From 'E-Mail My Heart' to one of the greatest pop songs of the modern era, EW sizes up the pop queen's incredible catalog
Over the course of her 18-year career as a solo artist, Britney Spears has shown herself to be many things: an innocent high-schooler, a not-that-innocent intergalactic temptress, a tabloid target, a brand ambassador for Cheetos. But like her forebears Madonna and Michael Jackson, she’s also redefined what it means to be a modern pop star, pushing the limits of controversy with her racy performances and magazine covers while setting trends in everything form tween-friendly bubblegum pop to electronic dance music.
In honor of the 20th anniversary of her legendary debut album, …Baby One More Time, EW is looking at her massive catalog and ranking all her solo songs, from her most iconic hits to Japanese-edition bonus tracks you didn’t even know existed. (Disagree with our ranking? Tell us yours in the comments.)
156. “E-Mail My Heart” (1999)
A goopy, strummy ballad for the dial-up era that’s so ridiculous, even Spears seemed to know it. As she explained in an oft-circulated interview about the song’s complex profundity: “It’s a song everyone can relate to. You know, everyone’s been doing emails…and it’s e-mail my heart.” –Kevin O’Donnell
155. “Right Now (Taste the Victory)” (2002)
154. “It Should Be Easy (feat. will.i.am)” (2013)
153. “Soda Pop” (1999)
152. “Girls and Boys” (2003)
151-148. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (2000) / “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” (2001) / “The Beat Goes On” (1999) / “My Prerogative” (2004)
Karaokified-versions of pop classics the world never needed. –Madison Vain
147. “Dear Diary” (2000)
Spears wrote it, enough said. It’s literally a diary entry reflecting on a cute boy she’s spotted and wondering if he’s noticed her. Her breathy voice gets a little croaky at times, which effectively helps convey her lyrical emotion, but overall it’s just a little too sickly sweet. –Ruth Kinane
146. “Tik Tik Boom (feat. T.I.)” (2013)
It’s hard to go wrong with a lyric this onomatopoeic. Especially when it’s matched to a strident trap beat. But the song is so generic that even T.I. can’t save this one. –Jim Farber
145. “You Got It All” (2000)
144. “Intimidated” (2000)
143. “Lonely” (2001)
With its funky bass slap and rockish guitar crunch, “Lonely” has an edge to match Britney’s pissed-off attitude. And while it can’t compete with the best tracks on 2001’s Britney (“I’m a Slave 4 U,” “I’m a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”), it has more fire than most of her recent work. –Chuck Arnold
142. “Rock Me In” (2008)
141. “When Your Eyes Say It” (2000)
140. “Til It’s Gone” (2013)
139. “My Baby” (2008)
138. “Before the Goodbye” (2001)
137. “Heart” (2000)
136. “What U See (Is What U Get)” (2000)
It’s kind of like Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Real,” but a little less conceited. Another track on an album that delivers a lot of messages regarding the power play between men and women, this one warns of the dangers of a possessive boyfriend: “I know you watch me when I’m dancing, when I party with my friends, I can feel your eyes on my back baby.” Recorded before Auto-Tuning stole all semblance of a human voice from Brit, her real vocals don’t sound too bad. There’s plenty of Britney’s token “yeah, yeah, yeahhhhs” in there too. –R.K.
135. “From the Bottom of My Broken Heart” (1999)
134. “One Kiss From You” (2000)
133. “Chillin’ With You feat. Jamie Lynn Spears” (2013)
There’s a great tradition in pop music where siblings have united in song: Karen and Richard Carpenter, Kim and Kelley Deal, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Don and Phil Everly. Britney and Jamie Lynn Spears are not part of that tradition. –K.O.
132. “Let Me Be” (2001)
131. “What You Need” (2016)
At the end of “What You Need,” Britney quips, “That was fun,” and that most accurately describes the cabaret sounds of this Glory track. It’s upbeat and lively, despite the pop princess’ sultry vocals growing a little frenzied at times. –R.K.
130. “What It’s Like to Be Me” (2001)
Recorded with then-boyfriend Justin Timberlake — who shows off his beatboxing skills, long before “Rock Your Body” — this is a decent pop tune that is just crying out for a dynamic choreo routine. Still, with two such vibrant performers coming together we hoped from a little more from the duo — at the very least a music video to forever capture their real-life chemistry. –R.K.
