I'm a Slave 4 U

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"I'm a Slave 4 U"
I'm a Slave 4 U.png
Single by Britney Spears
from the album Britney
ReleasedSeptember 24, 2001 (2001-09-24)
RecordedJuly 2001
StudioMSR Studios (formerly known as Right Track Studios) (New York City), Master Sound Studios (Virginia Beach)
Producer(s)The Neptunes
Britney Spears singles chronology
"Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know"
"I'm a Slave 4 U"
Music video
"I'm a Slave 4 U" on YouTube

"I'm a Slave 4 U" is a song recorded by American singer Britney Spears for her third and eponymous studio album, Britney (2001). It was released on September 24, 2001 through Jive Records as the lead single off the record.[1] The track was written and produced by Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes.

"I'm a Slave 4 U" garnered mixed reception from music critics. Some critics argued it was the singer's most mature sound at the time compared to her previous singles, while other noticed the song's attempt to leave behind Spears' girl next door image and said her vocals were unnatural. "I'm a Slave 4 U" achieved commercial success, peaking inside the top-ten in almost every country that it charted on. However, the song peaked at number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at number 85 in Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, both being the lowest chart positions of the single worldwide.

A music video for the single, which was directed by Francis Lawrence, was released along with the single released. It features Spears dancing in a sauna. Spears' now iconic performance of the song at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards in New York City was highly criticized by animal rights group PETA for the inclusion of exotic animals. Spears performed the song on every tour since its release, including the promotional The M+M's Tour.

Background and composition[edit]

"I'm a Slave 4 U" was written and produced by Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo of The Neptunes, who also collaborated with Spears on another track from Britney, "Boys" (2002).[2] Both recordings were originally intended for American singer Janet Jackson's seventh studio album, All for You (2001), with her recording an unreleased demo version of the latter before handing the track to Spears.[3][4] "I'm a Slave 4 U" was recorded by Andrew Cleman at Master Sound Studios in Virginia Beach, Virginia and by Brian Garten at Right Track Studios in New York City, being later mixed by Serban Ghenea in New York City. Audio engineering was done by Ryan Smith and Tim Roberts.[5][6] After reading the lyrics for the first time, Spears stated it talks "about me just wanting to go out and forget who I am and dance and have a good time. That's kinda where I am now right now. I love working, but at the same time, I love having a good time."[7]

The urban song is backed with breathy and moaning vocals and scratching. The soundscape of the song has been noted to be similar to Vanity 6's 1982 song "Nasty Girl."[8]

Critical reception[edit]

Britney performing "I'm a Slave 4 U" on the Britney: Piece of Me show in 2014.

Ted Kessler from NME magazine stated that "the song is funk the way God intended —hypnotic, insistent, mysterious, suggestive— and if Prince was a nineteen-year-old former Disney Club host and virgin, he'd be proud to create such a record".[9] Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic agreed that "I'm a Slave 4 U" was a step towards a more mature sound.[10] According to Rolling Stone's Barry Walters, "although they're not the album's most melodious cuts, the Neptunes' 'I'm a Slave 4 U' and 'Boys' could be Britney's most important".[11] Bill Lamb from About.com listed at number nine, on her Top 10 Songs, saying: "By the time of this single off her third album, it was obvious Britney Spears was becoming an adult. This song is a radical shift from the "not quite innocent" 16-year-old schoolgirl of Britney's first album. Slinky and sexy have crept into the Britney Spears style".[12]

"I'm a Slave 4 U" received several comparisons to Janet Jackson's songs, with one critic noting "Spears’ main musical and visual influence has not been Madonna but Janet Jackson". "But Jackson’s not the only influence to appear on “Slave:” the Neptunes’ minimal, electronic production and Spears’ breathy, cooing delivery create a track that smacks of Prince." "Spears, on the other hand, became more and more interesting – and enjoyable – as she continued to explore elements of Janet Jackson and Prince throughout her career."[13] Lyndsey Parker of Yahoo! Music wrote, "'Slave,' written and produced by the Neptunes and originally intended for OG pop bombshell Janet Jackson, evoked the old-school sexcapades of Prince and his protégés Vanity 6—and in many ways, it was a real artistic leap."[14]

