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Britney Spears On Her New Album, Her Favorite Music and Working With will.i.am

'I wanted to make sure that this album was completely different from 'Circus' or anything else I had ever recorded,' she says

March 17, 2011 7:55 AM ET
Britney Spears On Her New Album, Her Favorite Music and Working With will.i.am
Photograph by Randee St Nicholas

Britney Spears will release her seventh studio album Femme Fatale on March 29th. It's her most thrilling and inventive record yet, a set of songs that just as danceable as they are unusual and forward-thinking. Rolling Stone caught with Spears to discuss how she goes about selecting songs and collaborators for her albums, her interest seeking out new artists and cutting-edge sounds and what it's like to work with will.i.am and Dr. Luke.

Do your kids like the new record? What have they said about it?  
Yes. They definitely dance to it but its kind of funny because they are still confused .... It’s like, ‘who is this Britney Spears singer in contrast to mommy?’

How has your involvement in the record-making process changed over the years?
I have always been heavily involved in every album I have ever made. I'm very stubborn when it comes to recording and will only record songs I love, which is why it takes me a long time to make an album. I have to feel connected before I record and the song has to spark something inside me. Very few songs do that. I guess it's a good process because I love all of my music. I know there are a lot of artists that hate songs they recorded. I don’t feel that way.

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What was your idea for the overall sound of this album?
I wanted to make a fresh-sounding album for the clubs or something that you play in your car when you're going out at night that gets you excited but I wanted it to sound different from everything else out right now. I also wanted to experiment with all the different types of music I love which is why you hear a mixture of pop, hip-hop and dance throughout the album. I also really wanted to play with my voice and change up my sound here and there which was really fun.

You hear traces of some real cutting-edge dance music on the album – for instance, the dubstep break on “Hold It Against Me." How do you find new sounds?
I listen to a lot of different music from all over the world and I guess I just gravitate towards what sounds fresh and what makes me want to move. I really didn’t want to record anything on this album that could be mistaken for anyone else out there. I think my first two singles, “Hold It Against Me” and “Till The World Ends,” sound completely different from anything else and I think when my fans hear the rest of Femme Fatale they'll see how fresh every song is.

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Do you still go out to clubs? What kind of dance music do you like?
I don’t go out that much anymore but when I do, I definitely like to go out and dance. I'm a big vibe person when it comes to music so a song really has to make me feel a certain way in order for me to fall in love with it. I love hard pounding dance songs with really beautiful melodies over them. Those are my favorites.

What kind of music do you listen to at home?
I love the Peas but I also love Deadmau5. I guess I’m all over the place. Lately I have been listening to Robyn and Adele non-stop but I also love to find new artists that very few people know about. It's one of my favorite things to do because it's like being part of a secret. Friends and people around me are always showing me new artists that they love and that's how I learned about Sabi and ended up working with her on “(Drop Dead) Beautiful.” I have always wanted to feature a new artist on one of my albums and she is really cool.

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What led to your collaboration with willi.am? What was it like working with him?
The Peas make incredibly catchy, fun pop/dance records and I LOVE will.i.am's style. I have always wanted to do a song with him and would love to work with him more in the future. He is so interesting.
 

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Dr. Luke has become a big-name producer in his own right since your last album – is it different working with him now?
Not really. We have known each other for a really long time. Most people don't know this but we actually worked together when I was recording “Blackout.” He was incredible back then and he has only gotten better over the years.

Dr. Luke said last fall that "I want [the sound] to get harder in some ways, and maybe a little more deep into electronic -- grimier." Did you have that same agenda for the album? Do you feel like you accomplished that?
When we first sat down to talk about Femme Fatale I knew I wanted to make a dance album that was ahead of everything else out there but unique to me which is why I was so picky with the recording process. I only wanted songs that I immediately connected to. I also wanted to make sure that this album was completely different from Circus or anything else I had ever recorded. I love Circus but I wanted something darker and edgier. I also wanted to make an album and didn't want to just record a bunch of songs and put them together. I think Femme Fatale is really connected from start to finish.

What is it about Max Martin that makes you so comfortable collaborating with him? How much bigger of a role did he take on this album than he did for "Circus"?
Max played a huge role on this album and he has been there since the beginning so there is such a huge level of trust. He gets exactly what I am saying when I tell him what I want and don’t want musically.  His melodies are incredible and he is always coming up with weird sounds, which I love. The whistle on "I Wanna Go" still gets me every time I hear it. Who would have thought of that? There is nobody I feel more comfortable collaborating with in the studio.
 
How would you characterize the studio relationship between Max and Dr. Luke?
They are two peas in a pod. It’s a total bromance.

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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