The Story of Pop: 2002 (Chapter 14)

This is The Story of Pop: 2002. Our weekly hop back in time to the sights and sounds of the UK charts as they looked and sounded exactly two decades ago. This week: one of the 21st century’s biggest superstars makes her big screen debut…

  • Artist: Britney Spears
  • Song: I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman
  • Released: 01/04/2002
  • Writers / Producers: Max Martin / Rami / Dido Armstrong
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #2
  • Weeks on Chart: 11

Only in the last year since witnessing the emancipation of Britney Spears from her 13 year long conservatorship with the #FreeBritney movement, does looking back at the earlier events that lead up to her being placed under it take on something of a new poignancy.

For her first two albums, she had largely had an unbroken run of success that no one else in pop at the time had even come close to emulating. But between the release of …Baby One More Time in 1999 and Oops!… I Did It Again in 2000, and her self-titled Britney album in November 2001, there was undoubtedly a sea change.

Some of this was musically and aesthetically. In the time between the second and third albums, the Cheiron production team led by Max Martin that had powered her to the top of the charts globally, had formally disbanded by the time the third album appeared. With Britney fast approaching the end of her teenage years, she sought to take her music – and ultimately her image – in a new, maturer direction.

The public’s first introduction to this new, slightly more adult Britney was “I’m A Slave 4 U“, a very credible sounding, stripped to the bone production from the hand of Pharrell Williams and The Neptunes, who were very much coming up on the rails at that time as the big hitmakers, as well as being a song writ large into her career history with the famous performance of the single with a snake draped over her shoulders at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2001.

However, the chart performance of both this single and the immediate follow-up, the Cheiron produced banger “Overprotected” (both peaked at #4 here in the UK, but relatively underperformed on the Billboard charts in America) almost seemed to give the hacks and critics that were – disturbingly, with hindsight – circling like vultures the free pass they needed to start writing of / speculating on Spears’ downfall.

It was most unfortunate then, that into all of this came Britney’s big screen debut in Crossroads, a coming-of-age teen flick where she played Lucy, one of three childhood friends who, reunited at their high school graduation, make good on a pact to go on a summer road trip together in search of their destinies, with co-stars including Taryn Manning, Zoe Saldana, Dan Akyroyd and Kim Cattrall.

We only got round to finally seeing Crossroads about a decade after it came out. Starring one of the biggest female popstars of that time, and coming so soon after another similar vehicle which had also attracted critical ire (namely, Mariah Carey’s Glitter film and album of the same name) it was never going to be judged of its own merit.

Which is a shame because, when the film is taken for what it is, it’s an enjoyable and escapist couple of hours, something that we are happy to report has held up from our rewatching of our DVD of the film we had last Sunday before writing this post.

The main theme song from the film was also one of the key highlights of the Britney album that accompanied its release and (unofficially) acted as the soundtrack (Jive Records had been planning a full soundtrack album before scrapping the idea), whilst also marking something of a swansong. And we say that about “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman” on two counts.

A sweeping, introspective Max Martin helmed power ballad, co-written by none other than Dido, who had just released one of the biggest selling albums of the last year with her debut No Angel, it was to be Britney’s last such collaboration with Martin until her Circus album six years later, in 2008.

So it was very much closing the chapter on her initial run of success with the team of songwriters and producers that had helped her make her breakthrough. But it was also perfectly chronicling exactly where Britney was, not just as an artist but as a young woman at that point in her life, and her journey from adolescence to womanhood: “I used to think / I had the answers to everything / But now I know / That life doesn’t always go my way”.

There is a wistfulness in Britney’s reading of the lyrics, but none more so than when the song shifts key change towards the end and she ad-libs over the chorus: “I’m not a girl, don’t tell me what to believe / I’m just trying to find the woman in me”. It held the most relatability therefore, with a lot of her audience at the time.

“I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman” continued the downward trend that the singles from Britney had been experiencing on her home turf (it missed the Billboard Hot 100, instead entering the “Bubbling Under” chart), but in the UK it was a different story; upon release in conjunction with the Crossroads film into cinemas that April, it entered at #2, and was to be her highest peaking single from the album here.

Of course, we all know what happened in the years immediately after this, and the chain of events for Britney that led us to where she is now. But it’s hard not to listen to this single again and take a minute of reflection on the precise moment where she strode into a new chapter of her career where things weren’t always to be as plain sailing as they had been at the start, as well as admiration for her strength she showed through it all.

Don’t forget to follow our brand new playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 2002. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments, Tweet us or message us on Instagram, using the hashtag #StoryofPop2002.

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