delves into new sounds.

Below is our ranking of her nine albums and a jumbled retrospective of her career as told through each of her projects.


#9. Britney Jean

Given what we know about Spears’ situation, it’s hardly surprising that by the time her eighth album rolled around, she was completely uninspired. Britney Jean is the only album that feels like Spears is completely vacant. Each project of hers feels like she’s reveling in being an innovator, taking mainstream sounds and contorting them into something fresh and uniquely hers. Britney Jean, however, is distinctly behind the curb.

As EDM began to grow stale, Spears delivered a club-ready record that was sludgy and over-bearing. Lead-single ‘Work Bitch’ has grown into a gay bar favourite but at the time of its release it already sounded dated and that’s the sound that dominates Britney Jean. Her brief musical relationship with Will.i.am, best realised on his own ‘Scream And Shout’, leaves its fingerprints all over the album attempting to sound futuristic but presenting as detached. From the blaring synths of ‘Tik Tik Boom’ to the spiraling Eurodance of ‘Til It’s Gone’, the beats bulldoze Spears’ voice. It’s a shame because on ballads like the Sia-penned ‘Perfume’ she still has the chops.

The Standouts: ‘Perfume’, ‘Alien’
The Lowlights: ‘Passenger’, ‘Til It’s Gone’


#8. …Baby One More Time

Spears’ debut album is one of the most iconic eras in music. She breakthrough with …Baby One More Time which defined pop music in the early part of the decade, propelling a 16-year-old Spears to the top of the pop pyramid. The album did what it needed to do. It delivered three excellent singles, a cover that was made for bedroom walls, and visuals that positioned her as an engaging entertainer.

Spears, alongside The Backstreet Boys, was one of the first to turn to Sweden for pop prowess and as such, the sound crafted with a young Max Martin was completely fresh for the time. Outside of Martin’s contributions, however, there’s very little on the rest of the album that stands up as anything more than nostalgic now. ‘E-Mail My Heart’ is painfully of-the-time while ‘Born To Make You Happy’, despite melodic excellence, is a little difficult to swallow now lyrically.

That said, Spears’ debut album was successful in establishing her as an icon. Given the strength of the singles, it’s hard to imagine stronger album tracks doing anything more for her than what this album already did.

The Standouts: ‘…Baby One More Time’, ‘(You Drive Me) Crazy’, ‘Autumn Goodbye’, ‘Someday’
The Lowlights: ‘E-Mail My Heart’, ‘I Will Still Love You’


#7. Oops!… I Did It Again

Hearing …Baby One More Time and Oops!… I Did It Again side-by-side now, it’s easy to view them as companion pieces.

Sound-wise there’s very little differentiation as Spears tapped Martin and Rami Yacoub again for a collection of excellent singles with plenty of filler in between. What makes Oops!…I Did It Again a stronger record than its predecessor is its maturity. There’s no way you’d catch Spears singing, “I was born to make you happy,” here. She’s, “stronger than yesterday,” and riding a wave of lyrical independence that has come to define many of her best songs. ‘Stronger’, in particular,’ is a sucker-punch of a pop song, delivering future-focused production alongside a gutsy vocal performance as is the title track which is rightfully a bonafide Spears classic.

A heavier Martin and Yacoub presence also means that some of the filler is a lot stronger than on her debut. ‘Don’t Go Knockin’ On My Door’ is a skittering, hip-hop-infused bop, and ‘What U See (Is What U Get)’ would’ve passed as the first single for other turn-of-the-Millenium popstars. The album is let down by a number of strange choices including a breathy rendition of Rolling Stones’ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ and a dated, soppy closer ‘Dear Diary’.

When you think of this era though, your mind is most likely to dart to the pristine singles or that or the iconic red jumpsuit over the sloppy moments buried within the album.

The Standouts: ‘Oops!…I Did It Again’, ‘Stronger’, ‘Lucky’, ‘Don’t Go Knockin On My Door’
The Lowlights: ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, ‘Dear Diary’, ‘When Your Eyes Say It’


#6. Circus

Blackout may have been positioned as Spears’ comeback but Circus is her true comeback as a performer.

While Blackout was marred by controversy, Circus presented Spears back on the stage with precision and feist, supporting her first tour in years. As a result, it’s mainstream-focussed, pulling in tried and tested collaborators from the past including Martin and Bloodyshy & Avant. There are few risks taken on Circus but there are also some quintessential pop moments, particularly in the singles. ‘Womanizer’ is a pulsating, razer sharp song, ‘Circus’ is melodically air-tight, and ‘If You Seek Amy’ is the cheekiest middle finger she’s ever given.