129. “I Run Away” (2001)
128. “Love Me Down” (2016)
127. “Hold on Tight” (2013)
126. “The Girl in the Mirror” (2000)
125. “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” (1999)
124. “I Will Still Love You (feat. Don Philip)” (1999)
123. “When I Found You” (2001)
122. “Can’t Make You Love Me” (2000)
121. “Where Are You Now” (2000)
120. “Thinkin’ About You” (1999)
119. “And Then We Kiss” (2006)
118. “That’s Where You Take Me” (2001)
117-114. “Chaotic” / “Someday (I Will Understand)” / “Mona Lisa” / “Over to You Now” (2005)
The K-Fed era will always make Britney fans cringe, but it wasn’t all a bust: This EP released with the DVD of her short-lived reality show acquainted us with Spears’ alter ego, Mona Lisa, and includes a ballad Spears wrote with “Everytime” collaborator Guy Sigsworth about becoming a mother. It’s fascinating insight into her inner mind, but that’s not quite enough to keep these songs from feeling a little underdeveloped. –Nolan Feeney.
113. “I’m So Curious” (1999)
112. “Don’t Keep Me Waiting” (2011)
111. “Bombastic Love” (2001)
110. “Mmm Papi” (2009)
One of the most inexplicable songs in Spears’ catalogue is this bizarre attempt at combining Latin pop with ’60s psychedelic soul. –Dylan Kickham
109. “The Answer” (2003)
108. “Outta This World” (2007)
107. “Body Ache” (2013)
106. “The Hook Up” (2003)
Yet another song where Britney sings about dancing, and the Jamaican vibes keep things interesting enough. But then there’s a poor attempt at rapping, or, at the very least, fast-speaking. Most of this track’s strength comes from its infectious beat, and not much else. –R.K.
105. “Private Show” (2016)
104. “Don’t Hang Up” (2003)
103. “Why Should I Be Sad” (2007)
102. “Walk on By” (2000)
101. “Rock Boy” (2008)
100. “Trouble For Me” (2011)
99. “Autumn Goodbye” (1999)
98. “Don’t Go Knockin’ on My Door”
When you think of early Britney material, it’s full of booming synths, spoken-word sections, and her notorious nasal-voice affectation. This cut from “…Oops” has all of that. It may not have been a single, but the funky, R&B-tinged kiss-off anthem is an overlooked number from Spears’ early years. –D.K.
97. “Pretty Girls” (2015)
Spears’ duet with Iggy Azalea was reviled by critics, but “Pretty Girls” does have its dumb-fun charms, and it resulted in a hilariously overblown video that finds Our Heroine from Louisiana doing her best, like, Valley Girl impression. –K.O.
96. “Don’t Cry” (2013)
95. “Trouble” (2008)
94. “Alien” (2013)
93. “Clumsy” (2016)
92. “Scary” (2011)
91. “Hard to Forget Ya” (2016)
This Glory track captures Britney at her most frenetic. While much of the dark and sensual sounds of her recent album evoke Blackout, this electrifyingly upbeat track has more of the ebullience of Femme Fatale. –D.K.
90. “Coupere Électrique” (2016)
89. “Cinderella” (2001)
Equal parts empowering and catchy, the ode to the Disney princess was co-written by Spears and delivers a strong message to impressionable teens to leave behind boyfriends who don’t appreciate their efforts. It’s Brit’s warbling tones at their finest and there’s some fun spoken lyrics too – so you get the sense she means what she’s saying. –R.K.
88. “Lace and Leather” (2008)
Here, Spears meets Bootsy Collins — at least in spirit. An elastic bass line undulates through the entire track, suggesting the funky fingerings of the ’70s icon. The slap-funk groove adds a bit of leer to the teasing S&M lyrics. –J.F.
87. “Early Mornin'” (2003)
86. “Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortes)” (2016)
85. “Brave New Girl” (2003)
Aldous Huxley, eat your heart out. “Brave New Girl” is probably the most overtly overproduced song in Spears’ catalogue—imagine T-Pain moonlighting as a pop diva. As her fans well know, Spears’ voice takes to production very well, and the upbeat, Auto-Tuned track pops and fizzes with a frenetic, infectious energy. –D.K.
