It was uncertain whether Spears will perform again after leaving her 13-year conservatorship. She has returned with a brand-new duet with John and is now in charge in the recording studio.
Britney Spears revived her music career in July in a tiny Beverly Hills basement studio filled with candles, colored lights, keyboards, and her new spouse. Six years after her last album and nine months after being released from the conservatorship that had controlled her life for 13 years, she was at producer Andrew Watt’s house recording her parts for the duet with Elton John called Hold Me Closer, which combines what may be his most famous song, Tiny Dancer from 1971, with his 1992 song The One (and a dash of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart) from 1976.
Spears arrived with her vocals warmed up and clear ideas for her contribution. In less than two hours, she delivered a flawless performance. From his home in the southern part of France, John remarks that “she sang fantastically.” “Everyone claimed they didn’t believe she could sing any longer. She was amazing when she started, though, so I believe she can. She did it, and I was so impressed by what she accomplished.
The euphoric Hold Me Closer, which was released today, is John’s follow-up to Cold Heart, a duet he recorded with Dua Lipa in 2021 that included his hits Rocket Man, Sacrifice, Kiss the Bride, and Where’s the Shoorah? and made him the first solo artist to achieve a UK Top 10 single in six different decades. John says, “I want to do one every year for a nice, enjoyable summer record.” He and Watt debated who to bring in as a guest vocalist after finishing the new Tiny Dancer remix. Then David Furnish, John’s husband, had an idea.
The day after he astonished diners with an impromptu performance of the song at a Cannes restaurant, John adds, “He remarked it would be wonderful for Britney Spears to do it.” That’s a very wonderful notion, I said. For such a long time, she had done nothing. For a very long time, I had been monitoring what was happening to her.
John had been a fan from the beginning. He claims, “She just released very wonderful records.” She danced and sang well. She was “beautiful – adorable” when they first met at his Aids foundation Oscars viewing party in 2013. And they both had residences in Las Vegas at the same time, one at Caesars Palace and the other at Planet Hollywood. Although they frequently resided in the same apartment complex, according to John, “we didn’t really see one other.”
It’s difficult to conceive that many people saw Spears at that time given what we now know. Spears compared herself to a slave, earning millions for the controllers of the arrangement, including her father, Jamie Spears, while being given a $2,000 weekly allowance herself, in her frightful testimony to a court hearing on her conservatorship in June 2021. Spears claimed she was punished and put on lithium for rejecting some new choreography during the residency.
She canceled the residency in January 2019 and declared a “indefinite work break.” Soon after, the #FreeBritney movement gained popularity. Its supporters believed Spears was being used and abused, which turned out to be true. The New York Times published the documentary Framing Britney Spears, which chronicles her conflict with her father, in September 2021. John observed it. “You fail to remember that she was at the time the biggest star in the world. I’m furious after seeing what happened to her. Nobody should have been the victim of what happened to her.
A judge released Spears from her conservatorship in November 2021. The following month, she declared that her experiences had made her afraid of the music business and that she had no plans to resume her profession. She posted on Instagram, “Not doing my music any more is a way of saying ‘fuck you’.” But he claims that she was persuaded to sing along with John for the duet on her own.
Spears was scheduled to fly to London to record with John, but she decided to record with Watt at his Los Angeles studio instead because she was in the middle of her honeymoon after getting married to Iranian-American model and actor Sam Asghari. Under the conservatorship, she was not allowed to marry or control her own birth control. She was a new person to him. They discussed their favorite music when she came. “She questioned me about my favorite musicians, Prince, so I enquired about hers. Elton John, she said,” claims Watt. You can tell how much the song meant to her by the way she sings. She is screaming her head off.
According to Watt, it appeared as though Spears had not left the studio at all. She was really organized. She was familiar with the record and was aware of her preferred approach. He carefully explains how he changed the speed and buried the guitar from Tiny Dancer, which was originally so low in the mix you could not hear it, to create the song. It took on a disco vibe once the original bass and strings were extracted and sped up. He interrupted the song with a scale-climbing, heaven-bound sample of “hold me closer” to emphasize the feeling of transcendence. John then played a brand-new Rhodes piano (those are his original vocals).
