Released: 14th December 1999
Writers: Eric Foster White
Peak position: #178
Chart run: 197-178
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 76-59-52-52-14-14-17-24-33-35-41-45-54-64-64-81-97-92-86-90
The run of singles from Britney Spears’s debut album in the UK and Europe had so effectively established her as one of the biggest pop stars in the world that it was hard to imagine things could’ve been done any differently. But that’s precisely what happened in Australia and America, where From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart concluded the campaign instead of Born To Make You Happy.
There are two enduring legacies associated with the …Baby One More Time album. The first is that it remains the biggest-selling debut ever by a female artist, having sold around 26 million copies. The other is that it’s not actually very good. There’s little that matches the quality of the singles (I Will Be There is a notable exception) and a fair amount of filler that ranges from bizarre (Soda Pop) to forgettable (Thinkin’ About You, ironically). That’s partly because …Baby One More Time was a hybrid product of two distinct writing and production teams: Cheiron Studios contributed half of the material – including most of the singles – while Eric Foster White provided the other.
From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart is an example of the latter, and – in principle, at least – Eric Foster White’s involvement in the album did deserve some exposure. His material may be the weaker element, but much of it was created before a clear musical direction had been established for Britney Spears’s sound. Thus, while comparisons are unavoidable, they’re also not entirely fair. And, even so, Eric Foster White is credited with helping develop her distinctive performance style, which Cheiron utilised to become the architects of Britney Spears’s early career — as far as the singles were concerned — for much of her first two albums. Nonetheless, From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart provides a fair warning that anyone yet to buy …Baby One More Time should readjust expectations about the type of album they were getting.
What From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart showcases is the side of Britney Spears where she was being envisaged first and foremost as a pop singer rather than a pop star (the initial brief was a younger, adult contemporary, Sheryl Crow). This is a slow song, and not just in the sense of it being a toe-tapping ballad accompanied by gentle guitar instrumentation, a finger-snap beat and earnest: “Ooh-ooh, na-na-na, na-na-na”s. The original album version runs for over five minutes, and even the radio edit only manages to cut that down by 40 seconds. From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart is filled with teen melodrama of the sort that could easily soundtrack a pensive scene in Dawson’s Creek: “‘Never look back’ we said, how was I to know I’d miss you so? Loneliness up ahead, emptiness behind, where do I go?”.
Britney Spears, to her credit, gives an engagingly heartfelt performance. Flitting effortlessly between higher and lower registers, she convincingly plays the role of a heartbroken teenager: “And you didn’t hear, all my joy through my tears, all my hopes through my fears, did you know-ooh-ooh, still I miss you somehow”. It’s a track that gives the clearest insight thus far into the strategy for Britney Spears. There had always been some bemusement about how a singer who auditioned for record labels singing Whitney Houston’s I Have Nothing came to develop such a distinctive – yet more technically modest – higher-pitched voice. But if From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart is the direction Jive Records envisaged, then a song like this wouldn’t work being powerfully belted in a deeper tone, which she was evidently capable of doing. There’s an almost child-like vulnerability to Britney Spears’s musings that feels endearingly relatable. It’s not that the earlier singles came across as insincere, but this feels like a glimpse at a real person whose insecurities existed behind the bombastic pop persona.
This is, therefore, an adjustment on what came before. From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart plays out more as a ponderous teen confessional, complete with some amusingly cumbersome lyrics (“But you put a dart, through my dreams, through my heart…”). That’s most pertinent in the sizeable chorus: “From the bottom of my broken heart, there’s just a thing or two I’d like you to know, you were my first love, you were my true love, from the first kisses to the very last rose. From the bottom of my broken heart, even though time may find me somebody new, you were my real love, I never knew love, ’til there was you, from the bottom of my broken heart”, which is the antithesis to the punchy style of Cheiron Studios. It’s the easiest of easy listening, allowing Britney Spears to pleasantly warble ad-libs. From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart is unquestionably a nice song – even if not necessarily one that stood out on the album – and that’s the crux of the issue when trying to contextualise this as a single. Musically and tonally, there’s no logical coherence with how Jive Records had successfully positioned Britney Spears. Indeed, it feels almost like an attempt at a complete do-over…but the label had no reason whatsoever to want – or need – to do that.
