Britney Spears’ 1998 breakout hit “...Baby One More Time” is so deeply embedded in the cultural consciousness of its era that it’s almost impossible to remember what its lyrics actually mean. Britney’s loneliness is killing her, yes, and she has a lot of thoughts on babies, but what, exactly, is going on with the song’s deceptively sugary hook about getting hit?
The Guardian’s Michael Cragg has excavated the story behind “...Baby One More Time,” finding that this line was a point of contention in at least one case before Spears made it her own. In his look at the making of the single, Cragg details the artists who considered the track after it was written by Swedish hitmaker Max Martin. The list included TLC, whose Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, quite reasonably, remembered thinking, “Was I going to say ‘Hit me baby one more time’? Hell no!”
Somehow, after being reminded that the lyrics sure do sound like an ode to physically abusive relationships, the song continued to be shopped around, now renamed “...Baby One More Time” instead of “Hit Me Baby (One More Time.” Eventually it found its way to the still-unknown Britney Spears who agreed to let go of her prior ambitions to perform “Sheryl Crow music, but younger” and flew to Stockholm to record the antiseptic, R&B-flavored earworm.
The lyrics that concerned TLC were left intact throughout, which seems bizarre given that there’s no greater reason for their existence than some linguistic misunderstanding. According to Cragg, the line “actually represented Martin’s attempts at American slang.” The Swedish songwriter “[believed] ‘hit me’ could seamlessly replace ‘call me’.”
The rest of the article is well worth a read for anyone looking to bolster their store of late ‘90s pop trivia. For instance, Simon Cowell thought “Britney Spears” was not a good name for show business, and the high school music video concept and costuming was thought up by Spears after the directors’ initial concepts fell flat. Other pressing questions, like whose glorious fingers were popping that bass line and how many takes the video’s slow-mo cartwheels required, will have to remain a mystery for now.
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