84. “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know” (2000)
Who is this jerk who is not being honest with Britney? WHY ARE YOU NOT TRUTHING HER, BAD BOYFRIEND? Maybe he just needs to learn to use his words; the lyrics say he’s pretty good with body language. But first Spears had to beg, with a pretty mid tempo melody and a macramé bikini, to find out how her mute man really feels. –Leah Greenblatt
83. “Mood Ring” (2016)
82. “Phonography” (2008)
Before there was sexting, there was this Britney deep cut about phone sex. Okay, it’s pretty dated, but major props to the writers for coming up with so many phone puns and completely sexualizing the mundane process of making a phone call. “I like my Bluetooth, buttons coming loose, I need my hands free…Playing with my ringtone, he got service, I got service, baby we can talk all night.” Still, the Middle Eastern vibe and the chanting-style of singing keeps the mind from roaming. –R.K.
81. “Liar” (2016)
80. “I’ve Just Begun (Having My Fun)” (2004)
Paired with its fellow My Prerogative original song “Do Somethin’,” “I’ve Just Begun” shows a snapshot of rocker-chick Britney, thanks to a hard, guitar-and-drums-oriented groove. It’s a similar set-up to “Do Somethin’,” but pales in comparison. –D.K.
79. “My Only Wish (This Year)” (2012)
78. “Passenger” (2013)
Spears takes an atmospheric journey on this Britney Jean ballad, which she cowrote with Sia and Katy Perry, among others. The lyrics (“I can’t let go of control / I can’t let go and not know / Don’t know the way you’re heading me / One day at a time is all I need”) offer a rare glimpse into the woman behind the Auto-Tune. –C.A.
77. “Shattered Glass” (2008)
Who knew the word “glass” actually has three syllables? In this Dr. Luke-produced ditty, the star pronounces the word “glaa-eee-ass” in several places, the better to give the song an extra nagging hook. Not that it needed one. “Shattered” also has a snappy melody and a snidely mocking synth line. –J.F.
76. “Showdown” (2003)
In the Zone was Spears’ first attempt at a more experimental album, swapping bubblegum pop for thumping, club-ready tracks. For the most part, the new direction paid off, but there were a few misses. The almost spoken-word whisper of “Showdown” focused singe-mindedly on sexualizing Spears’ vocals rather than actually making a good song. –D.K.
75. “Anticipating” (2001)
Like much of Britney, “Anticipating” took cues from Madonna and Janet Jackson. Sure, it’s not in the same league as any of those older divas’ dance-pop gems, the song, with an ebullient bounce and post-disco bump, has its catchy charms. And Nile Rodgers on guitar ups the cool factor. –C.A.
74. “Ooh La La” (2013)
73. “I Will Be There” (1999)
72. “Criminal” (2011)
He’s a liar and a murderer and he’s got no conscious (“none none none”). But don’t worry Mama, B knows it’s true love! I mean, he’s got her name tattooed on his arm and everything, so what could go wrong? –L.G.
71. “Selfish” (2011)
70. “Trip to Your Heart” (2011)
The electronic dance beat, vocals processed beyond reason, and raving bass make “Trip to Your Heart” a little hard to listen to through headphones, but it could easily sound great blasting from a European club. The point when Brit runs out of lyrics and just fills the space with some “oooh oooh ooohs” is a little weak though, and strangely more noticeable than other times where she’s employed this same technique. –R.K.
69. “Touch of My Hand” (2003)
68. “Deep in My Heart” (1999)
Cornball lyrics and synth hooks ripped out of an early-’90s house single make for a throwaway pop song better suited for an S Club 7 album. –Jessica Goodman
67. “(I Got That) Boom Boom (feat. Ying Yang Twins)” (2003)
This In The Zone track blends dance-pop with hip-hop by inviting the Ying Yang twins into the club with Brit. The Atlanta duo brings some southern style to the banjo-infused beat and there’s just the right amount of crunk mixed with dance to make this one of the better filler tracks on the record. –R.K.
66. “Born to Make You Happy” (1999)
Spears reverts to 1950s-era Housewife submission, with a song about how one woman’s sole purpose in life is to serve someone else. It also doesn’t help to have an aggressive key change that stretched Spears’ voice a wee bit too far. –J.G.
65. “If I’m Dancin'” (2016)
The genius of this song is how many genres it seemingly touches upon—and after “Work Bitch” and “Scream & Shout,” it’s the best example of Britishney flaunting a U.K. accent. –R.K.
