Motivational anthems don’t come much fiercer, more exhilarating or downright ridiculous than Britney’s Work Bitch.
Its brilliantly over-the-top directives quickly earned the song cult status within the LGBTQ community. Britney herself described Work Bitch as a term of endearment for her queer fans, many of whom adopted its mantra as an anthem that can take you from your morning workout, through the day, and out at night.
Let’s remind ourselves of exactly what we are talking about here.
But how did such a brilliantly absurd song as Work Bitch come into existence? Its onslaught of pulsing electro beats is the work of will.i.am, but one of its chief songwriters is RuthAnne Cunningham, an Irish singer-songwriter whose credits include Jojo’s Too Little Too late and half of Niall Horan’s debut album.
As she tells us below, the conception of Work Bitch was as remarkable as the song itself.
So, you wrote Work Bitch?
I wrote parts of it, yes. It still feels unbelievable to say I wrote on a Britney single. I didn’t believe it at the time.
The song is as ridiculous as it is brilliant. How did it come together?
It definitely wasn’t a case of a group of songwriters sitting together in one room. There wasn’t any brief as such, it was a skeleton, a putting-the-pieces-together kind of a song. I was writing at the time with Anthony Preston – who works for will.i.am – and we were just writing melody and lyrics together, and he put it on Work Bitch.
There are seven songwriters credited on it, but who came up with the line, ‘You better work, bitch!’?
Anthony came up with the work bitch lyric – I can’t take credit for that! Me and Antony wrote different sections of lyrics and he sent it over to will.i.am.
Which bits did you come up with?
I came up with the melody parts, the ‘hold your head high, fingers to the sky’ section, for example. All the bits in the song that are sung.
Did Britney add any of her own flourishes to the finished track?
I wasn’t there for the recording itself, but she definitely sings the melody parts in her way, if that makes sense, so it sounds very unmistakably ‘Britney’. I think she sounds great on it. I’m not sure where the British accent came from, but I love it.
Work Bitch has quickly earned cult status in Britney’s discography, particularly with her queer fans. Were they a consideration when putting the song together?
It wasn’t something we thought, ‘oh the gays are going to love this’. You can’t really do that. The cool thing about the LGBTQ community is that they adopt you, if they like you. Britney seems to love that.
It certainly wasn’t planned – we didn’t even know it was a song for Britney at the time – but when you see people reacting, it’s like, take it, it’s yours!
When I first heard it before it came out I was like, is this is a bit novelty? Are people going to get it? Now, I always hear it at the gym, I see people wearing the Work Bitch merch. It still has substance, in a way, because it’s become a phrase.
You didn’t know you were writing a song for Britney at the time?
No. A call came four days before it came out and it was played down the phone to me. I was like, wait, that’s our song, I know that voice – is that Britney Spears?! Then I was told it was the lead single for her new album and it was coming out in four days. I was like, shit! I mean it’s every 13-year-old’s dream, isn’t it?
How did you react when you first heard it?
I was genuinely blown away. It was amazing.
I went to see her Vegas show three times in the end. I had my Work Bitch hat on, the show starts and I’m like, ‘I’m kind of a part of this!’
It might not have been as big as her early, peak Britney days, but people seemed to agree it was something special and that it was a strong comeback. I mean, it became the opening number for her Vegas show!
Honestly, my 13-year-old self was living.