Britney and Dubstep’s Unlikely Union

January 24, 2011 12:00 am0 comments
Matt Samet

A look at the ever growing influence of dubstep and its appearance in the #1 hit “Hold It Against Me” by Britney Spears.

With a new year comes new music.  Just when 2011 seemed like it would birth more of the same old, watered-down dance-pop, Britney Spears, of all artists, brings current trends to their knees.  In her new single, “Hold It Against Me,” Spears has brought the underground dubstep genre into the mainstream.  While it is indeed too early to tell what may happen next, I predict that dubstep will increasingly be incorporated into new pop hits.  While that may be distressing to dubstep fans, it is probably inevitable that pop will capitalize on the underground trend.

Although Britney’s new song is what I believe to be the first true mainstream dubstep track, the movement to incorporate dubstep into pop music started at least a year ago.  Rihanna worked with popular dubstep artist Rusko on her album Rated R, and although his tracks didn’t make the cut, the tracks of his dubstep counterparts Chase & Status did.  However, Rihanna was unsuccessful in fully incorporating dubstep. Although Chase & Status produced the promo single “Wait Your Turn,” the dubstep influence was unrecognizable.  If her switch back to pop for Loud was any indication, she realized that she failed too.  Luckily, Rusko is also supposedly writing for Britney’s new album.  While he neither wrote or produced “Hold It Against Me,” Rusko’s involvement can only signal a more committed foray into dubstep.

If the success of “Hold It Against Me” so far is any indication, dubstep certainly has a bright future.  The track broke the record for daily spins on first release, and reached number one on iTunes in 17 countries within hours of release.  Despite the experimental nature of the song — dubstep is virtually unknown by those who listen to popular music exclusively — audience impressions have been stellar. Bloggers and writers, most notably MTV, are now discussing dubstep influences in the song over the Internet.  If this publicity continues, dubstep will likely become popular with mainstream audiences.

Yet people have also been   up  in arms that “Hold It Against Me” isn’t real dubstep at all and that the hype is all a fuss over nothing.  Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of dubstep.  To me, dubstep is either one of two things.  It is either grating, concentrating on rough instrumentals that blur vocals and induce headaches, or it is dark and brooding, making songs sound rather boring and awfully similar.  Britney’s song is certainly not pure dubstep.  Britney kicks up the dubstep in between verses and during the show-stopping, minute long dance break, but during her actual verses the instrumental is light. It’s devoid of a musical hook until the very end, when the verses transform into a soaring chorus with the dubstep instrumental.  Thus, Britney has managed to make the dubstep instrumental the highlight of the song without ruining her vocals. “Hold It Against Me” would probably be classified as pop-dubstep and I wouldn’t be surprised if that term becomes ubiquitous. 

It also may be wishful thinking to believe that one song can change the sound of pop music, but it’s been done before by Britney herself.  Her song “Toxic” is still widely credited for changing the face of dance-pop in the 2000s.  Although nothing truly captured the exact sound of that monster tune, it introduced an influx of electro pop into the modern market, providing the blueprint for various smash hits.  Britney has been known to go against the grain and be experimental — Blackout’s “Piece of Me” for instance.  Despite some negative popular opinion surrounding her, credit must be given where it is due.  It may seem pathetic, but Britney could very well start the pop-dubstep genre.

For those upset that dubstep may be reaching the mainstream, I wouldn’t blame Britney for ruining the “secret” that is dubstep.  Many people give pop music less credit than it deserves.  Pop is very smart — anything underground that becomes famous is fair game.  The current successes of dance songs like “We No Speak Americano” and “Stereo Love” in the U.S. are evidence of this.  Even if there is an embarrassing one-year difference, in the case of “Stereo Love”, pop music will discover something different to incorporate.  Dubstep is the next logical step for pop’s transformation.  Love it or hate it, dubstep may become the sound of 2011 and beyond.