Britney Spears’ Blackout era is bittersweet. The star clearly hit a rough patch in her personal life, but it produced some of her best work to date. To celebrate the album’s anniversary, Billboard talked to RuPaul’s Drag Race and America’s Got Talent alum Derrick Barry, known for his uncanny impersonation of the “Piece of Me” star.
“Blackout is one of those albums where you could just listen to it all day long and every song is good,” Derrick said. “It was a different direction that she had gone in. So, I think that it may have been therapy for her — recording that album and feeling like she got to try new things and put things out there that weren’t her in catalog before.”
As one of Britney’s biggest fans, Derrick wishes critics were more sympathetic to his idol: “I just found out that she was actually pregnant while she was recording it and three weeks after she gave birth, she went back in to finish recording in her studio in her home,” he shared. “I was like, ‘Gosh, if people knew that side of it.’”
According to Derrick, the album is a testament to Britney’s determination. “The fact that someone was producing that kind of work while pregnant and going through marital troubles and personal struggles, I mean, to get up and still go to work every day — it’s hard to imagine someone was going through such a rough time recording music that so great. That shows the power of music, though, and how it heals not only the people listening to it but how it’s therapy for the people who are recording it too.”
Derrick walked Billboard through the album track-by-track, talking about his favorite cuts and reminiscing on his own performances during the Blackout era: “It was the first time where [her team] started acknowledging me. So yeah, I like Blackout for selfish reasons too.”
Oh gosh. I mean, ‘Gimme More’ is obviously one I’m always going to remember… the VMAs performance. I think what stuck out to me the most, and not a lot of people even saw it, but there were strippers on poles on the tables. I thought that that was super iconic. And then she paid homage to that with the stripper pole in the video. It was very adult-looking and mature and sexy and not something that I thought would be her first song since having both kids at that point.
Initially, it definitely looked like something was wrong with her boot. So, I was like, ‘Oh no!’ Because I’ve cracked heels on a stage before, and it will ruin your entire performance. So, that was the first thing I saw. Like, ‘oh no, she’s wobbling’ or something’s not right. And then, just, nothing felt full-out.
“Piece of Me”
I love it because it was finally a fuck-you to the paparazzi, which I think she needed to say probably back in the early 2000s even because she just got hounded. I remember every single video I ever saw was her just being chased by people all the time. Whether it was Starbucks or a dance studio or in or out of a show, it was just so constant and nonstop. So I love that she’s the first one to come out with a song like that that was really ahead of its time in our kind of social media era.
I loved the looks for the music video. The short blonde hair and stepping over the photographers getting out of the car, dancing in the bathroom — and I just love Britney as a blonde. I’m always gonna prefer blonde Britney, because she’s a blonde bombshell.
I remember performing “Piece of Me” at a nightclub in Vegas called Gypsy, and BritneySpears.com posted a video of it and I was like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m on her website.” It was the first time where [her team] started acknowledging me. So yeah, I like Blackout for selfish reasons too.
I’m so glad that it was actually later released as a single on Circus. That song feels so secret agent and spy. I think that one is really exciting. Every time I hear that one I want to dance to it.
“Break the Ice”
I actually performed a mix and it started with “Break the Ice,” went into “Piece of Me” and then “Gimme More.” And then those are the three singles that she ended up releasing! That was when I first got my YouTube, and we put videos up and one of them got like 10,000 hits a day and just kept flying and then it was in the millions. That was the first time I had ever had anything like that happen because this is pre-Drag Race and pre-America’s Got Talent and all of the things that I had done so this was the first time that some people were seeing me from all over the world instead of just on a Vegas stage.
“Heaven on Earth”
I love “Heaven on Earth” because it was so positive and it was so nice to hear Britney feeling so spiritual and just happy. It sounded like she was singing about all the right things that could happen in life.
“Get Naked” is one of my faves. I love strip teases to that one. It’s so fun to have different layers of costumes on and every time a chorus comes on, you take off another layer. So, that one is definitely extremely exciting for me.
I’m so glad she is performing it at her Vegas show and bringing fans up and walking them [like a dog], because it’s very S&M — kind of her version of 50 Shades of Grey — something that feels like bondage and naughty. She puts them in a harness and the dancers walk them forward and she whips them and does a little dance break for them. Sometimes it’s a celebrity, and sometimes it’s someone from the show. Nebraska [Mackenzie Claude, Derrick’s drag queen boyfriend] was chosen to do it out of drag. I was so mad. I was like, ‘Oh, so Britney wants to see what it’s like to take a walk in my shoes?’
She signed a t-shirt for him, which obviously I snapped right after the concert. I was like, ‘Yep, that’s mine, thank you, I’ll take this.’ I came in drag hoping that she’d choose me, and she had just gone through a breakup. She was definitely looking for a man that night and not a drag queen.
I love that there were so many kind of directions that you could go listening to these songs when thinking of performances and what to wear. I love the military look that she got to do for it on the Circus tour. It’s pretty much exactly what I would have wanted to do as well.
“Hot as Ice”
I love the way that she sings it. It’s very “Do Something” in the way she delivers vocals for that one. It’s just a fun rock-pop song. Yeah, that one’s cute.
“Oh Oh Baby”
That’s one that’s really light and poppy, and what’s interesting is so many people think, “Oh, it’s Blackout, all the songs were dark and mysterious” and everything, and it really wasn’t. Half the album is pretty light. It’s nice to have some of those bubblegum songs from her, just with a twist.
It’s sexy, and any time Britney is moaning in songs, I’m here for this. I’m definitely listening, and I’m along for the ride.
“Why Should I Be Sad?”
That was pretty much the closest to a ballad on that album I think. What she was going through was coming out in the music, so it was nice to hear that. Why should she be sad for the mistakes that someone else is making? So I like that it still had a positive message and it wasn’t a depressing song. It was kind of a realization song and I liked that aspect of it.
I actually performed that one the same time that I did “Piece of Me” and another set at Gypsy in Vegas when the album came out. I love the references to Annie Lennox, and it was just so cool.