Two decades have passed since Britney Spears followed up her world-altering debut single “...Baby One More Time” with her debut album, of the same name. The collection of 11 saccharine songs that together sold over 11 million copies, catapulted Spears to international fame and launched the era of teen bubblegum pop.
Going through the record’s tracklist now can feel like a slog at times. Save “...Baby One More Time,” which, to be clear, is an impossible bar for almost any pop song to clear, the album lacks a lot of genre-defining bops. But what makes us love Spears is still there.
The internet loves to knock Spears’ singing, but her draw has never been her vocal range or silky mezzo-soprano. You listen to her because none of her late-1990s counterparts sold a song with the same authenticity. Jessica Simpson and Christina Aguilera focused on the vocals but Spears was truly the actress of her peers, bringing emotion to every bar.
Even when the lyrics are ridiculous, ...Baby One More Time’s still vibrates with earnestness, though the final package varies wildly in quality. Without further ado, bay-beh, here’s how each track stands up 20 years later. (And for all the Britney nerds out there, I’m just grading the standard 11-track release, not any of the later deluxe editions.)
11. “I Will Still Love You” ft. Don Philip
Even on her debut album, Spears was an LGBTQ+ ally, teaming up with not-yet-out singer Don Philip who was also an early tourmate of hers. Philip later auditioned for The X Factor on the same season Spears hosted and came out as gay, though not under the best circumstances. That bit of history aside, this song is … not great. On an album of songs that have definitely grown a little stale, this Phil Collins-esque love duet is beyond rehydration.
10. “E-Mail My Heart”
Listen, everybody’s been doing emails. An unfortunate entry in Britney’s discography, the song is nonetheless iconic for its squareness, like Patti Simcox or any dork in a 90s movie. It may not be a great listen, but I’m prepared to say that Britney walked so Elon Musk could run.
9. “Soda Pop” ft. Mikey Bassie
If you’ve ever asked yourself what a reggae-tinged ode to carbonated cola would sound like, look no further! The song exists in a nebulous tempo between danceable and easy listening that we’ll just call “toe tapping.” Though Spears is the queen of selling whatever she’s given, her Herculean efforts on this track don’t really make up for its cheese factor.
8. “The Beat Goes On”
Spears’ three first albums feature a requisite cover. Oops! saw Spears tackle “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” immortalized forever in her 2000 MTV Video Music Awards performance, and on Britney, she covered “I Love Rock N’ Roll.” For her first foray into covers, Spears chose Sonny and Cher’s “The Beat Goes On,” which sounds a bit jarring tacked onto the end of the album — who is the audience for this? — but Spears sells the song’s retro vibe well. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine this song playing now in a vintage-themed commercial and everyone realizing it was *kind* of a bop?
7. “From the Bottom of My Broken Heart”
“Bottom” is not a technically bad track, but it has the tough spot on the tracklist of coming right after another ballad: the superior “I Was Born to Make You Happy.” On a debut album, it’s hard for a ballad to follow another ballad, especially one that’s clearly superior. But, if you are already in your feels, then you can find plenty worse songs to sob to.
Have you ever heard of the second single curse? That unfortunate label goes to Britney’s second single, “Sometimes” which was just a little too featherweight to make a huge impact on the Billboard Hot 100 and ended up peaking at #21. “Sometimes” is a serviceable snapshot of a tween heart flutter but a little too naive to invite a second list for anyone whose frontal cortex has fully formed.
5. “I Will Be There”
OK, we’re onto the bops now. “I Will Be There” is still a baby bop, but it’s one of the songs that sounds most of its era. It’s part-“Can’t Fight the Moonlight” part-“I Want It That Way” and even a little pre-Paulina Rubio “Don’t Say Goodbye.” The guitar riffs throughout the song encapsulate late 1990s/early 2000s radio and Spears’ vocals throughout are pretty good!
4. “Born to Make You Happy”
Let’s all take a moment to stan Ballad-ney and “Born to Make You Happy,” the best ballad on ...Baby. The song sounds like a spiritual successor to Selena’s “Dreaming of You” and Britney delivers her signature innocent, doe-eyed coo in a way few others did before or have accomplished since.
3. “Thinkin’ About You”
Readers, it is a crime that this capital B B-O-P was relegated to the final moments of Britney’s album. This song has everything: spunky guitar riffs, a perky Casio-provided beat and lyrics that can still make even an adult with a crush feel like a kid again. The joy of music from 1999 is that it should make you feel like you are in your room thinking of kissing Jesse Bradford (did I reveal too much?) and this song does.
2. “(You Drive Me) Crazy”
Before Will Ferrell made cowbells infamous, Spears started it all with “(You Drive Me) Crazy.” The only other clear smash hit on ...Baby, “Crazy” was proof that Spears had many earworms left in her. And, of course, there’s the video, which didn’t need to be such a serve since the song slapped so hard. But, it’s still iconic years later.
1. “...Baby One More Time”
Well, duh. There’s nothing else to say about this song that hasn’t been said. The album ...Baby One More Time existed almost solely to service this song, to give Spears’ fans something to hold onto and cherish. But the album is physical. “Baby,” the single, is spiritual. You remember hearing the opening riff for the first time and the feeling it gives you hasn’t dissipated yet.