Hold Me Closer, a remake of John’s 1971 smash record Tiny Dancer, opens with the song’s chosen title repeated over and over as layers on top of an airy synth beat. It almost shimmers, setting the tone for the rest of the duo’s emotional track.
The feel-good record is built from snippets of John’s classics Tiny Dancer, The One and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, on top of a disco beat, guitar and with some concluding piano tinkling. John and Britney sing most of the verses together, but while his sections are muffled and heavily edited, Britney’s vocals are front and centre – and nothing could feel more natural than hearing the superstar on a record again.
It’s not the first time John has reimagined one of his songs. Just last year he brought out Cold Heart, a PNAU remixed mash-up of Kiss the Bride, Where’s the Shoorah?, Rocket Man and Sacrifice with Dua Lipa, which became John’s first UK No 1 single in 16 years.
But Hold Me Closer is not just a remix: it’s Britney’s first release since her 2016 album Glory, and her first release since her 13-year conservatorship ended. Until now, the artist’s recent creative exports have been funnelled through her Instagram account, where Britney has shared acapellas, dance sequences and photos, every post a clear exploration of her new-found freedom.
It’s been an emotional year for the singer. In April, Britney announced she was pregnant, then in May, just days after she posted 12 consecutive naked photos of herself, she shared that she had lost the baby. In July, she married her long-term partner Sam Asghari. This week, after teasing the release date of Hold Me Closer, Britney deleted her account.
“Okie dokie … my first song in 6 years !!!! It’s pretty damn cool that I’m singing with one of the most classic men of our time … @eltonofficial !!!! I’m kinda overwhelmed… it’s a big deal to me !!! I’m meditating more and learning my space is valuable and precious !!!” Tweeted Britney yesterday.
She followed up with, “I’m learning every day is a clean slate to try and be a better person and do what makes me happy … yes I choose happiness today. I tell myself every day to let go of the hurt bitterness and try to forgive myself and others to what may have been hurtful.”
Hold Me Closer, then, is not simply another new record. The cover art, a picture of each of the artists as children, points towards a desired spirit of innocence and freedom. Britney is smiling in a pink dress, with a fuschia feather in her hair; John is sitting at a piano looking sheepish.
Released on the last days of summer, Hold Me Closer is defiant in its breeziness. There’s an undercurrent of sadness but here the good times triumph: “I saw you dancin’ out the ocean / Runnin’ fast along the sand / A spirit born of earth and water / Fire flyin’ from your hands,” the pop legends sing, as if to Britney herself.