Released: 14th August 2000
Writers: Max Martin / Rami / Alexander Kronlund
Peak position: #5
Chart run: 5-6-7-14-22-27-35-39-52-66-75
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 61-41-28-26-23-29-30-40-66-86-100
In what might turn out to be the most ominous tale of foreboding in pop music, Britney Spears released Lucky as the second single from her sophomore album back in the summer of 2000.
This was a bold choice, albeit one that didn’t entirely pay off. Lucky works within the context of the Oops…! I Did It Again album (it even has an interlude that perfectly sets it up), but some of its qualities don’t necessarily translate to it functioning as an actual single. The tale of a famous actress – called Lucky – explores the dark side of fame; and, while faint parallels were drawn to Britney Spears herself, at this stage, this was more circumstantial than anything more telling. There was absolutely nothing to suggest she was doing anything more than playing a character within the song. And certainly, Lucky is such a bombastic take that it’s a reach to draw any conclusive evidence that the events unfolding within it are anything more than a performance. Taking all of that into account, this really must have seemed an oddity of single to anyone who didn’t have more than a passing interest in Britney Spears.
Yet, however fanciful the song may seem, Cheiron had been around long enough to write from a place of truth with Lucky, even if it wasn’t (at that point) Britney Spears‘. It’s not quite a barbed assassination of the pop industry, but the notion of a star whose cheery façade hides a much darker reality probably hit a little closer to reality than was evident to most onlookers at the time. Indeed, Britney Spears‘s ponderance: “And the world is spinning, and she keeps on winning, but tell me what happens when it stops?” carries just as much meaning now as it did in 2000, if not more. And yet, there’s always a bit of discord in Lucky because the production completely undermines whatever message the lyrics might be trying to convey. For all of its familiar-sounding drum crashes and brooding synth beats – by now a trademark of Britney Spears‘s sound – there’s a much lighter, soaring melody, which is immensely uplifting. If anything, given the subject matter, it should probably be the complete opposite.
Taking the song purely at face value, few Britney Spears songs exude such giddy pop delirium. The chorus is epic; in another time and place, Lucky would be a lighters-in-the-air moment as everyone unites to sing: “But she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart, thinking; if there’s nothing missing in my life, then why do these tears come at night”. And that’s without even mentioning the key change. Just before it, however, is a spoken interlude. In reality, there’s no reason why the one in Lucky is any less ridiculous than the now-iconic one in Oops!… I Did It Again. Except at least that interlude had a pop culture point of reference, whereas Lucky features Roger Johnson (not a person) reporting for Pop News (not a thing). The best bit of the whole segment is Britney Spears part-gurgling: “Ay-ay-nah-ah-ah-woah” in the background.
All is soon forgotten though because Lucky then proceeds to drop a stratospheric key change and a deconstructed chorus: “SH-E-E-E-E is so LUH-UH-CKY, but W-H-H-H-H-H-Y does she CRY, if TH-E-E-E-E-RE is NOTH-I-I-I-I-I-NG, missing in HER life, why do tears come at night, and they S-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-Y….”. At this point, all perspective has been completely lost on the actual subject at hand as Lucky’s tragic plight becomes an all-consuming explosion of Cheiron pop brilliance.
The music video for Lucky writes itself (“Knock, knock, knock on the door” is predictably brilliant), although presumably what was saved in storyboarding was reinvested in the visuals because it looks superb and befitting of one of the most prominent female pop stars of the time. It’s one of the earlier opportunities for Britney Spears to do a bit of character acting as she brings Lucky to life, while also taking parts as the song’s narrator, a concerned onlooker in the crowd and heavenly confetti sprinkler. This leads to some stylish moments in the video, like: “And the world is spinning…” where the camera starts to rotate, and Britney Spears reaches out to Lucky through the stems of a flower. There’s even a postmodern sequence where the action stops and reveals that the Lucky video is taking place within the shooting of a movie, while Britney Spears looks on, displeased at the actress’s diva behaviour (also the moment where a mirror she’s holding gets momentarily snagged on her robe).
As the video concludes and Lucky wins her Academy Award in quite possibly the least lavish Oscars ceremony of all-time, Britney Spears sits above in the stars, enthusiastically tossing confetti onto the crowd below. But all is not well, and there’s a cut to Lucky lying on what looks like a dreadfully uncomfortable bed with mascara-stained cheeks. Underneath the fame and the fortune, it transpires there’s a sad, lonely young woman. It’s, of course, tough now not to wonder whether Lucky meant more to Britney Spears than anyone realised at the time. Possibly not; watching the various roles played within the video, she seems at her most natural as the concerned onlooker; someone who could see (and perhaps empathise with) the pitfalls of stardom but wasn’t necessarily experiencing them to such a brutal degree herself. Any other theory is, quite frankly, rather troubling to consider given this was only six singles into Britney Spears’ career.
Few songs from her early albums – save for the big singles – really get a look in these days. But Lucky was plucked from the archives and performed several times during Britney Spears‘s Las Vegas residency. Under almost any other circumstance, a song like Lucky returning to the setlist would be a treat. But it wasn’t given the same level of production as most of the other tracks. Instead, Britney Spears performed a slowed-down version of the song while sitting on a podium (or occasionally a swing). It feels exposed and vulnerable compared to the grandiose studio version. And given this came at a time when she’d spent over a decade of her life trapped in a conservatorship, seeing Britney Spears saunter around the stage singing: “If there’s nothing missing in my life, then why do these tears come at night” before disappearing as the lights fade still feels a desperately sad thing to have happened.
Lucky peaked at #5 in the UK, which is probably fair in the context of it being one of the least enduring singles from that early period of Britney Spears’ career. Several critics argued this as being the moment where she lost her edge, and there is some truth to that. The tragic tale of a fictional actress performed by a singer who appeared to have minimal personal insight into the trappings of fame was not the most credible move to make. Lucky also reached #23 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it Britney Spears’s lowest-peaking single in America at that point, lending further credence to the notion that it didn’t quite connect with the masses in the same way her previous releases had. But this is one of those singles that could only really have happened at this point; it might not be Cheiron at their coolest, but it is, nonetheless, a showcase of their whacky brilliance. And if nothing else, Lucky still packs in a raft of brilliant hooks, elating melodies and a euphoric key change.
So sure, looking at the Oops!… I Did It Again album campaign from a strategic point of view; Stronger would undoubtedly have been the better song to release as the second single. But poor Lucky’s story deserved to be heard, even if it came at the expense of commercial sensibility.