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Every Britney Spears Song Ranked

The world keeps counting her out, and Britney keeps coming back stronger than ever. So let’s celebrate one of the most influential artists of the last 25 years by counting down every song she’s ever done — from world-changing hits to under-appreciated classics to “E-Mail My Heart.”

Toni Anne Barson/WireImage; Dave Hogan/Getty Images; Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

All hail the pop queen: It’s Britney, bitch. The legend. The innovator. The one and only Mrs. Oh My God That Britney’s Shameless. The woman who’s built up one of the all-time great pop songbooks, even as the world keeps trying to dismiss her as a fluke. It’s crazy how we’re nearly 25 years into the Britney Era, yet people still underrate her artistic impact, because they fixate on her image or her fashion. But of all the gifts Britney Spears has given this planet, it’s her music that comes first.

So let’s celebrate that music. And let’s break it down: all 170 Britney songs, counted from the bottom to the top. The hits. The obscurities. The flops. The deep cuts, B-sides, bonus tracks, covers, duets, loosies, soda commercials. Her club classics. Her radio jams. Her buried treasures. “E-Mail My Heart.” All of it. 

As Rolling Stone’s resident Britney expert since the TRL days, I’ve been writing raves about her brilliant music since “…Baby One More Time” was her only song. I got used to people telling me how wrong I was to praise her records to the skies — hell, Britney was one of those people. (How she laughed at me when I told her “Satisfaction” should be a single! Well, you called that one right, B.)

But she’s one of the most influential, innovative pop savants ever, with a massive impact on how music sounds now. It’s been a long-running kick to see her keep evolving, from MTV teen princess to Vegas diva to avant-disco pioneer. No matter how many times she gets written off as a joke, she always surges back, stronger than yesterday.

These days, people love to argue about Britney — her scandals, her controversies, her brave fight for independence. Yet it’s still so taboo to give her credit for her actual music, because people want to pretend she’s some kind of innocent bystander on her own hits. Sorry, but that’s just not credible, given the freakishly consistent sicker-than-the-remix excellence of her artistry. She’s always made the fizziest, splashiest, bestest pop tunes of the moment. I get why you might have issues with calling it “brilliance,” but I do not happen to share those issues — she’s on her own Mount Olympus of brilliance, and always has been. She deserves to be celebrated as one of history’s boldest pop visionaries, not just a case study in celebrity.

The songs on this list aren’t ranked by commercial success, just the level of Britney splendor. Every fan would compile a different list — that’s the beauty of it. You’re guaranteed to disagree, especially when you get to “Dear Diary.” Some of these songs are classics; some are total disasters; one is “E-Mail My Heart.” But let’s face it — they’re never boring. Britney does not do boring.

We’ve seen so many pretenders to her throne come and go. We’ll see more of them. People keep waiting for Britney to be over. They can keep waiting. When people stop claiming Britney’s over, I guess that’ll mean she’s finally over. But they won’t. And she won’t be. So thank you for these songs, Britney Spears. And gimme more.

From Rolling Stone US

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‘Breathe on Me’ (2003)

Britney whispers her way through an AMSR session of heavy-breathing erotic telepathy, with two lovers so in sync that they don’t even need to touch. “Boy, don’t stop because I’m halfway there,” she sighs, even though she sounds like she’s already been there and back in the 30 seconds since the song started. As she told MTV, “Breathe on Me” is “basically about being with a guy and not having to really be with each other, but just the intensity and the anxiety between not saying anything. You don’t even have to touch me, just breathe on me.” Also essential: Jacques LuCont’s clubbier Thin White Duke Mix, courtesy of Stuart Price, the beatmaster behind Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor.

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‘Heaven on Earth’ (2007)

She feels love, she feels love, she feels love. This disco fantasy begins with Giorgio Moroder-style sequencers shivering in anticipation, then goes off the rails as Britney moans, “I fall off the edge of my mind!” Pure exhilaration.

