Over the past two years, Britney Spears’ 13-year-long conservatorship has been exposed as a complicated web of abuse, manipulation and mishandling. In June 2021, Spears broke her silence about her hopes of freedom for the first time since the guardianship began. Over a decade has passed in which the Pop Princess’ autonomy and art have been restricted. This is not an unfamiliar theme in Spears’ career. In fact, almost all of Spears’ work has been confined by the control of other people. There is only one moment in Spears’ career that stands out as a glimmering moment of true freedom: her 2007 magnum opus, Blackout.
Blackout is an album and era that is severely misunderstood. Every infamous moment from that time was scrutinized, and Spears was berated by the press on a daily basis. Reflecting on these incidents with a 2021 mindset, they all reveal a fragile woman desperate to reclaim her body and mind. When Spears famously shaved her iconic blonde locks off, it was interpreted as a meltdown. From what the public knows now, this moment symbolized Spears freeing herself of the confining pop star persona personified through the platinum extensions. Other moments, from her now-iconic 2007 VMAs performance to late-night partying with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, were not the actions of the pop star falling from grace, but a young mother suffering through life changes with millions of eyes watching her. Though her tragedy was being exploited, Spears channelled her pain into boundary-pushing art as her last fight to live on her own terms.
The sound of Blackout, with booming, dark synths and hard, thrashing beats, brings listeners into the world of America’s former teen queen. For 55 minutes, Spears invites her audience to follow her from one bad decision, heartbreak, party and scandal to the next. She drags listeners through a vivid but exhausting world filled with intoxicated socialites, spending sprees in Las Vegas, grimy clubs and flashing paparazzi cameras. Blackout uses an avant-garde mixture of genres, from disco to punk to hip-hop, all threaded together with the unique Britney-Spears-pop presence. She sheds her plastic persona, abandons her former bubble-gum pop sound and twists her “Miss American Dream” reputation to fit the messiness that the media loves to hate. Through all of the shiny highs and tragic lows, there is a vulnerability through each song that opposes the pop perfection of Spears’ early career. In “Heaven on Earth,” one of Spears’ greatest songs, she recounts her well-publicized romance with Kevin Federline in a way that blends the pureness of early love with the despair of divorce. It is a gut-punch set to a euphoric electronic beat. Blackout finds Spears at her most vulnerable, yet she blazes through each track with a vengeance. She explores her artistic expression and uses it to fire back at the world.
Britney Spears’ 2007 album Blackout should not have been made. But it was. It should not be great. But it is. And in 2021, on September 29, the court ruled that Spears’ father, Jamie Spears, be suspended as her conservator.