When Britney Spears met Sir Elton John

American pop icon Britney Spears has been in the recording studio for the first time in six years with British music legend Sir Elton John. The resulting dance single is Hold Me Closer, produced by Grammy winner Andrew Watt.

It features the duo singing the opening verse of John’s 1992 single, The One, over a club beat, before going into the chorus of Tiny Dancer. Within hours of its release on 26th August, it became the number one trending single on social media across the United States.

Britney Spears
© Kay Blake/ZUMA Wire / Alamy Stock Photo

It entered the Billboard charts at number 30, marking a major comeback for Spears, 40, who has faced many challenges during her life. For 75-year-old John, it has notched up another big success in his career, as he celebrates 60 years in show business since the formation of his first band, Bluesology.

Spears’ early career

Born in the city of McComb, Mississippi, in December 1981, Spears started dance lessons at the age of three and made her stage debut at five, singing What Child is This at kindergarten. She went on to win many competitions and state-level talent shows.

At eight, she was enrolled at New York’s Professional Performing Arts School by her mother. Her TV break came in December 1992, when she was cast in The Mickey Mouse Club, alongside other future stars including Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling.

In June 1997, aged 15, she recorded a demo tape of some Whitney Houston songs and passed it to family friend Larry Rudolph – an entertainment lawyer, who pitched her to record labels. Subsequently, she was signed to Jive Records and went on a promotional tour around shopping malls, performing four songs with backing dancers.

Her first studio album, Baby One More Time, released in January 1999, went straight to number one in the US Billboard 200 chart and was certified double platinum. It topped the charts in 15 countries and sold more than ten million copies in its first year.

Star’s challenges

Spears became a global sensation almost overnight. To date, she has sold around 200 million records worldwide, making her one of the best-selling music artists in history. She has had six number one albums in America, while her singles, Scream and Shout, Oops I Did It Again and Toxic, topped the charts in most countries.

However, her personal life has been beset with problems. In June 2004, she fell during a video shoot for her single, Outrageous, injuring her left knee. After undergoing surgery, she had to wear a brace and spent months in rehabilitation, causing her tour to be cancelled.

During her recovery, she became engaged to dancer Kevin Federline, after meeting only three months earlier. Their relationship sparked a media frenzy. They married weeks later and went on to have two sons, Sean Preston in September 2005, and Jayden James in September 2006.

In November 2006, Spears cited “irreconcilable differences” when she filed for divorce from Federline. Their divorce was finalised in July 2007, and they agreed to joint custody of their sons.

Sadly, Spears’ life began to unravel after her aunt, Sandra Bridges Covington, died of cancer in January 2007. In February, Spears reportedly checked into a drug rehabilitation facility in Antigua but left after less than a day.

The following night, she was pictured across the world’s media, shaving her hair off with electric clippers at a salon in Tarzana, Los Angeles. During the following weeks, she admitted herself to other treatment facilities. In October 2007, her ex-husband was given custody of their sons following a private court ruling. In January 2008, Spears refused to relinquish their sons to Federline’s representatives. She was later hospitalised at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre and her visitation rights to her sons were suspended.

The courts also placed her under a conservatorship, giving her father Jamie Spears and attorney Andrew Wallet complete control of her assets. After being released from the hospital, she went on to win Best Pop Video, Best Female Video and Video of the Year for Piece of Me at the 2008 MTV Music Video Awards.

She continued with her recording career until her ninth studio album, Glory, was released in 2016. She has also launched her own fragrance range and enjoyed a successful Las Vegas residency.

In June 2021, the New York Times claimed Spears had tried for years to end her conservatorship. This led to a social media campaign when more than 500,000 messages of support were posted, using the tag #FreeBritney. The star publicly endorsed the movement. On 12th November 2021, Judge Brenda Penny terminated the conservatorship.

New collaboration

The release of Hold Me Closer in August marks a new beginning. The collaboration was a long time coming, as it was 2014 when Britney Spears met Sir Elton John. After their first meeting at an Oscars party, they hit it off right away.

Spears later tweeted how much she loved Tiny Dancer – almost like a prediction for her latest collaboration. After John approached her to sing on Hold me Closer, she told him it was “an honour to be asked”, expressing gratitude at the opportunity to work with the superstar.

John said he felt Spears had been “betrayed so many times” and had been “away so long” from the public eye that she was afraid. He said he and the crew had been reassuring her everything was going to be all right. Describing her as “an icon” and one of the “all-time great pop stars”, he said he was delighted they had created the song together.

He said he hoped it was a hit so it would help to restore Spears’ confidence. In an interview, he said he felt sympathy for her because it’s hard to be so famous when you’re young. Describing her as “broken”, he admitted he had felt the same way when he stopped drinking in the 1990s, as it had left him in a “terrible place”.

John said since he got sober 32 years ago, he had been happier than ever before. He married his partner, filmmaker David Furnish, in 2014. He says he has the experience to help other people, as he doesn’t want to see any artist in a dark place.

Earlier this year, Spears married model and actor Sam Asghari. She founded the Britney Spears Foundation to help children in need and is a known philanthropist who has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to charity.

While Spears is returning to music, John began his farewell live tour, Farewell Yellow Brick Road, in 2018. It is set to conclude in 2023.

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