Artist: Britney Spears
Album: In the Zone
Okay, I realize I'm probably going to lose some of you with this choice. We have a tendency to form opinions about our pop tarts based on a lot of extra-musical characteristics and there are perhaps plenty of things to dislike about Britney Spears the person. But there is absolutely no denying the brilliant pop single that is "Toxic." (Just ignore the video and listen to the song!)
The production is the real star here but none of the bells and whistles would matter if they weren't framing a smartly crafted song. Spears has become the queen of minor key dance pop and this song is no exception. I realize the lyrics aren't poetry, but the concept of a lover who is so bad for you that he is the equivalent of poison is pretty clever and expertly handled. When Britney sings "you're toxic, I'm slipping under" in the chorus, the chords descend by half-step in a bit of word-painting that would make Schubert proud.
And then there's the brilliant arrangement. The Swedes who put this thing together (Bloodshy and Avant) are amazingly creative. Just listen to the bed of instruments laid down prior to the first word being sung. The synthy strings are obvious and grab your attention right away, but I love the guitar-ish instrument that comes in at 0:07. And then the BASS—so good. But my absolute favorite section of the song occurs at 0:42 with the angular melody of the pre-chorus ("Too high, can't come down...). Somebody very smart figured out that Britney is no Christina or Beyoncé so she does something with her voice much more creative than belting: she just let's it float around her head, as if, you know she was kind of woozy. FROM THE TOXINS. It's very cool. By the time that spaghetti western guitar emerges at 1:11, I'm absolutely sold. Pure genius.