In Brief Praise Of “Sometimes,” For The Birthday Of Britney Jean Spears

On this day in history in 1981, Britney Jean Spears was born. There’s no need to parse out her best moments or her best leaks or the best times she made you feel not like a girl and yet, not quite a woman, either. You could do that any day of the week. In celebration of Britney’s birthday and the joy she has brought to this earth, I’d like to present a compelling argument for what I think is arguably her best work. Sure, it lacks the verve of “Slave 4 U” and it’s not nearly as provocative as her schoolgirl-with-a-secret-shtick in “…Baby, One More Time,” but it holds up just the same. I’m talking about “Sometimes.”

This Britney — first album Britney, pre-Justin Timberlake — is peak Britney. “Sometimes” is the dumbest, simplest, catchiest little tune. It’s a pop song so saccharine that you can’t help but love it. It’s not as musically challenging as some of her later work — “Circus,” a nightmare of a song comes to mind — but that’s part of its pleasure. You listen to “Sometimes” when you want your brain to reset. It soothes while it also entertains, which is all we can ask of the culture we consume. There are plenty of other songs that fit this bill too – “Lucky” is another one of her slow burns and “Everytime” is a low-key banger perfect for singing quietly to yourself as you stare out a window at misting rain, preferably while wearing white mohair.

These songs are great for brooding. Her uptempo jams — “Toxic,” “Gimme More,” etc. — are shower songs, intended to be blasted at top volume in the bathroom as you work out your body rolls without breaking an ankle. But Britney’s music shines in the quieter, moments, the bubblegum teenybopper crap that people ignore in favor of the rest. “Sometimes” is such a banger, because it lends itself very well to the lost art of punch-drunk interpretive dance.

“Sometimes, I run/Sometimes I hide,” Brit sings, all midriff and bronzed skin and weird mid-2000s ash blonde hair. Mouth the words to yourself. Try and stop yourself from acting it out. Run in place. Duck down when you hide. Marvel at how very, very stupid you are, but laugh, long and hard, because it’s fun. We love pop music for its simplicity, its glossy production, the way twinkly synths and big walls of sound make us feel. Listen to your Carly Rae Jepsens, your Taylor Swifts, but don’t forget who came before.