Rolling Stone has just published the latest episode of their 500 Greatest Albums podcast, a deep dive into Britney Spears' game-changing 2007 album Blackout featuring new interviews with her closest collaborators.
• Kara DioGuardi, who co-penned "Brave New Girl" with Spears for 2003's In the Zone, noted the seismic shift in the paparazzi's pursuit of the star when the pair reunited during early Blackout studio sessions. (Two of the resulting songs, "Heaven on Earth" and "Ooh Ooh Baby," would make the cut.)
• A&R executive Teresa LaBarbera, whose credits prior to Blackout included Beyoncé's Dangerously in Love and several Destiny's Child albums, set her sights on helping Spears move into the next phase of her career—without trying to replicate her previous hits. Disinterested in teaming Spears with of-the-moment producers, she brought Nate "Danja" Hills to the table.
• Danja, who had been working under producing juggernaut Timbaland at the time, had yet to achieve the level of recognition he would with the release of Blackout. Looking to the club scene in his native Miami for inspiration, he recruited producing and songwriting collective The Clutch (including "Pretty Girl Rock" singer Keri Hilson) to help bring his ideas to life.
• Spears' body language served as a barometer for the team to read how she felt about their offerings: "You knew it grabbed her if she was dancing," Danja says. "If she started hitting her choreography just to the beat, without the top line, then we knew we had it."
• Despite LaBarbera and Spears' care to avoid repeating history, "Toxic" producers Bloodshy & Avant were eventually brought into the Blackout fold, along with upcoming singer-songwriter Nicole Morier ("Heaven on Earth"). The Swedish duo would end up contributing four tracks to the album—"Piece of Me," "Radar," "Freakshow" and "Toy Soldier."
• For Spears, the recording studio became a "safe haven" from the chaos that awaited her whenever she was on the move. "She couldn't go get a bite to eat, she couldn't be with her kids," LaBarbera recalls. "We had to really create a protective bubble for her... because once she left [it], she was going to be literally attacked."
• Jive Records allegedly had an unwritten rule that Blackout's producers and writers should avoid bringing Spears personal affairs into the music—a mandate that felt impossible to follow. By the time "Piece of Me" was recorded, the star's life looked drastically different than it had when she started work on the album, and all involved felt strongly about helping her control her narrative.
• A second song written by Bloodshy & Avant with singer-songwriter Robyn—whose background vocals can be heard on "Piece of Me"—proved too emotional for Spears to complete. Described as "a vulnerable request for grace from a vicious public," "See My Side" was eventually recorded by American Idol winner Jordin Sparks for her debut album, released one month after Blackout.
• Today, Danja sees Blackout as a game-changing blueprint for the current pop landscape: "If she comes back and does an album five years from now, she already set a bar that lets you know she's limitless," he says. "She put herself 20 years ahead of everybody. She can—10, five years from now—come back and still pick up where she left off."
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What's your favorite song off Blackout?