In one sense, this is a traditional Spears album with great singles and iconic visuals. If you dig a little deeper into Circus, however, there are glimpses of vulnerability that provide added depth. Spears had just come off the back of a very public mental health crisis and, unbeknownst to us was entering a conservatorship. She’s in such form on Circus that it rarely shines through but songs like ‘Out From Under’ and ‘My Baby’ are emotionally dense.

“Break my heart, I expect you to,” she sings on ‘Unusual You’ on a bed of auto-tune that toys with the heartstrings. Her guard is understandably up on most of Circus but when she gives you a rare glimpse behind the curtain it’s truly spectacular.

The Standouts: ‘Womanizer’, ‘Unusual You’, ‘Shattered Glass’
The Lowlights: ‘Mmm Papi’, ‘Lace and Leather’, ‘Mannequin’


#5. Britney

Given that Britney arrived just two years after her debut, it reveals a remarkably different artist. Spears wasn’t painting by numbers anymore. She had grown into a popstar that was streets ahead of the rest, dipping into sounds that were yet to come through mainstream pop. Martin is back here and delivers on Spears’ transformational anthem ‘I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman’ but it’s the urban influence that truly defines Britney.

Spears was the first major popstar that The Neptunes (Pharrell and Chad Hugo) worked with and they crafted a sensual, slinky sound that was perfect for her breathy vocal delivery. ‘I’m A Slave 4 U’ and ‘Boys’ both felt rebellious while the Martin-produced ‘Overprotected’ rejected the public’s opinion about her.

This album was all about setting Spears apart from the others and etching her into pop music history. Her public antics reflected that as she wore a snake around her neck at the VMAs and dressed in double denim with boyfriend of the time Justin Timberlake at the American Music Awards.

Like the first two records, Britney placed all the emphasis on the singles but there are a few deep cuts worth your time here. ‘Lonely’ is a smoldering breakup anthem and ‘Anticipating’ is an airy slice of disco. Britney wasn’t as cohesive a sonic statement as the singles would’ve had you believe but it did propel her career into a mature zone.

The Standouts: ‘I’m A Slave 4 U’, ‘Boys’, ‘I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman’, ‘Lonely’, ‘Anticipating’, ‘Overprotected’
The Lowlights: ‘I Love Rock N Roll’, ‘That’s Where You Take Me’, ‘When I Found You’


#4. Femme Fatale

Her seventh album Femme Fatale arrived three years after Circus and marked yet another comeback of sorts. Femme Fatale went even bigger than its predecessor though scoring three US Top 10s including a Number One with ‘Hold It Against Me’. Teaming with Martin once again, there’s a hunger to this album, like Spears was out to grab the pop crown once more.

EDM was infiltrating the mainstream thanks to the likes of Kesha, Jennifer Lopez, and Black Eyed Peas. Spears took that and molded it into something uniquely hers. Femme Fatale is bold and immediate, barely taking its foot off the peddle.

Lead-single ‘Hold It Against Me’ explodes in with a pulsating beat while ‘I Wanna Go’ gets drunk with reckless abandon. Vocally Spears is experimenting but she’s also going for it like never before, competing with intense EDM beats.

“I really didn’t want to record anything on this album that could be mistaken for anyone else out there,” Spears told Rolling Stone when she dropped Femme Fatale. There are moments where she’s unsuccessful at that like alongside Will.i.am on ‘Big Fat Bass’ and on the H&M-ready ‘Seal It With A Kiss’ but there are also some remarkable moments of experimentation. ‘How I Roll’ is downright strange and wildly exciting, crafting the PC Music sound before it had even been conceived. ‘Trip To Your Heart’ is also a glitching, tender piece of electronic pop that lifts off into new places for Spears.

Sure, Femme Fatale is uneven but how exciting is it to hear Spears in control and pushing the limits of pop music?

The Standouts: ‘How I Roll’, ‘Till The World Ends’, ‘Trip To Your Heart’, ‘I Wanna Go’, ‘Hold It Against Me’
The Lowlights: ‘Big Fat Bass’, ‘Gasoline’


#3. Glory

Britney Jean would’ve had you believe that Spears had lost interest. And then came Glory. You can tell when Spears has that fire inside of her and she arrived on lead-single ‘Make Me’ with an unmistakable presence.

Her voice sounded better than it had in years and she was serving iconic looks in the music video. The album’s two singles ‘Make Me…’ and ‘Slumber Party’ didn’t set the charts on fire but that doesn’t mean the rest of the album wasn’t worthwhile.

Glory is Spears’ late-night LP — a slinky, dark exhibition that feels like it was penned in the bedroom. She explored new sounds with upcoming writers and producers from Mattman & Robin to Julia Michaels unveiling the tenderness and natural charisma of her voice. It’s lusciously produced, introducing subtle elements of experimentation succeeding best on the dimly-lit ‘Man On The Moon’ and the slow-burning ‘Just Luv Me’. Away from the EDM productions of previous albums, she’s able to shine through with just her charisma. ‘Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortes)’, in particular, benefits from a spacious backdrop as Spears tantalises with an illuminating vocal performance.

