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When Pop Stars Grow Up | And the winner is...

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It’s a time-honored tradition: The teen idol, tired of being told what to do and eager to be taken seriously as an adult artist, sheds their squeaky-clean image for a radical makeover of both style and sound. In the wake of the bubblegum pop boom at the turn of the millennium, our “TRL” favorites—trying to find themselves, while also fighting to keep up with the times—practically wrote a field guide to the phenomenon. Some went sexy (Jessica Simpson’s Britney-fication for 2001’s Irresistible) and others got serious (Mandy Moore, now brunette, singing old-school tunes on 2003’s Coverage). A few were successful (2002’s Stripped was a quadruple platinum smash for dirrty girl Christina Aguilera), but most were quickly forgotten (poor JC Chasez and his 2004 solo debut Schizophrenic). Three metamorphoses, however, stand above the pack for proving how it’s done; their respective singers are all now on the cusp of their third decades of pop stardom.

 

First, as was nearly always the case during teen pop’s imperial period, came Britney Spears and her eponymous third album, which had the biggest first-week sales by a female act in 2001. Expanding beyond überproducer Max Martin to the Neptunes and Darkchild, and shedding a few more articles of clothing along the way, not-that-innocent Britney announced herself as an urban diva who could shake her thang with the best of them. Minor controversies, like her first use of swear words (hell and damn) on songs, hurt the album’s commercial prospects, scaring off the parents of young fans. So did a business dispute over her tour with the powerful Clear Channel, which made it hard to score a radio hit. Britney was her first album not to scan diamond domestically, though it ultimately sold more than 5 million copies in the U.S. alone and gave us the indelible “I’m a Slave 4 U,” with its iconic music video and unforgettable performance at the MTV Video Music Awards.

 

Weeks later, Pink led the rise of the anti-Britneys—a wave of young female singers who emphasized writing their own songs and playing their own instruments over bared midriffs and slick dance moves—with the release of her second album, M!ssundaztood. Mining the personal traumas of her youth (her parents’ acrimonious divorce, teenage angst, drug abuse) with the help of songwriter and producer Linda Perry, the record gave Pink a newfound legitimacy and launched her career to the next level. An R&B-lister with modest chart success in her debut era, Pink now enjoyed quintuple-platinum sales, Grammy nominations and her first #1 on pop radio. (That second single, “Don’t Let Me Get Me,” even includes a reference to “damn Britney Spears.”) The sneering rocker persona she embraced would carry her through five more albums, several global arena tours, the birth of two children and the unmatched adoration of the country of Australia.

 

The following year, it was Justin Timberlake’s turn. Already beloved by teenage girls the world over as the frontman for ’N Sync, he would strike out on his own in late 2002 with Justified, becoming the only survivor of the ‘90s boy band explosion to achieve true solo success. While initially dismissed as a lightweight Michael Jackson wannabe, things took a turn for Justin with the album’s second single, “Cry Me a River,” a dark and vicious jab—that video!—at his most famous ex. (What do you know? It always comes back to Britney.) Suddenly all memories of the curly-haired crooner with a torn-up heart were erased, replaced by a showman whose falsetto and genuine sex appeal could not be denied. Leaning into the harder edge, his collaborations with hip-hop’s hottest producers, like the Neptunes and Timbaland, were generally well-received by critics and fans alike. Justified sold more than four million copies in the U.S. and scored a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year, though its biggest accomplishment may have been laying the groundwork for the stratospheric career heights to come. As he rocked bodies and dance floors with hit after hit well into 2003, everyone had to admit—as they would with another Justin more than a decade later—maybe that Timberlake twerp wasn’t so bad after all.

 

So whose reinvention was the greatest of all? It’s up to you, the good voters of ATRL, to decide. You can help determine the winner by ranking each of these 46 songs on a scale of 1-10 and then sending me your ballot by Sunday, September 2. Please listen to everything again at least once before submitting. I want honest assessments, not scores based on your memory or biases. Feel free to include commentary if you are so moved. And no trolling or your vote will be tossed. Happy listening!

