In the Zone is Britney Spears' fourth studio album which was released on November 12, 2003 by Jive Records.
In November 2001, Britney Spears released her third album, "Britney" which portrayed more adult and provocative themes and featured the lead single "I'm a Slave 4 U."
The album has sold over four million copies in the United States; nevertheless, it was viewed as "poor-selling" in comparison to her previous efforts. The following year, her relationship of three years with pop singer Justin Timberlake ended after months of speculation.
After the "Dream Within a Dream Tour" in support of the "Britney" album finalized in July 2002, Spears announced she would take a break from her career for six months.
In November 2002, she revealed that she had started working on her next studio album. She explained, "Well, actually, I just said that I wanted two or three weeks off. [....] And the whole world was like, 'Ohmigod, [sic] she's gone..."
While in Europe, Spears met with William Orbit and Daft Punk about possible collaborations, and originally confirmed Darkchild and The Neptunes as producers.
When asked by The Hollywood Reporter about the direction of the record, Spears responded it was an organic evolution, adding, "It should just happen naturally from the way you feel. [...] Whatever happens, happens".
Additionally, Spears scheduled meet-and-greets with Timbaland and Missy Elliott in an effort to help evolve her sound. Elliott would also enlist in further production work with Nisan Stewart for Spears' project, however none of the initial material saw the light of day.
Spears also held a writing session with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. Murphy stated, "We were both lying on the floor, head-to head, working on lyrics in a notepad. She seemed eager to please, but it went nowhere. She went to dinner and just never came back."
Fred Durst was asked by Spears' management to submit material, and he wrote and produced three trip hop tracks that were recorded by Spears in January 2003; however, after news of an affair between them broke, Durst told Jive Records he was not going to let them use the songs for the album.
In March 2003, Lauren Christy from The Matrix spoke about the development of the album with MTV News, and likened their work with Spears to Madonna's 1998 album, "Ray of Light."
Scott Spock (also from The Matrix) continued comparing her to Madonna, saying: "She's taking it to the next level in her career. Madonna constantly takes what's in the club and puts what she does on top of it and makes it mainstream. I think Britney is starting to embrace that concept where she's looking to work on different stuff, instead of using the same familiar, and applying it to her. [...] I don't think [her fans] will be freaked out or upset. I think they'll be really into what's going to happen."
Spears also previewed several songs to Quddus Philippe of MTV in May 2003, including "Touch of My Hand", "Brave New Girl" and "Everytime". Spears commented, "I've really been able to take my time and have creative control and make [the new album] special, special, special.
On August 27, 2003, Spears opened the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards performing a medley of "Like a Virgin/Hollywood" with Madonna, Christina Aguilera and Missy Elliott.
The performance started with Spears appearing on stage on top of a giant wedding cake while wearing a wedding gown and veil; she sang the first few lines of "Like a Virgin" before Aguilera appeared from behind the cake and joined her.
Madonna then emerged from the cake wearing a black coat and a hat and started singing "Hollywood" before proceeding to kiss Spears and Aguilera on the lips. Missy Elliott came out from a wedding chapel to sing her song "Work It" halfway through the performance.
The kiss generated strong reaction from the media. The performance was listed by Blender magazine as one of the twenty-five sexiest music moments on television history MTV listed the performance as the number-one opening moment in the history of the MTV Video Music Awards.
For the album, Spears worked with hit producers such as Bloodshy & Avant, R. Kelly, Diddy, Christopher Stewart, Moby, Guy Sigsworth and The Matrix.
She first started writing songs for the album during the "Dream Within a Dream Tour". Spears commented about writing while touring: "The only thing that was scary to me is that I didn't know if they were good. [But] You can’t trust anybody. You have to go with your feelings."
Spears commented that she was an autobiographical songwriter, although not to the point she felt self-exploited.
Following the end of the tour, Spears invited her friend and backing vocalist Annet Artani to her home in Los Angeles. They started writing songs at the piano, and shortly after, they traveled to Lake Como in Lombardy, Italy.
Among the tracks they worked on was "Everytime", which Artani confirmed to be written as a response to Justin Timberlake's song "Cry Me a River" as well as "Shine" (written by Spears about her sister Jamie Lynn) which was left unfinished.
