Every Britney Spears Album Cover, Reimagined
All nine of them, front to back, because I love pop. Then I packaged them up as vinyl records because I’m extravagant like that and you bet your ass I’d charge $30 per.
by Tag Hartman-Simkins
Just about every day I drop into a Facebook Messenger group with two of my closest friends. It’s the closest my life has felt to the way it was when I was only 16. We call it “All Shade, No Tea,” and in this group we give ourselves names like “Clumsy,” “Radar,” and “Mood Ring.” We share inane details about our days with each other — who we’re fed up with at work right now, where we’re taking lunch, who needs a drink before the work day is even done. We also send around photos of Britney Spears with a pink wig on getting Starbucks, Britney with a pink wig on driving her car, pop star brackets, Japanese commercials featuring pop stars, and memes I find on twitter. Also we say “man on the moOOOOoooOn” a lot.
We talk about our favorite flops. My current favorite flop is Reputation but ARTPOP is my all-timer; the other two are ride-and-die Glory lovers. Two of us have realized that as much as we slam Witness, we are still talking about Witness, which is probably how Katy wants it. (Wig, right?) But anyway, late last year around the 10th anniversary of the Living Legend, Original Flop™ Blackout, I noticed that all nearly all nine of Brit’s album covers are, to be blunt, not so pretty (with maybe the exception of Britney Jean, which I kind of adore).
Pop records back when Britney began releasing music twenty years ago didn’t get the kind of treatment they do today, unless the singer had the cultural cache to command a more refined and edgy treatment — say, Madonna’s Ray of Light album cover, released earlier the same year that “…Baby One More Time” was sent out to American radio stations. Madonna, though, had 15 years of a trailblazing career on the books by 1998 and a start in the New York Art scene of the early 80s. Britney was a teenager from a small town in Louisiana who’d been through the Disney star machine known as The Mickey Mouse Club, who did mall tours and whose competition to beat were consumer juggernauts like the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls. Graphic considerations were made to appeal to a young Millennial audience and, later, to an older voracious American male sexual appetite. Pop album covers from the turn of the century are the chintzy, fluffy detritus, an era just now being dusted off and re-cast by contemporary designers looking for new inspiration.
So my two friends in our Facebook Messenger group challenged me to a personal project — to redesign and reimagine all nine of Britney’s record covers. That was in November. It’s April now and I’ve finally completed all nine, front and back, including sleeve designs and vinyl considerations for the UO set. I did my best to use images from photo shoots taken around the time of each album for period-appropriate Britney. I sourced credit for most, although I note where I was unable to locate the name of a photographer or a source and if anyone can point them out to me it would be much appreciated. All of these were mocked up using a PSD I sourced from Graffr, altered in photoshop for a flat, pop appearance.
1 | …Baby One More Time
Released January 12, 1999
Cover photo taken from the “…Baby One More Time” music video, dir. Nigel Dick.
Britney’s debut album. Off white, lots of negative space with fine details and pink vinyl. I wanted to go demure and girlish here, much like the original, but tie it in with video imagery America would be familiar with by the time the album came out. The idea for this comes from the cover of the Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, the Pet Shop Boys’ Please and David Bowie’s Station to Station.
2 | Oops!…I Did It Again
Released May 16, 2000
Cover photo and back photo by Jill Greenberg for Teen People Magazine, February 2000; Obi Photo 1 by David LaChapelle for Rolling Stone Magazine; Obi Photo 2/picture sleeve photo comes from the original single cover for “Oops!…I Did It Again.”
Britney, by this point, had achieved global superstar status. At the time I designed this record cover I had been researching Japanese Playstation video game box art I had seen as a teenager when I came across a 1999 commercial for Suki Candy featuring a young Britney Spears. So I thought, why not design the record cover up to look like an import? East Asian pop art and design were incredibly popular in America in 2000 (watch the second season of Will & Grace), so this wouldn’t have been out of place. It would’ve told America, “she’s a global pop star.”
3 | Britney
Released November 5, 2001
I currently cannot provide image credit for the cover as I am having a hard time tracking it down. So far I know it is from a photoshoot taken during 2001 and appears on this blog without credit.
Britney’s first self-titled record, I thought I’d take the colors of the first album and invert them, pushing them to brighter, more intense shades. The stamped foil sleeves are discarded from another redesign. After I found the image I wanted to use I played with the typographic treatment for a few days until I settled on this one, which I like because the piping effect kind of boxes her in, as if to say the mononym “Britney” was eclipsing Britney Jean Spears as a real flesh-and-blood human being — which it ultimately did.
4 | In The Zone
Released November 16, 2003
Cover photo, back photo and picture sleeve image by Greg Kadel for GQ UK, November 2003. Record label radiation design by Vicons Design via Noun Project.