64. “Just Like Me” (2016)
63. “Perfect Lover” (2007)
62. “Everybody” (2007)
Britney Spears and the Eurythmics: it’s not exactly a combination anyone would expect, but it’s one that actually created one of Spears’ sleekest dance songs. The Blackout bonus track finds Spears transforming “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” into a modern club track. Is Spears on the level of Annie Lennox vocally? No way. Is it catchy as all hell? Of course it is. –D.K.
61. “Get Back” (2007)
One of the first Blackout tracks to leak, this jam offered fans a first taste of Spears’ radical new sound, with her voice rapidly ping-ponging off a disorienting, all-encompassing production of fuzzy, whirring synths. –D.K.
60. “Just Luv Me” (2016)
59. “Slumber Party” (2016)
The sultry, R&B-influenced vibes that course through much of Glory are in full effect on this lush, decadent track. –D.K.
58. “Shadow” (2003)
57. “Ooh Ooh Baby” (2007)
Continuing the brilliantly woozy daze of Blackout is this idiosyncratic midtempo builder. Beginning with a Spanish guitar flourish that give way to driving 808s, Spears delivers a double entendre-laden song — one of her raunchiest. –D.K.
56. “Mannequin” (2008)
55. “Out From Under” (2008)
Circus leans heavy on upbeat pop songs but this ballad is one of the exceptions: it’s a light, dreamy reflection on a breakup that evokes “Everytime,” as Spears emotes in characteristically breathy vocals over acoustic guitars. –D.K.
54. “Hot as Ice” (2007)
As far as lyrical come-ons go, this one is pretty tepid (“I’m cold as fire, baby, hot as ice/If you’ve ever been to heaven, this is twice as nice”). But if you can give yourself over to the silly playfulness of this Blackout cut, it produces a giddy high. –C.A.
53. “Toy Soldier” (2007)
Sonically, this Blackout track plays like a cousin to 2003’s “Toxic.” But the lyrical theme bites from Destiny’s Child’s 2004 jam “Soldier,” with Spears singing, “I need a solider, I’m sick of toy soldiers…A boy that knows how to take care of me, won’t be just coming over.” DC wins, but Brit holds her own. –C.A.
52. “Unusual You” (2008)
Something truly unusual happens on this overlooked track off Circus. We hear a fuller, prettier melody than Britney usually gets to sing. Commonly, the tunes she voices mimic the rhythm of the song and, so, accent short, blunt phrases. Here, the writers concocted a tune that billows out beautifully, allowing Brit to ride the rhythm with style. –J.F.
51. “Better” (2016)
50. “Now That I Found You” (2013)
49. “Outrageous” (2003)
48. “Invitation” (2016)
47. “Breathe on Me” (2003)
The trancey throb of this In the Zone track owes a debt to Giorgio Moroder (who Spears would later work with on their 2015 remake of “Tom’s Diner”). It tries a little too hard to be sexy, with Brit attempting to get her Erotica on, but sounding more like Kylie Minogue. –C.A.
46. “Quicksand” (2008)
45. “Circus” (2008)
“There’s only two types of people in the world/The ones that entertain, and the ones that observe/Well baby I’m a put-on-a-show kinda girl.” It was all true, even if it came at one of the darkest times in her public life. So knowing she was already at the center of a three-ring tabloid spectacle, Britney did what she does best: danced her way out. A walloping electropop rave-up that doubled as a defiant bid for post-Umbrellagate independence, “Circus” told the world that if they wouldn’t look away, she’d give them something to see—on her own terms. –L.G.
44. “Man on the Moon” (2016)
43. “(Drop Dead) Beautiful” (2011)
Only Britney would use nasality as a hook. Her stuffed nose vocal on this track mirrors the reedy synth pulsing under the melody. The guest rap from the pop artist Sabi adds nothing to the song, but the tune and production have enough force to drive the sexed-up anthem home. –J.F.
42. “Brightest Morning Star” (2013)
41. “Big Fat Bass” (2011)
Black Eyed Peas’ frontman will.i.am has always had a love of old-school dance music. Small wonder this gimmicky collaboration with Brit uses a vintage house-style piano at its start, followed by uplifting synth lines. The heart of the song anchors on the instrument advertised in the title, presented at its stated size. –J.F.
40. “Get Naked (I Got a Plan)” (2007)
Featuring production by Timbaland protégé Nate “Danja” Hills, this trippy hip-hop turn from Blackout is one of the weirdest things that Spears has ever done. Although the lyrical plan is nothing different — Britney as seductress — the spacey beats are freaky fun. –C.A.
