For some imaginative pop fans, the news that Madonna and Britney Spears recorded a song together may have conjured images of long, languid studio sessions, punctuated by the occasional soul kiss. The truth is slightly less lurid.
Spears originally completed the track ''Me Against the Music,'' by herself, and even sang the Madonna-free version of it Sept. 4 at the NFL season kickoff. ''The song was done -- and then we added Madonna,''' says producer/songwriter Tricky Stewart (Blu Cantrell, Mya) who recorded the track with his Atlanta-based RedZone Entertainment team.
The Material Mom didn't glom onto the club banger -- the first single from Spears' Nov. 18 album ''In the Zone'' -- until after her tongue-tastic performance with the younger singer at the MTV Video Music Awards. ''Britney played the song for Madonna and she really, really liked it,'' explains Penelope Magnet, a RedZone-affiliated 19-year-old songwriter/producer who coproduced and wrote most of the lyrics for ''Me Against the Music'' (it'll be her first professional credit).
Predictably, Madonna took charge after RedZone handed over the song to her, arranging and recording her vocal additions on her own. (Madonna's publicist confirmed the producers' account of the collaboration; Spears' rep didn't respond to a request for comment.) ''She does what she wants to do,'' says Stewart. ''She's Madonna. If she says she wants to keep something, it stays on there.'' So on the finished track, she and Spears trade lines in the verses, making the song a true duet.
Though the lyrics hardly represent a radical step forward for Spears (the refrain is ''All you people on the floor/Let me see you dance''), ''Me Against the Music'' is the 21-year-old's most aggressively danceable single. Retrofunk guitars rub against a rapid breakbeat as Spears and Madonna sing of the pleasures of letting loose on the dance floor (''I'm up against the speaker/Trying to take on the music/It's like a competition'') -- a subject they each know well. ''Britney likes to be bold in her visuals and be more lighthearted in the lyrical sense,'' says Stewart. ''She doesn't like things that make her sound like she was taking herself too seriously.''
Serious or not, if the song sounds sweaty, it's no accident. During Spears' time with RedZone this summer, the recording studio's air-conditioning died for three days, but she refused to abandon the increasingly sultry session. ''The equipment made the room so hot that it was unbearable, but she worked through that,'' says Magnet. ''She didn't complain or anything, and for me that shows she's where she is for a reason.''
The same production team also wrote and produced the ''In the Zone'' song ''The Hook-Up'' -- Spears' first stab at reggae. In addition, they helped develop tracks submitted by R. Kelly (''Outrageous'') and Moby (''Early Mornin''') into finished Spears songs (like Madonna, neither Kelly nor Moby joined Spears in the studio). Says Stewart, ''The vibe that I got was this album is Britney's coming-out party.'' Funny, that's what we would have said about that VMA performance.