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August 27, 2022

Britney’s back, bitch.

After weeks of teases, nostalgic cover art, and a bizarrely haphazard debut at a French restaurant, Elton John has released “Hold Me Closer,” his new collaboration with Britney Spears that officially ends her six-year musical drought.

And what a thirst-quencher it is. Spears’ track record of collaborations hasn’t always been stellar—for every Madonna and Rihanna smash she’s had, there’s been an unfortunate Iggy Azalea or G-Eazy misstep. Thankfully, this one’s a winner that finds Spears back in a familiar club groove, only slightly shedding the robo-Britney vocal effects that plagued her post-Blackout releases and instead unlocking the deeper register we (finally) got to hear on her last studio album, 2016’s underrated Glory.

Her vocals here are relatively subdued, but she’s a perfectly fine match for John, as the pop royals deliver the well-worn chorus of “Tiny Dancer,” filtered through a Euro disco club lens. This isn’t Russell Hammond melancholily singing along to “Tiny Dancer” the morning after an acid-fueled bender. This is more like what happened the night before, when he was inspired to scream “I’m a golden god!” from a rooftop. In other words, it’s fun. Breezy. Euphoric, even, especially when Spears tosses in some playful ad-libs and a couple of her iconic “baby’s” and “mmm-yeah’s.”

Much like “Cold Heart (PNAU Remix),” John’s hit 2021 collaboration with Dua Lipa, “Hold Me Closer” is a slick mash-up of classic Elton tunes. The new song features that aforementioned “Tiny Dancer” chorus, while the verses are taken from “The One,” the sweeping, piano-driven title track of his 23rd studio album, released in 1992.

And that’s where we get some poignant context for this new collab. The One was John’s first album following his rehabilitation from drug and alcohol addiction. The singer’s manager John Rein told the Los Angeles Times in 1992, “He had had a lot of fear going in to make the album because he hadn’t made an album sober [in some time].” John later explained to Rolling Stone, “I was used to making records under the haze of alcohol or drugs. And here I was, 100 percent sober, so it was tough.”

Eventually, he got his songwriting groove back and completed the album, which propelled him back to pop stardom and became his first Top 10 album in the U.S. since 1976. It also marked the beginning of a wildly prolific time in his career in the early ’90s, when he wrote and performed the Oscar-winning soundtrack to Disney’s The Lion King and shot back to the top of the album and singles charts.

It was a true comeback for John, and it’s impossible not to hope the same could soon be possible for Spears, whose nightmarish 13-year conservatorship was finally terminated in November 2021. “Hold Me Closer” is her first new music release since the 2016 Tinashe collaboration “Slumber Party” (though a few other songs—“Mood Ring,” “Swimming In the Stars,” and “Matches” with Backstreet Boys—were released as singles in 2020 to coincide with a Glory reissue). In other words, she’s due for a comeback of her own.

Whether “Hold Me Closer” will serve as the launchpad to her pop resurgence remains to be seen—especially because we don’t even know if that’s something she wants. The lead-up to Friday’s release appeared to be a fraught one for the singer, who abruptly deleted her Instagram account on Wednesday night and admitted the following day on Twitter that she was feeling “overwhelmed.”

“My first song in 6 years !!!! It’s pretty damn cool that I’m singing with one of the most classic men of our time … @eltonofficial !!!! I’m kinda overwhelmed… it’s a big deal to me !!! I’m meditating more and learning my space is valuable and precious !!!” she wrote, adding in another tweet, “I want to be fearless like when I was younger and not be so scared and fearful. … I choose happiness and joy today !!!”

Whatever that pursuit of “happiness and joy” looks like for Spears, hopefully she can rest easy knowing that “Hold Me Closer” has delivered those same joyous emotions to eager Britney fans comforted by hearing her voice on a new song (and a danceable one to boot!). God knows it’s been too long.

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