Why Britney Spears and Iggy Azalea's New Single Could Be Mutually Beneficial
A shaky beginning of the year for Iggy, and a recording break for Britney, have turned the upcoming collaboration into a potential much-needed win for both.
In the middle of this week's tsunami of Zayn Malik news and the hurricane of a new Rihanna single, a quiet storm brewed for fans of two female music stars with a juicy collaboration in the works. On Wednesday (Mar. 25), the joint single from Britney Spears and Iggy Azalea, "Pretty Girls," received an official release date of May 5, stoking anticipation for a team-up that has been rumored for weeks and will represent Spears' first new music since 2013. And while Azalea is now a household name after an incredible 2014 and Spears remains a generation-defining star, the upcoming collaboration could pay dividends for two artists who could use a hit at this moment in their respective careers. Azalea leaning on Spears, and vice versa, is not only an exciting development, but feels like a strategic move for each artist.
As is often the case with mainstream music stars, Azalea is having a minor career swoon following a prolonged period of pop culture dominance. On Mar. 10, her Great Escape arena tour -- scheduled to kick off in April, with Nick Jonas and Tinashe signed on as support acts -- was postponed to mid-September, "due to tour production delays," according to Azalea's label, Def Jam Recordings. Rumors swirled about a rift between the Australian rapper and her team, although a rep for Azalea denied that "there's any conflict between her and her management"; meanwhile, Jonas and Tinashe hopped off the tour, and quickly announced individual runs in the coming months.
On its own, the tour postponement would not be troubling news -- all of the dates have already been rescheduled, and tickets for the previously announced dates will be honored at the new shows. However, the "production delays" plaguing Azalea's debut as an arena headliner follow two months of unsavory headlines, and no new hit single to distract from them. In late January, Eve and Jill Scott shrugged off Azalea's hip-hop identity on Shade 45's Sway In The Morning radio show, lamenting her "blaccent" and wishing Azalea's music was more authentic. Nothing new for Azalea: other hip-hop/R&B artists -- from Azealia Banks to Eminem -- had been bemoaning her career, and provoking sharp-tongued responses, for months. Two weeks later, however, Azalea got shut out at the Grammys, and spent the day of the awards ceremony beefing with Papa John's on Twitter, after a delivery man of the pizzeria chain stole her personal information. "I want answers @papajohns why is customer confidentiality a joke to your company?" Azalea posted to Twitter, in a feud that eventually led to a corporate apology but oddly remained Azalea's public focus for multiple days.
On Feb. 18, Azalea announced that she was "taking some time away from social media" after finding the Internet interactions "too negative and draining"; her management took over her Twitter and Instagram accounts soon after. On Mar. 2, SportsCenter anchor Robert Flores made an offhand joke that Azalea was "trying to kill hip-hop," which prompted an angry string of tweets from her boyfriend, Lakers player Nick Young. Last week, an out-of-context Vine featuring Azalea spitting incomprehensible lyrics onstage went viral. So... yeah, it hasn't been the cleanest quarter for I-G-G-Y.
These problems would not be as magnified if Azalea was riding a current hit, which is what she did last year when "Fancy," "Problem," "Black Widow" and "Beg For It" were used to offset various Twitter feuds. Unfortunately, "Trouble," her current single featuring Jennifer Hudson, has not cracked the Hot 100 yet, despite receiving a splashy music video in late February. As a single tossed out from the Reclassified deluxe edition of her The New Classic album, expectations for "Trouble" should be calibrated differently than, say, for the first single from her in-the-works next studio album; and "Trouble" certainly could become a hit in the coming weeks -- the song will be performed by Azalea and Hudson at the Kids' Choice Awards this weekend. Still, if "Trouble" doesn't blossom over the next few weeks, it will snap an impressive Top 40 streak for Azalea, at a time when she could use another widely accepted piece of music to shush the naysayers.
That brings us to "Pretty Girls," which will not necessarily precede a new album for Spears, who told Billboard earlier this month as part of a cover story that a new full-length is "not my full priority right now." Obviously, Spears is at a different phase in her career as Azalea -- her legacy is much more secure, she has enough hits to pack a Las Vegas show and she has the luxury of taking her time with new music instead of abiding by hyperspeed release expectations. Still, Spears' most recent album, 2013's Britney Jean, became her first since 2001's Britney to not produced a Top 10 hit on the Hot 100 chart, and three years have passed since Spears' last hit single, the Will.i.am collaboration "Scream & Shout." In a 16-year career brimming with smashes, Spears is experiencing a semi-extended Hot 100 absence.
A lot of that has to do with the time and attention that a Las Vegas residency demand. Spears is locked in to her Planet Hollywood show through the end of 2015, but is currently in negotiations about extending the show through 2017. If that happens, a new Britney album -- and another collection of potential hits -- could be very far away. Veteran pop divas like Mariah Carey, Shakira, Fergie and Gwen Stefani have recently learned how difficult it can prove to reconnect with Top 40 radio after taking an extended break between album projects. If Spears doesn't follow up Britney Jean until 2017 or 2018 (that would be 20 years since "…Baby One More Time" was first released), she would be in jeopardy of joining that list, and returning to a pop scene that doesn't know what to do with her comeback attempt. That is, of course, unless "Pretty Girls" becomes inescapable, and holds over Britney diehards until her next studio project.
So that's what "Pretty Girls" could mean for Azalea and Spears if it takes off: a quick fix to a rocky few months for the new star, and a stopgap success in a recording drought for the icon. Neither singer needs the song (which we're still a month away from actually hearing) to be a chart-topper, but if "Pretty Girls" works, two artists searching for a win could be celebrating together, just in time for the start of summer.