The Ones of the ’10s: Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me”

In The Ones of the ’10s, I’m reviewing every single that hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 2010s and working my way up into the present.


Britney Spears- “Hold It Against Me”

HIT #1: January 29, 2011

STAYED AT #1: 1 week

One thing I’ve noticed in analyzing decades is that the second year is usually when a decade starts to find its early musical identity, a musical trend or event that acts as the demarcation point where the previous decade ends and the new one begins. Big examples of this include MTV launching in 1981 and Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991. And with 2011, one major trend that help give the 2010s its early musical identity was the rise of dubstep and electronic dance music (EDM). 

Dubstep and EDM music aren’t really new developments. They all are a continuation in the evolution of dance music that began in the ‘70s with disco with its biggest influence being Donna Summer’s 1977 hit “I Feel Love” which was the first major pop hit to feature an entirely synthesized backing track with no live instruments thus helping to create modern-day dance music as we know it (“I Feel Love” peaked at #6. It’s a 10!). Throughout the decades, dance music has fallen in and out of favor time and time again but has always been music that many times have shown the way forward. 

In the case of EDM, thanks to the growing availability of internet software and social media in the 2000s, aspiring DJs now had the convenience of making their own music in the comfort of their homes on their computers without having to go into a studio and share it online. With this new technology and convenience, these DJs started to create their own music realizing they could just base their song around a bass drop or electronic breakdown that forgoes the conventional structure of pop songs. Early on these songs got lots of underground buzz but made little impact on the national pop charts. 

Throughout the 2000s, most of the dance music that dominated were largely hip-hop and R&B driven like crunk alongside pop-punk and adult contemporary music. Early EDM music just didn’t get much attention outside of its underground following and mainstream audiences didn’t have much of an appetite for this weird, bugged out style of dance music. Even the early breakthrough artists of EDM had a hard time getting over on the charts. Skrillex’s breakout hit “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” only peaked at #69 (As a lead artist, Skrillex’s highest-charting single, 2015’s “Where Are U Now” with Diplo and Justin Bieber peaked at #8. It’s a 7. As a producer though, Skrillex will eventually appear in this column.). Even the artist most credited with bringing EDM to the mainstream, Avicii, had his breakthrough single “Levels” stall at #60 in 2011 (Flo Rida’s sampling of “Levels” on his 2011 single “Good Feeling” did better peaking at #3. It’s a 6. Avicii’s highest-charting single, 2013’s “Wake Me Up,” peaked at #4. It’s an 8.).

While pop-driven dance music would make its comeback around 2009 and 2010, a lot of those hits driven by producers Dr. Luke and Max Martin were still straightforward pop smashes with their conventional structures. So in a way, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it took the both of them to bring EDM and dubstep music into the mainstream all with a song from a pop idol in the midst of a comeback era. 

Growing up in Kentwood, Louisiana, Britney Jean Spears began performing as early as three years old singing and dancing. At eight, she auditioned for a role in Disney’s revival of The Mickey Mouse Club not was initially rejected for not being old enough for the role. Out of that, she started going to a New York performing arts school and made her national television appearance on the popular talent show Star Search

In 1992, Spears would eventually get her role on The Mickey Mouse Club alongside fellow future stars Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling, and Keri Russell (Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake will eventually appear in this column.) lasting for two seasons before the show was canceled. Still determined, Spears set her sights on a music career where she went to New York to audition for a series of labels many of them rejected her feeling that audiences weren’t into teen girl singers anymore in an era of boy bands and girl groups. Eventually, Jive Records caught wind of Spears and after auditioning was signed to the label.

For her debut album, Spears flew to Sweden to work with master pop producers including Max Martin recording much of the album including a song Martin had lying around called “…Baby One More Time.” Released as the lead single from the album of the same name, “…Baby One More Time” became an instant hit reaching #1 in January 1999 (It’s a 4.) and making Spears an instant teen pop phenomenon with the album selling over 10 million copies in the United States being certified diamond. In 2000, she followed up …Baby One More Time with another blockbuster in Oops!…I Did It Again with the title track reaching #9 (It’s also a 4.). Upon its release in May 2000 sold over a million copies in its first week which held the record for the most amount of albums sold in a week for any female and any solo artist until Adele’s 25 in 2015. Like …Baby One More Time, Oops!…I Did It Again sold over 10 million copies and was certified diamond. 

As the teen pop of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s began to fall out of favor towards hip-hop and R&B, Spears began working with hip-hop and R&B based producers like The Neptunes on albums such as 2001’s Britney and 2003’s In The Zone that sold well but singles wise hadn’t made a huge impact aside from the #9 peaking “Toxic” from In The Zone (It’s a 7). 

By this point, her celebrity had begun to overshadow her music with every move she made coming under heavy scrutiny from the press. During this time, she married twice, her first marriage to her childhood friend only lasting over two days. She had two kids with her second husband dance Kevin Federline before they eventually divorced in 2007. During this time, she began to suffer through her now-infamous public breakdown that included shaving her whole hair off, attacking paparazzi, a widely panned performance at the 2007 MTV VMAs, losing custody of her kids, and losing control of her finances with her father being placed in control and still is today. 

