Of course you remember “…Baby One More Time.” It’s not even Britney Spears’ best song, but when you put it honestly, this song legit bangs. It came up on a Throwback playlist a few Thursdays ago and I actually stopped what I was doing and got swept up in the euphoria of that end bit where the voices are singing the two different chorus parts.
After that, I kept hearing or reading about the song, probably because it turned 20 this year (can we also acknowledge what a legit prolific year 1998 was for music?). Max Martin – the Swedish music producer who’s responsible for 2000s pop as we know it from Backstreet Boys to Taylor Swift – originally pitched the song to TLC, but the band turned it down because the payoff line sounded like it was glorifying domestic violence.
And the reason why “hit my baby one more time” does sound like a weird thing to say in real life is because Martin’s second language is English, and he was trying to say something like hit me up baby – holla at me – one more time.
There’s this really good podcast from Slate that goes into fabulous detail about “…Baby One More Time”, and basically traces its lineage back to ABBA (because ABBA is literally the Cradle of Mankind for pop music), and which had me thinking that maybe pop as we know it is a truly Scandinavian product, just as jazz is American and kwaito is South African.
The podcast connected the thread from ABBA to Roxette to Ace of Base to Robyn – who broke away from the Max Martin machine to make pop music her way. And even though by the time “…Baby One More Time” was written Robyn and the producer weren’t on the best terms, he tried to pitch it to her too and she rejected it. Luckily, waiting in the wings there was the young and malleable Britney Spears, who had just been signed to Jive Records.
Pop culture history aside, I think one of my favorite elements about the story of this song is the Scandinavian heritage of pop music, and that because most of it was written by people who weren’t native English speakers, if you really listen to the words you can hear the Swedish-person-speaking-English undertones of it. For ABBA, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus wrote the music first and a songwriter (or themselves later on as their English improved) would write the words after, choosing lyrics for their rhythm and how they’d fit with the song.
That language puzzle is why Ace of Base’s “All that She Wants” is confusing because it sounds like it’s about a woman who wants another child, when she actually wants another lover (someone she calls baby); and why “hit me baby” can be imagined to be a line said by a cheesily stereotyped Scandinavian dude trying to get you to call him; and definitely probably why Britney Spears’ follow up single, “Sometimes,” sounds like it’s written from the perspective of a shy forest creature.
Even if you want to disregard all these awesome nerd facts about “…Baby One More Time” – the history, the linguistics, the fact that it’s even the reason why Britney sings the way she does – you can’t deny that it’s just a physically good song. This track is one of those that remind you that music is like this weird biological thing because there’s something about the arrangement and combinations of sounds that is agreeable to our ears for no discernable reason.(And apparently it’s the Swedish who have the recipe for that formula.)
So here I am Stanning Britney Spears (because like I said, this isn’t even her best song you guys! “(You Drive Me)Crazy”! “Toxic”! “Boys (the co-ed remix)”), a thing I never thought I’d say because back in the day, I was always on record as a Christina girl.