Earnest recording of the album began in May 2003. Spears commented that although she did not know initially what direction she wanted to go with the album, she took time to work with different producers and to find those who she had chemistry with.
The first song recorded for the album was "Touch of My Hand", and Spears said it "really did provide a balance for the rest of the record. We just went from there."
Following the recording sessions for "Everytime", Spears complimented Sigsworth, saying: "I just basically told him exactly how I wanted the song to sound. And he was so amazing because there's a lot of producers you tell them things and they don't get it. And you're like oh, that's not the right way. He got it just right. He was amazing."
Christopher Stewart and Penelope Magnet (known collectively as RedZone) presented Spears with the third song they had written and produced called "Pop Culture Whore". While her management liked the track, Spears rejected it, telling them the song "sucked."
After bonding with Spears during a night in New York City to "get in her world" as Magnet explained, it was easier to "actually write and know what she would and wouldn't say, to know where her real vibe is".
Stewart and Magnet began working on the first version of "Me Against the Music"; Stewart came up with the track, while Magnet developed the melody on a piano and some of the lyrics.
During the recording sessions, Stewart recalls that the studio's air-conditioning died for three days, but Spears "didn't complain or anything, and for me that shows she's where she is for a reason."
While rehearsing for their performance at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, sshe played a finished version of "Me Against the Music" to Madonna.
After Madonna commented that she liked the track, Spears asked her to do the song with her. RedZone then handed "Me Against the Music" to Madonna, who arranged and recorded her vocal additions on her own, therefore making the song a duet.
Spears (who has been a fan of Madonna for years) was "beyond surprised" when she heard Madonna's verse. She said "I just asked her to do a little thing, but she really went there. She did a lot of stuff to it."
RedZone were then enlisted to work on several more songs for the album, including co-writing the song "Early Mornin'", recording background vocals for "Outrageous" and producing "The Hook Up."
The Matrix commented that after they presented songs to Spears, she tailored them to suit herself, especially the lyrics.
Christy said, "... she really knows what she wants. She knows if she's trying something on that doesn't fit right for her. She's like, 'No, that's not me.' She's not one to strap on some sort of fake image." She also claimed to be impressed with Spears's vocal ability during the recording of the song, "Shadow."
Steve Anderson, Lisa Greene and Stephen Lee wrote the song "Breathe on Me" at Metrophonic Studios in London, England.
Before meeting with the other writers, Anderson thought of two concepts for songs specifically for Spears: one he had worked on "for ages", and "Breathe on Me", which he drafted on the morning of the sessions. Greene and Lee did not like the first concept, and they wrote "Breathe on Me" with Anderson. The song was produced by Mark Taylor, who kept most of the programming done by Anderson. With Taylor, Spears recorded "Breathe on Me" and "And Then We Kiss", which did not make the album.
Before the album was released, Spears's manager Larry Rudolph commented that it was important for Spears to continue moving away from a traditional pop sound, citing "I'm a Slave 4 U" and "Boys" from Britney as departures from her previous music.
Barry Weiss (then-president of Jive Label Group) added, "She has achieved what she set out to achieve, which was to make a mature album that didn't sound like something she would have done three years while still making a commercial album that has hit singles. [...] It's the kind of record she should be doing right now, and it came down to her to make it."
The album was recorded at Battery Studios and The Dojo in New York City, 3:20 Studios, Decoy Studios, Pacifique Studios, Record Plant in Los Angeles, California, Westlake Recording Studios in West Hollywood, California, The Chocolate Factory, in Chicago, Illinois, Triangle Sound Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, Metrophonic Studios and Olympic Studios in London, England, and Murlyn Studios in Stockholm, Sweden.
Throughout the beginning of 2003, Spears started testing tracks by playing them in nightclubs such as Show in New York City.
- Me Against The Music (featuring Madonna) 3:43
- (I Got That) Boom Boom (featuring Ying Yang Twins) 4:51
- Showdown 3:17
- Breathe On Me 3:43
- Early Mornin' 3:45
- Toxic 3:21
- Outrageous 3:21
- Touch Of My Hand 4:19
- The Hook Up 3:54
- Shadow 3:45
- Brave New Girl 3:30
- Everytime 3:53
- Me Against The Music (Rishi Rich's Desi Kulcha Remix) 4:31
- The Answer 3:55
- Don't Hang Up 4:02
According to Nielsen SoundScan, "In the Zone" sold 609,000 copies during its first week of availability in the United States, debuting atop of the Billboard 200 the week of December 6, 2003. It had the second-highest debut sales of 2003 by a female artist (behind Alicia Keys' album, "The Diary of Alicia Keys") as well as the fifth-highest debut sales of the year.