Amid this turmoil, Spears made her musical comeback with 2007’s Blackout with yielded the #3 peaking lead single, “Gimme More” (It’s a 2.). Her next album 2008’s Circus proved better netting Spears her first #1 single since “…Baby One More Time” with “Womanizer” (It’s a 4.) as well as the #4 peaking title track (It’s also a 4.). The next year, Spears was back at #1 with the threesome ode “3” (It’s a 1.). In 2011, she released her next album Femme Fatale which continued her once thought impossible comeback. She had a lot riding on this album which starts with “Hold It Against Me.”

Written by Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Mathieu Jomphe (Billboard), and Katy Perry songwriter Bonnie McKee, “Hold It Against Me” was originally meant for Perry who also was an inspiration to the song. Describing the song as a happy accident, Mckee recalls to The Hollywood Reporter of seeing Perry wearing a tight dress while working with Spears and made a joke about it saying, “Damn Katy, if I told you you had a nice body would you hold it against me?” Right after, McKee immediately started writing the song. Dr. Luke stated he and Max Martin wanted Katy Perry to sing “Hold It Against Me” but decided it didn’t sound much like a Katy Perry song and didn’t want to repeat themselves stating, “It can be hard in the verse, and the bridge is super, super hard, but the chorus is super-pop.”

In any case, anticipation ran high for the song to the point where people were leaking lyrics as well as a demo version. Once the song was finally released along with its high budget video, it broke the record for the most number of radio plays in the United States in a single day with registering 619 plays on Mediabase and 595 plays on Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems (BDS). It was this performance alone that allowed for “Hold It Against Me” to debut right at the top of the Hot 100 and stay there for that week. That would be impressive if the song was any good. 

Like a lot of Britney Spears songs, “Hold It Against Me” is about sex. Specifically, it’s Spears hitting on a guy at a club in a club. She sees him on the dance floor while dancing to her favorite song and immediately goes over to him wanting to get it on. On the chorus, Spears asks this guy to go out of the club to have sex as he makes her feel like paradise all while using the stupidest of pickup lines with the title being a double entendre for either this guy being offended by Spears’ command or more literally putting their bodies up against one another. On the dubstep inspired breakdown on the bridge, Spears acts desperate for sex and even giving off some orgasmic moans. Giving the song to Spears instead of Katy Perry was probably the right move. While Perry could sing about sex, the explicit nature and dubstep production wouldn’t have fit with the silly upbeat pop jams Perry was doing at the time during the Teenage Dream era.  

Musically, It has all the elements of dubstep with the gritty booming beat and wobbling bass and on the first and second choruses becomes this angelic sounding electro ballad. It may have still seemed like the mechanical electropop dominating but it did show what pop music would become pretty shortly after. On the bridge, the dubstep influence is most apparent as the song feels to lose all control with the annoying chopped up vocals and beat switches. Spears has never been much of a technical singer and it still shows here with the various vocal effects making her performance annoying. But on the chorus, she manages to sell the desperation and longing she sings about in wanting to get away with this guy. I’m not the only one who finds the song underwhelming. Despite the massive hype “Hold It Against Me” got at the time, you don’t hear it much these days and isn’t even considered one of Britney Spears’ top songs. Even Skrillex himself stated while he liked the song, he found the dubstep breakdown unnecessary. 

In the midst of the song’s success, “Hold It Against Me” became the subject of copyright infringement allegations made by the country-pop duo The Bellamy Brothers who themselves had hit #1 with 1976’s “Let Your Love Flow” (It’s a 7.) who claimed the song ripped off their 1979 song “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me.” The group and their attorney claimed if you doubled the beat on their song and paired it with “Hold It Against Me” it would come across as very similar songs and noted Dr. Luke and Max Martin had been accused of copyright infringement many times before. 

Martin, Dr. Luke, Jomphe, and McKee all filed a lawsuit against the Bellamy Brothers accusing them of making defamatory and libelous statements about them calling the allegations a publicity stunt and a malicious campaign to profit off their success. The case eventually got dismissed with the Bellamy Brothers apologizing for their statements. 

Aside from the similar titles “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me” has nothing much to do with “Hold It Against Me.” The former is a lightweight piece of late-‘70s country-pop fluff and shares no musical or lyrical similarities with the Britney Spears song. It looks like they hoped the similar titles would be enough for a copyright infringement case. Just another pointless allegation of artists trying to make a buck off of other people’s work due to even the most minor of similarities (not the last time we’ll see this). 

After “Hold It Against Me,” the Femme Fatale album would launch two more Top 10 singles, the #3 peaking Kesha co-written apocalyptic dance jam “Til The World Ends” (It’s a 3.) and the #7 peaking electropop annoyance “I Wanna Go” (It’s a 2.). Britney Spears will be back in this column soon but it won’t be on her own. 

GRADE: 3/10

BONUS BEATS: Here’s a Marine troop in Afghanistan lip-syncing to “Hold It Against Me”

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