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‘Womanizer’ (2008)

Eddie Van Halen liked to say he wanted his band to sound “like Godzilla waking up,” and that’s how “Womanizer” sounds. This hyper-loud synth-pop eruption is also a merciless attack on the masculine mystique, a topic Britney knows well. “Womanizer” is one of her most famous comeback hits, but she’s been counted out so many times that she’s racked up more comeback hits than anyone. With Britney, it’s the non-comeback hits that are rarities.

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‘Oops!… I Did It Again’ (2000)

When I interviewed Britney in 2000, she dismissed her new album as “totally ridiculous” and said next time she was going to get a house in Spain, learn guitar, and write the songs herself. OK, that didn’t happen, but “Oops! I Did It Again” is simply flawless. It all comes down to the brutal growl in her voice — she articulates a violently ambivalent sexual confusion, a girl flailing to figure out her desires before the world decides for her. Everybody who was expecting her to fall on her face — which means the entire music biz — got served when “Oops!” put her right back on top of her TRL throne.

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‘If You Seek Amy’ (2008)

It’s the way she snickers — “Ha-ha, hee-hee, ha-ha-ho!” — that makes this one slightly scary as well as brilliant. “If You Seek Amy” got attention for the playful censor-baiting chorus: “All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to/ If you seek Amy!” (Say it out loud.) But the beat is even funnier than the words. And by the end, all of the boys and all of the girls have a point.

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‘Stronger’ (2000)

“I’m not your property as from today, baby,” Britney sings, before she (or we) had any idea how many times she’d have to live out this song. “Stronger” has turned into her “I Will Survive” anthem, especially the heart-stopping moment where she yells, “Here I go,” then listens as her voice echoes back over the silence. She sounds stronger than several thousand yesterdays, but her loneliness ain’t killing her no more. 

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‘Gimme More’ (2007)

It’s Britney, bitch! Any fan in 2007 would have been shocked — but delighted — to learn that future generations would revere “Gimme More” as an electro-sleaze classic. At the time, it was regarded as her pitiful career-ending crash. She debuted it at the MTV Video Music Awards, a notorious disaster where she just gave up and stopped halfway through. (After “Gimme More,” radio wouldn’t touch the other Blackout singles.) But whenever life gives Britney a flop, she turns it into flop-ade, and this song has come to symbolize the indestructible spirit that keeps this woman dancing back every time she gets knocked down flat. It’s called “Gimme More” for a reason — because all you people want is more, more, more, more, more! 

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‘Everytime’ (2003)

Britney sat down at the piano in the aftermath of her traumatic split with Justin Timberlake and wrote this ballad. “Everytime” could be Britney flipping a finger at “Cry Me a River,” Justin’s back-stabbing attack on her. But it’s a more personal statement than that — it’s about resilience in the face of pain. “I really think I’m talking to everyone when I perform ‘Everytime,’” she told MTV. “It’s about heartbreak, it’s about your first love, your first true love.” That’s why so many of us feel this song to our core. Also, that Spring Breakers scene is genius. 

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‘I Wanna Go’ (2011)

“I Wanna Go” sums up the Britney philosophy of life with all the minimalist blitzkrieg-bop power of the Ramones, all “1-2-3-4!” aggression. “There’s a countdown waiting for me to erupt,” she warns, but it sounds like this girl is already exploding right out of her skin. That manic 808 intro. The way she squeals, “Shame on me!” Her whistling solo. The electro-blurps in the “I-I-I wanna go-oh-oh all the way-ay-ay!” chorus. Most of all, the way Max Martin and Shellback warp her all-too-human voice into digital fist pumps, until the climax where she takes off uncontrollably, La-blee, la-blee, la-blee-blee-blee.

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‘I’m a Slave 4 U’ (2001)

One of her historic power moves: belly dancing with a python at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards to the blingiest Neptunes beat. “I’m a Slave 4 U” is the ultimate Britney song of dancing as liberation versus dancing as addiction. “All you people look at me like I’m a little girl,” she sings, perhaps slightly misjudging her relationship with the American public. But she lets out her kitty-kitty yowls with a bad case of cat-scratch fever. And the Prince-style spelling makes sense, since the sugar-walls strut of “I’m a Slave 4 U” splits the difference musically between Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” and Apollonia 6’s “Sex Shooter.” 

