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Britney Spears

The White 'Zone' Is For Unloading Only

BritneyBritney Spears roars back into pop culture ubiquity this week with "Britney," her fourth Jive album. The first single, "Me Against the Music," features Madonna, who shared a steamy open-mouthed kiss with Spears this summer at the MTV Video Music Awards. The album includes production from Moby, Bloodshy & Avant, R. Kelly and the Matrix, among others.

To be sure, "In the Zone" marks a musical departure for Spears. Instead of traditional pop, the singer opts for a darker, more dance-oriented sound. "It was a weird process at first," she admits. "I didn't exactly know what direction I wanted to go in, but I took my time. That's why I like this album so much. I did it right. I waited to find myself with other people that I really had chemistry with and could really be creative with."

The challenge now for Jive is to get across that Spears, 22, has matured as an artist and is ready for a grown-up and more musically diverse audience. Through it all, Spears says she's just being herself. "I'm doing my thing, and it's the media that's misconstruing the whole conception," she offers. "It's not me. I can't help the fact that they write about me going to Starbucks 24-7."

The artist is lining up a 56-date North American tour, which will play West Coast arenas from March 3 through April and then hit outdoor amphitheaters in mid-July. An ABC special on the making of "In the Zone" airs Monday (Nov. 17).