THE (MUSIC) YEARBOOK: 1999
By Sean Calhoun
The musical landscape at the turn of the millennium was largely dominated by teen pop, a genre that produced some of the biggest-selling albums and singles of all time. My first choice for 1999 is perhaps teen pop’s most memorable debut album…
…Baby One More Time – Britney Spears (JIVE Records)
It can be easy to forget, especially considering the many twists and turns that both her career and her life have taken, but for a few years in the late 90s and early 2000s, Britney Spears was everywhere. This record, along with its follow-up, Oops!… I Did It Again, were both massive successes, cementing Spears as one of the new millennium’s biggest acts.
…Baby One More Time opens with the massively popular title track, a single that shattered the stratospheric mark of 10 million copies sold. The track (and its music video) is an iconic landmark of late-90s pop, and it’s easily the best track on the album, with its sharp, R&B-influenced production.
The second track, “(You Drive Me) Crazy,” was also a single, and it’s another highlight, with some unexpectedly creative instrumentation (including a very un-poppy guitar solo) and a very capable vocal performance (although there’s not much in the way of vocal range or creativity anywhere on this album).
Unfortunately, after the first couple of tracks, …Baby One More Time starts to drag, with the tracks blending into each other and nothing much sticking out one way or the other. There are still highlights to be had (especially the “MMMBop”-esque “I Will Be There” and the duet “I Will Still Love You”), and every track is anchored by a solid performance on Spears’ part, but there isn’t all that much special outside of the title track.
Even if …Baby One More Time isn’t all that great of an album, a lot of credit must be given to Spears for effectively kick-starting the massive success of teen pop at the turn of the millennium. Not only did she pave the way for a number of female stars, she also opened the door for the success of a number of boy bands (and indeed, much of the record’s instrumentation is very reminiscent of such acts). She also gave the genre one of its defining tracks (an achievement she would duplicate with the title track from Oops… just a year later) and vaulted herself squarely into the front of pop music’s collective consciousness.
Score, Adjusted for 2016 Ratings Inflation: 7.7/10
The other defining feature of teen pop in the late 1990s was the proliferation of a number of popular boy bands, with the next album coming from one of the biggest. Coincidentally enough, physical copies of …Baby One More Time sold in early 1999 featured previews of a number of tracks from…
Millennium – Backstreet Boys (JIVE Records)
First, a personal admission – I have a great deal of personal experience with this album, so I can’t necessarily promise that this review won’t be at least slightly colored by nostalgia. As I was growing up, my sister owned several Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC CDs, and I still have in my personal possession a mix CD, hilariously misnamed “Greatest Rock Hits,” that I had my father make me in 2002, featuring a number of tracks from these two boy bands (as well as, inexplicably enough, three of the singles from the Goo Goo Dolls’ 1998 album Dizzy Up The Girl).
Millennium is a boy-band classic, and it starts off incredibly strong, putting its three best tracks right at the beginning of the record. The first track is “Larger Than Life,” the record’s second-most successful single and a shining example of the well-oiled machine that the Backstreet Boys formed in their prime – slick electronic production, tight vocal harmonies, and the like.
“Larger Than Life,” though, can’t hold a torch to “I Want It That Way,” perhaps the defining Backstreet Boys song (and one of the most defining tracks ever to come out of the boy-band genre). Even now, so many years after its release, I (and so many others) have this song almost completely memorized. There really isn’t all that much for me to say about “I Want It That Way” that hasn’t been said before by someone, somewhere.
The third track (and third single) is also really memorable. “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely” is the record’s first true ballad, and perhaps the best ballad the Backstreet Boys ever made. There’s some interesting and even borderline lush instrumentation here, with heavy use of guitar and other strings, and the boy-band melancholy formula is executed to perfection.
There are a couple of forgettable tracks on this album, but one non-single standout (and a track that really should have been a single, all things considered) is “Don’t Want You Back,” a biting track with lines like “But I should have known that I would be / Another victim of your sexuality” that definitely went way over my head when I was six.
The back half of Millennium is a bit of a letdown, with fourth single “The One” standing out as one of its better tracks, but there certainly isn’t anything particularly bad to be had anywhere on the record. Perhaps it’s just the nostalgia speaking, but I will always be a defender of this album (and the rest of BSB’s early discography, to be completely honest). It really defined both the Backstreet Boys and the boy-band genre.
(By the way, check back next time for a look at the other half of the BSB-*NSYNC debate as I cover another boy-band classic from Justin Timberlake and company, No Strings Attached.)
Score, Adjusted for 2016 Ratings Inflation: 9.0/10