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Britney Spears' '...Baby One More Time' remains an iconic launch point as it turns 20

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 1/12/2019 Anika Reed
a woman posing for a picture © JIVE RECORDS   

It's the album that launched one of the biggest pop stars of the 21st century.

"...Baby One More Time" celebrates its 20th anniversary on Jan. 12, and though it has only been two decades, it's hard to remember a time without Britney Spears.

A little-known teenager with Bible Belt roots and credits on "Star Search" and as a Mouseketeer, Spears was catapulted to international fame and pop superstardom thanks to her debut album.

The album's eponymous single and its corresponding video are the stuff of legend, with a song that brings people together and takes you back to where you were in life when you first discovered Spears, on the cusp of becoming a major mainstream artist.

While the album as a whole is certainly of its time (see "E-Mail My Heart"), its lead singles "...Baby One More Time," "Sometimes" and "(You Drive Me) Crazy" are classics that are both timeless and crucial pieces of pop culture history that could be pulled out of a time capsule for Y2K.  

It's not the strongest pop debut album of all time. It probably doesn't even crack the top 10, to be honest. But a star was born out of the Swedish-produced tracks and gave Spears the floor to dance and sing (or lip-sync, on occasion) her way into mainstream America's hearts with her subsequent albums, music videos, tours and awards show performances.

The album launched more than just one single star – with Spears, it ushered in an entire era of everything from pop royalty rankings to paparazzi chaos and changing attitudes about womanhood and mental illness. So much that we came to know and talk about in pop music and the surrounding tabloid fodder was influenced in part by Spears.

She has one of the most consistent careers, despite many tumultuous years in the spotlight that had fans worried that she might not pull through. Spears was caught in a downward spiral, having gone through a troubled marriage and divorce with Kevin Federline, becoming a mother of two in the spotlight before turning 25, shaving her head, being put under the conservatorship of her father and a lawyer and being chased by the paparazzi through all of it. 

But she has not only pulled through, she's pulled herself back up to a place where she's on top in her own realm and still making music, though she's currently on a work hiatus because of her father's illness. She is now celebrated where she was once torn down, becoming a beacon of resilience for her fans around the world.

And though Spears has evolved and grown from the teen pop era that made her a superstar, "...Baby One More Time" remains as a lasting and influential vignette – of a girl, of a time, of a feeling.

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