However questionable it was to push From The Bottom Of The Broken Heart in America, credit to Jive Records for fully committing to the strategy. Despite needing to come up with two music videos for the split release, they didn’t scrimp on the budget; both received entirely separate treatments to ensure they felt like ‘proper’ singles. The aim with From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart was to create something more narrative-driven that drew out the emotional beats of the track. It portrays Britney Spears packing her belongings – into one suitcase, naturally – and leaving home. After saying goodbye to her mum and sister, she breaks up with her boyfriend (which, oddly, is the opposite of what happens in the song) and heads to the outskirts of town to catch a bus while flashbacks of their relationship play out. Moments after the vehicle departs with Britney Spears on board, her boyfriend arrives. Alas, he’s too late to stop her and is left gazing frustratedly into the distance.
There’s nothing nuanced about From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart. Every scene is played with enthusiastic melodrama; the break-up is full of pained expressions and quivering lips, while Britney Spears embodies the doe-eyed girl-next-door in both styling (the bucket hat is an underrated fashion choice from this era of her career) and forlorn facial expressions. Even cutaway ‘outtake’ shots that show her pulling faces in a field of sunflowers are consistent with presenting the most inoffensively wholesome version of Britney Spears possible.
Yet, From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart wasn’t entirely free of controversy because it soon emerged that the director – Gregory Dark – had been an adult filmmaker before working on music videos. That’s not something he’d ever tried to hide, and, ultimately, trying to draw any parallels between the two proved a futile attempt in any case because there’s nothing remotely suggestive about From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart. Nonetheless, it ensured the track generated headlines in the absence of anything more significant to write about. And Britney Spears’ appeal was such that the video topped MTV’s TRL chart; it ended up being retired from the countdown, even if that popularity must surely have been in spite of – not because of – this being such a departure in image.
No matter how From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart fared commercially in America, the resounding success of Born To Make You Happy elsewhere will probably always be seen as a missed opportunity. Particularly when mainstream radio airplay — where Jive Records presumably thought From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart had an edge — was lower than the previous singles. However, a physical release, which neither (You Drive Me) Crazy or Sometimes received, ensured the track was a hit, reaching #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 (it also allowed the song to peak at #178 on import sales in the UK). Yet, this also coincided with the …Baby One More Time album leaving the top ten for the first time. Granted, after 50 consecutive weeks, that was always bound to happen at some point, and the single artwork even confirmed a release date for the as-yet-untitled Oops!…I Did It Again album that was still five months away). But rather than From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart creating one final burst of momentum — as Born To Make You Happy did — it seemed instead to quietly usher the campaign to a close.
What’s most telling, though, is not just that From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart hasn’t been acknowledged by Britney Spears for many years because the same is true of much of her early material. However, the track has also been actively ignored. It was excluded from the American version of Greatest Hits: My Prerogative, despite other territories – including the UK – receiving comprehensive localised tracklists (though the video did, at least, feature on an accompanying DVD). The Singles Collection went one step further in 2009 by including Born To Make You Happy as standard for every region, including the US and Australia. All of which adds to the sense that, just maybe, Jive Records came to recognise they made the wrong call and have since attempted to gently rewrite history.
In that regard, From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart does feel like a rare misstep in the execution of the …Baby One More Time campaign, albeit one that was relatively confined and didn’t cause any significant adverse consequences. Yet, there’s also a valid argument that Britney Spears’s debut was marketed in an intentionally misleading way. Thus, while From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart may be a weaker choice of fourth single than Born To Make You Happy,it’s also, disappointingly, the more accurately representative of the album as a whole.