Remember when Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears were just two southern lovers ruling the pop world?
They were the perfect embodiment of the early 2000’s. Then suddenly it came crashing down in front of the world, leaving pop without a king & queen.
It’s funny to look back at the pictures because it was the early 2000’s and everything was ridiculous. Did you see the picture above? It’s also kind of heartbreaking when you think about all that’s happened. We’ve watched both grow into adults, with struggles and successes alike, but it’s hard not to wonder how different their lives would’ve been if things hadn’t ended. Especially Britney’s.
Bad times in musicians lives often translate into musical gold. The Justin/Britney breakup gave us two of the best breakup songs ever.
The best part is that the songs are a call and response, even if they won’t admit it. Britney recorded her song months after Justin released his. Everything from the lyrical content to the music videos pointed at each other.
Knowing what we know about their pasts make the songs even more interesting to listen and analyze 12 years later.
The first blow was in 2002 with the release of Justin Timberlake’s first solo album and a little song called-
‘Cry Me A River’
Justified would not have been the success it was without ‘Cry Me A River’. The Timbaland produced cut not only established a signature sound between the two, but hit number 2 on the Hot 100. The song is still one of Justin’s biggest Billboard hits.
‘Cry’ is a story of betrayal, confusion, and anger, sung over a tightly wound beat box. The song is full of distorted vocals, falsettos, and a choir of monks.
No flaws found.
What makes ‘Cry’ such a good song is the fact that it doesn’t bash Britney, even with the cheating allegations. There’s raw emotion, but there’s no hatred. It’s more of a “you messed up, I’m good, U MAD?” type of feeling.
Justin had a way of making us side with him, but also feeling bad for Britney. He doesn’t want us to hate her, but pity her instead for messing up and losing him; hence the “cry me a river” line.
It’s a cocky, but brilliant way of being jarring without overly hurtful.
‘Cry Me A River’ could’ve gone a lot of different ways. It could have been more harsh and even more truthful, but Justin’s execution of the song makes it a stand out moment in his career.
Britney’s response is not only beautiful, but one of the most genuinely humble pop songs I’ve ever heard.
Britney could have easily done a response track full of backstabbing remarks and truth revealing jabs. She could have revealed her side of the story, making her the victim, but she didn’t.
Over a harp lead beat, Britney lightly sings that she messed up and she knows it. There’s no excuses or explanation, and there doesn’t need to be. Her utter disappoint and desperation in the song is more telling.
“At night I pray/That soon your face will fade away”
She openly admits her struggle with what she did and the desire for it to all go away. While Justin had us all on his side in 2002, Britney showed how bad it was on her side, thus winning us over in 2003.
As far as breakup songs go, it doesn’t get more heartbreaking that this. It’s impressive when a star actually admits they messed up whole heartedly. The song made her more desirable. It made her real.
It peaked on the Hot 100 at number 15, but remained a staple song for both the In The Zone era and her career as a whole. Britney’s songwriting was critically praised, giving her recognition for growing out of her teen pop years into adulthood.
‘Everytime’ was one of the first times that we got to see the real Britney. It’s sad when you consider the caricature that the media and her team has turned her into. This was just a glimpse of the artist that she was becoming before Blackout, which showed us exactly the artist she wanted to be when it dropped in 2007.
What’s sad is that we may never be able to see this again. We’re stuck with the robot pop that her manager wants her to make, and thinks is cool. We’re stuck with an artist who has lost her voice from the dark side of fame, and is unable to find it again. Next time you hear ‘Scream and Shout’, or anything from Britney Jean, remember the kind of artist her team has ruined.
‘Everytime’ proved the kind of power house artist Britney Spears was, the same way ‘Cry Me A River’ did for Justin. Both songs hinted at how big they could be together, but proved how much bigger they were apart.
Without the breakup we would’ve never been given these songs. We may have never seen this side of either artist, and I think we’re all glad we have.