Britney Spears Is So Back — and Now It's Personal Test listen new music from Britney Spears, Kanye West and the new Bob Dylan biopic.
NPR logo

Britney Spears Is So Back — and Now It's Personal

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Britney Spears Is So Back — and Now It's Personal


Music Reviews

Britney Spears Is So Back — and Now It's Personal

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Well, today is Tuesday. Of course, that means new music releases. We've got us some Britney Spears, some Bob Dylan covers, thankfully not performed by Britney Spears.

STEWART: You scared me so much there for a moment.

BURBANK: I know. Those are two names you don't generally hear used in the same sentence, although we've got some Unfitney fans in the house, including our own Matt Martinez, who the most excited I've heard him get in the past year was when he said, dude, the new record's online. He was very excited. Also, Kanye West has a mixtape out, which is not actually a tape, but link on his blog.

Here to talk to us about all that is Melissa Maerz, senior editor at Rolling Stone, who we like to think of as our little tour guide through the new music releases.

Hi, Melis.

Ms. MELISSA MAERZ (Senior Editor, Rolling Stone): Hi. How's it going?

BURBANK: Great. How are you?

Ms. MAERZ: Good. Thanks.

BURBANK: All right. Well, Britney's back in the news for once, not for showing her hoo-ha or bad parenting skills. She's actually got a new record out.

Ms. MAERZ: She does.

BURBANK: Yeah. Let's hear a little bit of it.

STEWART: Really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: Yeah, what a surprise. What, oh, she's a singer. Right. Of sorts.

Ms. MAERZ: Been a long time since we've been reminded about that.

BURBANK: Let's hear a little bit of the "Piece of Me."

(Soundbite of song, "Piece of Me")

Ms. BRITNEY SPEARS (Singer): (Singing) I'm Mrs. Lifestyles of the rich and famous.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) You want a piece of me.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) I'm Mrs. Oh my God that Britney's Shameless.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) You want a piece of me.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) I'm Mrs. Extra Extra this just in.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) You want a piece of me.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) I'm Mrs. she's too big now she's too thin.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) You want a piece of me.

BURBANK: You know, something happens to these singers where they become famous and then every song they write is about the trials of their own fame. Like, "No Strings Attached," when it was N'SYNC and it was all about being cut off from Lou Pearlman.

Anyway, back to Unfitney. How's this record, Melis?

Ms. MAERZ: Oh, I think it's great, and I think you're absolutely right on. I mean, but this the strange thing for Britney, because she really hasn't talked about her own life in the past. And obviously, she's not writing these songs, but this is the first time that she's really voiced any true feelings about her life.

There's a lot of references to the tabloids and how she feels about trying to take care of her kids as the same time that she's kind of not able to do that so well. And it's the first time that's really a self-referential record that she's put out.

STEWART: I'm sort of distracted by all the sparkly production.

BURBANK: Uh-huh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: I mean, I loved it. I love to hear what producers can do with a limited vocal talent, let's say. Are the producers the star of this record?

Ms. MAERZ: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think there's even a, you know, half-serious joke going around that some people believe that she's not even on some of these songs, that they've kind of like tweaked her voice so much that it could really be anybody, but…

BURBANK: Melis, let's hear just a little more of this for the sake of example here.

(Soundbite of song, "Piece of Me")

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) Or sneak away to the Philippines. There still gone be pictures of my derriere in the magazine. You want a piece of me? You want a piece of me.

STEWART: Gwen Estefani, line three.

BURBANK: Yeah. I mean, is that Roger Troutman from Chapman Rogers?

STEWART: Like the rest of the record (unintelligble).

BURBANK: Doo-wa-diddy, blow my thing. So is this a triumph, I mean, for Britney, is this vocally triumph at all, or is it just all production?

Ms. MAERZ: I mean, I don't know if it's a triumph for her personally other than the fact that it's just a really solid great album. She's working with Pharrell Williams and Timbaland and Bloodshy & Avant and just a really great, you know, the VIP list of producers. And there's some really excellent songs on here.

BURBANK: Did this change your impression of her at all?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MAERZ: Well, I mean, I don't think it's really a reflection of her. I think it's more a reflection of how her songwriters see her. And, you know, even the album cover looks like they're really scrambling to find photos of her. It just seems like she's kind of wasn't around. But by the fact that's she's still just kind of a beloved figure, you know, a lot of people are going to be interested in this record. And because the music is really great, I think it's going to sell really well. And I just think it's a great record.

