"She's the reason I am a songwriter," Fontana tells Billboard. "There's a machine behind every artist and I've always wanted to become part of hers, since I was a little girl. Britney Spears was definitely my 'white whale,' basically something I've been chasing for so long. When I saw that she was putting out 'Mood Ring' for real -- like a repackaged single of sorts -- I just thought, 'Wow, you did it, kid.'"
Adds Asher, "In comparison to anything I've ever done, 'Mood Ring' feels like a destiny fulfillment. I knew when I moved to L.A. that I would be working towards getting a Britney song. I didn't know how it was going to happen, but I knew it would."
Below, Fontana and Asher talk more with Billboard about the making of "Mood Ring" -- which they crafted alongside producers Mustard and Twice as Nice -- and the "true pop miracle" of its rebirth.
First off, how are you feeling now that "Mood Ring" has already hit the No. 1 spot on the U.S. iTunes chart?
Melanie Fontana: As I awoke to Britney's "Mood Ring" being No. 1, I was instantly catapulted backwards in my mind, landing in the middle of my childhood bedroom, watching the little version of me sitting on a carpeted floor covered in unfolded album inserts, my old Sony headphones on, researching all the names behind the artists I love. I wish I could whisper to my younger self, "Don't ever worry, because if you keep working, you'll get there, too!" But I wouldn't have believed it, just like I can barely believe I shared in creating a No. 1 song with Britney Spears. Saying that I'm grateful doesn't do the feeling justice, but it's truly the closest emotion to my heart right now.
Jon Asher: Reaching No. 1 on the iTunes chart feels surreal. I had literal tears and chills when I found out! The success of "Mood Ring" is truly a grassroots effort on behalf of the Britney Army and fans across the world. They gave this song the breath of life and took it to where it is right now. As a fan of Britney myself, I'm honored to be a part of the #JusticeForMoodring and #JusticeForGlory movement and will be forever grateful to Britney, her team and fellow fans for believing in the song.
Were you surprised when you first heard that "Mood Ring" was going to be released on streaming services in all territories?
Asher: A fan messaged me yesterday on Instagram, saying, "You know your song's coming out with Britney, right?" I can't tell you how many times I've gotten similar messages. But I reached out to my publisher, Roc Nation, who confirmed with Britney's label, RCA Records, that this was the real deal. RCA said that Britney's fans have been super active during quarantine and they wanted to basically reward them by releasing "Mood Ring." Still hard to believe it happened.
Fontana: My first emotion was just shock. And then my second emotion was extreme gratitude. I am well aware that when a song comes out as an international bonus track, 99 percent of the time, that is where the song is going to live forever. I thought maybe one day "Mood Ring" might be sampled. And that'd be awesome. I could see like Travis Scott sampling "Mood Ring." I would have expected that more than I expected this. It's a true pop miracle. Truly unheard of.
How would you describe the dialogue between you and the Britney Army over the last four years, regarding this song?
Asher: They have made us very aware over the years how much they love "Mood Ring." I care very deeply for the Britney Army. They are absolutely one of the most dedicated fanbases out there. And I feel like they've even helped me will this moment into fruition. I've been pitching songs to Britney for nearly 10 years and I've always felt them behind me, supporting me in that.
Fontana: Every so often, I would go on Twitter and I would type in the words "mood ring." And I'd say about every third or fourth tweet would be about our song "Mood Ring," which was recorded five years ago at this point. I didn't realize it was going to have a second life. But the fact that so many people had so many positive opinions about the song said something to me -- maybe this is even more special than I initially gave it credit for. I really honor the fans who cried out for this. They made this happen. "Mood Ring" was one of those bonus songs that never lost its buzz.
What do you think it is about the song that resonates so much with Britney's fans?
Asher: We wanted to write something that encapsulated Britney's entire essence. Her whole life has been full of ups and downs, marked by different moods for different eras. People live vicariously through her, whether it's …Baby One More Time Britney or Blackout Britney. It's always one extreme to the next with Britney. But no matter what, people genuinely care for her. We're attached to every Britney era and wanted to paint a color wheel of who she is.
Fontana: "Mood Ring" was written by two lifelong Britney stans with only her in mind. There was no one else who could record this song. This was made specifically for her. We had full-on Britney brain and really channeled her when we were writing the song -- lyrically, for sure, but also in the way we envisioned her performing it onstage or dancing to it in a music video. I even sang the demo how I think she would have sung it. We consistently asked ourselves, "What would 'I'm a Slave 4 U' Britney do in 2016?" That's where our heads were at. And that shines through on the track, which -- fun fact! -- was originally written as a pitch for The Chainsmokers but featuring Britney.
