Poison Paradise

After a year off, Popular has returned, and has reached one of my favourite number ones of the 2000s—it’s a few years until my next 10 out of 10, and I missed commenting on the last one, so it’s worth marking the moment.

Britney Spears, “Toxic”, 13 March 2004

I wasn’t paying pop much attention in 2004, so didn’t properly listen to “Toxic” until Popular inspired a personal Britney-binge a decade later, but I was enthralled then, and it’s lost none of its power in the intervening years.

As well as the Duane Eddy-like guitars, I love its echoes of Bernard Herrmann in the strings—two great mid-century tastes that go great together. I figured this would be such an obvious comparison that it would have been made many times, but I’m not finding it in online discussion of the track: an ILX thread from 2004 comparing it with a Linkin Park song talks about the Herrmann-like strings in the latter, but not in “Toxic”.

Google turned up a mention of a film composer’s recent reworking of the song for a thriller score, which highlights its Hitchcockian overtones. For me it’s an integral part of what makes “Toxic” so thrilling: it’s a Pavlovian Vertigo-fan response.

The video is terrific, too: its blend of 1960s air travel fantasy, spy movie, and supervillain escapades feels like a riposte to those who got so hot under the collar about her early ones. From after-school club to mile-high club.

One of the decade’s best pop songs, no question.

27 January 2023 · Music