Pop Princess Britney Spears has been a busy girl lately. She’s back on stage for her tenure at Las Vegas, dropping her collaborative effort with Iggy Azalea, and performing at the Billboard Music Awards. All that and Spears has still found time to record a cover of Susanne Vega’s 1987 melancholic classic “Tom’s Diner” with iconic producer Giorgio Moroder for his album Déjà Vu.
The album is Moroder’s first since 1985, and fans have been clamoring for any ounce of information that Giorgio Moroder would tease about his work with the “Toxic” siren. The king of disco production kept fans guessing about the finer details, but he revealed that Spears had come up with the idea of the cover (the only one on the album) and commented on the trials and tribulations of working with a modern day superstar.
Vega’s original interpretation of the song was conceptualized after a discussion with a friend. During their conversation, the friend commented that it sometimes feels as though you can experience life through a pane of glass, able to visualize but not interact with others. Knowing that Britney selected the song and the concept behind it’s original recording adds to the mystique of the single.
Since her return to music in 2008, it has sometimes felt as though fans have witnessed Britney’s life through a similar glass panel. A series of protections exist between the superstar performer and the general public now, so it is almost as if Britney is recognizing them by reinterpreting Vega’s classic song. This feels like an opportunity for the musician to comment on her state of affairs, something we may never be able to understand since we haven’t lived the life of one of pop culture’s most in demand personalities.
Britney’s vocals on “Tom’s Diner” perfectly replicate Vega’s original moody recording. She sings under a layer of vocal distortion, a unique addition that adds a further sense of distance and mystery to the track. Spears delivers the track with a heavily accented vocal, emphasizes each word and adding a sense of power and conviction to her attack. There are no huge vocal acrobatics (nor were there in the original), but Britney’s vocal works well with the track. Spears has proved in the past that she is effectively able to emote without belting across a track, and her stripped back performance proves just that. In a way, Britney Spears’ take on “Tom’s Diner” feels even more remote and removed than Vega’s original. The song is almost a chance for the pop princess to call out from behind that glass wall and reveal that all doesn’t glisten behind her own panel.
Giorgio Moroder injects their interpretation of “Tom’s Diner” with a healthy jolt of electronic production, a drastic and unexpected change from Vega’s original acoustic interpretation of the song. The change in production adds a sense of drama and urgency, which is slightly at odds with Britney Spears’ moody vocal delivery. In fact, it is almost as if the production acts in contention to the vocal track, imbuing the song with a sense of energy and power.
Synths whirl across the soundscape and are supported by a delightful bassline that grounds the project. As the song moves into the chorus, production picks up and dazzles as Britney delivers the song’s iconic sing-song chant. The production seems to play with Britney’s voice, sometimes dropping out and allowing her to enjoy an a cappella moment before picking back up where it left off. As the song comes to a close, there is an extended instrumental bridge before Britney’s voice returns to fade out alongside the production.
Giorgio Moroder makes a vocal appearance on the song’s bridge, adding an even heavier layer of robotic production over his voice for the short vocal appearance. It has been rumored that Spears was to record the bridge, but was unable to fit in the studio time before the single needed to be pressed. Moroder’s addition doesn’t add anything incredible to the track, but it doesn’t necessarily hurt anything either. In fact, from a conceptual point of view, it almost adds a further sense of separation between Spears and the public.
Giorgio Moroder and Spears’s take on “Tom’s Diner” provides a modern take on a well-respected classic. In today’s day and age there is no one better suited to interpret Vega’s classic than Britney Spears. Sure, she is totally incapable of sitting alone in a diner, but it is the concept of feeling set aside from everyone else that she perfectly encapsulates. The “Baby One More Time” has had a wall up between herself and the public since her big debut, and that wall has only become more opaque as time has gone on. She is more than adept and qualified for this production. Moroder’s production provides the perfect contrast to Britney’s vocals, and it is becoming increasingly evident that he is still one of the most impressive producers out there. All in all, “Tom’s Diner” is a smasha (to quote Britney herself), though a smasha with some unexpected depth.