On Novermber 18, 2003, Britney Spears released her fourth studio album. “In the Zone” was the result of, as VH1’s “Behind The Music” put it, “a young woman coming of age.” In the years since her first single, “…Baby One More Time,” Spears had undergone several personal changes that reflected and influenced the direction in her music. Just a year before the album’s release, Spears had broken up with her “self-proclaimed first love,” Justin Timberlake. The two were the epitome of teen pop and a match made in Heaven. The ending of their relationship helped both grow as artists and entertainers. The breakup helped them move past the bubblegum world they started in. They were growing into adults and it was time for a change.

On Spears’ third album, “Britney,” the pop star spoke of yearning for independence. She was clearly going through a progression as the album’s style was divided into the bubblegum (“Bombastic Love,” “Anticipating,”) and adult (“I’m a Slave 4 U,” “Boys”). “In the Zone” seemed to confirm this transformation from little girl to grown woman. If Spears was “not a girl, not yet a woman,” she was clearly a woman during the writing and recording of her next project. A certain sexuality that was hinted at on “Britney” was taken much further on “In the Zone.” Songs like “Showdown,” “Breathe on Me,” and “Touch Of My Hand” are fine examples of Spears’ sexual expression. Everything from heavy breathing to masturbation was covered. Even bonus tracks like “Don’t Hang Up” touched on phone sex. Despite all the criticism Spears got for her sexy image, the sexual desire expressed on “In the Zone” was done in a tasteful, almost romantic way. On “Touch Of My Hand,” for example, Spears found a way to take a subject matter so many people sweep under the rug and make it sound poetically beautiful.

The album also saw more progression as Britney Spears, the songwriter. With each album leading up to “In the Zone,” Spears had shown more and more growth as a contributer to the music she was performing. On “In the Zone,” she has shown her greatest creative contribution to date, co-writing 8 of the 12 tracks. Spears also co-wrote the bonus tracks, “Don’t Hang Up” and “I’ve Just Begun (Having My Fun).” In a recent interview, Spears called “Everytime” her most personal song. She’s also cited it as the first song she’s ever written. The song talks about the loss of a love who still haunts your memory. The sadness and heartbreak are apparent in the song and conveys a real life message listeners can relate to.

The various musical genres “In the Zone” covers are also significant to note. From trance (“Early Mornin'”) to reggae (“The Hook Up”) to techno (“Brave New Girl”), the album saw a rare accomplishment of putting together an album that had a diverse set of musical influences, while still remaining a cohesive whole. The album also had an “all-star cast of contributers” with everyone ranging from Madonna to R. Kelly to Moby. Fans surely remember the infamous kiss shared between Madonna and Britney at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. What better way to follow up that kiss than a collaboration between the two pop icons in the form of a song and music video? Another single from the album, “Toxic,” won Spears her first Grammy Award for “Best Dance Recording” in 2005.

For fans of Britney Spears, the promotion machine for the “In the Zone” album was kicked into high gear. Memorable moments from the “In the Zone” era include the 2003 VMA performance, Britney’s “Behind the Music” special on VH1, the “All Eyes on Britney” interview on MTV, the “Primetime” interview with Diane Sawyer, the ABC special, the 2003 Rolling Stone cover, the performance at the 2003 American Music Awards, and the “Live from Miami” special of the “Onyx Hotel Tour” on Showtime. Spears also performed “Me Against the Music” and “(I Got That) Boom Boom (featuring Ying Yang Twins)” for MTV’s TRL in NYC’s Times Square. And who could forget the “In the Zone & Out All Night” special for MTV, where Spears gave surprise performances at 3 different clubs in Manhattan?

The “In the Zone” album surely gave fans of Britney Spears plenty of wonderful memories and they are still as special today as they were 9 years ago… if not more so. The album also reflected a growth, creativity, and sexuality that plenty of fans could probably relate to. With an honest exploration of feelings and a need for pure fun, escapism, “In the Zone” remains one of pop music’s most significant albums of the past decade. A successful move away from the bubblegum pop Spears sang of when she was 16. It’s an album that sounds just as timeless and fresh today as it did when it came out nearly a decade ago. THANK YOU BRITNEY!

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