39. “Blur” (2008)
“Blur” presents a vivid morning-after rumination: The song’s narrator wakes up, hung over and disoriented, not knowing how she ended up in a guy’s bed with her clothes off. Some might see such a scenario as an autobiographical nod to Britney’s most troubled period in the mid-aughts. If nothing else, the red-faced perspective makes Brit seem vulnerable and relatable. –J.F.
38. “I Wanna Go” (2011)
Like the Grand Theft Auto soundtrack recast by a horny My Little Pony, “I Wanna Go” sounded sweet beneath its stuttering Hi-NRG bassline and jaunty whistle hook, but the lyrics were straight-up filthy: “I’ve been told who I should do it with/To keep both my hands above the blanket when the light’s out/Shame on me/to need release, uncontrollably.” And she took it, all the way. –L.G.
37. “He About to Lose Me” (2011)
Poor oblivious Britney boyfriend, Netflixing and chilling while his girl is banging in the club, “touching hands with someone seriously beautiful” and trying to decide how to break it to him when she gets home that he’s about to have a whole lot more time to watch Season 3 of The Killing. Like, forever. –L.G.
36. “Kill the Lights” (2008)
When Spears announced Circus in 2008, it seemed like she was ready to spin the media spectacle surrounding her into more pop gold. In reality, the title track never got that deep, but another song on that album did: “Kill the Lights,” a feisty eff-you to the paparazzi that feels like the sequel to “Piece of Me.” Rarely has Spears sounded as fired up as she does over Danja’s horror-movie beat, and when it comes to those who preyed on her unravelling one year prior, Spears gets the last laugh: “Is that money in your pocket or you happy to see me?” –N.F.
35. “Sometimes” (1999)
Spears followed up the success of her come-hither debut, “…Baby One More Time,” with innocence and a plea for patience. Not quite a ballad, not yet a banger, “Sometimes” cemented Britney as pop’s good girl of ’99. –J.G.
34. “Gasoline” (2011)
Britney understands the power of fossil fuels y’all; or at least she knows enough to know what happens when you light a match near a girl who “runs on supreme.” Stand back and watch it burn. –L.G.
33. “Do Somethin'” (2004)
The best thing about this song isn’t the short-circuiting electro-rock production (courtesy of her “Toxic” co-conspirators Bloodshy & Avant) or even the vicarious rock-star fantasy. Really, it’s Spears’ own affection for the track: She loved “Do Somethin'” so much she pushed her label to fund a music video for it, and she’s performed it on almost every tour since its release, including every incarnation of her Vegas residency. When fans talk about whether or not Britney sounds like she’s having any fun on her albums, “Do Somethin'” should be the standard by which they measure. –N.F.
32. “Seal It With a Kiss” (2011)
It’s a testament to the strength of 2011’s Femme Fatale — the best start-to-finish album of Spears’ career — that “Seal It with a Kiss” isn’t even one of that LP’s better tracks. But featuring production by Dr. Luke and Max Martin, it shimmers with a tossed-off breeziness. –C.A.
31. “Inside Out” (2011)
A song about ex sex so hot it literally turns you into a Pixar movie, “Inside Out” was never officially a Femme Fatale single despite a stellar production pedigree (Hot 100 maestros Dr. Luke, Max Martin, and Bonnie McKee) and a shuddering let’s-make-the-downstairs-neighbors-hate-us hook. Looking back, it definitely deserved a better shot at the charts — or at least a 2 a.m. callback. –L.G.
30. “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” (2001)
Much of Spears’ 2001 album Britney is about, well, Britney. But her best introspection comes during this understated ballad, written by Dido, Max Martin and Rami. As the title states, it captures Britney at a crossroads: she’s ready to torch her squeaky-clean image to explore weird and wild territories — and some of the coolest music of her career. –M.V.
29. “Up n’ Down” (2011)
So fire hot, a twenty out of ten: this Femme Fatale gem packs a groove so funky and fierce, it defies all laws of physics and mathematics. –K.O.
28. “Do You Wanna Come Over?” (2016)
Mattman & Robin (Carly Rae Jepsen, Tove Lo) prove they’re at the cutting edge of pop music in 2016 with this Glory standout: the production is so crisp, it sounds like you can hear the snap of a soda can opening at points. –K.O.
