In 2003 Britney Spears released “Toxic,” a song that would make converts out of pop skeptics, be named one of the greatest tracks of the 21st century by multiple publications, and become a personal favorite of Switched on Pop.
Despite its success, when “Toxic” was released as the second single from Spears’s fourth album, In the Zone, even the song’s writers thought it was too “weird” to become a hit. But thanks to the new iTunes platform, which was just gaining traction in 2013, audiences kept buying the track and helped push it to the top of the charts.
For many listeners, your hosts included, hearing “Toxic” for the first time was a moment of epiphany, an opportunity to rethink one’s views on the expressive power and musical invention of Top 40 pop. And almost twenty years after its release, “Toxic” is still rippling through the culture. It’s been covered as a jazz-noir ballad by Yael Naim, a screamo anthem by A Static Lullaby, and a bluegrass burner by Nickel Creek. In 2022, the song enjoyed yet another revival in the form of DJ duo Altego’s viral TikTok mash-up of the song with Ginuwine’s “Pony.”
What makes “Toxic” so enduring? For one, it’s the pull of Spears’ voice, as she moves from her chest voice in the verse to an eloquent falsetto in the pre-chorus, then combines the two techniques in the chorus. It’s the way the song’s producers, Bloodshy and Avant, combine a matrix of sounds that should not go together—a 1981 Bollywood love song, electric surf guitar, and funky synthesized bass—into an unforgettable melange. And it’s the lasting power of Cathy Dennis’s lyrics, which spins a universal tale of trying to resist temptation…and ultimately failing.
Britney Spears - Toxic
Lata Mangeshkar and S. P. Balasubrahmanyam - Tere Mere Beech Mein
Kylie Minogue - Can’t Get You Out of My Head
Katy Perry - I Kissed A Girl
Yael Naim - Toxic
A Static Lullaby - Toxic
Nickel Creek - Toxic
Mark Ronson - Toxic
Altego - Toxic/Pony Mashup
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