Exactly 20 years ago today, pop music changed forever as a then-16-year-old Britney Spears unleashed her debut single ‘...Baby One More Time’ on the world.
In the time that’s passed, Britney has been through some peaks and troughs, both personally and professionally, but one thing has always remained constant - how etched the track and its accompanying video are in the public’s consciousness.
And while we can still sing it word-perfect two decades on, there are some things about this pop behemoth that even the most expert of fans may be surprised to hear...
1. ‘...Baby One More Time’ was originally offered to girlband TLC, but they turned it down as they were uncomfortable with the “hit me” lyric, interpreting it as having illusions to domestic violence. TLC member T-Boz told MTV in 2013: “I was like, I like the song but do I think it’s a hit? Do I think it’s TLC? I’m not saying ‘hit me baby’. No disrespect to Britney. It’s good for her. But was I going to say ‘hit me baby one more time’? Hell no!”
2. The reason for this confusion was because Swedish songwriter Max Martin and co-producer Rami Yacoub, had an imperfect grasp of US slang when making the song, and believed “hit me” meant “call me”, as in “hit me up”.
3. Max and Rami had offered the track to TLC as they had been inspired by the success of their hit ‘Baby Baby Baby’, and thought ‘...Baby One More Time’ would fit with their tone and style.
4. Backstreet Boys also passed on recording ‘...Baby One More Time’, as did Swedish singer Robyn.
5. Simon Cowell wanted the song for his new boyband 5ive, but by that time, Max had already earmarked it for Britney. The decision incensed Simon so much that he offered Max a £95,000 Mercedes to try and get him to change his mind (he failed).
6. The idea for the song came to Max one night as he was drifting off to sleep, managing to haul himself out of bed and sing the tune into a dictaphone. He told journalist Jan Gradvall in 2016: “I remember listening back to [the tape] after [the song] blew up and you can hear me sort of go: ‘Hit me baby one more time’, then I hear myself say, Yeah, it’s pretty good.’”
7. The day before she recorded the vocals, Britney listened to Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’ over and over because she wanted to recreate their more growly and visceral sound.
8. Britney began performing ‘...Baby One More Time’ way before its release, debuting it at the Singapore Jazz Festival on 16 May 1998 - a full five months before anyone could buy it.
9. Upon its eventual release in the US, it debuted at number 17 on the Hot 100, despite selling 500,000 units on its first day of release. It rose up the chart to eventually hit number one in its 11th week in January 1999, where it remained for two weeks.
10. While ‘...Baby One More Time’ was released in October 1998 in the US, we had to wait four months for it to make its way to the UK, as it was not released until February 1999 here. It went straight in at number one, knocking off Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Fly Away’. Britney enjoyed two weeks at the top spot before being toppled by Boyzone with ‘When The Going Gets Tough’.
11. It was the biggest-selling UK single of 1999, racking up 1.5million sales and certified 2x Platinum. At the time, Britney also broke a first-week sales record for a female act in the UK, selling a total of 460,000 copies. It remains her biggest-selling UK single to this day.
12. ‘...Baby One More Time’ was the last song of the millenium to be played on ‘Top Of The Pops’ in 1999.
13. Britney sings the word “baby” 25 times in the song. Just in case you’d ever wondered.
14. Britney came up with the idea to set the video in a school herself, after director Nigel Dick’s original concept to have it based on a cartoon was poorly received. He said in a 2013 interview: “I wrote a treatment, which everybody soundly rejected. It didn’t even get 1 on the Richter Scale. And they said, ’Well, Britney’s got an idea. Get on the phone with her.” At which point, I was a bit nonplussed, because you’re thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to be taking orders from a 16-year-old now, is that what you’re all saying?’ But the thing that I realised was that I was English, she was American. She was the age group that we were trying to make the video for.”
15. The video was eventually filmed at Venice High School in Los Angeles - the same school that acted as Rydell High in ‘Grease’.
16. Britney was also the driving force behind that now-iconic school uniform. However, there were concerns about it behind the scenes, with director Nigel Dick raising a red flag. He was eventually persuaded to go with the idea by Britney, his female producer and a woman working in the wardrobe department, who “saw a completely innocent version of it”. He insisted: “We certainly didn’t go in there and say, alright let’s amp it up and make it sexier… I took a huge amount of stick for it. But I stood by what we did. It was who she was at the time.”
17. All of Britney’s outfits in the video were bought from discount store KMart, with no item costing more than $17. The uniform outfit is now on display at the Hard Rock Hotel And Casino in Las Vegas.
18. In the video, Britney’s love interest was played by her real-life cousin, Chad Spears. Chad was an Abercrombie & Fitch model at the time.
19. There was a hidden reference to the ‘...Baby One More Time’ video in Britney’s 2009 promo clip for ‘If You Seek Amy’. At the end of the video, Britney’s ‘daughter’ is wearing an outfit strikingly similar to the one she wore back in 1998.
20. Many famous artists have covered ‘...Baby One More Time’ over the years, including Freaky Friday, Travis, Tove Styrke, Alien Ant Farm and Fountains Of Wayne. However, perhaps the most famous (certainly for those who were fans of early 00s reality talent shows), was by Darius from ‘Popstars’, and 20 years on, it’s still as toe-curling.
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