Can Spears match her pop peers with 'Britney Jean'?

2:40 PM, Nov 29, 2013   |    comments
Britney Spears' new album, 'Britney Jean,' is out Dec. 3, 2013. (Photo: RCA Records)
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Fall brought hotly anticipated new pop albums fromMiley CyrusKaty Perry and Lady Gaga, delivering addictive singles (Wrecking BallRoar and Do What U Want) alongside unremarkable first-week sales - a pattern that Britney Spears, who's readying to release her eighth studio effort, Britney Jean (Dec. 3), could repeat. Spears will be promoting and performing the new material on a grand scale with a Las Vegas residency and a documentary, but will it be enough to surpass her pop peers - or even match them? For USA TODAY, Billboard editor Joe Levy and RollingStone.com editorial director Caryn Ganz walk Hilary Hughes through what's worked in the past decade and what's to come for music's reigning comeback queen.

LISTEN UP: *** (out of four) for 'Britney Jean'

GRAPHIC: Who are these stars really?

IN THE ZONE

Released: Nov. 18, 2003

Sales to date: 3 million albums, plus another 3 million digital tracks, according toNielsen SoundScan

Tabloid timeline: If you were one of the many who believed the unfaithful villainess of Justin Timberlake's Cry Me A River was Spears after their breakup in 2002, you might further assume that Everytime, Spears' sappy ballad, was her response.

Notable performances: Toxic netted a Grammy win for best dance recording. Spears and Madonna lip-locked during their rendition of Like A Virgin at MTV's 2003Video Music Awards, just months before their duet Me Against the Music was released as one of Zone's most notable singles.

Expert opinion: "When you're talking about Britney, you're talking about someone who does not get the credit for drawing the template for modern pop stardom - and more than stardom, the music itself," Levy says. She gave Bloodshy & Avant (the songwriting duo behind Toxic) their first hits, but "it's not like people go back and say, 'Wow, she did that!' Nor do they give her credit for actually making better records - not singles, records - as time goes on."

BLACKOUT

Released: Oct. 26, 2007

Sales to date: 1 million albums, 5.2 million digital tracks

Tabloid timeline: After splitting with husband Kevin Federline in 2006, Spears hit rock-bottom, shaved her head, whacked paparazzi with an umbrella and exhibited some uncharacteristically batty behavior, which resulted in her losing physical custody of the couple's two young sons.

Notable performances: A hazy and otherwise out-of-it performance of Gimme Moreat the 2007 VMAs had Spears critics raising a few more eyebrows than accolades.

Expert opinion: "A massive personal low point, but creatively, she hit a major high," Ganz says. "The crime of Blackout was that Britney was so unwell that she couldn't promote it. The songs succeeded because they were so catchy."

CIRCUS

Released: Nov. 28, 2008

Sales to date: 1.7 million albums, 8.8 million digital tracks

Tabloid timeline: Though she rang in the New Year with a 72-hour psychiatric hold and her assets were placed in her father's control for her own well-being, Spears ended 2008 on a high note, with MTV documentary Britney: For the Record drawing a record-setting audience two days after Circus' release.

Notable performances: Circus and If U Seek Amy were surefire hits, butWomanizer was the album's reigning champ: It quickly scaled the Billboard Hot 100 to reach the top spot on the chart.

Expert opinion: "She had so much goodwill on Circus, because people were happy to see her coming out of the dark period," Ganz says. "People started to realize that she was really never going to perform at her peak again, but they were happy to see her doing anything."

FEMME FATALE

Released: March 25, 2011

Sales to date: 780,000 albums (her first to fall short of platinum), 6.4 million digital tracks

Tabloid timeline: Instead of being the biggest train wreck at the VMAs, Spears took home the ceremony's most esteemed honor: the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award.

Notable performances: Spears collaborated with will.i.am on Femme Fatale's Big Fat Bass, which served as the beginning of a beautiful (professional) friendship: It Should Be Easy has been one of the most hotly anticipated tracks on Britney Jean.

Expert opinion: "(Femme Fatale) was more of an advanced, adult record than she had made before," Levy says. "There's the constant question as to how a teen pop artist grows it up, and this record, in the series of albums she'd been making, was part of the answer."

BRITNEY JEAN

To be released: Dec. 3, 2013

Sales to date: Singles Work Bitch and Perfume have sold a combined 653,000 digital tracks. Billboard hasn't projected first-week sales, but reported three weeks ago that the album could start slower than Femme Fatale.

Tabloid timeline: Spears and fiance Jason Trawick ended their engagement earlier this year. I Am Britney Jean, a Dec. 22 E! documentary detailing Spears' current creative endeavors, will offer a rare glimpse into the star's personal life.

Notable performances: The final touches are being perfected on Spears' two-year residency, Britney Spears: Piece of Me, which kicks off at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas three weeks after the album's release.

Expert opinion: The residency "is a very smart way for her to promote this record, because her last few tours haven't gotten the best reviews," Ganz says. "If she can stay in one place and focus on herself and her health and her performance, without the stress of a tour, we might actually see a more fit and prepared Britney than we have in a long time."


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