Elton John has premiered Hold Me Closer, his new collaboration with Britney Spears. The song repeats the formula of Cold Heart, Elton’s number 1 hit with Dua Lipa that mixed Sacrifice with Rocket Man, by juxtaposing two old Elton classics in a single composition, in this case, Tiny Dancer in the chorus and The One in the verses.
On the other hand, Hold Me Closer marks Britney’s return to music after 6 years, and marks the singer’s first musical release since she was released from her father’s tutelage last year. Since Glory, an album that just today celebrates its anniversary, Britney had not released new music and, since Blackout, she had not done so as a free woman. That’s not the only reason why Hold Me Closer is a total success.
Hold Me Closer is a sister to Cold Heart, but it works on its own. And it strikes a nostalgic chord in several ways: Elton John’s melodies will appeal to a whole generation, Britney’s voice to a later one, Andrew Watt’s disco-funky production brings both artists into our time, and the song conveys a happy but bittersweet, melancholy, end-of-summer euphoria. A feeling that is reinforced by that lovely final piano melody that concludes the recording.
Despite the potential of Hold Me Closer, we have to talk about its strange vocal mix: Britney doesn’t sing a single line alone, she shares them all with Elton, and it’s true that his take is old… but so is hers, which sounds strangely buried in the recording. On Hold Me Closer, Elton and Britney end up sounding like two holograms singing a duet. Only Britney’s unmistakable melismas, her magical way of singing the word “baby,” account for her presence in the song.
Nor can the sentimental component of Hold Me Closer be overlooked. Elton’s hits already were, but sung by Britney they take on new meaning. The song places Britney (and Elton) “dancing in the sea” and “running across the sand.” Both are two “spirits born of land and water” who have “fire coming out of their hands.” The metaphor tells itself: Britney comes out of the prison that has been the last 13 years of her life and, in Hold Me Closer, sees the sun again.