switched on pop

Haters Misunderstood What Made Britney’s ‘Baby Voice’ Great

Illustration: Iris Gottlieb

The first whisper of her vocal fry, some percussive pronunciations, a little timbral play — on radio stations and in CD players across the country, on an early autumn day in 1998, “… Baby One More Time” introduced the world to the voice of Britney Spears. And pop was never the same again. She had been cast on The Mickey Mouse Club in 1992 when she was 12 years old, executing immaculate vocals and choreography, but listening in 2022, we can hear Britney with more clarity: as a radical new artist. The stardom that followed was as unprecedented as her sound.

With Britney’s ferocious intonation at the forefront, “… Baby” rocketed to No. 1 and broke sales records. On her next release, “Oops! … I Did It Again,” Spears upped the ante. Reuniting with producers Max Martin and Rami Yacoub, “Oops!” borrowed liberally from music across the radio dial — and added a dash of 16th-century harmony into the mix. Between her first two albums, the force of Britney’s personality and artistry, fought for in every syllable she sang, grabbed audiences and refused to let go.

But as successful as Britney was, her techniques were derided by critics as parts of a manufactured “baby voice” — scrutiny that, combined with her place in the public eye, often overshadowed her musical craft and vocal creativity. In this, the first episode of Switched on Pop’s four-part series Listening 2 Britney, hosts Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding listen to the pop icon with fresh ears to hear anew the artistry behind her celebrity.

Haters Misunderstood What Made Britney’s ‘Baby Voice’ Great