TJuly, in a small basement studio in Beverly Hills surrounded by candles, colored lights, keyboards and her new husband, Britney Spears She restarted her music career. Six years since her last album, and nine months since she was freed from the tutelage that ruled her life for 13 years, she’s been at the home studio of producer Andrew Watt, recording her parts in Hold Me Closer – a duet with Elton John that may have mixed his signature success, Tiny Dancer of 1971, with his 1992 song The One (and a dash of 1976’s Don’t Go To Break My Heart).
Spears arrived with her warm vocals and determined thoughts about her contribution, and nailed the performance in less than two hours. “She sang wonderfully,” John says from his home in the south of France. “Everyone was saying they didn’t think she could sing anymore. But I said, ‘She was great when she started so I think she can. She did, and I was very happy with what she did.’”
Released today, Hold Me Closer’s delightful sequel to Cold Heart, John’s 2021 Duet Dua LipaWhich combined his strikes to the rocket man, sacrifice and kissing the bride, and where is the shura? It made him the first solo artist to score in the UK’s top 10 singles in six different decades. “I want to do one every year for a fun, happy summer record,” says John. After he and Watt created the new Tiny Dancer remix, they weren’t sure who would invite him as a guest vocalist. Then an idea came up for John’s husband, David Furnish. “He said it would be nice if Britney Spears could do that,” John says, as the pair sit side by side the next day he surprised diners at a restaurant that was impromptu performance of the song. “I said, ‘This is a very cool idea. She hasn’t done anything for a long time. I’ve been following what was happening to her for a long time.'”
John was a fan from day one. “You just released incredibly cool recordings,” he says. “She sang and danced beautifully.” They first met at the Academy Awards for AIDS in 2013, and they were “beautiful – wonderful.” And they had their own residencies in Las Vegas at the same time, it’s in Planet Hollywood, and it’s in Caesar’s Palace. But even though they often stayed in the same apartment building, “we didn’t really get to meet each other,” says John.
Given what we know now, it’s hard to imagine that many people saw Spears at the time. In her chilling testimony before a court hearing about her guardianship in June 2021, Spears said she was punished and put on lithium for refusing some new choreography during her stay, likened herself to a slave, and earned millions to the ranking watchers, including her father, Jamie Spears, while allotted her a weekly allowance. worth $2000.
In January 2019, she canceled her residency and announced an “indefinite layoff”. Soon, the #FreeBritney movement became mainstream, convinced—accurately, it would appear—that Spears was being exploited and abused. In September 2021, the New York Times released the documentary Britney Spears framing, detailing her fight with her father. John saw it. “I forgot that she was the biggest star in the whole world at that time. Seeing what happened to her makes me so angry. What happened to her shouldn’t happen to anyone.”
Spears was released from custody by a judge in November 2021. The following month, she said that her experience left her fearful of the music industry, with no intention of resuming her career. “Not playing my music anymore is a way of saying ‘fuck you,'” she wrote on Instagram. But he says she didn’t need any persuasion to join John in the duo.
Spears was heading to London to record with John, but was in the middle of her honeymoon after marrying Iranian-American model and actor Sam Asgari – after she was banned from marrying or running her own contraceptive under guardianship – and recorded it with Watt in his studio In Los Angeles. Never met her before. When I arrived, they talked about the music they loved. “She asked me about my favorite artist – Prince – and I asked her who she was. She said Elton JohnWatt says. “The song means a lot to her, and you can hear it in her vocal performance. She sings her backside.”
It was as if no time had passed since Spears last walked into the studio, Watt adds. “She was very prepared. She spent time with the record and knew how she wanted to do it.” To compose the song, he meticulously explains, he took the guitar from Tiny Dancer, originally buried so low in the mix you can barely hear, and messed with the rhythm. Extracting and speeding up the original bass and strings gives it a disco feel. To amplify this sense of transcendence, the song is peppered with a sky-climbing sample of “Keep Me Close Up.” And John Rhodes played the new piano (these are his original sounds).
