When Britney Spears put out her last album, 2008’s Circus, the pop superstar had a lot to explain — rehab, shaving her head, being committed to a psych ward and relinquishing financial control to her father, Jamie Spears. But for her new Femme Fatale, Spears focused on one thing: making a killer dance-pop album. “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,” Spears tells Rolling Stone. Adds Mark Flaherty, a senior marketing vice president at Spears’ label, Jive, “There’s not really going to be that sit-down with Oprah. This time around, it’s going to be her showing up and doing what she does better than anybody — which is to perform.”
Femme Fatale, out March 29th, is produced by Spears’ longtime collaborators, Swedish pop genius Max Martin and Dr. Luke, the L.A. studio whiz behind Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” and Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” The plan was a more electronic, “grimier” Britney, according to Luke. “I wanted to make sure that this album was completely different from Circus or anything else I had ever recorded,” says Spears. “I love Circus, but I wanted something darker and edgier.”
Spears’ approach has paid off: When lead single “Hold It Against Me” came out in January, it immediately hit Number One on iTunes, and last month “Till the World Ends” jumped to Number Nine on the Billboard Hot 100 in its first two weeks. “You hear all those little parts that are so Britney — ‘Here’s the video-breakdown-dance part of the song,'” says John Ivey, program director of Los Angeles’ KIIS-FM. “That’s what my listeners love about her.”
At press time, retailers predicted Femme Fatale would sell 350,000 to 500,000 copies in its first week. “She’s made the comeback from the tabloid disaster she was,” says Mark Hudson, music buyer at record chain Trans World Entertainment. “And the music she’s doing is in line with what’s popular — very poppy dance stuff.”
In keeping with Jive’s strategy of emphasizing Britney performances, Spears was set to debut the record with a Good Morning America concert March 29th in San Francisco. She’s also planning a summer tour, possibly with Enrique Iglesias as the opening act, according to concert-business sources. Her 2009 tour was the year’s fourth-biggest, grossing $82.5 million, according to Pollstar. But as the recession kicked in, ticket sales tapered off for the tour’s second leg, making some worry about Spears’ success in a still-shaky economy. “She needs so much production, and the costs are so high,” says a source. Spears’ conservators — her father and a court-appointed attorney — must sign off on all concert expenses in advance, the source adds; this is a cumbersome process that isn’t necessary for recording albums, since Jive fronts the costs.
Still, judging from Femme Fatale, which includes “Big Fat Bass,” a collaboration with Will.i.am, and tracks featuring hot producers Benny Blanco, Billboard and Bloodshy, a tour would likely benefit from strong radio support as more singles roll out. “I hope we go six singles deep,” says Luke. “Britney’s essence has always been sort of cutting-edge. If you listen to ‘Piece of Me,’ ‘Toxic,’ ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’ and the earlier stuff, there’s a common thread that’s more than just Britney singing it. I feel like Britney is an idiom all by herself. I wanted to respect that idiom, you know?”