Britney Spears has released her first new music since being released from a conservatorship that controlled almost every aspect of her life.
Hold Me Closer – a duet with Sir Elton John – hit streaming sites on Friday, marking Spears’ return to music after a six-year hiatus.
“It’s pretty damn cool that I’m singing with one of the most classic men of our time,” she said ahead of the release.
“I’m kinda overwhelmed… it’s a big deal to me!”
The song incorporates three of Sir Elton’s classic hits – Tiny Dancer, The One and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart – over a summer-fresh club beat.
Spears and Sir Elton sing in unison throughout the track with their voices drenched in echo, making it hard to assess how Spears’ voice has changed since we last heard from her.
However, she lets loose with a few ad libs – including a trademark “baby” halfway through the track – that suggests her vocals have matured and deepened over the last six years. (An unsubstantiated fan theory contends this is Britney’s natural register, and that she was forced to sing in a “fake baby voice” by her former managers).
Sonically, Hold Me Closer is cut from the same cloth as Cold Heart, the Dua Lipa duet that gave Sir Elton John a global number one hit last year.
That formula proved irresistible to multiple radio formats and streaming playlists, and helped introduce Sir Elton’s hits to a younger generation.
It’s no surprise that he’s trying to recreate the magic on this follow-up, which also melds two eras of pop, with the two stars singing nostalgic melodies over an airbrushed disco groove.
Fans welcomed the release of Hold Me Closer, but the song has not gone down well so far with critics
In an interview with The Guardian, Sir Elton said it had been his husband, David Furnish, who suggested putting Spears on the track.
“She sang fantastically,” said the star. “Everyone was saying they don’t think she can sing any more. But I said, she was brilliant when she started so I think she can. And she did it, and I was so thrilled with what she did.”
Sir Elton previewed the song to diners at a French beach restaurant earlier this week, singing along as a DJ played the track.
“I am absolutely thrilled to have had the chance to work with Britney Spears,” the star said.
“She truly is an icon, one of the all-time great pop stars and she sounds amazing on this record. I love her dearly and am delighted with what we’ve created together.”
Last November, Spears was freed from the controversial conservatorship that controlled almost every aspect of her life for 13 years.
It meant the star could once again take control of her finances, career and personal life, and would no longer have to pay a team of professionals and lawyers to oversee her affairs.
Although fans have been clamouring for her to return to music, the star has been reluctant to take that step.
In a series of Instagram posts last year, she said she was “staying clear” of the music industry.
“People have no idea the awful things that were done to me personally,” she wrote. “And after what I’ve been through, I’m scared of people and the business!”
Sir Elton has often supported musicians who are struggling in their personal and professional lives, from Robbie Williams to Eminem, and he says his approach to Spears was motivated by the same instincts.
“It’s hard when you’re young. Britney was broken. I was broken when I got sober. I was in a terrible place. I’ve been through that broken feeling and it’s horrible,” he told The Guardian.
“And luckily enough, I’ve been sober for 32 years and it’s the happiest I’ve ever been. Now I’ve got the experience to be able to advise people and help them because I don’t want to see any artists in a dark place.”