Spears also became the second female artist in Billboard's history to have four consecutive number-one albums behind Janet Jackson who held the most at the time with five.
On December 16, 2003, "In the Zone" was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments of over two million copies in the United States. It has sold over three million copies in the country according to Nielsen SoundScan.
In Canada, "In the Zone" debuted at number two in the Canadian Albums Chart with sales of 31,000 units. It was certified triple platinum by the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) for shipments of 300,000 copies.
In Australia and New Zealand, the album debuted at number ten and twenty-five on the official charts, respectively. It was certified platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) indicating shipments of 70,000 units.
The album debuted at number three on the Oricon weekly albums chart in Japan, selling 59,128 copies. In Mexico, it was certified platinum on December 17, 2003, by the Asociación Mexicana de Productores de Fonogramas y Videogramas (AMPROFON) for shipments of 150,000 copies.
The album was also certified platinum in Argentina by the Argentine Chamber of Phonograms and Videograms Producers (CAPIF) for shipments of 40,000 copies in total.
The album debuted at number fourteen on the UK Albums Chart, staying on the chart for forty-three weeks and jumping to its peak of number thirteen on its thirty-fourth week in the chart.
The album was certified platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) for shipments of 300,000 copies. It also debuted atop of the French Albums Chart.
In April 2004, it was certified platinum by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) for shipments of a million copies in Europe.
"In the Zone" received positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, the album received an average score of 66, which indicates "generally positive reviews", based on 13 reviews.
Jason Shawhan of About.com gave a positive review, saying that while the album's vibe is sexy, the result is a personal statement from Spears. He also added: "T[here]'s another thing about Spears' new record, as none of her previous albums ever managed to produce any kind of sustained emotional response than the pleasure that comes from a good pop record. I miss Max Martin, for sure, but it feels like Ms. S. has been paying attention to La Ciccone. To put it another way, this is Britney's True Blue."
Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic said that the album "[is] all club-ready, but despite some hints of neo-electro and the Neptunes, it doesn't quite sound modern—it sounds like cuts from 1993 or Madonna's Bedtime Stories and Ray of Light. Production-wise, these tracks are not only accomplished but much more varied than any of her previous albums."
Ruth Mitchell of BBC Online called "Early Mornin'" the best track of the album, but added, "Sadly, her attempts to prove her new-found maturity are what overwhelm and cloud all that is good about In The Zone."
Mim Udovitch of Blender commented, "This I’m-coming-out record is an unhesitant move from songs of the heart to songs of the groin [...] No longer a girl, freed from slavery, now fully a woman, she makes a pretty convincing mistress."
David Browne of Entertainment Weekly called "Brave New Girl" and "Touch of My Hand" the best and most straightforward moments of the album, but added that "On a CD intended to celebrate her lurch into adulthood, Spears remains distant and submerged. For all her freedom, she's still finding her way."
Jon Pareles of Rolling Stone said, "[Spears's] voice is so processed, its physicality almost disappears. [...] In the Zone offers strip-club, 1-900 sex, accommodating and hollow. Beyond the glittering beats, Spears sounds about as intimate as a blowup doll."
Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine stated, "Britney's fourth album, In The Zone, finds the pop tart coming of age with a bold mix of hip-hop and dance music, wiping clean the last traces of her bubblegum-pop past. [...] For the most part, In The Zone is a big, fat, thumping love letter to the dancefloor, which makes Madonna's involvement [...] even more appropriate."
Dorian Lynskey of The Guardian commented, "Unlike previous Britney albums, In the Zone has no filler and no shoddy cover versions, just 57 varieties of blue-chip hit-factory pop. There is southern hip-hop, deep house, Neptunes-style R&B, the ubiquitous Diwali beat and, most importantly, oodles of Madonna."
Jason King of Vibe deemed it as "A supremely confident dance record that also illustrates Spears's development as a songwriter."