With her posters on his wall, Watt is in the prime age bracket to have been a great Spears admirer since he was a young boy. He was immediately confronted by one of the most famous pop singers in history as she recorded her instantly recognizable, strobing, raspy vocals in the same space. She is amazing at doubling and layering her voice, which is one of the hardest things to do. She exerted a lot of verbal effort. I just let her carry on because sometimes the best thing you can do while you’re producing is to say nothing. She has a great sense of when she has the correct perspective. She assumed total command.
Spears originally recorded her falsetto bits before belting out the lines. Watt never had to request anything from her and could only observe how strict with herself she was. “Nope, again, again, again,” she continued. Then, he claims, she had a “great idea.” “She wanted to hear the music several times, so she started improvising all her amazing lines that make the record uniquely hers. Tiny Dancer’s voice alone makes her unique, but she also performed a series of incredible runs.
Spears was “very precise” about how she wanted her vocals and levels mixed after they had finished recording, he claims. She was quite cooperative and had several excellent production-related ideas. She knows how to play music that will get you moving. (In recent years, Spears has primarily performed via uploading videos of herself dancing that she has choreographed to Instagram.) She collaborated with the greatest artists of all time to create timeless pop, and so many of her albums are pop perfection. To get the record thumping and encourage dancing, we experimented with speeding it up and turning up specific audio aspects.
I contend that Spears must have felt free to use her knowledge in the studio given how powerless she claimed to be when creating her own songs during the conservatory. Watt admits, “We didn’t really get into that.” She went there to record and sing. She’s extremely skilled. If she was considering something like that, she entered it all into the record.
John acknowledges that Spears required some convincing thereafter that releasing the tune was the proper move. (She tweeted on August 25 that she was “pretty overwhelmed… it’s a big deal to me!!!” He claims, “We had to get her to okay what she done. Because she has been betrayed so much and has been out of the public eye for such a long time, there is a lot of anxiety there. Through the entire procedure, we have been holding her hand and assuring her that everything would be fine.
“I’m really glad to be able to do it with her because if it’s a great hit, which I think it might be, it’ll give her so much more confidence than she currently has and she’ll realize that people actually love her, care about her, and want her to be happy. After she endured such horror, that is all anyone in their right mind would desire.
John has a history of assisting musicians who are having problems in their personal or professional lives, including George Michael, Robbie Williams, and Geri Horner (Halliwell) in the 1990s and more recent performers like Lewis Capaldi, Oliver Sim, and Sam Fender of the xx. He claims that the recollections of his personal struggles serve as his motivation. “When you’re young, it’s difficult. Britney was in pieces. When I first quit drinking, I was completely destroyed. I was in a very bad situation. That sense of being broken has happened to me, and it’s awful. Fortunately, I have been alcohol-free for 32 years, and this is the happiest I’ve ever been.Because I don’t want to see any artists in a bad place, I now have the experience to be able to counsel and assist them. Many artists don’t have as much self-esteem as you might believe they do, which is why when we perform on stage and receive acclaim, when we leave the stage we are back where we started.”
According to him, musicians should “like what they’re doing and believe that what they’re doing is meaningful.” They deserve to be content, loved, and to receive encouragement from someone like me. Affirmations from Leon Russell, George Harrison, the Band, and Neil Diamond when I first arrived in America made me incredibly happy. It helps you realize how much they care, and it confirmed to me that what I was doing was appropriate.
Peer support is one thing, but should there be more regulation of the sector to protect musicians and stop exploitation? John argues that having a good manager is a good place to start. “Someone who supports you constantly and has faith in you. Reaching out is the key. I was too proud to ask for help since I believed that doing so would make me feel weak, therefore I never did. Many of these artists don’t ask for assistance, but I find out and call, and then we meet.
“I know very little about the music business. Everybody has a unique situation. Today’s young musicians have an extremely difficult time launching their careers. Sam Fender accomplished this with his second album. Little Simz has been excellent, but she was unable to visit America because she lacked the funds for her tour, which is a tragedy for her because the album is doing very well there. There is a great deal of pressure. What is, is what is. I’m Uncle Elton, though. They may call me.
According to Spears, “every day is a blank slate to strive and be a better person and do what makes me happy,” she tweeted before the album’s release. Like when I was younger, I want to have no fear.
John declares, “Rehabilitation is such a fantastic thing for everybody.” And I’m just hoping my fingers that this will give her back her self-confidence so she can enter the studio again, create more albums, and recognize that she is bloody good.