27. “Break the Ice” (2007)
As with most of Blackout, it’s more about the production than Spears on this single, where gothy background vocals and chilly synths create an eerie mood. But the most memorable thing about the song is the video, an anime adventure that turns Britney into a sexy superhero. –C.A.
26. “Make Me…” feat. G-Eazy (2016)
On paper, this smoldering mid-tempo song couldn’t seem more engineered to fit her comfort zone. Another tale of a fateful club encounter leading to something more? Check. A seductive beat perfect for writhing around and flipping your hair on stage? Check. Nine albums in, you’d think Spears had run out of surprises for her listeners. But when that second verse gives way to an unexpected pre-chorus featuring the most natural-sounding high notes she’s hit in some time, Spears’ voice feels like a revelation. “You’re the spark that won’t go out,” she sings, but she might as well be talking about herself. –N.F.
25. “Radar” (2007)
“Radar” — fembot electropop with Spears at her chirpiest — has the distinction of being on two Britney albums: Originally featured on 2007’s Blackout, the song was also included as a bonus track on 2008’s Circus, and it was released as the latter LP’s fourth single in 2009. –C.A.
It’s got an instrumental that lives up its name: a wobbly, off-kilter bass, mosquito-buzzing synths, and vocals that are pitched and contorted in every direction. No track from Blackout is more indicative of the album’s hedonistic M.O. or its boundary-pushing aesthetic than this one, which touched on dubstep a few years before that style of British electronic music achieved Stateside recognition. –N.F.
23. “Overprotected” (2001)
Brit may have recorded “Overprotected” for her role as Lucy in the 2002 movie Crossroads, but with lyrics like “I don’t want to be so damn protected,” there’s an eerie amount of foreshadowing for what was to come in her personal life. And Max Martin shows once again he had an unassailable gift for crafting that decade’s most indelible hooks. –M.V.
22. “(You Drive Me) Crazy” (1999)
Spears’ third single was highlighted by her overpronunciation of “you” — “I’m so into yuhhhhh!” —bell rings, and a backup choir that turns the chorus into a massive singalong. “(You Drive Me) Crazy” captures Spears at full force, with a robust vocal performance and an ab-emphasizing choreographed dance, remembered best through the music video and the Melissa Joan Hart-starring movie Drive Me Crazy. –J.G.
21. “Boys” (2001)
Anyone who ever fantasized about a mash-up of Britney and Janet Jackson got their wish with this track. The star felt the result was nice enough to release twice — first on her self-titled third album and then on the “Austin Power” soundtrack. Written by The Neptunes, “Boys” sounds a lot like Miss Jackson’s 1986 smash “Nasty.” In fact, Janet recorded a version of “Boys” before Miss Spears, but never released it. For Jackson, the record would have been redundant. For Brit, it functions as an apt homage. –J.F.
20. “How I Roll” (2011)
The vox-tweaked brilliance of Blackout is revived on this Femme Fatale highlight, helmed by a murderer’s row of Swedish pop savants like Bloodshy. It’s also got some of Britney’s most playful wordplay (“Show your knee socks / Put tequila on the rocks / Till you make your body pops to the speaker”)—not to mention some of her most shocking. When Brit coos about a one-night stand being her “f—” (or is she singing “thug”?), she’s as coquettish as Madonna on “Justify My Love.” –K.O.
19. “If U Seek Amy” (2008)
If u enjoy wordplay, nobody had to spell it out for you. (Or maybe they did; this one took a minute.) Professor Spears’ Semantics 101 lesson, all la-la-la bounce and sexy-baby-with-a-head-cold vocals, was also a sneaky FCC workaround; its embedded f-bomb chorus cleared the radio censors — and for a hot minute at least, seriously threw the game for nice girls named Amy. –L.G.
18. “Heaven on Earth” (2007)
It sounds like a disaster on paper: a pre-American Idol Kara Dioguardi teaming with edgy underground studio wizards Freescha. But together, they crafted one of the grooviest and deepest jams in Spears’ catalogue: it’s the closest the pop star ever came to capturing the blissed-out disco magic of Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer’s 1977 staple “I Feel Love.” –K.O.
17. “Hold It Against Me” (2011)
“You feel like paradise and I need a vacation tonight” is actually an excellent pick up line and Spears puts it to good use on the Femme Fatale track that signaled yet another Britney Spears reinvention, this time with help from EDM bass drops. –J.G.
