The year was 1998. Midriffs were bare, platforms were high, and reality TV still sounded like a neat idea. And a peppy blonde teenager was about to become the biggest star in pop culture.
20 years later, Britney Spears reflects on the debut single and notorious video for “…Baby One More Time.”
A Song in Search of a Singer
Songwriter Max Martin, who has written hits for Taylor Swift, her frenemy Katy Perry, and the Backstreet Boys, knew he had a great single on his hands. But who would perform it? It’s hard to imagine a pop culture landscape without Britney’s pink marabou pigtails, but it almost happened. Rumor has it he first offered the song to R&B girl group TLC and then singer Robyn. Then the single found its way into Britney’s hands, and the rest is history.
“I knew it was a great song. It was different and I loved it, [but] I don’t think you can anticipate how a song is going to be received,” she told The Guardian last week.
Sweet Sixteen in Sweden
Britney was just 16 years old when she traveled to Martin’s homeland of Sweden to record “…Baby One More Time” along with several other songs that would eventually appear on her debut album. But it wasn’t exactly a vacation for the young singer. “I remember being so in awe of Stockholm,” she said. “I was out there for, like, 10 days, but we were so busy in the studio I didn’t have time to go out and explore on that first trip.”
Anyone might feel overwhelmed in a situation like that, but apparently Martin was a gracious host. “I was pretty young at the time, so I was nervous, but he was so nice and put me right at ease,” Britney recalled.
A Smash Success
Thanks in a major way to the success of the video, which showed off Britney’s sweet girl-next-door looks and killer dance moves, the song was a huge success. It spent 32 weeks on the Hot 100 charts and sold more than 10 million copies.
Although she didn’t write the song, Britney had a major role in shaping the video. She told Rolling Stone in 1999 that the original video concept was all wrong. “They had this really bizarre video idea, this animated Power Ranger-y thing. I said, ‘This is not right. If you want me to reach four-year-olds, then OK, but if you want me to reach my age group …’ So I had this idea where we’re in school and bored out of our minds, and we have Catholic uniforms on,” she explained. “And I said, ‘Why don’t we have knee-highs and tie the shirts up to give it a little attitude?’ — so it wouldn’t be boring and cheesy.”
Looking Back, Looking Forward
With her Las Vegas residency, Britney has come back from some seriously dark times. The mom of two is thinking about tying the knot with her athletic trainer boyfriend, but for now she’s just enjoying being happy and healthy. When she looks back at her early success, she said, “It’s like everything still feels very new, which I guess is a blessing. But it’s been a roller coaster.”
And if she could go back and give her 16-year-old self some advice? “I would tell that Britney just to believe in yourself, and never doubt yourself,” she told ET last month. “Be strong and be you.”