Following her debut, Spears was credited with leading the revival of teen pop in the late 1990s. The Daily Yomiuri reported that "[m]usic critics have hailed her as the most gifted teenage pop idol for many years, but Spears has set her sights a little higher-she is aiming for the level of superstardom that has been achieved by Madonna and Janet Jackson." Rolling Stone wrote: "Britney Spears carries on the classic archetype of the rock & roll teen queen, the dungaree doll, the angel baby who just has to make a scene." Rami Yacoub who co-produced Spears's debut album with lyricist Max Martin, commented, "I know from Denniz Pop and Max's previous productions, when we do songs, there's kind of a nasal thing. With N' Sync and the Backstreet Boys, we had to push for that mid-nasal voice. When Britney did that, she got this kind of raspy, sexy voice." Following the release of her debut album, Chuck Taylor of Billboard observed, "Spears has become a consummate performer, with snappy dance moves, a clearly real-albeit young-and funkdified voice ... "(You Drive Me) Crazy", her third single ... demonstrates Spears's own development, proving that the 17-year-old is finding her own vocal personality after so many months of steadfast practice." Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic referred to her music as a "blend of infectious, rap-inflected dance-pop and smooth balladry." Spears later commented, "With ...Baby One More Time, I didn't get to show my voice off. The songs were great, but they weren't very challenging".
Oops!...I Did It Again and subsequent albums saw Spears working with several contemporary R&B producers, leading to "a combination of bubblegum, urban soul, and raga." Her third studio album, Britney derived from the teen pop niche, "[r]hythmically and melodically ... sharper, tougher than what came before. What used to be unabashedly frothy has some disco grit, underpinned by Spears' spunky self-determination that helps sell hooks that are already catchier, by and large, than those that populated her previous two albums." Guy Blackman of The Age wrote that while few would care to listen to an entire Spears album, "[t]he thing about Spears, though, is that her biggest songs, no matter how committee-created or impossibly polished, have always been convincing because of her delivery, her commitment and her presence. For her mostly teenage fans, Spears expresses perfectly the conflicting urges of adolescence, the tension between chastity and sexual experience, between hedonism and responsibility, between confidence and vulnerability."
Her vocal ability has also been criticized, often drawing unfavorable comparison to her pop rival, Christina Aguilera Critic Allan Raible derides her overdependence in Circus on digital effects and the robotic effect it creates. "She’s never been a strong vocalist..." writes Raible, "Could she handle these songs with stripped down arrangements and no vocal effects? More importantly, would anyone want to hear her attempt such a performance? Does it matter? No. The focus is still image over substance." Her image and persona are also often contrasted to Christina Aguilera. David Browne of Entertainment Weekly observed "Christina Aguilera may flash skin and belly button, but in her music and manner, she's too eager not to offend — she's a good girl pretending to be bad. Spears, however, comes across as a bad girl acting good ... Spears' artificial-sweetener voice is much less interesting than the settings, yet that blandness is actually a relief compared with Aguilera's numbing vocal gymnastics. In contrast, Allmusic comments: "Like her peer Christina Aguilera, Britney equates maturity with transparent sexuality and the pounding sounds of nightclubs ... Where Christina comes across like a natural-born skank, Britney is the girl next door cutting loose at college, drinking and smoking and dancing and sexing just a little too recklessly, since this is the first time she can indulge herself. Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine notes, "The disparity between Aguilera and Spears can't be measured solely by the timbre and octave range of their voices ... [Aguilera's] popularity has never reached the fever pitch of Britney's."
While writing the review for Femme Fatale in 2011, Adam Markovitz of Entertainment Weekly commented on the cultural significance of Spears' voice and music. "We don't ask a whole lot from Britney Spears as an entertainer...we'll still send her straight up the charts simply because she's Britney. She's an American institution, as deeply sacred and messed up as pro wrestling or the filibuster. Musically, though, Spears will always have to measure up to her own gold standards of pop euphony: the operatic slither of 2004's "Toxic" and the candied funk of 2000's "Oops!...I Did It Again." Spears is no technical singer, that's for sure. But backed by Martin and Dr. Luke's wall of pound, her vocals melt into a mix of babytalk coo and coital panting that is, in its own overprocessed way, just as iconic and propulsive as Michael Jackson's yips or Eminem's snarls."
Like other dance-oriented pop stars, it has been widely reported that Spears lip-syncs in concert. Author Gary Giddins wrote in his book Natural selection: Gary Giddins on comedy, film, music, and books (2006) that "among many other performers accused of moving their lips while a machine does the labor are Britney Spears, Luciano Pavarotti, Shania Twain, Beyoncé, and Madonna." Rashod D. Ollison of The Baltimore Sun observes: "Many pop stars ... feel they have no choice but to seek vocal enhancement. Since the advent of MTV and other video music channels, pop audiences have been fed elaborate videos thick with jaw-dropping effects, awesome choreography, fabulous clothes, marvelous bodies. And the same level of perfection is expected to extend beyond the video set to the concert stage. So if Britney Spears, Janet Jackson or Madonna sounds shrill and flat without a backing track, fans won't pay up to $300 for a concert ticket." Giddins adds, "it was reported Britney Spears fans prefer her to lip-sync—despite her denials of doing so (contradicted by her own director)—because they expect flawless digitalization when they pay serious money for a concert."In Australia, NSW Fair Trading Minister Virginia Judge has advised disclaimers be printed on any ticket for concerts which contain any prerecorded vocals. She commented: "There could have been some instances where people actually go and purchase a ticket thinking that they're going to have a live performance ... for some people that means that everything is live, it's fresh, it happens instantaneously, it's not something that's been pre-recorded. You want to make sure that they're actually paying for what they think they're getting."Noting on the prevalence of lip-syncing, Los Angeles Daily News reported "in the context of a Britney Spears concert, does it really matter? Like a Vegas revue show, you don't go to hear the music, you go for the somewhat-ridiculous spectacle of it all". Similarly, Aline Mendelsohn of the Orlando Sentinel remarked: "Let's get one thing straight: A Britney Spears concert is not about the music ... you have to remember that it's about the sight, not the sound." Critic Glenn Gamboa comments her concert tours are "like her life—a massive money-making venture designed to play up her talents and distract from her shortcomings with a mix of techno-tinged sex appeal and disco-flavored flash. And, like her life, it is, more or less, a success.
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