16. “Amnesia” (2008)
Which is a bigger mystery: that a song of this caliber was banished to the bonus track netherworld on Circus’ British and Japanese editions? Or that a song about forgetting your fiancé (not to mention your home address!) because a hot guy is in close proximity could feel so sweet and heartfelt? The song takes the definition of “boy crazy” to its literal extremes, but it’s so loaded with stuttering hooks that, unlike Spears’ fictional beau, forgetting it won’t be easy. –N.F.
15. “Work Bitch” (2013)
Britney Jean might be her worst album, but this standout track is easily one of her best singles ever: the lyrical message is all surface (“You want a hot body?”), Britney-droid vocals are in full effect—and the tune’s coda (“Keep it moving higher and higgggh-yaaaaa!”) is sleeker than that Bugatti and Lamborghini combined. –M.V.
14. “Stronger” (2000)
Britney didn’t write a word of this song, but like so many hits from this era, it feels like she was trying to tell us something. Before she tangoed with a python, she cautioned that she wasn’t that innocent. And before having her meltdown in the mid-2000s, she told us the story of Lucky, a starlet left empty by fame. “Stronger” also foretold the future, both lyrically (she vowed to do things “my way”) and sonically (the stormy electronic touches hinted at a shift in her Scandi-pop sound). Today, it’s the theme song for her resilience — a pop star who survived personal struggles made public — and it sounds all the more victorious because of it. –N.F.
13. “Me Against the Music (feat. Madonna)” (2003)
Two generations of pop stars battle and bond in this zippy ditty. It finds Britney collaborating with her ultimate role model, Madonna. Was Maddy passing the torch, or just trying to put her protegée in her place? Either way, the hit has enough hooks to make both parties come out looking good. –J.F.
12. “Perfume” (2013)
Spears spent much of Britney Jean getting Auto-Tuned into oblivion, but if that album was the price of admission for a song as warm and full of feeling as this one, consider it worth it. This clever twist on love triangle epic comes courtesy of Sia, who’s earned a reputation for being pop’s number one supplier of uplifting empowerment anthems for the likes of Beyoncé and Rihanna. But as “Perfume” shows, sometimes it’s not the biggest voices in pop who make the most out of her handiwork. There’s an earnestness and fragility to Spears’ performance here that makes it shine bright like a diaaahmund. –N.F.
11. “Womanizer” (2008)
Few pop stars have had as many comebacks as Brit, but this chart topping single is her best return. After her excruciating 2007, she rebounded with the first Circus single — a slick earworm about catching your philandering dude in a lie. Weirdly enough, it was only Spears’ second No. 1 song on the Hot 100, and it definitely deserved that spot. –M.V.
10. “Lucky” (2000)
This is a story about a girl named Lucky, but also Britney Spears: “She’s so lucky, she’s a star but she cry cry cries in her lonely heart, thinking if there’s nothing missing in my life then why do these tears come at night?” Has there ever been such a tragic pop song about fame? Given everything we know about Spears’ past decade, it’s hard not to hear “Lucky” as a haunting premonition, packaged in fairy dust. –J.G.
9. “3” (2009)
B’s panty-dropping ode to three- or more-somes — “Triple-fun that way/Twister on the floor/What do you say?” — shot straight (or if you prefer, bi-curious) to No. 1, making it the first and so far only chart-topping pop song to reference both group sex and the ’60s folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. The provocative topic and throbbing hook went a long way toward making it one of Spears’ most memorable hits. Also not hurting: The sleek, stripped-down video, a celebration of hot bodies, poles, and leotards helmed by Diane Martel, who would famously go on to direct Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Miley’s “We Can’t Stop.” –L.G.
8. “Gimme More” (2007)
“It’s Britney, bitch!” Those three words made this Blackout single instantly beloved, but Danja helped make it a classic: the producer’s apocalyptic arcade stomper sounds like Pac-Man chasing pac-dots around a stripper pole. And though the song’s legacy is marred by a notorious VMAs performance, there’s something appropriately meta about these lyrics coinciding with a dark time in Spears’ life. The public always hungered for another photo, another story, another scandal. So when the song’s bridge arrives and Spears starts to purr, “They want more? Well I’ll give them more,” it doesn’t feel like come-on — it sounds like a threat. –N.F.