Chart performance[edit]

"I'm a Slave 4 U" peaked at number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the issue date of December 1, 2001,[15][16] becoming Spears' first lead single from an album not to crack the U.S. top ten. The track also became a top 30 hit on the Hot 100 Airplay,[17] but just barely made into the Hot 100 Singles Sales peaking at number 73.[18] The low sales points are due mostly because of the song's 12-inch single release instead of a competitive regular CD single. Despite the little sales, "I'm a Slave 4 U" became Spears' first dance hit, reaching number four on the Hot Dance Club Play chart.[16] It is also her first and, so far, only song to appear on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, peaking at number 85.[16] In Europe "I'm a Slave 4 U" was more successful, becoming a top ten hit in nearly every country that it charted in, including big markets such as Germany and France, where it was certified Silver by the Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique for selling over 125,000 copies.[19] The track spent two weeks at number-five on the European Hot 100 Singles chart provided by magazine Music and Media at the time.[20] "I'm a Slave 4 U" peaked at number-four on the official UK Singles Chart[21] and spent a total of 14 weeks within the top 75 and sold over 150,000 copies.[22] In the Pacific, the track was somewhat successful, debuting at number seven on the Australian Singles Chart. Despite spending a very short period on the chart, eight weeks,[23] it was certified Gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association for shipments of over 35,000 units.[24] In New Zealand, "I'm a Slave 4 U" debuted at number 46 on November 4, 2001 and missed the top ten, peaking at number 13 in its third week. The song spent just six weeks on the chart.[25]

Music video[edit]

A still from the music video for "I'm a Slave 4 U" featuring Spears dancing in a sauna.

The accompanying music video for "I'm a Slave 4 U" was filmed on a soundstage in Universal City, California, over Labor Day weekend on September 1–2, 2001, under the direction of Francis Lawrence.[26] It made its world premiere on MTV's Making the Video on September 24 at 5 p.m. EST,[26] the same day the song officially hit the American radio stations.[1] It was choreographed by Wade Robson and Crystal Chewning, though some of the dancing was choreographed by Puerto-Rican dancer and Prince's ex-wife Mayte Garcia, who taught Spears bellydancing for the video. Spears told MTV that the theme of the song and the video really matched who she was at the time. Director Lawrence wanted the video to move far beyond the "sleek" dance clubs of Los Angeles or New York. He wanted it to go global: "I came up with this concept of having this club be in this abandoned Asian bath house and having it be filled with young world travelers, the kind of people who would go to these far exotic places to go to a place like this".[27]

In the video, Spears and fifteen dancers employ the same choreography seen in her with Spears looking over a balcony whilst singing with cars down in the distance. Spears is portrayed as a slave to the music who dances all day until she and the other dancers are sweaty and near dehydration, forcing them to search for water, Spears is standing by a mirror at the sink. Two alternative versions of the video clip can be found on the Greatest Hits: My Prerogative DVD released on November 9, 2004.[28] The music video was nominated in three categories at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards for Best Female Video, Best Dance Video, and Best Choreography. The video clip for "I'm a Slave 4 U" was noted for its influence from Janet Jackson, with one review saying "Spears’ main musical and visual influence has not been Madonna but Janet Jackson, particularly in her visual element. The Jackson influence can be seen in the video for 'I'm A Slave 4 U', and it continues through 'Me Against the Music,' 'Boys,' and 'My Prerogative,' as well as her live performances in general."[13] The video ranked #1 in the list of the "50 Sexiest Music Videos of All-Time" published by Canadian music channel MuchMusic in 2007.[29] In 2011, the video would be compared to her "Till The World Ends" music video. Several references from the "I'm a Slave 4 U" video were made in the video for "Till The World Ends", such as the dancers crowding around her and the sweaty dancers scene.

