Review: Elton John and Britney Spears join forces on new single

Elton John has mastered the monetization of nostalgia. What else could you do with one of the most famous back catalogs in music history? Just do it again! A mid-2021 collaboration with Dua Lipa, “Cold Heart“, reworked the all-time great “Rocket Man”, deep cut “Sacrifice”, and three more of Elton’s past originals into one pop anthem. Remixed by Australian dance music trio PNAU, the song quickly became a top ten hit, making the Rocket Man one of only ten artists to reach the top ten in four different decades.

Also at this time, but across the pond: Britney Spears was fighting for her freedom. Involuntarily placed under a conservatorship in 2008, no movement was her own.  “I just want my life back,” Spears said to a full courtroom last year, “I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive.” After a lengthy trial and as of November 2021, she is free and happily, newly married.

The new single “Hold Me Closer” marks not only the first Elton-Britney collaboration, but has the honor of being Mrs. Spears’s first new song in over six years. “I’m kinda overwhelmed,” she said on Twitter, “it’s a big deal to me!”

I did not enjoy “Cold Heart”. I found it lazy and overwhelming. I’m proud to say “Hold Me Closer” is different. It re-imagines just two songs: the iconic “Tiny Dancer” and obscure ballad “The One”. Shockingly, both songs fit together fine. PNAU is replaced by producer Andrew Watt, who has worked with Elton before, though I don’t think he changed much of anything. The basic, 80’s DJ instrumentals for both of these songs are homespun, though “Hold Me Closer” at least fits the “club-ready” element. Elton’s vocals are sampled from past recordings, so there’s not much new there, except for the glaring addition of auto-tune. Britney, though, sounds amazing; both youthful and energetic.

I’ll put it bluntly: the song did not need Elton’s vocal “contributions“. Something you assume would add to the overall likability of the track takes away much, much more. If anything, John should be a sample, not a featured artist. I wasn’t expecting much, especially with that eye-sore of a single cover, and am left with exactly that. It would have worked much better as a solo release for Spears herself. In the same vein, though, I couldn’t be happier that she is able to record and work with who and what she wants. Elton John’s “DJ mashup” phase needs to come to a screeching halt soon, before kids remember “Your Song” as an awful dance collaboration with Adele.

“Hold Me Closer” is now available to listen to here.