Glory is not the album to turn to for bangers, but sonically, it’s the most cohesive album she has. It’s a testament to her that almost two decades into her career, under tough circumstances, she still had the desire to find new sounds.

The Standouts: ‘Make Me…’, ‘Slumber Party’, ‘Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortes)’, ‘Man On The Moon’
The Lowlights: ‘Clumsy’, ‘What You Need’, ‘Private Show’


#2. In The Zone

In The Zone is a deeply underrated pop album. When we namecheck Madonna’s ‘Ray Of Light’ or Lady Gaga’s ‘Fame Monster’ as seminal pop records, this should be mentioned alongside them. Released at a time when Spears’ public attention had never been more intense, it’s a record that aimed to shock. She teamed with Madonna on ‘Me Against The Music’ — smooching at the VMAs — and delivered one of the most recognisable pop songs of the millennium in ‘Toxic’.

The big songs, the antics, the visuals — the must-haves of a huge pop project — were all there, but there’s also depth to In The Zone. It’s not your typical, big-budget pop record but rather a result of Spears doing the groundwork to find sounds she could make her own. The final product dabbles in underground club sounds from electronica to hip-hop, enlisting Moby, Ying Yang Twins, and, unfortunately, R. Kelly, as part of an oddball cast.

For a popstar at the peak of public saturation, it’s a remarkably intimate record. She responds to her Timberlake breakup with a breathtaking showcase of vulnerability on ‘Everytime’, sings about masturbation on the dark ‘Touch Of My Hand’, and creates a spinetingling physicality on ‘Breathe On Me’. Whether it be a bedroom or breakup anthem, she delivers it with closeness as if you’re one-on-one with Spears. It’s a brave, transcendent pop record that had a significant impact not only on her legacy but the pop genre as a whole.

The Standouts: ‘Breathe On Me’, ‘Toxic’, ‘Everytime’, ‘Touch Of My Hand’, ‘Early Mornin’
The Lowlights: ‘Outrageous’


#1. Blackout

In the age of Perez Hilton, there was a dark and twisted public fascination with the downfall of a celebrity. In 2007, Spears was spiralling and, at the time, it felt like many were enjoying watching it. It seemed the downfall of one of the biggest popstars of all time was nigh. Spears’ response? “It’s Britney bitch.”

Spears poured everything into Blackout — a dark, blistering electronic pop record about the invasion of privacy and her disinterest in opinions. It’s unapologetic, imperfect, and wildly experimental, turning a complete blind eye to everything that was happening in mainstream pop. Driven by Rihanna, Gwen Stefani, and Fergie, pop was invested in slick R&B cuts in 2007 but Spears had her eye on the clubs, enlisting Danja to create a sound that cracks your speakers. Lead-single ‘Gimme More’ rumbles through like a punk tune, taunting the audience. “Bet you didn’t see this one coming,” Danja says in the outro, admitting that the pair had set out to shock.

Whether she truly believed it or not, this was Spears telling us she couldn’t care less of what we thought of her or her career at all really. She makes it extra loud on the explicit ‘Piece Of Me’ but it’s patched throughout in subtler forms. “This ain’t no foolishness or fuckery, I’m handling my business,” she sings on ‘Hot As Ice’ while on ‘Get Naked (I Got A Plan)’ she declares, “I’m crazy as a motherfucker.” It was so shocking and avant-garde at the time that it was completely written off. This was the flop era everybody was waiting for but Spears’ remained completely unbothered — which only seemed to agitate others more.

Retrospectively, however, Blackout is being given its dues. In a 10-year anniversary piece for The Fader, Danja noted that Spears started the infiltration of urban-sounding 808s in pop music with Blackout. From Kim Petras to Charli XCX, it’s also the blueprint for the current wave of alternative pop music, more than a decade after its release.

That futuristic thinking is a result of complete musical freedom for Spears. The whole project was completely instinctual. “It just wasn’t so thought out. I just did what I felt and it worked. Sometimes less is more I guess,” she told The Fader.

Living legend, you can look but don’t touch.

The Standouts: ‘Piece Of Me’, ‘Gimme More’, ‘Break The Ice’, ‘Freakshow’, ‘Hot As Ice’
The Lowlights: N/A


Sam Murphy is a music writer and Co-Editor of The Interns. He also co-hosts the podcast Flopstars. Follow him on Twitter

Photo Credit: Michelangelo Di Battista/Sony/RCA via Getty Images