Live performances[edit]

Performing "I'm a Slave 4 U" at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards wearing an albino Burmese python on her shoulders

Spears first performed "I'm a Slave 4 U" at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City on September 6, 2001.[30] The performance featured a white tiger and a live albino Burmese Python on her shoulders.[31] The inclusion of the animals in the performance brought a great deal of criticism from animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).[32] Other performances include several television appearances to promote her third album, Britney. She performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on October 11.[1] A special named Total Britney Live was aired by MTV on November 3, where the singer performed the song with "Stronger" and "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman".[33] Two days later, on November 5, Spears performed "I'm Slave 4 U" on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, and on the Late Show with David Letterman the day after.[1] A month later, she opened the 2001 Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas on December 4, 2001, with a performance of the track on a stage inside the fountains of the Bellagio Hotel.[34]

Spears performed the song on the 2001–02 Dream Within a Dream Tour, in a setting resembling the performance at the MTV Video Music Awards.[35] According to Jim Farber from New York Daily News, "But for all the bumping and grinding that went on, parents had no reason to cover their daughters' eyes".[36] To promote her fourth studio album In the Zone, she performed the track at the 2003 NFL Kickoff Live on September 4, 2003 at the National Mall. Other songs performed included "Me Against the Music" and "...Baby One More Time".[37] On September 14, Spears played a surprise concert at Rain Nightclub in the Palms Casino Resort, and performed the aforementioned songs along with a new song titled "Breathe on Me".[38] On November 17, a concert special titled Britney Spears: In the Zone aired on American Broadcasting Company (ABC), and included a mash-up of "I'm a Slave 4 U" and "Boys".[39] On The Onyx Hotel Tour in 2004, the track was included on the setlist, and had a "Flintstones-meets-Survivor" set.[40]

"I'm a Slave 4 U" was performed as a shortened version on the 2007 The M+M's Tour.[41] On The Circus Starring Britney Spears in 2009, Spears performed the song in a setting "complete with flames and a fierce dance routine", which managed to "rise above all the ephemera" according to MTV News' James Montgomery.[27] For the Femme Fatale Tour in 2011, "I'm a Slave 4 U" was performed as fetishistic shots of naked, bound men were displayed on the backdrops.[42] On her residency concert in Las Vegas, Britney: Piece of Me (2013–17), Spears initially started the performance sat on a throne surrounded by her female dancers who are playing in a fountain.[43] Later on, the throne was removed in favor of a pole. At the 2016 Billboard Music Awards, the song was once again on a stripper pole as part of agreatest hits medley.[44] While promoting her ninth studio album Glory in 2016, Spears performed the song at several music festivals worldwide, including the iHeartRadio Music Festival,[45] Apple Music Festival,[46] KIIS-FM Jingle Ball,[47] and the 99.7's Triple Ho Show.[48] "I'm a Slave 4 U" was performed on the 2017 Britney: Live in Concert Asian tour,[49] as well as on the Britney Spears: Piece of Me Tour in 2018, which covered North America and Europe.[50]

Cover versions[edit]

"I'm a Slave 4 U" was covered by the musical television show Glee in the episode "Britney/Brittany" sung by Heather Morris in her singing debut. In a dream sequence, Morris's character Brittany Pierce sings the number, while recreating several iconic looks from Spears's videos: the red catsuit from "Oops!... I Did It Again", the outfit with a snake from Spears's "I'm a Slave 4 U" performance at the VMA's, and the white diamond bodysuit from "Toxic". Morris also performed the song during the live 2011 Glee Tour.


“I’m a Slave 4 U” was widely seen as being a departure from Spears’ girl next door image and signature bubblegum-pop sound from her previous two albums Baby One More Time and Oops!... I Did It Again with the sound of the single leaning more towards “urban pop” and R&B and the accompanying video and live performances being more overtly sexual. Upon its release the song and video, as well as Spears’ performance at the 2001 video music awards, were heavily criticized for their overt sexual nature as well as for Spears only being 19 years old at the time and a self-proclaimed virgin. Many critics at the time compared the song and its video to that of Prince and Janet Jackson, who was offered the song and turned it down. Some critics also noted similarities in Spears’ slight transition from bubblegum pop and more confident overt sexuality to that of Madonna in the early 1990’s during which she to was transitioning from her pop sound of the 1980’s to a more mature sound and more explicit sexuality on her single and music video for Justify my love and on her Erotica album.

