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‘Britney was broke. I’m broken and it’s terrible’: Elton John on helping Britney Spears sing again Elton John

TeaTheir July, Britney Spears resumed her music career in a small basement studio in Beverly Hills surrounded by candles, colored lights, keyboards and her new husband. Six years after her last album, and nine months after she had been freed from the stereotype that had ruled her life for 13 years, she was in the home studio of producer Andrew Watts, performing her parts for Hold Me Closer. was recording – a duet with Elton John that perhaps features his breakthrough hit, 1971’s Tiny Dancer with his 1992 song The One (and a dash of 1976’s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart).

Spears arrived with her vocals and set out ideas about her contribution, completing the performance in less than two hours. “She sang brilliantly,” says John from his home in the south of France. “Everyone was saying they didn’t think she could sing anymore. But I said, she was fantastic when she started so I think she can. And he did it, and I was so thrilled with what he did.”

Released today, the euphoric Hold Me Closer, Cold Heart, follows John’s 2021 duet with Dua Lipa, which includes their hits Rocket Man, Sacrifice, Kiss the Bride and When the Shoorah? And he became the first solo artist to score the UK Top 10 singles in six different decades. “I want to do one every year for a fun, happy summer record,” says John. When he and Watt created the new Tiny Dancer remix, they weren’t sure who to invite as guest vocals. Then John’s husband, David Furnish, had an idea. “He said it would be wonderful for Britney Spears to do this,” says John, as the pair sit down at a Cannes restaurant the day after surprising diners with a scintillating performance of the song. “I said, this one Very wonderful idea. He had not done anything for so long. Whatever is happening to him, I was following him for a long time.”

Single hold me closure.

John was her fan from day one. “She’s set incredibly great records right now,” he says. “She sang and danced so beautifully.” They first met in 2013 at her AIDS Foundation Oscars viewing party, and she was “cute – adorable.” And they had their respective Las Vegas residences at the same time, that in Planet Hollywood, at Caesars Palace. But even though they often lived in the same apartment block, “we didn’t really see each other”, says John.

Given what we know now, it’s hard to imagine that many people saw Spears at the time. In her scathing testimony during a court hearing on her stereotyping in June 2021, Spears said she was punished and put on lithium for rejecting some new choreography during residency, and compared herself to a slave. She earned millions for the system’s controllers, including her father, Jamie Spears, himself being allocated a $2,000 weekly allowance.

Elton John during his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour in New Orleans in January.
Elton John during his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour in New Orleans in January. Photograph: Derrick Hingle/AP

In January 2019, she canceled the residency and announced an “indefinite work hiatus”. Soon after, the #FreeBritney movement went mainstream, convinced — to be precise, it would be clear — that Spears was being exploited and abused. In September 2021, the New York Times released the documentary Framing Britney Spears, detailing her fight with her father. John saw it. “You forget she was the biggest star in the whole world at that time. And to see what happened to him, makes me very angry. What happened to him should not have happened to anyone.”

In November 2021, a judge cleared Spears of her stereotype. The following month, he said that his experiences had scared him of the music industry, with no intention of choosing a career. “Not doing my music anymore is a way of saying ‘Fuck you,'” she wrote on Instagram. But she didn’t need any confidence to be involved in a duet with John, he says.

Spears was scheduled to move to London to record with John, but she was in the middle of her honeymoon after her marriage to Iranian American model and actor Sam Asghari – being banned from marrying or managing her own birth control under conservatives. Because of – and so recorded with Watt in his studio in Los Angeles. He had never met her before. When she arrived, they talked about their favorite music. “He asked me who my favorite artist was — Prince — and I asked him who his. He said Elton John,” Watt says. “The song meant a lot to her, and you can hear it in her vocal performance. She sings her ass.”

It was as if Spears had stepped inside the studio for the last time, Watt says. “She was so prepared. She had spent time with the record and knew how she wanted to do it.” To produce the song, he explains cautiously, she took guitar from Tiny Dancer, basically so much in the mix. Tucked down that you can hardly hear it, and messed with the tempo. Extracting the original bass and strings and speeding them up gave it a disco feel. To enhance that feeling of transcendence, he used “Hold Me Closer” punctuated the song with heaven-bound samples, and John played the new Rhodes piano (those are his original vocals).

