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.
It was a bold choice, albeit one that didn’t entirely pay off. The thing with Lucky is that while it’s undeniably one of the most gloriously bonkers Cheiron efforts and works within the context of the Oops…! I Did It Again album (it even has an interlude that perfectly sets it up), we also have to consider that this was an actual single released unto the charts. The tale of a famous actress – called Lucky, conveniently enough – we find ourselves exploring the dark side of fame. Of course, there were going to be faint parallels drawn through to Britney Spears herself, but at this stage, it was somewhat premature. There was absolutely nothing to suggest that she was doing anything more than playing a character within the song. And certainly, the performance is so bombastic that you’d be reaching to draw any conclusive evidence that the events unfolding within Lucky are anything more than circumstantial. Taking all of that into account, we can only imagine how much of an oddity this single must have seemed 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’s truth. 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’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’s sound – there’s a much lighter, soaring melody, which is immensely uplifting. If anything, given the subject matter, you would think that it should be the complete opposite.
Taking the song purely on face value, you would be hard-pressed to find a Britney Spears song capable of instilling 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 that, however, there is the 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 referring to a pop culture phenomenon gave that interlude a point of reference, whereas in Lucky we have Roger Johnson (not a person) reporting for Pop News (not a thing). The best bit of the whole segment is Britney part-gurgling: “Ay-ay-nah-ah-ah-woah” in the background. All is soon forgotten though because Lucky then proceeds to drop a cataclysmic key-change. Even in the music video, Britney Spears looks almost overwhelmed by what she’s just done as she launches into 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. We don’t mean to overlook Lucky’s plight, but once the song becomes an all-consuming explosion of Cheiron pop brilliance, it’s quite difficult to comprehend anything else.
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 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 we find Britney reaching 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 looks on, displeased at the actress’s diva behaviour (also the moment where the mirror she’s holding gets momentarily snagged on her robe). As the video concludes and Lucky wins her Academy Award (one day Britney, one day) in quite possibly the least lavish Oscars ceremony of all-time, Britney sits above in the stars, enthusiastically tossing confetti onto the crowd below. But all is not well, and we cut to Lucky lying on what looks like a dreadfully uncomfortable bed with mascara stained cheeks (although if we’re picky, the mascara would not have run at a 90° angle to gravity…). Underneath the fame and the fortune, it transpires that there’s a sad, lonely young woman, which isn’t a revelation if you’ve been listening to the lyrics of the song. It’s, of course, tough now not to wonder whether Lucky meant more to Britney Spears than anyone at the time realised. We would suspect not, at this point. Watching the various roles she plays 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 herself. At least, not to that extent. Any other theory is, quite frankly, too troubling to consider given we were only six singles into Britney Spears’ career at this point.
Few songs from Britney’s 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 her Las Vegas residency. And it was…uncomfortable. Under almost any other circumstance, we would be screaming at a song like Lucky returning to the spotlight. But it wasn’t treated to the same level of production as most of the other tracks. Instead, Britney performed a slightly 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 everything she’s been through publicly in the last decade or so (we certainly don’t have enough money for legal fees to contemplate speculating on what’s happening behind-the-scenes now), watching Britney saunter around singing: “If there’s nothing missing in my life, then why do these tears come at night” before disappearing as the lights fade feels sad. And not in the positive sense of it being a brilliantly moving performance.
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 the point at which she lost her edge, and we would agree to some extent. The tragic tale of a fictional actress performed by a singer who at that stage appeared to have minimal personal insight into the trappings of fame was not the most credible move to make. The #23 peak enjoyed by Lucky on the Billboard Hot 100 – at that point Britney’s lowest charting single – lends credence to the notion that it didn’t quite connect with the masses in the same way that 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, impossibly elating melodies and a key-change that defies belief. So sure, looking at the Oops!… I Did It Again album campaign from a strategic point of view; Stronger would have been a better song to release as the second single. But poor Lucky’s story deserved to be heard, and we’re secretly rather glad that sheer pop brilliance won out over commercial sensibility.