BURBANK: Well, from the what some would say will be sort of pretty low-brow depths up to rarefied highbrow air of Mr. Bob Dylan, formerly of - where is he from in Minnesota? I forget the town. It's teeny tiny town in Minnesota

Ms. MAERZ: Oh, my gosh, and I lived in Minneapolis for a while, and I'm blanking on the name.

BURBANK: Oh, yeah, right the - Alison is Googling it furiously.

Ms. MAERZ: Yes.

STEWART: I know his real name is Robert Zimmerman.

BURBANK: Well, anyway - Robert "Bob" Zimmerman of Minnesota, also known as Bob Dylan. He's got - there's a new biopic out about him called "I'm Not There." And there is a two-disc CD that has all these bands that I'm fans of - The Hold Steady, My Morning Jacket, Karen O. from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Jeff Tweedy, Stephen Malkmus is on there, the list goes on. They're all covering Bob Dylan songs. And there's also an original bootleg of this Dylan song, "I'm Not There."

Let's hear a little bit of this here.

(Soundbite of song, "I'm Not There")

Mr. BOB DYLAN (Singer): (Singing) Heaven knows that the answer, she's don't call no one. She's a wave, a thing of beauty, and she's mine for the one. And I'm…

BURBANK: All right. And so now here is the Sonic Youth version of that song.

(Soundbite of song, "I'm Not There")

SONIC YOUTH (Rock Band): (Singing) Heaven knows that the answer she's don't call no one. She's a wave, a thing of beauty, she's mine for the one. And I'm also hesitating.

BURBANK: I was in Seattle last week, and someone on the radio station there was - a great station, KEXP - was playing the Stephen Malkmus song off of this record, and it was just like a Bob Dylan - note-for-note Bob Dylan, like, karaoke.

STEWART: It's pretty religious…

BURBANK: Yeah, why do you think that is, Melis? Why is that when people cover Bob Dylan, they just, like, do an impression of Bob Dylan?

Ms. MAERZ: I think they are terrified of the man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MAERZ: But, you know, it's strange because you think if Bob Dylan was invited to do a Sonic Youth cover on a Sonic Youth tribute album, he would have absolutely messed with it as much as he possibly could. So it seems like the real spirit of Bob Dylan would be to totally deconstruct one of his classic songs. But not a lot of people do that on his record.

BURBANK: Having said that, do you like it?

Ms. MAERZ: Oh, it's great. I mean, it's fantastic. There is a Jim James song that's fantastic. Steve Malkmus "Ballad of a Thin Man," which is really great. There's only couple of times - Karen O's track is not exactly what you think, but it's also kind of original. You know, she puts her voice on a very Bob Dylan-esque music. And it's not necessarily a combination you've heard before.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: The pride of Duluth.

Ms. MAERZ: Yes.

BURBANK: Duluth.

Ms. MAERZ: Duluth. Thank you.

STEWART: I can Google with the best of them.

BURBANK: That's right. Researching stuff on Wikipedia since 2007…

(Soundbite of laughter)


Okay. So Kanye West released a free mixtape on his blog. Wait. Kanye has a blog?

Ms. MAERZ: Yeah. It's kind of a funny blog, because it's shows just kind of how he's on his own world. Sometimes he'll link to things that have been around for a really long time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MAERZ: And you wonder, like, how much connection he has.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MAERZ: But, you know, it's kind of fun, also, to just get his voice, that you really do believe it's his voice on his blog.

BURBANK: Okay. This is from this mixtape. By the way, for one second, let's just say, mixtape now no longer has anything to do with a tape or a mix?

Ms. MAERZ: Sometimes it does.

BURBANK: But not in this case, right?

Ms. MAERZ: Not in this case.

BURBANK: Is he actually putting out - I mean, that's just that what - mixed tape is - it started out as, you know, guys on the street would sort of put stuff on tapes, sell them out of the back of cars. And now, it just means what? Anything that's not released through a major label?

Ms. MAERZ: Yeah. I mean, most of the things that aren't release through a major label. But sometimes, major labels release them, too. But basically, you have a DJ, you know, putting together a bunch of tracks that - from the artists themselves and sometimes from other inspirations. And it's a good way to get a lot of names out there. Like on this Kanye remix has some, you know, guest spots from Little Brother and you know, you have a bunch of kind of smaller name rappers who it gets to introduce at the same time, but letting Kanye do something that's not necessarily a studio record.

BURBANK: All right. Well, let's hear some of Kanye with 50 Cent.

(Soundbite of song, "Flashing Lights")

Mr. KANYE WEST (Rapper, Singer): (Singing) I'm over the, trips to Florida, order the hors d'ouvres, views of the water straight from the page of your favorite author. And the weather's so breezy. Man, why can't life always be this easy? She in the mirror dancing so sleazy. I get a call, like, where are you Yeezy? And try to hit you with a Oeur de Whopee. 'Til I get flashed by the paparazzi.

