Released: 1st May 2000
Writers: Max Martin / Rami
Peak position: #1
Chart run: 1-2-3-6-9-16-18-20-27-34-38-46-49-55
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 67-38-26-19-15-13-12-9-9-10-14-15-17-24-35-49-77-85-90-96
In one of the most meta-pop moments of all-time, the very dilemma of Oops!…I Did It Again’s existence – a single with the daunting task of launching Britney Spears’ second album campaign – ended up forming the basis of the song itself.
Pop acts often repeat successful formulas, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But all too often, they try to do it while at the same time pretending that they are not. And that’s where Oops!…I Did It Again stands out from the crowd. It sounds familiar. Of course, it does. The very essence of its DNA is extracted from …Baby One More Time, after all. But the song’s acceptance of its identity crisis is what makes it so great. Oops!…I Did It Again simultaneously accelerates what worked well before, and at the same time takes some unexpected and unorthodox deviations to create one of Britney Spears’ most iconic, exhilarating and quotable signature hits.
That Oops!…I Did It Again – both album and single – would be a success was never really in question, such was the swift turnaround. The track arrived just four months after the final release from the …Baby One More Time campaign. In the UK, that was Born To Make You Happy, while in America it was From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart. Both were big hits (reaching #1 and #14 respectively), and by the time they charted, work was already well underway on Britney’s second album. Having built up momentum with her debut – and the 25 million sales it racked up – Jive Records were not about to squander that potential. The direction was obvious. Britney’s early singles had been strategically cherry-picked to let Cheiron’s Swedepop define her sound, even though it wasn’t an accurate reflection of the …Baby One More Time album. Second time around, their influence would be much more apparent.
Oops!…I Did It Again is a song that – phenomenal as it is – could not have functioned in any other context than as the first single from Britney’s second album. The title alone is a knowing, self-referential nod to the role that the track was fulfilling. It’s a conscious, subtle evolution on what came before, deliberately designed to pick up where the previous album left off and repeat its success. The significant difference is that previously, Britney’s image had been – to some extent – constructed around material that already existed. This time, it was composed around her persona, and she’s in on the act.
While the opening chords of …Baby One More Time are cited as one of the most recognisable intros in pop music, Oops!…I Did It Again isn’t far behind. The thumping double synth stab and distorted: “Yeah-eah” is unmistakable and in essence a stylistic placeholder for this whole period of Britney’s career. This certainly feels like the point where her vocal persona started to develop its own identity, with the presence of some characteristic tics that would become more and more pronounced. Her lower register is swapped for the ‘baby voice’, and a throaty croak starts to punctuate many of the lines. Yet, the aspiring singer was – at this point – still in there (check out some of those ad-libs during the final chorus), so this is about as good a middle-ground as there would ever be.
Thematically, Oops!…I Did It Again is incredibly smart. Almost immediately following Britney’s launch, her image was perceived as over-sexualised by some critics, despite often being presented very much to the contrary. This song puts Britney’s sexuality back in her own hands and gives her licence to claim that even though she’s “not that innocent”, it wasn’t her intention to lead anyone on. It’s a tentative step towards maturity; the naivety of youth is still present within the lyrics: “Oops, I did it again, I played with your heart, got lost in the game”. But there’s now the suggestion that things could – unintentionally – be getting a little more serious. Packaged within a frivolous, fun pop song is an underlying message that keeps Britney apace with her loyal teen fanbase.
Oops!…I Did It Again could have cruised by without taking any risks. After all, it didn’t need to. But at this point, Max Martin wasn’t merely following the rules; he was making them. Thus, the track throws caution to the wind and goes completely left-of-field. At the point where you’d expect the traditional Cheiron middle-eight, it instead opts to cut the tempo and include a now-iconic spoken interlude between Britney Spears and her male love interest. In a profoundly turn-of-the-century move, Oops!…I Did It Again uses Titanic as its reference point. The song takes a still-relevant pop-culture phenomenon and in doing so becomes a pop-culture moment in itself. If that weren’t enough, the male voice during the interlude is none other than Max Martin himself. Nothing could be more fitting of this era of pop music than two of its most prolific names using the spotlight to act out a narrative based on an old lady and a necklace from the highest-grossing movie of all time.
Undoubtedly, what upped the ante for Oops!…I Did It Again was the music video. It pushes everything up to the next level and acts as a perfect metaphor for Britney Spears’ current position. Having experienced a meteoric rise to fame, she was no longer the girl next door. Now one of the most recognisable people in the world, the Oops!…I Did It Again video takes that one step further and places Britney on her own planet. The best thing about the concept is that it never dictates the visuals. The alien-theme could so easily have ended up looking kitsch. Instead, it’s applied in the loosest sense to the troupe of dancers, with their tin foil outfits paying homage to vintage sci-fi. Even with such choice styling, the aesthetic retained a sense of cool and looked like it belonged in 2000. Britney’s red bodysuit is the defining look from the video. However, this was still a point in her career where she was treading the line between prick-tease and role model. In that sense, Oops!…I Did It Again is immaculately realised, with several outfits that undoubtedly caused a particular demographic immense pleasure, but none which felt like they were exploiting their teenage star. It felt very much as if Britney Spears was in control – and in the loop – at all times.
Proving that she was not about to succumb to the sophomore slump, Oops!…I Did It Again was a massive hit in every territory that it was released, including the UK. The track sold 124,000 copies in its first week to debut at #1, becoming Britney’s third single to do so in little over 12 months. Rarely again would she enjoy a consistent period of visible commercial success to this degree. Yet, even though Oops!…I Did It Again is among Britney Spears’ most distinctive hits; it didn’t top the chart in America. It didn’t even come close, peaking at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100. There is a reason though; Jive had their eye on those all-important album sales and chose not to issue a physical single. They’d employed a similar strategy just months earlier with *NSYNC, who forewent a probable #1 single with Bye Bye Bye but smashed sales records with No Strings Attached. And once again, it worked. The Oops!…I Did It Again album debuted at #1, selling 1.32 million copies in its first week. That’s over ten times more than the …Baby One More Time album opened with, and it gave Britney Spears the record for highest first-week sales for a female artist. A chart-topping single might have been nice, but it hasn’t harmed the song’s legacy in the slightest.
It would be misleading to suggest that Oops!…I Did It Again is the sound of an act at her commercial peak because Britney would continue to enjoy enviable chart success for several decades. But this exceeded normal parameters; it was a level of success that – coupled with the dominance of the Cheiron sound in 2000 – would not be sustainable. Knowing that made it all the more special to experience.