How did it become a solo record for Britney?
Fontana: The Chainsmokers very politely and lovingly turned it down, saying it was too girly. But they asked, "Do you think it would be possible to write something for us like 'Mood Ring' that was a little more masculine?" And we said, "Sure." And so that's when Jon and I wrote "Setting Fires" for them. And then "Waterbed" by The Chainsmokers used the original beat we wrote "Mood Ring" on. It was June 2015 when I found out that Britney was cutting "Mood Ring" on her own. I was in Finland at the time and I literally sat down and just screamed into my sweatshirt, I was so excited. My knees went weak and I basically lost all feeling in my legs. I considered booking a flight to get back to L.A. ASAP to be there for it. But it would have been impossible. Britney apparently finished cutting it in an hour, which is incredible. To me, that means she knew the song inside and out and really vibed with it.
Jon, you produced Britney's vocals on "Mood Ring." How did you approach that part of crafting the song?
Asher: I wasn't there either when Britney recorded the song, but I did get to produce her vocals which was an incredible experience. Her raw vocals which were so perfect. I was melting at hearing her voice with no effects on it. Producing her vocals, I went for the natural, nostalgic sound of Britney with a modern edge to it. I was referencing "Oops!...I Did It Again" with the phone-like filter I put on her adlibs, some of her runs and the bridge.
The song was written in February 2015, recorded in June 2015 and then finally released in Japan in August 2016. How would you describe the sonic evolution of "Mood Ring"?
Asher: It went through a few stages, each one completely different from the next. Finally, Mustard took the song back to the drawing board with Twice as Nice and they completely restructured the sound to be very moody, sexy and electronic. We were thrilled with how it came out.
Fontana: The lyrics and melody remained the same throughout, but the track constantly evolved to meet Britney's style. I was beyond happy with the final version -- except there is one little adlib that we did on the original demo that didn't make the final cut. I used to listen to a lot of Indian music and have always been a huge fan of Bollywood, so it was this Indian chant I did that started the song off. I was a little bummed that she didn't use it. But other than that, Mustard and Twice as Nice finessed it into something that was really true to Mustard's style at the time, and also really true to Britney. Of all the tracks made for Glory, this one felt the most like classic Britney to me. But don't get me wrong, I love the entire project.
Speaking of Glory, the album recently reached No. 1 on iTunes' Pop Albums chart after fans launched the #JusticeForGlory campaign on social media, which also resulted in Britney issuing a new album cover. Do you feel like Glory deserved more?
Fontana: Glory is the album that truly didn't get the love it deserved. And, now, it's getting some long overdue recognition. I attribute that to the fans on Twitter, saying, "Hey, I know this came out four years ago, but did you sit down and really listen to this body of work? Because it's amazing. Also, did you know there's a song that's on the Japanese edition that wasn't a global release?" It feels like the demand for both Glory and "Mood Ring" ping-ponged from person to person and it eventually made its way to Britney.
So many millennials have an emotional attachment to Britney. What was your relationship with her music before you wrote "Mood Ring"? Was it always your dream to write for her?
Fontana: She's the reason I am a songwriter. There's a machine behind every artist and I've always wanted to become part of hers, since I was a little girl. Britney Spears was definitely my "white whale," basically something I've been chasing for so long. When I saw that she was putting out "Mood Ring" for real -- like a repackaged single of sorts -- I just thought, "Wow, you did it, kid." It's one of those moments where you have to zoom out on your career, and think, OK, that's definitely a big check mark on an amazing list of things that I've worked really, really hard to achieve. She is the godmother of all pop music. Britney's legacy has graduated to where she's no longer under Madonna. They're wing to wing now.
Asher: I was introduced to Britney's music when I was 12, maybe even younger, and I would say my career spawned from my love for Britney Spears. I almost feel like this was God's divine plan for me. From lifechanging friendships to being in the right rooms writing with the right people to getting the song to the right person, it was all meant to be. In comparison to anything I've ever done, "Mood Ring" feels like a destiny fulfillment. I knew when I moved to L.A. that I would be working towards getting a Britney song. I didn't know how it was going to happen, but I knew it would.