“I’m a Slave 4 U” was seen as so controversial upon its release that Spears received immense backlash from PETA, The Parents Association of America, as well as several other conservative outlets. After Spears’ Video Music Award performance, which saw her gyrating with a live albino python, PETA urged people to boycott Spears’ upcoming album and “Dream within a dream tour”. The PAA also urged people to boycott Spears and criticized her for “being a irresponsible and bad role model to young girls all over the country” with even the wife of governor Robert Ehrlich proclaiming “if I had a chance I would shoot Britney Spears” at a live press conference. In response to the backlash Spears said in a December 2001 Rolling Stone article “I don’t see the big deal and I don’t see the need for an apology. I’m a 19 year old girl about to be 20, I’m growing up and there’s nothing wrong with that. Besides no matter what I can never win, when I did “Baby one more time” they were saying I was too controversial so you can never win.”

While seen as controversial at the time over subsequent years since “I’m a Slave 4 U” has gone down in pop culture history with Billboard regarding the video and song itself as “groundbreaking, daring and artistically creative” in 2013. With the Britney album as a whole and “I’m a Slave 4 U” being its lead single many music critics have credited them for inspiring other female artist of her own generation and the her generation following her. In 2017 writing for “Rolling Stone Magazine” Peter Travers noted “In the early 2000’s there was no one bigger in music than Britney Spears and with her third studio album ‘Britney’ and its lead single “I’m a slave 4 U” Britney Spears started a new trend. The now cliched trend of a young girl transitioning from the Disney Channel to a squeaky clean pop image than into overtly sexual ‘femme fatale’ if you will. From girls of her own era, such as Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson, to girls of the next generation, such as Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, Spears blazed the trail of how to grow and sustain from Disney kid to pop sensation to pop culture powerhouse.”

The music video for ”I’m A Slave 4 U” has been heavily compared in the media to Aguilera’s music video for her own coming of age and into womanhood anthem “Dirrty” with many critics labeling the video a copycat. Noting the similarities Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic called Aguilera’s video “an over the top and blatant rip off of ‘Slave” and Jancee Dunn calling Aguilera’s “Dirrty” video “a shameless copycat” and noting “maybe instead of continuing to follow in Spears footsteps Aguilera should focus on showcasing her vocals considering she lacks the appeal and dance ability of Spears.” In an October 2018 interview with Cosmopolitan magazine Aguilera referenced the comparison of the videos and constant comparisons to Spears expressing how it affected her self esteem at the time.

“I’m a Slave 4 U” has also been cited by Miley Cyrus for influencing her song and video “WeCan’t Stop” likewise Selena Gomez cited “Slave” for influencing her 2013 single “Come and Get it”. In a 2010 interview with Vanity Fair Lindsay Lohan said the song and video for “I’m A Slave 4 U” was the main influence for her 2004 hit “Rumors”, with Lohan even using the same director Spears had previous used on her video “My Perogative”. At the 2014 Video Music Award Nicki Minaj had planned on paying homage to Spears’ 2001 performance for her own performance of her song Anaconda by using several albino anacondas, however MTV banned Minaj’s use of live snakes after a backup dancer was bit. In 2016 American-Spanish actress and singer Becky G paid homage to Spears’ 2001 VMA performance by dancing with a yellow anaconda at Univision‘s annual awards show Premios Juventud.

Track listings[edit]


Certifications and sales[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[88] Gold 35,000^
Belgium (BEA)[89] Gold 25,000*
France (SNEP)[91] Silver 197,000[90]
Norway (IFPI Norway)[92] Gold 5,000*
Sweden (GLF)[93] Gold 15,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[94] Silver 200,000double-dagger

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Release history[edit]

Country Date Format Label
United States[95] September 25, 2001 Contemporary hit radio Jive
Germany[96] October 15, 2001 CD single BMG
United Kingdom[97] RCA
United States October 30, 2001 12" (The Remixes)[98] Jive
Japan October 17, 2001 CD single BMG


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