Released: 20th September 1999
Writers: Jörgen Elofsson / Per Magnusson / David Kreuger / Max Martin
Peak position: #5
Chart run: 5-6-8-12-18-20-29-32-37-44-56
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 62-48-34-29-24-23-16-14-10-14-17-18-23-36-53-76-89-73-87-99
The seismic impact of Britney Spears’ debut single …Baby One More Time was difficult to follow-up. Not least because there was little else on her album that sounded quite like it. Fortunately, there came an opportunity for her to head back into the studio and re-record an existing track, leading to the release of (You Drive Me) Crazy (The Stop Remix!).
The song in its original guise was an entirely different beast, with a backing track sitting somewhere between the Backstreet Boys’ Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) and Larger Than Life. It had some positives; the key-change in the middle-eight was is pure bubblegum pop perfection and cowbells are an under-utilised percussion device. The issue facing Britney’s debut album campaign had always been the fact that it was recorded before – rather than in response to – the release of her debut single, which defined her early image and sound. There was little else on there that compared to it, but (You Drive Me) Crazy was the closest thing she had. However, Britney Spears needed songs that had her identity – and her identity alone – stamped over them, something that was true of both …Baby One More Time and Sometimes (albeit for different reasons). Fortuitously, there arose an opportunity to completely remix (You Drive Me) Crazy when it was chosen as the soundtrack to the teen movie of almost-the-same name Drive Me Crazy, starring Melissa Joan Hart and Adrian Grenier.
This was the first time that Britney and Max Martin had gone back to the studio to (re)record a song in the aftermath of …Baby One More Time and boy, does it show. The Stop Remix! doesn’t attempt to re-tread her debut, but it does revise the song as a spiritual sequel. Much like its predecessor, the revamped thumping intro is immediately distinctive – although it always helps to shout the title of the song – and marks exactly where the track is going. Of course, the central component of (You Drive Me) Crazy (The Stop Remix!) is, as the very literal title suggests, the breakdown that replaced the key-change middle-eight of the original. The track artfully plays with the naïve idea that a remix amounts to little more than scratching a record back-and-forth and uses that as the central component. After Britney yells: “STOP!”, the track screeches to a halt before bouncing back into life, with each beat becoming increasingly amplified. It is so good and so incredibly smart, using a concept that a teen audience would be familiar with, but completely misrepresenting it in a way that still made perfect sense. There’s much more to the remix besides that, though. The production now feels much slicker and more purposeful; the original elements are still there, in part, but the whole thing has been tossed in the air. It’s squelchy, it’s punchy, it’s funky and – most importantly – it sounds exactly like Britney Spears.
And the literal sound of Britney Spears is an essential factor in The Stop Remix! Her role within the track has also been revamped, to the extent where it is this – rather than …Baby One More Time – which sets the template for the development of her unique and oft-imitated style. The newly recorded vocals show the emergence of the drawl that entered her delivery, leading to deliberate mispronunciation. The early evolution of Britney’s voice has long been the subject of fervent analysis but being able to hear two different versions of the same song recorded 12 months apart provides a better insight than any other. Lines like: “Bay-bay, I’m so into yew…” and “Tell MAY…you’re so into ma-a-a-ay” have direct (or near enough) equivalents in the original version that show a definite – and deliberate – affectation starting to emerge.
Similarly, The Stop Remix! started to shift away from ‘Britney the singer’ and further towards ‘Britney the pop star’. At the climax of the track, some of the vocal runs from the album are swapped for punctuated tics: “Sing it! Ow! Ow! Ooh-uh, oh-yeah”. Even the big moment – “You drive me CR-A-A-A-EE-ZAY-yeah-yeah-ye-e-ah” – is delivered through a similar filter that would become increasingly commonplace within her material. But this is not a bad thing; quite the opposite, in fact. Not only does it create some singalong moments that are far better suited to the bustling energy of The Stop Remix!, but it starts to turn Britney Spears into an acquired taste. (You Drive Me) Crazy feels intentionally engineered to frame her popularity as a teen-pop phenomenon by having her perform in a way that an older demographic might not get.