What were your thoughts when "Mood Ring" was chosen as a Japanese bonus track and not included on the standard or deluxe versions of the album?
Fontana: Thank Godney it was coming out at all! The only tiny little twinge of sadness I felt was when I thought, like, dang, my mom or my friends in the States can't enjoy the song, unless they buy the CD from Japan. But other than that, it was a dream come true. And now that it's available for everyone to stream everywhere is just the icing on top of my Britney cake.
Asher: Melanie and I were just ecstatic about even doing a song with Britney in the first place. As a Britney fan growing up, that dream feels unreachable. And then for it to happen? It's so surreal.
What were your initial expectations for "Mood Ring"?
Asher: The creative direction on Glory changed several times. "Mood Ring" was one of the first songs recorded for the album. I had this whole vision that it was going to be the single with Mustard. In 2015, she even went to the VMAs with multicolored hair and I thought, "This is it. This is her subtle way of saying she's releasing 'Mood Ring.'" And then sure enough, a lot of other talented people started writing on the project and I think songs that are first recorded get scooted down the line as new material comes through. As an artist myself, I get that. But when I found out it was going to be a Japanese bonus track, I thought, "Oh, really?" I was still so stoked, though. And I always felt like something else would happen with the song.
So, there was always hope that "Mood Ring" would eventually reach more ears one day?
Fontana: Even a year after it had been released, Jon and I were like, "What if one day she just decides to put it out?" We would say these things and put it out there but, of course, took it with a grain of salt because you can’t get stuck on things in the music industry. Otherwise, you'll spiral. But we did think a lot about this over the years, so yeah, maybe we manifested this.
Asher: It's like a slingshot effect. The song had been held back for so long and now it's coming at the world with full force. It's getting this grandiose attention, a ta-da moment. So, I'm excited to see what happens and how far it can go.
Do you have a favorite lyric from the song?
Fontana: "I'm in the palm of your hand, my temperature is at your command by my demand / And now I'm falling for you, I turn to golden from blue and you do, too." The song, to me, is partly about accepting your lover and all of their states of mind. And at the end of the day, we're making each other happy just being our most authentic selves.
Asher: "My love is a mood ring, you change me." When we were writing that, I thought it was speaking to the fans. Their love for Britney has changed her, they've helped her grow.
What do you think this unique release of "Mood Ring" signals in the music industry? Do you think labels and higher-ups are paying closer attention to what fans want?
Fontana: Britney's release of "Mood Ring" is sort of a pioneering moment in my opinion. This is living, breathing proof that people's opinions matter. Sometimes withholding a song is cool and exciting, but sometimes you just have to give the people what they want. Britney looks so free these days. She's happy, she has her hot boyfriend [Sam Asghari], she's creative, she's dancing, she's doing yoga. To me, this is Britney saying, "Excuse me world, you did it one way for this long. But I'm going to do it my way and resurrect this four-year-old song. Why? Because you asked for it." Britney not only loves her fans, but, as she's proven throughout her career, she loves to cause a stir.
Asher: It's a sign of the times. And with Britney, in particular, it's a pinnacle moment to show that her fans are still there, and her label is listening to them. I think a lot of Britney fans have felt unheard for a long time, so now to see their voices being heard is absolute magic. We're starting to see a shift in the music industry where we need to follow what fans are saying and cater to them, rather than trying to force something on them that they're not vibing with.
What are your expectations for listeners who are experiencing "Mood Ring" for the first time in 2020?
Asher: Everybody in the world who is aware of pop culture knows who Britney Spears is. And, so, Britney is one of those few artists that have emotional ties to millions of people. I hope that the people who are hearing it for the first time really give it a chance and allow Britney the room to breathe and grow as an artist.
What should other songwriters learn from this release?
Fontana: That literally nothing is impossible. And to never give up hope.
Plans for Britney's 10th studio album have ultimately been delayed. Whenever that project does take shape, though, do you plan on submitting material?
Asher: I'm always in a state of writing for Britney. When she is ready to start working, I'll have songs ready for her to choose from. For her, I like to have options available.
Fontana: People have been speculating about B10 for what seems like the last half of the decade. Honestly, nothing would make me feel more excited, proud and alive then to be considered to work on that project. In a weird way, I've always envisioned myself in an executive producer role. I would love to EP an album like that. That would be a dream come true. When we get word from her team that it's time to start submitting, I'm gonna be first in line like, "Ding dong! Good morning, I brought doughnuts!"
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.