BURBANK: So, overall, how is this - wait, don't Kanye and 50 hate each other?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MAERZ: Well, that's the genius thing about this mix. I mean, Mick Boogie and 9th Wonder puts this together but…

BURBANK: Oh, I see.

Ms. MAERZ: …they both put out their records at the same time. And it's kind of great to have them, you know, hook up for this track when they are supposed to be fierce rivals.

BURBANK: It'd be like if Hulk Hogan and the Iron Shiek did that - okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MAERZ: And rapped, which would be frightening.

BURBANK: And rapped and went and had a time machine and came back from 1984. Overall, is it a pretty good release?

Ms. MAERZ: Oh, it's fantastic. And it's a lot of - there's a lot of great tracks where Kanye just talks about the record, which is kind of fun, too, because he can't help himself, but just, like, commenting on his commenting.

BURBANK: I love that. There's a - I think at the end of - I want to say "College Drop-out," his first kind of big record, I think he does this, like, 17-minute song where he just talks about breaking into the business.

Ms. MAERZ: Mm-hmm.

BURBANK: How he showed up in New Jersey with a bed from Ikea. It's so great. It's like a little artifact of his life. It's so listenable. Anyway. But Alison is giving me a look that says, get to this next thing because I love this guy.

STEWART: Oh, please. Oh, please. I love the band Gomez. Please, oh, please get to this.

BURBANK: Ian Ball from Gomez has a solo record out. It's called "Who Goes There." Let's hear some of that.

(Soundbite of song, "Who Goes There")

Mr. IAN BALL (Singer): (Singing) You can bet your life on it. This couldn't happen anywhere else. I knew I was in trouble. I knew I was in trouble when you came backstage, oh, God. It feels so contrived. I should have hit the ground running, go anywhere else. I knew you were trouble, but I have to find the woman…

BURBANK: Now - Matt Martinez is reminding us. There are actually a couple of singers in Gomez who…

STEWART: Yeah, we had to point that out.

BURBANK: …kind of have lots of - they have sort of two different sounds. This is Ian Ball's sound, I guess. What do you think of this record? I was loving that.

Ms. MAERZ: I think it's great. You know, he's been playing around L.A. for a while doing this, but it's the first time he's really put a collection of his (unintelligible). And Ben Ottewell - who's the other guy from Gomez - has put out his own record, so it's about time we have one from Ian Ball.

BURBANK: Mm-hmm.

STEWART: And Ian Ball, he did it himself, right? He didn't go through a label or anything?

Ms. MAERZ: He did. No, he put it out on his own label, Dispensary.

BURBANK: He put it out on a mixtape.

Ms. MAERZ: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MAERZ: On Kanye's blog.

BURBANK: Him and 50, and (unintelligible) mixed it. No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MAERZ: He did it himself, and, you know, he's been, you know, doing some production work for other groups, too, so he's pretty DIY guy. He can put this stuff on his own.

BURBANK: Meliss, what song have you been listening to on endless repeat list lately? Maybe not even off this list.

Ms. MAERZ: Oh, gosh. Kanye's "I Wonder," I guess, would be on my…

BURBANK: Is that off his new record?

Ms. MAERZ: That's off the new record. It's probably one of my favorite records of the year. I love the new Devendra Banhart record. I've been listening to a lot of that.

BURBANK: Yeah, although he needs to seriously look up T-Rex.

Ms. MAERZ: Yes.

BURBANK: He's ripping off Marc Bolan so hard.

Ms. MAERZ: Although, strangely, it would - talking about Bob Dylan, this record sounds a lot like The Band, I think, that he's got kind of a different vibe to it, which I really like.

BURBANK: Well, Melissa, we also appreciate you joining us, bringing us up to speed on all the music, and thank you so much for your time.

Ms. MAERZ: Thanks for having me on, guys.

BURBANK: We're going to take it out with a little Britney for you. This is - that was Melissa Maerz, senior editor at Rolling Stone. This is Britney Spears.

(Soundbite of song, "Piece of Me")

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) …you want a piece of me, trying and pissing me off. Well, get in line with the paparrazzi, who's flipping me off, hoping I'll resort to some havoc, end up in settling in court. Now are you sure you want a piece of me? You want a piece of me.

STEWART: Across the board, getting really good reviews. It's really kind of interesting.

BURBANK: She's a piece of something.


BURBANK: Britney Spears.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.