Describing this cover always sounds dumb, but I think of it this way: By the time In The Zone came out, Britney’s fame was at a near-obsessive fever pitch. I remember coming home from school nearly every day to find “Toxic” at the top of the TRL countdown. I decided to use high-definition scans from a GQ UK photoshoot from 2003 and treated them to look like a sweltering, humid, irradiated stew of prime-of-life sexpot magic that’s literally on the verge of a catastrophic meltdown. The colors also function as the kind of bright warning marks you’d find on poison dart frogs in a South American rainforest, beautiful but deadly toxic. I tried to make the type a color that would vibrate off the cover when one looks at it. I wanted the whole thing to feel both appealing and alarming.
5 | Blackout
Released October 25, 2007
Blackout, the cult classic. Coming off the heels of Britney’s public 2007 meltdown, I thought her image oughtt to be nowhere near it, mostly because Brit did, what — one terrible VMAs performance, no tour, two videos and a third that was animated? Blackout is best served by foregrounding the total absence at its heart. I made the sleeve a matte black cardboard that would have the title laid on it as a shiny black just a few shades darker, with thick rigid black sleeves for holding atomic orange transparent discs with only the side letters on them in the same slick black overlay. The first 500 orders might come with a pink bob shake-and-go wig and a bonus 7" with “Radar” on both sides. An insert would direct listeners to which songs are on what side, or they could just stumble into the club blindly, which is probably how Brit would have intended it in 2007.
6 | Circus
Released November 28, 2008
Cover photo is a video still from “Circus” (dir. Francis Lawrence), interior cover photo and picture sleeve photos by Kate Turning for the original Circus album.
This is Britney’s comeback album. Even my parents owned this one. The world wanted to see Britney bounce back from her nightmare, even if that nightmare produced an inimitable pop masterpiece in Blackout. I wanted the record to feel big, ebullient and triumphant, so I took a massive still from the video for “Circus” and treated it, turning it longways to stretch across both sides of the record cover. For the sleeves I used Kate Turning’s original photos for the album because I dug them so much and think they already did the job of making the record feel joyous. The records are clear and once again require a guide for listening rather than being listed on the discs.
7 | Femme Fatale
Released March 25, 2011
Cover photo still requires sourcing, as I cannot find any credit for it anywhere. Back photo by Randee St. Nicholas for the Piece of Me Vegas residency.
Femme Fatale is my favorite album of Britney’s. It’s kinda wacky, kind of aggressive, it’s danceable but it bears the grotesque marks of its era, combining the American dubstep drop with anthemic, filtered, crowd-pleasing EDM. It’s the first record of what I’d call her “modern” era, before she switched from Jive to RCA. It’s insanely catchy but because of that darker aspect I thought I’d give the album a “pop metal” treatment, go for a stark black and white capitalism-first vibe. Spears had little input with this album, so the idea of this being a “product with an attitude” really appealed to me.
8 | Britney Jean
Released November 29, 2013
Cover photo is a photograph shot by paparazzo Daniel Ramos, back photo is a paparazzi photo taken by X17Online.
This album was the hardest for me. Going into this project, Britney Jean was the record I was the least familiar with beyond its singles. I listen to each record over and over as I design the covers, so my thoughts while growing familiar with Britney Jean was that it was strange to have two eponymous albums in your catalog with only a middle name distinction. Was the addition of “Jean” supposed to make it more real? Was this a reflection of who Britney was? In 2001 Britney might have depicted a young woman embracing her burgeoning sexuality and the flattening nature of celebrity at the dawn of the new millennium, but Britney Jean came after the frustrating ups and downs following 2007. What better way to strip shit back and be real than using paparazzi photos of you literally beating the shit out of a vehicle with an umbrella? I dunno. That’s what a record with “Work Bitch” deserves, I think.
9 | Glory
Released August 26, 2016
Holographic foil covers were created by mixing images of holographic metal found on Pinterest with images of shiny sheets of silver metal.
I consulted with my Facebook Messenger group over Glory after I had a hard time getting my original concept — a silver foil treatment of the title stamped into royal blue velvet — to work properly. I dropped in and asked them, “What color do you think of when you think of Glory?” One of my friends said “blue,” just as I had also envisioned, but the other one said “I would want like a white gloss with Silver text. LIKE THE LORDS LIGHT [sic].” That “lord’s light” got me thinking about the sound of the record — pillowy, heavenly, soft — and I decided to go with an iridescent holographic foil cover. There’s something a little acid house“Madchester” about it to me, a little Soup Dragons/Happy Mondays. I took the Yeezus route and designed a thick sticker to seal the album so that listeners must tear it open to listen. I made the discs a transparent black vinyl which to me is a call back to the late 90s when backpacks, skirts and umbrellas seemed to made out of dark transparent plastics. First 500 copies would come with a bonus 7" of “Mood Ring” b/w “Sumber Party (ft. Tinashe).”
What did I hope to gain from this experience? I listened to every one of these albums about ten times each so I know her catalog really well. And I suppose that, Britney, if you’re reading this: Let me cover your next album.