7. “Till the World Ends” (2011)
Featuring the most anthemic wordless chorus since Zombie Nation’s “Kernkraft 4000” swept sports arenas, this single from 2011’s Femme Fatale flips the script of the usual Britney bangers. Instead of pretending to be a song about dancing that’s not-so-secretly about sex, this one—barring a few innuendos courtesy of co-writer Kesha—actually is about dancing all night. It’s that innocence that make those oh-oh-oh-ohs feel so buoyant, and it’s what makes the song’s true chorus, arriving well after the two minute mark, feel like pure intravenous bliss. –N.F.
6. “Everytime” (2003)
It’s easy to chalk Britney’s successes up to someone else: Credit her longtime manager’s savvy, her father’s intervention during her tabloid lows, her producers’ studio wizardry—anything but Britney. Yet when it comes to her finest ballad and one of the most emotionally affecting songs of her career, you really have Britney to thank. As the story goes, she wrote the bones of this track on the piano by herself before giving it to producer Guy Sigsworth to flesh out. Is it her storied response to Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River”? Probably. But you don’t need to know that to feel Brit’s pain — the song can break hearts even without a juicy backstory. –N.F.
5. “Piece of Me” (2007)
Miss American Dream, Miss Bad Media Karma, Mrs. Oh My God That Britney’s Shameless: She was all those things and more when this track was released at a low point in her personal life. But she proved her naysayers wrong—not only by showing she could be in on the joke, but by delivering a song that’s chillingly raw and autobiographical, and one of the most sonically adventurous of her career. –K.O.
4. “Oops!… I Did It Again” (2000)
Technically the “it” in the title referred to Britney’s bad habit of playing with boys’ hearts. But really, “Oops” was about duplicating the San Andreas-size impact of her debut single “…Baby One More Time” a year earlier—and even if it only eked into the Hot 100 top 10, the song still topped the Pop Songs chart and went to no. 1 in more than a dozen countries. More importantly, it gave us one of Spears’ all-time purest shots of pop adrenaline: A four-minute symphony of solar plexus-punching synths, glorious yeahyeahyeah vocal fry, and of course, the legendary red latex that played with all the boys’… parts. (Let’s just say she wasn’t the only one who was not that inn-o-cent by the time the video was over). –L.G.
3. “I’m a Slave 4 U” (2001)
The final nail in the Mickey Mouse Club coffin, the Neptunes-helmed “Slave” was the sound of Spears fully claiming her sexuality with a snake-charming hook and lyrics that more than teased at S&M. “Baby, don’t you wanna dance up on me?” she asked. “Leaving behind my name, my age.” For the record she was still 19—but clearly her chaperoned Disney days were way over. –L.G.
2. “…Baby One More Time” (1999)
When “…Baby One More Time” dropped, 16-year-old Britney Spears was a former Disney star, hoping to break big. And her studio partner, Max Martin, was still better known as Martin Sandberg, a former Swedish rocker trying his hand at pop production and songwriting. This track was originally penned with ‘90s hitmakers TLC in mind; the group declined to record it because, as T-Boz said in a later interview, “It’s good for her, but was I going to say, ‘Hit me baby one more time’? Hell no!” But their loss proved Spears’ gain. The tune shot straight to No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and kicked off the Teen Pop boom of the early 2000s, which saw the meteoric rise of acts like Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, Kelly Clarkson, P!NK, and many more. (Martin wrote No.1’s for each of those artists.) Spears also introduced a new archetype of pop star, one whose likeness is splashed across everything from perfumes to Pepsi cans—and whose personal life is the endless subject of tabloid covers. Musically, however, “…Baby One More Time” perfectly captured the wide-eyed innocence of a world that would irrevocably be changed by 9/11. –M.V.
1. “Toxic” (2003)
From the first crazy seesaw of those opening strings—so Norman Bates does disco!—it was Crystal Pepsi clear: She’d done it again. Co-penned by Swedish Hot 100 wizards Bloodshy & Avant and another lady who knew a little bit about catsuits, “Toxic” was reportedly passed on by Kylie Minogue before Britney decided to take a sip from the devil’s cup. “With the taste of your lips/I’m on a ride,” she helium-cooed, letting us ride shotgun straight to a poison paradise of stuttering dancefloor bhangra, spaghetti-western guitars, and the ultimate arsenic-laced maraschino cherry on top: Spears’ own kiss-me-deadly vocals. A girl like her should wear a warning. –L.G.