Music producer Andrew Watt in his home studio in Los Angeles.
Music producer Andrew Watt in his home studio in Los Angeles. Photograph: Chris Pizzello / InVision / AP

Watt is 31, the prime age to be a big Spears fan as a child with the posters on her wall. Now he was faced with one of the biggest pop stars of all time, recording his instantly recognizable, strobing, rapping vocals in the same room. “She’s incredible at layering and doubling her voice, which is the hardest thing to do. She literally propelled herself vocally. Sometimes when you produce, the greatest thing in the world you can do She’s got nothing to say, so I just let her do her thing. She’s so good at knowing when she got the right one. She’s in complete control.”

Spears recorded the falsetto parts first, then the lines where she belts out. Watt never had to ask her to do anything, and she saw that she was doing just fine to her high standards. “She kept going: ‘No, again, again, again.'” Then she had a “wonderful idea,” he says. “She wanted to listen to music at times and started doing all her incredible advertising work that make records His, Tiny Dancer is very special with her voice, but then she went ahead and scored all these amazing runs.”

Once she recorded, Spears was “incredibly specific” about how she wanted to mix her vocals and levels, he says. “She was a really collaborator and had really cool ideas about the production. She’s an expert in music to make you dance.” (Spears’ primary form of performance in recent years has been posting self-choreographed dance videos to Instagram.) “Many of her records are pop perfection, she worked with the greatest of all time and created timeless pop. We recorded Used to intensify and turn up certain elements of the sound to pump it up and make you want to dance.

Britney Spears performs in San Jose, California in 2016.
Britney Spears performs in San Jose, California in 2016. Photo: Steve Jennings/WireImage

Seeing as how Numb Spears has said she was in the process of making her own music during conservatism, she may have felt free to use her expertise in the studio, I suggest. “We didn’t really get into that,” Watt says. “She came there to sing and record. She’s very pro. And if that was something she was thinking about, she put it all on the record.”

Later, John admits that Spears needed some reassurance that releasing the track was the right thing to do. (On August 25, she tweeted that “a bit overwhelmed… this is a big deal for me!!!”) “We had to admit to her what she did,” he says. “She’s been away for so long — there’s a lot of fear because she’s been cheated on so many times and she hasn’t really been in the public eye officially for that long. We’re holding her hand throughout the process, Assures her that everything will be fine.

“I’m so excited to be able to do this with him because if it’s a big hit, and I think it can happen, it will give him more confidence than ever and make him realize that people really care about him.” Love and care for him and want him to be happy. That’s all anyone would want on their mind after going through such a painful time.”

John to help musicians facing difficulties in their personal or professional lives, from George Michael, Robbie Williams and Gerry Horner (Holliwell) in the 90s to contemporary artists such as Lewis Capaldi, XX’s Oliver Sim and Sam Fender There is no stranger. He is inspired by memories of his own struggles, he says. “It’s hard when you’re young. Britney was broke. I broke down when I got hold of. I was in a terrible place. I’ve gone through that broken feeling and it’s terrible. And luckily, I I have been sober for 32 years and this is the happiest moment ever. Now I have the experience of mentoring and helping people because I don’t want to see any artist in a dark place. Too many artists, you would think That they’ll have a lot of self-esteem, but they don’t, and so we go on stage and we get applause, and then we come off the stage and we’re back in square.”

He wants musicians to “enjoy what they are doing and feel that they are meaningful”, he says. “They deserve to be happy and to be loved and to get confirmation from someone like me. When I first moved to America, I got confirmation from Leon Russell, George Harrison, the band, Neil Diamond – it made me so happy. You realize that they care and it made me recognize that what I was doing was okay.”

Artists as children on Hold Me Closer artwork.
Artists as children on Hold Me Closer artwork.

Peer support is one thing: should the industry be better regulated to support musicians and prevent exploitation? “It’s all down to being a good manager to start with,” says John. “Someone who is with you 24/7, who believes in you. It’s all about reaching out. I never asked for help because I thought, I’m so proud — it would make me feel weak. Too many of these The cast doesn’t reach out for help, so I find out and call and then we’re back together.

“I don’t really know about the music industry. Everyone has a different case. It’s very hard for young musicians today to start a career. Sam Fender has done that with his second record. Little Simz has been fantastic. , but she couldn’t go to America because she didn’t have money to do her tour, which is a disaster for her because Record is doing pretty well in America. So there’s a lot of pressure. It’s what it is. But I’m Uncle Elton I am. They can call me.”

As far as Spears is concerned, she tweeted ahead of release that she is learning that “every day is a clean slate to try to be a better person and make me happier… I was fearless when I was younger.” wanted to be.”

“Rehab for anyone is such a wonderful thing,” says John. “And I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that it will restore her confidence to come back to the studio, and to record and realize she’s bloody good.”

Hold Me Closer is out now.

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