 

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COUNTDOWN

Spoiler

1. “I’m a Slave 4 U” Britney Spears

2. "Just Like a Pill" Pink

3. "Family Portrait" Pink

4. "Overprotected" Britney Spears

5. "Don't Let Me Get Me" Pink

6. "Cry Me a River" Justin Timberlake

7. "Get the Party Started" Pink

8. "Rock Your Body" Justin Timberlake

9. "Lonely" Britney Spears

10. "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" Britney Spears

11. "Lonely Girl" Pink ft. Linda Perry

12. "Boys (Co-Ed Remix)" Britney Spears ft. Pharrell Williams

13. "I Run Away" Britney Spears

14. "Anticipating" Britney Spears

15. "Overprotected (Darkchild Remix)" Britney Spears

16. "Boys" Britney Spears

17. "Bombastic Love" Britney Spears

18. "Eventually" Pink

19. "Like I Love You" Justin Timberlake ft. Clipse

20. "18 Wheeler" Pink

21. "Dear Diary" Pink

22. "Cinderella" Britney Spears

23. "Before the Goodbye" Britney Spears

24. "When I Found You" Britney Spears

25. "Let Me Be" Britney Spears

26. "Respect" Pink ft. Scratch

27. "Numb" Pink

28. "M!ssundaztood" Pink

29. "What It's Like to Be Me" Britney Spears

30. "Misery" Pink ft. Steven Tyler

31. "That's Where You Take Me" Britney Spears

32. "Señorita" Justin Timberlake

33. "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" Britney Spears

34. "Take It From Here" Justin Timberlake

35. "My Vietnam" Pink

36. "(Oh No) What You Got" Justin Timberlake

37. "Gone to California" Pink

38. "Catch-22" Pink

39. "Last Night" Justin Timberlake

40. "Worthy Of" Justin Timberlake

41. "(And She Said) Take Me Now" Justin Timberlake ft. Janet Jackson

42. "Never Again" Justin Timberlake

43. "Still On My Brain" Justin Timberlake

44. "Let's Take a Ride" Justin Timberlake

45. "Nothin' Else" Justin Timberlake

46. "Right For Me" Justin Timberlake

 

PARTICIPANTS

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Ah, I remember those days. The year I got MTV for the first time :smitten: 

 

edit: PM friendly list?  

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Incredibly, I've never actually listened to M!ssundaztood or Justified before, even though the singles were everywhere. So this should be an interesting experience!

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I think Misundaztood is the strongest overall album with the highest highs, Britney is not too far, and JTs album is kinda pure filler outside of singles.  

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I have never listened to Missundaztood and Justified but I'll definitely do it for this :party:

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4 minutes ago, Brando said:

edit: PM friendly list?  

Updated. I can't figure out how make a spoiler tag anymore, so I stole one from an old rate of mine.

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Just now, supaspaz said:

"Anticipating" for the win!

 

 

came to post this whew taste :clap3:

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P!nk being acknowledged as the leader of the Anti-Britney‘s when Avril was stealing the credit from her. Turns out she always gets the last laugh!:cm:

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12 minutes ago, supaspaz said:

Incredibly, I've never actually listened to M!ssundaztood or Justified before, even though the singles were everywhere. So this should be an interesting experience!

Justified is very underrated, easily in his trinity along with 20/20 and FS/LS.

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8 minutes ago, DancingShoes said:

came to post this whew taste :clap3:

We love quality!

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15 minutes ago, supaspaz said:

Incredibly, I've never actually listened to M!ssundaztood or Justified before, even though the singles were everywhere. So this should be an interesting experience!

I haven't listened to either in full. :rip:

Beautifully written btw. Especially this:

 

The sneering rocker persona she embraced would carry her through five more albums, several global arena tours, the birth of two children and the unmatched adoration of the country of Australia.

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4 minutes ago, prézli said:

Why is P!nk M instead of P? :cm: 

For M!ssundaztood.

 

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Best songs in order:

 

Cry Me A River

Just Like A Pill 

Family Portrait

Overprotected

Don't Let Me Get Me

Get The Party Started

 

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5 minutes ago, prézli said:

Why is P!nk M instead of P? :cm: 

Should it be P!ssundaztood?:bibliahh:

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I would do this cuz I like OP but I don't care for any of these albums :skull: Some good tracks scattered. 

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9 minutes ago, supaspaz said:

For M!ssundaztood.

 

Oh. I thought it was after their names.

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14 minutes ago, eli's_rhythm said:

Beautifully written btw. Especially this:

Thank you! It was fun reflecting on what was such a formative era of pop music for me.

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12 minutes ago, Wicked said:

I would do this cuz I like OP but I don't care for any of these albums :skull: Some good tracks scattered. 

It's only three albums, though. Much less of a commitment than most rates.

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