Britney Spears' lyrics are breathtaking--if you're a love-struck seventh-grader.

Cute Britney just refuses to grow up

Saturday, May 20, 2000

Britney Spears, "Oops! ... I Did It Again" (Jive) one star

Special from The Baltimore Sun

Britney Spears calls her second album "Oops! ... I Did It Again." At least she got the first word right.

Unlike fellow teeny-poppers 'N Sync or the Backstreet Boys, Spears shows no signs of maturity or musical growth. Quite the contrary, "Oops! ... I Did It Again" is even more juvenile than its predecessor, the 12-million-selling "Baby One More Time."

Never mind that the album's title track has her half-boasting, "I'm not that innocent"; the persona Spears projects in these tunes is anything but adult. No matter how much the lyrics pay lip service to independence and sexual self-determination, the album's emotional core is concerned mostly with cute boys and getting them to like her.

It's almost as if she were out to emphasize the sophomoric in her sophomore release.

It doesn't help that she likes to set up the songs with little playlets that purport to show "Brit" chatting with her friends. So "Dear Diary" is prefaced by what seems to be a conversation at the mall, during which our heroine notices a member of the opposite sex.

"Oh my God!" says Spears. "Look at that guy, Laura. He's sooo cute. And he's lookin' over here!" Laura and the others urge Spears to go over to him, but she can't. "What would I say?" she whines, and with that, the album fades into "Dear Diary" -- which tells us what she would say.

Cute, huh? Well, maybe if you're a love-struck seventh-grader. For anyone else, the artless banality of the lyric (the only thing on this album actually written by Spears) will be almost as grating as the singer's wooden attempt at acting. "Diary, tell me what to do," she warbles. "Please tell me what to say."

As teen romance goes, this makes "Sailor Moon" seem like "Wuthering Heights."

Making this particularly depressing is the fact that, while she may act like a kid, Spears is 18 -- an adult in both legal and (one would hope) emotional terms. Yet she's so set on playing the ingenue that she invariably undercuts the album's paltry attempts at maturity.

"Don't Go Knockin' on My Door," for instance, starts off as if it's trying to evoke the slinky, sexually charged groove of Aaliyah's 1998 hit "Are You That Somebody?" But even as the lyric posits a "Go away, you double-dealing dog" show of strength, Spears' cooing, compressed vocal imposes a kewpie-doll childishness on the performance. To quote from the chorus, "I ain't buyin' that."

But even that is easier to take than what follows. After a bit of badly acted girl talk, Spears tells us, "I know I'm a little picky, but hey, I just know what I want," and leads us into a slow and sultry rendition of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."

Yes, that "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."

In a breathtaking act of misinterpretation, she takes the Rolling Stones' classic comment on sexual and social frustration and turns it into -- well, it's hard to say what, exactly. Apart from the chorus, which Spears repeats ad infinitum, her version doesn't bear many similarities to the original, dropping the verse about "trying to make some girl" and changing the bit about a man who "comes on to tell me/How white my shirt should be" into a rhyme about a girl on TV who "tells me/How tight my skirt should be."

Devo demonstrated years before Spears was even born that "Satisfaction" is the sort of song that can easily survive revision. But it's DOA here, utterly without drive, attitude, or hook. All it really seems to offer is a chance for Spears to grunt soulfully and pretend she's Mick Jagger.

Although it's tempting to lay the blame squarely at Spears' feet, truth is, her "Satisfaction" fails in part because the rhythm track is so lame -- a big surprise, considering it was generated by R&B producer Rodney Jerkins. But Jerkins, who has concocted hits for Brandy, TLC, and Toni Braxton, generally has more success with strong-voiced R&B singers.

Spears' voice, unfortunately, possesses neither strength nor soul, and as such is at its best when it's bolstered by a pneumatic beat and lots of backing vocals. Fortunately, that's producer Max Martin's forte, and he provides Spears with more than enough support on the unrelentingly catchy title tune.

Had Spears stuck with such energetically tuneful fare, this new disc wouldn't have so much "Oops!" to it. Unfortunately, she fancies herself a balladeer, and thus makes earnest but unsuccessful attempts to power her way through the likes of "When Your Eyes Say It" and "Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know" -- songs Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera could easily have nailed.

Given the strength and enthusiasm of her fan base, it's likely that "Oops! ... I Did It Again" will be a hit despite its musical failings. But even fans will find themselves hard-pressed, after playing this disc, to say, "Baby, one more time."