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‘3’ (2009)

The world is still catching up to the profound weirdness of this song. Just when the industry had decided her career was over (for the millionth time), Knee Knee hit new highs of shameless perv-disco sex-machine adrenaline with “3,” a math lesson with an insanely bombastic groove. She has never been so blunt about not giving a fuck. No idea why she namechecks the 1960s folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary, not necessarily the most sensual pop stars of their era. (The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind?) But that just adds to the overall menage a WTF vibe. Fact: It is a violation of international law not to dance on a table when this song comes on.

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‘Lucky’ (2000)

This is a story about a girl named Britney. “Lucky” has hit home on so many levels, ever since she dropped it in Y2K. It’s the tale of a Hollywood girl who gets famous, gets envied, gets dreamed about, gets used and exploited. But if there’s nothing missing in her life, then why do these tears come at night? Britney goes deep into the dirty business of dreams, inspiring Taylor Swift to pen the great fan-fic sequel “The Lucky One.” 

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‘…Baby One More Time’ (1999)

Planet Earth, meet Britney Jean Spears, the 17-year-old pride of Kentwood, Louisiana. Her debut hit “…Baby One More Time” was a radically futuristic pop manifesto, changing the way music has sounded ever since. Max Martin brought the megaboom production, but it wouldn’t have meant a thing without the menacing way she growls, “Oooh baby, baby.” As Britney told me in 2000, she stayed up late the night before the session listening to Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” (“What a sexy song”) to get the sound she wanted. “I wanted my voice to be kind of rusty,” she said. “You know, how it sounds really low in the lower register — it sounds really sexy. So I kept telling myself, ‘Britney, don’t get any rest.’” The result was more than a Number One smash—it was the dawn of a new music era.

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‘How I Roll’ (2011)

“How I Roll” was never a hit, but it’s one of Britney’s most glorious moments, a masterpiece of fiendishly inventive girl noise. Her studio team of mad Swedes (Christian “Bloodshy” Karlsson, Henrik Jonback, Marcus Lindehäll) really go off the deep end here. Every sound effect that jumps out of the mix — Brit slurring the word “speakerrrr,” digital finger snaps, a real beatbox pretending to be a human beatbox — builds the tension. There’s even a plot: An ordinary girl sits in her lonely room, dreaming of party lights far away, wishing she could escape to a place where she can show her knee socks and drink tequila on the rocks, where there’s music and there’s people and they’re young and alive. But the mean old world won’t let her break free, so she just sings along with the machines until she turns into a machine herself, because only the beat understands her. There’s your story of pop music right there.

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‘Piece of Me’ (2007)

Nobody saw this song coming: America’s sweetheart changes her name to Mrs. Oh, My God, That Britney’s Shameless, and decides to drop her evil vengeance on a world that made the fatal mistake of pissing her off. Britney vents all her raging hostility in “Piece of Me,” snarling “I’m Miss American Dream Since I Was 17,” getting real about the dark side of that dream and making every line feel like a threat. “Piece of Me” sounded way too weird for the radio in 2007, warping her Southern twang into a surly electro-punk sneer. But within a couple of years, everyone on the radio was trying to sound like this. Are you sure you wanna piece of her? She still makes it sound like a thrillingly dangerous question. 


‘Toxic’ (2003)

The great pop song of this century. The ultimate Britney Spears classic. A taste of a poison paradise. “Toxic” is all that and more, summing up Britney at her best and brashest. Swedish studio wizards Bloodshy and Avant prove that they’re the producers who understand her better than anyone. “Toxic” is a swirl of spaced-out glam-disco kicks, spy-movie strings, surf-guitar twang, a beat that should wear a warning, and Britney’s distinctive slithery drawl. She doesn’t just take “a sip from the devil’s cup,” she guzzles that bitch and crushes the cup on her forehead, slipping under the addictive spell of music itself, the one vice she’ll never give up. Intoxicate her now? She’s ready now.