February 22, 2019

Remembering "E-Mail My Heart"

“If Britney Spears’ first single “ … Baby One More Time,” released in fall 1998, was a perfect piece of sweet, pink bubblegum, then the arrival of her debut album of the same name a few months later was a full pack of the stuff, promising more where that came from: 10 additional sugar hits for the teeny-bopper in training. The album came out almost exactly 20 years ago, on Jan. 12, 1999, and as these things go, it contained a fairly typical mix of hits and filler—for every “Sometimes,” Spears’ second single, listeners also got an “I Will Be There,” the kind of song you wouldn’t be able to pick out of an audio lineup.

But one track stood apart from the rest, even at the time. “E-Mail My Heart” was a love ballad with a digital twist: “Email me back and say our love will stay alive,” Spears crooned in the song’s chorus. In 2016, NME called it “the weirdest song [Spears] ever recorded,” elaborating, “What’s weird is that email and online culture weren’t even that nascent in 1999.” If the song already felt like a relic when it came out, the intervening decades have transformed it from a somewhat clumsy deep cut into a Web 1.0–era curiosity and shibboleth, the musical equivalent of that 1994 Today show clip where Bryant Gumbel asks earnestly, “What is internet?” It lives on in a famous GIF that depicts a wide-eyed Spears explaining the song’s genesis (“Everyone has been doing emails”) and in internet lists like the Ringer’s “Antiquated Tech Pop Lyrics Museum.” But the strangest thing about it might be that, even after all these years, no one can quite decide whether it’s good or not. When the matter came up in an episode of Rolling Stone’s Music Now podcast about “ … Baby One More Time,” writer Rob Sheffield declared, “Love that song.” “You do not love that song,” host Brian Hiatt shot back.”

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