The Decade In Music: Britney Spears' 'Toxic' (2004)
[Every weekday from Nov. 9 to Nov. 20, Song of the Day is surveying the past decade, one year (and one song) at a time, with an emphasis on America's most popular music. These picks don't exactly qualify as musical discoveries, but they do have something to say about the 10 years we're about to leave behind. Song of the Day will return to new music on Monday, Nov. 23. --ed.]
A product of the post-teen-pop, pre-Kevin Federline Britney Spears of early 2004, "Toxic" was the second single from Spears' fourth studio album, In the Zone. No longer apologetic or defensive for breaking away from her '90s virginal teeny-bopper image and sound, the Spears in "Toxic" is out to have a good time on her own terms.
The campy video for "Toxic" captures the moment perfectly: Spears gleefully adopts different alter-egos and traipses through de Beauvoir's tropes of femininity to steal a poison, ride a motorcycle, steward an airplane and literally cover herself in diamonds. She's sexy and comfortable, even when wearing nothing but diamond-encrusted skin. It was racy enough for MTV to move the video to the adult-friendly 5-10 p.m. time slot (this was during the height of the Janet Jackson "nipple-gate" scandal), but Spears isn't calculatingly courting controversy. This is genuine fun.
Co-written and produced by Bloodshy & Avant, the Swedish duo responsible for the irresistible, stuttering synth that defined the decade's dance-pop, "Toxic" is as addictive as the "poison paradise" it imbibes. The buzzing, rockabilly twang and now-classic four-note string interludes still sound fresh and futuristic. Spears' breathy vocals grapple perilously and pleasurably with "Too high / Can't come down / It's in my head spinning round and round." The flirtatious dance with toxicity gives in and Spears coos, "Intoxicate me now / With your lovin' now / I think I'm ready now." Giving in sounds so good.
Spears' best song to date, "Toxic" isn't a stranger to critical acclaim; it got Spears' her only Grammy and hipster dance-floor credibility, and it became her fourth Top 10 hit in the U.S. Listening to it now, knowing the bizarre behavior and unimaginable public scrutiny that was about to befall her, it's hard not to want to warn her — although if she hadn't fallen off, we wouldn't have had her defiant 2007 comeback single, "Piece of Me" Which just happens to be Spears' second-best song.
Listen to yesterday's Song of the Day, and subscribe to the Song of the Day newsletter.
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.