Watt is 31 years old, the first age he experienced his massive childhood of being a Spears fan with her posters on his wall. Now he’s faced with one of the biggest pop stars of all time recording her instantly recognizable vocals, glamour, and crackles in the same room. “She’s incredible in layering her voice and doubling her voice, which is one of the hardest things to do. She’s pushed herself too loud. Sometimes when she’s producing, the greatest thing you can do in the world is to say nothing, so I let her do what You want. She’s very good at knowing when she’s got the right picture. She has taken complete control.”
Spears scored the bogus parts first, then the lines the belts were on. Watt never had to ask her to do anything, and watched her impose her high standards. ‘ She continued: ‘No, again, again, again. Then she had a “great idea,” he says. “She wanted to listen to music a few times and started doing all of her great commercials that made the recording. to her. Tiny Dancer considers her voice special enough, but then she’s done all these amazing runs.”
Once on record, Spears was “incredibly specific” about how she wanted her voices and levels to mix, he says. “She was really collaborative and had really good ideas about the production. She is a music expert to make you dance.” (Spears’ primary performance in recent years has been posting self-styled dance videos to Instagram.) “A lot of her recordings are perfect pop, she’s worked with the greatest times ever and made timeless pop. We’ve experimented with speeding up the recording and transforming certain elements of the sound to make it pump and make you want to dance.”
Given how disenfranchised Spears said she was in the process of making her own music during the regency, she must have felt free to exercise her expertise in the studio, I suggest. “We didn’t really get into that,” Watt says. “She came there to sing and record. She is very professional. And if that was something she was thinking about, she recorded everything.”
John admits that afterward, Spears needed some convincing that releasing the track was the right thing to do. (On August 25, she tweeted “She’s kind of overwhelmed…it’s a big deal to me!!!”) “We had to get her to agree to what I did,” he says. “She has been away for a long time – there is a lot of fear because she has been betrayed so many times and has not been in the public eye officially for so long. We have been holding her hand through the whole process, and he has reassured her that everything will be OK.”
“I’m so excited to be able to do that with her because if it’s a huge success, and I think it might be, it’s going to give her so much more confidence than I’ve already got and she’ll realize that people really love her and take care of her and I want her to be happy. That’s all anyone wants.” In his right mind after going through such a painful time.”
John is no stranger to helping musicians who are facing difficulties both in their personal and professional lives, from George Michael, Robbie Williams and Jerry Horner (Halliwell) in the ’90s by contemporary artists such as Lewis Capaldi, Oliver Syme VXX, and Sam Fender. He says he is driven by his memories of his struggle. “It’s hard when you’re young. Britney was broken. I was broken when I got sober. I was in a horrible place. I’ve had this broken feeling and it’s awful. Thankfully, I’ve been sober for 32 years and it’s the happiest I’ve ever been.” Now I have the experience to be able to advise and help people because I don’t want to see any artists in a dark place A lot of artists, you might think they have a lot of self-respect but they don’t so that’s why we went up on stage and got applause and then we go offstage and back to square one.”
He wants the musicians to enjoy what they’re doing and feel worth it, he said. “They deserve to be happy and to be loved and to have affirmation from someone like me. When I first went to America, I had affirmations from Leon Russell, George Harrison, the band, Neil Diamond – it made me so happy. It makes you realize they cared and may Gave me validation what I was doing was good.”
Peer support is one thing: should the industry be better regulated to support musicians and prevent exploitation? “It comes down to having a good manager to start with,” John says. “Someone is with you 24/7, believes in you. It’s all about communication. I never reached out and asked for help because I thought I was too proud – you’d make me feel vulnerable. Not many of these artists ask for help, so I figure that out and I reach out and then come together.” .
“I don’t really know the music industry. Everyone has a different situation. It’s very difficult today for young musicians to start a career. Sam Fender did it with his second record. Little Simz was great, but she couldn’t go to America because she didn’t have the money to do With her tour, which is a disaster for her because the record is doing so well in America. So there’s a lot of pressure. That’s what it is. But I’m Uncle Elton. They can call me.”
As for Spears, she tweeted prior to the release saying that she’s learning “every day is a clean slate of trying to be a better person and doing what makes me happy…I want to be as brave as I’d be younger.”
“Rehabilitation is a great thing for anyone,” John says. “And I’m just crossing my fingers because that will restore her confidence to go back to the studio, make more recordings, and realize she’s so good.”