And few things could make a music video for (You Drive Me) Crazy more gloriously ‘90s than the inclusion of Melissa Joan Hart. She cameoed alongside Adrian Grenier for movie promotional purposes, of course. But equally, neither is shown in the context of their characters from Drive Me Crazy, meaning anyone with an ounce of pop-culture awareness would minimally respond: “Oh look, Sabrina the Teenage Witchis in the new Britney Spears video”. Here, we find both of them – and a massive crowd of extras – living their very best teen lives in a visual that is at least partially responsible for a whole generation of disillusioned clubbers.
It takes the house party premise and makes it ten times bigger, throwing Britney into a warehouse dance hall to perform the song. The drinks are flowing (alcohol is implied, but not seen), there’s steam billowing from the pipes, and the choreography is incredible. There isn’t a single element on-screen that doesn’t belong firmly in 1999; at the time it looked achingly cool and aspirational, now it’s the most perfect time capsule of an era that has long since passed. The video also feels like the truest reflection of Britney’s personality at this point; particularly with the goofy pigtailed waitress character acting at the start. For every ounce of professionalism present within (You Drive Me) Crazy, there are also some cute moments where the façade drops, and she just looks like she’s having an absolute blast.
With the song attached to the Drive Me Crazy soundtrack and Britney collaborating with Melissa Joan Hart, further cross-promotion was almost inevitable. Sabrina The Teenage Witch had positioned itself closely to the bubblegum pop phenomenon, having already featured guest appearances from *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys. Sure enough, around the time that this single was released, Britney Spears popped up in the show’s season four premiere (i.e. the high school series without Libby and – according to the poll we ran earlier this year – the worst title sequence). It was a cute appearance and like so many things on Sabrina The Teenage Witch, makes no sense in hindsight, because if (You Drive Me) Crazy exists in Sabrina’s universe, then does that mean the movie – and therefore Melissa Joan Hart – also exists? With Britney busy touring at the time (one of the plot points within the episode), this was a lucrative guest spot watched by over eight million viewers in America. With the music video also featured during the end credits, it was a huge boost to the song’s profile.
Although Britney Spears was riding the crest of a wave in terms of her breakthrough popularity, (You Drive Me) Crazy charted relatively modestly in the UK, peaking at #5. The only real explanation being that the single wasn’t accompanied by the usual blitz of promotion due to the tour, which ran from June through to September in the United States and Canada. Furthermore, that lucrative guest spot on Sabrina The Teenage Witch wasn’t broadcast here until months after it aired in America. It was the smallest hit from the album but remains Britney’s ninth biggest seller overall, which shows just how much momentum was behind her at that point.
In America, (You Drive Me) Crazy reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming her second top ten hit there. Like so many of Britney’s early singles, its true commercial potential was intentionally sacrificed by not releasing it physically. The intention was to drive sales of the …Baby One More Time album – even if The Stop Remix! wasn’t actually on there. And it worked, keeping the album in the top ten and hurtling towards that diamond certification. The Drive Me Crazy soundtrack also benefitted on a slightly smaller scale; it peaked at #44 in America, but given the mediocre box office success of the movie, it’s entirely plausible that the driving factor was (You Drive Me) Crazy (The Stop Remix!) itself. Indeed, the song is now inarguably the most famous part of the whole package.
In terms of (You Drive Me) Crazy’s legacy, it’s become one of the most prominent and celebrated bubblegum pop hits from Britney’s formative years, and with good reason. Both …Baby One More Time and Oops!…I Did It Again remain iconic hits, but their success also transcended the era in which they were released. Neither has ever really dropped from the public consciousness, and both have remained close to Britney’s persona. (You Drive Me) Crazy, on the other hand, has had the opportunity to fall off the radar and now benefits from a revival that is draped in nostalgia as a joyous throwback to a simpler time. It’s not trying to prove a point, nor is it making a loaded statement; it’s merely a wholesome snapshot of the late ‘90s to which few other songs in Britney’s back-catalogue can compare.