“In the Zone” is Britney Spears’ fourth studio album. It was released on November 12, 2003 through Jive Records. Its music incorporates dance, house, reggae, trip hop, and hip hop styles with instrumentation from guitars, drums, synthesizers, strings, and Middle Eastern musical instruments. Its themes range from love, dancing, empowerment, and in the case of songs such as “Touch of My Hand”, sex and masturbation. Contributions to the album’s production came from a wide range of producers, including Bloodshy & Avant, R. Kelly, Trixster, Moby, Guy Sigsworth and The Matrix.
With the conclusion of the Dream Within a Dream Tour in July 2002 and the end of her relationship with Justin Timberlake, Britney planned to take a six-month break from her career; however, work for “In the Zone” began later that November. She began writing songs for the album while touring internationally, despite not knowing the direction of the album. She experimented with different producers, trying to find those with whom she had chemistry. The first song recorded was “Touch of My Hand”, which Britney claims set the mood for the album. She co-wrote all but four tracks, and often changed the lyrics to suit herself. Britney stated she was an autobiographical songwriter, although not to the point where she felt self-exploited. She also explained that the sexual nature of “In the Zone” was subconscious and happened while she was in the process of developing the album. Britney collaborated with artists such as Madonna in “Me Against the Music” and the Ying Yang Twins in “(I Got That) Boom Boom.”
“In the Zone” received positive reviews from music critics, who complimented its mix of different styles and Britney’s songwriting though her vocals were criticized for being distant and processed. Commercially, “In the Zone” became an international success, debuting atop the charts in France and the United States, and peaking inside the top ten in fifteen countries. In the United States, she became the first female artist to have four consecutive number-one albums.
Four singles were released from the album: “Me Against the Music”, “Toxic” and “Everytime” met international chart success, all peaking at number one in Australia and Ireland and reaching top five positions elsewhere. To promote “In the Zone,” Britney performed the songs in a number of television appearances and also embarked on “The Onyx Hotel Tour.” The album and its music videos are largely seen by critics as the end of her transition from teen pop star to a more adult female artist. In 2009, Amy Schriefer of NPR listed “In the Zone” as one of The 50 Most Important Recordings of the Decade, calling it “a primer on the sound of pop in the 2000s.”