Anyone with a taste for contemporary pop knows Britney Spears is a great singles artist, but you shouldn’t sleep on her full catalog.
She plays things pretty straight across her nine-album discography — rarely has she ventured outside the three- or four-minute song or standard 4/4 beat — and this discipline has become an advantage. Spears doesn’t make perfect albums, but she makes dependable ones, and her latest, the no-nonsense Glory, was a welcome palate cleanser in a crowded year for complex and introspective chart-toppers like Frank Ocean and Beyoncé.
So let’s take a closer look at 10 Britney bangers that never made it to radio:
“Soda Pop,” …Baby One More Time (1999)
On Spears’ debut, while she was still in the try-anything-that-sticks stage, “Soda Pop” was by far the track that would end up having the least impact on her career. Not only were the lyrics total nonsense over a skipping reggae beat and an anonymous toaster co-piloting the hook, but Spears sings in rare chest voice more akin to Christina Aguilera’s R&B-influenced grunting. It sounds dated as hell, and that only makes it more fun.
“Cinderella,” Britney (2002)
Britney’s eponymous third album is where she caught up with contemporary producers like the Neptunes, but this wicked stepmother of a beat is pure new jack swing. The song itself is a steely, this-ain’t-no-fairytale rebuke to a boyfriend who has to let her go, but the chorus (“I’m sorry for running away like this”) has a suspenseful edge to it that’s rare for both her early and recent work.
“Anticipating,” Britney (2002)
A decade before “Call Me Maybe” cemented itself as an instant classic, Britney unleashed this more-than-respectable slice of string-filled Studio 54 disco that slyly references Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You.” It’s not hard to imagine Ms. Jepsen herself knocking this lighter-than-air roller-skating jam out of the park.
“Get Naked (I Got a Plan),” Blackout (2007)
Britney’s personal turmoil was well-documented in 2007, so it’s to her credit that on Blackout she strove to stay away from that as much as possible and ended up with, by all accounts, her best album up to that point. There’s very little to a song like “Gimme More” or scorching mid-album highlight “Get Naked,” just a lean, minimal groove à la Janet Jackson at her most futuristic, that Spears means to carry through any sweat-soaked club that hears its call.
“Ooh Ooh Baby,” Blackout (2007)
The giggle at the beginning is because she’s having fun, workshopping the Gary Glitter-esque shuffle Spears would revisit the following year on her hit “Womanizer.” But here it’s decorated with a descending Middle Eastern guitar scale and blasts of, yes, accordion. This is also the era when she started taking sex more seriously, as evidenced by lines like “Touch me and I come alive” and “Wrap me up in all your love, that’s the oxygen I need.” Getting it out of your head isn’t an option once you hear that bridge again.
“Unusual You,” Circus (2008)
Great Britney ballads are notably fewer than great Britney dance-pop jams, but with the possible exception of “Everytime,” this little-noticed Circus highlight is her greatest. The tune itself is absolutely gorgeous (and danceable, as it happens), with each successive build to the chorus both low-key and quietly heart-tugging. But her weary delivery is crushing: “Didn’t anyone tell you you’re supposed to break my heart? I expect you to.” It’s a little too bombast-free to have been a single, but you’re unlikely to find a better song in her catalog that never received its own promotional push.
“Seal It With a Kiss,” Femme Fatale (2011)
Femme Fatale is Spears’ most seamless and floor-ready album, so it can be hard prying highlights apart from each other, but “Seal It With a Kiss” has more hooks than you can count: The “Ooh-hoo-eee-hoo” that intros, the burps of dubstep that eventually do turn into a halftime breakdown, the subtly call-and-response verses, and sighed “uh-huh” that punctuate every line of the chorus. “Wanna taste forbidden fruit and seal it with a kiss” may be a mixed metaphor for the ages, but as with most Britney highlights, the only meaning is the pleasurable hedonism her underrated melodies always deliver.
“Selfish,” Femme Fatale [Deluxe Edition] (2011)
“The shoe is going on the other foot tonight,” Spears sings in a role-reversal anthem much coyer and vaguer than Usher’s “Trading Places” or Lil’ Kim’s “Not Tonight,” and it’s completely random how much this sounds like something from Amadou & Mariam’s Welcome to Mali, say “Ce N’est Pas Bon” or perhaps “Masiteladi.” Lyrically, Spears makes a point of asserting, “I’m a girl and you’re a boy,” so it’s unclear just how much she wants to flip traditional gender roles. But it’s nice of her to pick us up in her Mercedes.
“Clumsy,” Glory (2016)
One of Glory’s most attractive attributes is how Britney’s Southern accent comes through more than anything she’s ever done previously, most audibly on the waltz-timed “Private Show.” On this barn-burner, the twang contrasts nicely from the sheet-of-ice synths and clap-happy beat that, come to think of it, makes “Clumsy” Spears’ most Beyoncé-esque track ever. Someone’s gotta carry the torch for the single ladies.
“Coupure Électrique,” Glory [Deluxe Edition] (2016)
The deluxe edition of Glory ends with one of the most erotic songs in Britney’s now sizable catalog — not just because it’s sung entirely in French (!), but because she spends its two and a half minutes of vaporous, gorgeous melody opting to evoke the whispery trip-hop of Black Box Recorder (who are sorely missed) and indie-synth clatter of Class Actress and Chairlift. Maybe she should start a little side gig with Phantogram after Big Boi gets off tour.