We gave it a B
Barring a new Puff Daddy single featuring Jennifer Lopez and a sample of Bad Company’s ”Shooting Star,” there may be no more audacious piece of music this year than Britney Spears’ assault on the Rolling Stones’ ”(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Arriving early on Spears’ second album, Oops!… I Did It Again, the remake is at once preposterous and winning. As with many R&B ballads, it begins with mushy guitar plucking and breathy coos.
But producer Rodney Jerkins quickly ditches the relaxed groove and throws down a dry, crackling lockstep, turning the song into an urban stomp. Keith Richards’ fuzz-guitar riff is relegated to the background, and Spears converts Mick Jagger’s frustrated grouse of ”And I try, and I try…” into a heaving pant. (The ”No, no, no” chorus becomes a rhythm-nation chant.) The track is as far from a note for note remake as Jagger is from poverty.
What’s remarkable about it isn’t merely that Jerkins and Spears aim to inject life into a wheezing, classic-rock warhorse and succeed amazingly well. But they’re also intent on messing hard with the treasured memories of boomers, also known as the parents of Britney and her friends. This hostile takeover of such a ’60s touchstone is bound to infuriate millions, and it’s hard not to love it for that very reason — it’s the sound of a new generation giving the politest of middle fingers to its elders. Spears even retains Jagger’s line about getting ”girly action,” which is both perversely inspired and sexually ambiguous.
The track is also unintentionally symbolic. In the mid-’60s, fans had to choose between good and evil — that is, the Beatles or the Stones. The battle is still being fought, but with new players. Christina Aguilera may flash skin and belly button, but in her music and manner, she’s too eager not to offend — she’s a good girl pretending to be bad. Spears, however, comes across as a bad girl acting good. With her wanton smile, audacious lyrics, and increasingly revealing outfits, she’s gypsy, tramp, AND thief. In that context, it makes sense for Spears to cover the Stones; like them, she’s naughty by nature.
Before enraged Stones fans write in, it should be stated that Spears is not the modern equivalent of Mick and Co. But her barely hidden lasciviousness is; she’s akin to the first girl in elementary school to wear makeup and flirt. That demeanor is heard in her horny grunts in ”Satisfaction” (”When I’m watchin’ my TV — uh! uh!”) and throughout the best parts of ”Oops!” As ludicrously derivative of her ’99 hit single ”…Baby One More Time” as it is, the title song amounts to nothing so much as a jailbait manifesto, with Spears admitting to leading a boy on and confessing she’s ”not that innocent.” Even on an innocuous line like ”I’m just a girl with a crush… on… you” (in the pouncing Europop of ”Can’t Make You Love Me”), you can almost hear the drool trickling off the CD. And come to think of it, such declarations of independence as ”Stronger” and ”Don’t Go Knockin’ on My Door” are reminiscent of Stones brush-offs like ”The Last Time.”
The best of these tracks undermine the criticism that ”all” teen pop is merely perky smiles and choreography. A slew of producers and writers, most notably Max Martin, ditch the Tinkertoy feel of Spears’ first album and replace it with palpitating, bass-heavy constructs; you’ll feel as if you’ve been whisked away to some steely futuristic gotham. Spears’ artificial-sweetener voice is much less interesting than the settings, yet that blandness is actually a relief compared with Aguilera’s numbing vocal gymnastics. At its finest, ”Oops!” reminds us once again that the best new pop can be a blast of cool air in a stifling room. B