Best of the B Sides: “Radar”

I’m dying to talk about Blackout (2007). You know the one, Britney Spears‘ infamous comeback album that was actually a comeback rather than a misguided jaunt in the ring. Whatever the critics may say about Blackout, you really can’t deny that it’s a good album. A really, really, really good album. Excellent pop. Cold, crisp, autotuned perfection.

This is actually, I hate to say it, the only full Britney album I own. My double-feature Britney/Nsync album went missing around fourth grade and I have regretted that loss ever since. Now let’s actually talk about Britney. I covered her autotune debacle a few months ago, but I feel like I haven’t gotten my Britney love completely out there. She’s not a particularly talented musician on her own. There’s no denying that. But she is excellent at being a pop star. She’s the millenial generation’s original pop star. She’s our Madonna, the original Gaga, the reincarnation of Cher. She belongs in the first-name-only of the pop world. She’s Britney.

I may sound like I’m joking, but I’m really not. Blackout was a triumph for Britney for so many reasons. It was a comeback, and it was an excellent one. It’s kind of a creepy album. It veered away from the bubblegum pop she got famous for and entered a moody, unapologetic space in which Britney flourished. Opening track “Gimme More” came out and seemed like a mysterious turn for Britney, but fans thrilled. And there are so many epic tracks on this album. “Break the Ice,” “Radar,” “Piece of Me,” and “Hot as Ice.” The vision is cohesive and fresh. This was about the same time that pop as a whole was taking a turn toward the dark side. Just look at Rihanna‘s releases in 2007: “Breakin’ Dishes,” “Shut Up and Drive,” and “Disturbia.” A huge turn from Music of the Sun (2005).

One of the greatest b sides from Blackout is “Radar,” by far. It’s one of the few songs on the album that plays nicely with rhythm. The beats in the opening are a little hard to follow, the fuzzed-out feedback beneath a crisp synth pulse. They sound like they’re running on two different tracks, but as soon as Britney comes in, it all smooths out. There’s slight risk in the vocal approach to the rhythm; it really tricks the listener because every phrase sounds like it’s almost not going to fit the time signature. It just barely makes it.

Yes, this is one of the many Britney songs that makes liberal use of autotune, but as I’ve said about Britney before, whenever she uses autotune on Blackout, she owns it. She’s not shy about it. Autotune has a unique effect on pop music, and in songs as saturated in synth as “Radar,” autotune seems natural (paradoxically). Especially on this album, autotune is almost vital to the tone. “Radar,” just like every other song on the album, is a little creepy, and autotune was a surefire way to steer Britney’s sound away from its former super-pop glory.

So whether you love her or hate her, there’s really no denying that Blackout is a good album. I’m still not over it (clearly). It was breaking new ground for Britney and worked beautifully as a comeback album. It’s not overthought or overworked.

2 Comments

  1. Lauren S

    October 12, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    While I am not a huge Britney fan, this is a solid pop track. I guess one of my biggest issues with her is that I don’t know how much input she had into this change of tune and direction; was this all decided by her producers and manager?

  2. Breanna Perry

    October 16, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    I’m not a huge Britney fan, either, but I gotta admit that most of this album is actually on my running playlist. Makes for a great boost somewhere around mile 3!

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