dispatches from the pop scene...minus the corn syrup.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

'...Baby One More Time' Turns 15: My History With Britney Spears' Debut Album In 1999

Two straight-up pop albums came into my possession in early 1999 and soundtracked the final months that propelled me out of my existence in Western Pennsylvania and into my life in Los Angeles. One of them was Britney Spears' debut album ...Baby One More Time, released 15 years ago today (January 12, 1999). The other one was Steps' Step One, but let's just stick with Britney here, shall we?

Below are some random memories of early 1999 and Britney's arrival:

* Already owning the "...Baby One More Time" CD single and the Sabrina The Teenage Witch soundtrack — which contained on its tracklist the Britney song "Soda Pop" — I bought ...Baby One More Time at Kmart in my hometown on the day it was released, 15 years ago today. I remember there was snow on the ground, and I was running errands that day before going to work in the afternoon.

* I was working at a Blockbuster Video and living with my parents while saving money, post-college, to move to L.A. that spring. I had just bought a used laptop off a co-worker, but I didn't have Internet access on it, so sometimes I used a borrowed Web TV system to get online, or I'd just go to the local public library and use their computer to check my email.

* My favorite ...Baby One More Time songs were all the Max Martin/Cheiron ones: the title track, "Sometimes," "(You Drive Me) Crazy" and — my absolute favorites — "Born To Make You Happy" and "I Will Be There."

* I was, what one would say, stanning hard for "Born To Make You Happy" and "I Will Be There." when that album came out. Perhaps not so coincidentally, a brief, month-long fling with a 21-year-old guy named Ed had just ended one week before Britney's album came out (I was a rebound and he eventually, of course, got back together with his ex), and so lines like "I don't know how to live without your love" and "give one more chance to show you how much I care, I'll be there" suddenly seemed very poignant.

*  My diary from that time period is filled with page after anguished page about Ed: "It was only a month and maybe we had nothing in common, I will miss him and will probably never forget him." Yeahhhhh...I was watching the WB a lot then. Felicity was my jam.

* Britney performed her chart-topping debut single "...Baby One More Time" on the Late Show With David Letterman in 1999 and her vocals were actually live. Watch below — it's like seeing a rare bird before it was in captivity.

* I went to see that Alicia Sliverstone/Brendan Fraser movie you don't remember called Blast From The Past in early February with my friend Meg, and on the way to the theater I gave her a cassette tape that had ...Baby One More Time on one side and Steps' album on the other. I wonder if she still has that? That was a good combo in 1999, and it probably doesn't sound too shabby now.

* I liked "Sometimes," the second single released off the album, but I didn't love it. The song was kind of a snoozy follow-up to "...Baby One More Time" — but then again, what wouldn't be?

* Meg and I moved to the West Coast in May of 1999, just before Britney's first tour kicked off. Steps opened for her Los Angeles. I tried to buy tickets but they were sold out.

* I heavily questioned why "I Will Be There" was never given a proper single release at the time. Way to drop the ball, Jive.

* When I got to L.A., I took a hammer and smashed that used laptop I had bought from my co-worker at Blockbuster in Pennsylvania six months earlier. It barely worked, and it felt good to pulverize that flop machine in the living room of my tiny apartment on Melrose Avenue.

* My first job in Los Angeles: executive assistant at Summit Entertainment, the production company that later gave the world The Hurt Locker and the Twilight movies.

* I get that the "Stop Remix" Of "(You Drive Me) Crazy" sounded way more modern than the album version back then, but I still kind of love the heavy metal guitars in the album version.

* Does anyone remember Britney's cameo on Sabrina The Teenage Witch in 1999 — or her eerily prophetic lines in that scene about feeling lonely and going crazy?

* Britney was basically inseparable from her backup dancer TJ Espinoza back then, wasn't she? That guy was way up in her business.

* I often wonder if my extreme love for "Born To Make You Happy" cursed its chances for an American single release.

* The age-old dilemma: The album version of "Born To Make You Happy" or the "Bonus Remix," with the acoustic guitar intro and Britney clearing her voice? (Grab the latter off Britney's 2009 singles collection.)

* Oh, look — there's TJ Espinoza again, in the screen image for the "Born To Make You Happy" video below.

* To-date, ...Baby One More Time has sold roughly 14 million copies in the United States alone. That's about twice the US sales of In The Zone, Blackout, Circus, Femme Fatale and Britney Jean combined.

* Other album released in 1999 include Backstreet Boys' Millennium, TLC's FanMail, Christina Aguilera's self-titled debut, Macy Gray's On How Life Is and Destiny's Child's The Writing's On The Wall.

* Books I read in 1999: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh and Catcher In The Rye.

* This (below) was me in 1999. I took that photo for a Pittsburgh casting agency in February 1999 and got three days of work as an extra in the Michael Douglas/Tobey Maguire movie Wonderboys:

* Also an extra in Wonderboys: then-Carnegie Mellon University student Michael McMillian. (You may know him now as Reverend Steve Newlin on True Blood.) Five years later I interviewed him for Instinct Magazine, following his starring role in the 2004 movie Dorian Blues.

* Another extra in Wonderboys: Jason Levis, who was a member of the band Cherry Monroe. (He's pictured below, far left.) In 2005, they had a Billboard Hot 100 chart hit with the song "Satellites." He and I wrote letters back and forth to each other for about a year after I moved to L.A., and I have a photo or two of him I took on the set. I hope he's doing well.

 * This was Britney in 1999:

Happy 15th Anniversary, ...Baby One More Time. You helped make my life way more fun.

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