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Circus (song)

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The torso of a young blond woman with wavy blond haircut wearing a sparkly golden dress. She is looking over her shoulder, with her left hand resting on her left hip. In the back, there is a shower of sparks. The words "BRITNEY" followed by three yellow stars and "SPEARS" are written in capital red circus-like handwriting. Below "BRITNEY", the word "CIRCUS" is written in smaller capital letters.
Single by Britney Spears
from the album Circus
ReleasedDecember 2, 2008 (2008-12-02)
RecordedSummer 2008
Britney Spears singles chronology
"If U Seek Amy"
Music video
"Circus" on YouTube

"Circus" is a song recorded by American singer Britney Spears for her sixth studio album of the same name (2008). It was released on December 2, 2008 (Spears' 27th birthday), by Jive Records as the second single from the album. Written by Dr. Luke, Claude Kelly and Benny Blanco, "Circus" is a metaphor for the public's perception of Spears' life. After she listened to the track for the first time, she felt inspired to create an album and a tour with a circus theme. "Circus" is an uptempo electropop and dance-pop song with elements of pop rock and "half-rapped" vocals. The song's lyrics talk about being an entertainer and putting on shows.

"Circus" was well-received by contemporary critics, with reviewers complimenting Spears' confident persona and praising the song's electronic production. "Circus" was a commercial success, peaking inside the top-ten in Australia, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, and Sweden, while reaching top-twenty positions in many European countries. The song reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on American pop radio and is her second best-selling digital song in the United States, having sold over 3.2 million downloads as of July 2016.[1] On a global scale, "Circus" was one of the top 10 best selling songs of 2009 with 5.5 million digital copies sold that year across the world, according to the IFPI.[2]

The music video, directed by Francis Lawrence, was released on December 4, 2008. It portrays Spears as the ringmaster of a circus accompanied by different performers, and it is interspersed with scenes of Spears in different circus settings. The video received positive reviews from critics, but was criticized by PETA for featuring "cruelly trained animals". However, the exhibitors denied these claims. Spears performed the song on Good Morning America on December 2, 2008. It was also the opening number of The Circus Starring Britney Spears (2009), where she was dressed in a ringmistress outfit, designed to represent a metamorphosis. Spears has also performed the song during her residency concert Britney: Piece of Me. The song appears in Just Dance 2016.


"Circus" was written by Dr. Luke, Benny Blanco and Claude Kelly, while produced by Luke and Blanco.[3] Luke and Kelly were initially commissioned to work on a new track for Spears, and entered the studio with no concept prepared, as Kelly explained, "just knowing her style and knowing what she does." After Luke came up with the music, they based the song on the public's perception of her life at the time.[4] Spears explained that after listening to "Circus" for the first time, she felt inspired and imagined a story behind it. She also stated, "['Circus'] put the whole album together as far as what I wanted my show to be like. You can play with a circus in so many different ways".[5] "Circus" was recorded at Conway Recording Studios and Chalice Recording Studios in Los Angeles, California, and at Glenwood Place Studio in Burbank, California. Background vocals were provided by Cathy Dennis, Kelly and Myah Marie. Main instrumentation was done by Luke and Blanco. The song was mixed by Serban Ghenea at MixStar Studios in Virginia.[3] "Circus" was announced on October 31, 2008, as the second single from the album, and was officially serviced to American radio stations on December 2, 2008.[6][7]

Music and lyrics[edit]

"Circus" is an uptempo electropop and dance-pop song, with a stomp box beat and elements of pop rock.[8] The song opens with the sound of a drum and builds until Spears starts singing,[9] "There's only two types of people in the world/The ones that entertain and the ones that observe".[10] Spears delivers confident and "half-rapped" vocals,[11][12] with the verses having usage of synthesizers.[12] Lyrically, the song talks about being an entertainer and putting on shows.[9] She explains her emotions while performing in lines such as: "I feel the adrenaline moving through my veins / Spotlight on me and I'm ready to break". The chorus begins with an electronic sound,[12] while she compares herself, as well as performing to being on the center of a circus ring.[9] According to the sheet music published at by Alfred Publishing, "Circus" is composed in the key of F# minor with 120 beats per minute, however on the album the song is 115 beats per minute. Spears's vocal range spans from G#2 to D#5.[13] Kelly commented that "Circus" was "a cool way to get people dancing and having fun", but also have a slight message.[4]

Critical reception[edit]

Image of a blond woman. She is standing with a red feathered jacket, carrying a whip around her neck and singing in a wireless microphone. Several people surround her, all wearing S&M outfits.
Spears performing "Circus" on the Circus Tour.

Nick Levine of Digital Spy described it as "a rampaging monster of a song whose chorus kicks off with a Max Martin-style and Timbaland thump".[14] Popjustice praised the production of the song, compared it to "Break the Ice" and added, "there's a lot of stopping and starting, including a built-in MTV-style dance breakdown segment."[9] Chris Williams of Billboard in its single review appreciated the song for surrounding Spears with "an electronic cyberpop landscape".[15] In the album review, Ann Donahue of Billboard criticized the lyrics for rehashing the theme of fame and compared it to "Lucky" (2000) and "Piece of Me" (2007).[16] Dave De Sylvia of Sputnikmusic said that while "Womanizer" sounded like a Blackout track, "Circus" is more reflective of the album's general mood.[12] Dan Cairns of The Sunday Times named it one of the standout tracks of the album, along with "If U Seek Amy" and "Mannequin".[17] Entertainment Weekly writer Chris Willman noted that, despite the album being titled Circus, the title track is "not about the madhouse her life has become but just a brag about her prowess as a whip-cracking sexual ringmaster."[18]

Poppy Cosyns of The Sun said Spears "reaffirm[s] her bad-girl image on the album's infectious second single",[19] while BBC Music's Talia Kraines thought that the singer "loves the attention being shone directly on her as the 'ringleader' as she sings of adrenaline flowing through her veins when it's time to put on a show."[20] Ben Norman of considered the song a "true and triumphant Britney Spears pop song with a pensive underbelly (the first verse in particular) and a supremely executed hook."[21] Jonny Mugwump of The Quietus said, "a paean to her performance adrenalin, ["Circus" is] a medium-paced, big power-popper topped with an orbit-esque guitar,"[22] and commented that the song's lyrics highlight Spears' uniqueness – "the fuck you attitude. Despite everything, regardless of the personal destruction and undoubted hell she might still be haunted by, within the fictional space of the music, this woman couldn't give a damn. She rightly taunts the world around her, sounding utterly defiant. There is no place for apology or humble platitudes."[22] John Murphy of musicOMH also praised its lyrics, describing them as "a confident, and encouraging, return to form."[11] "Circus" was nominated at the 2009 Teen Choice Awards in the category of Choice Music: Single, but lost to Miley Cyrus's "The Climb".[23]

Commercial performance[edit]

On December 20, 2008, "Circus" debuted at number three on the US Billboard Hot 100 due to digital sales of over 212,000 units. It was her first top-ten debut on the chart.[24] On the week of March 7, 2009, the song reached number one on the Pop Songs chart and number three on the Hot Dance Club Songs chart.[25] As of March 2015, "Circus" has sold 3.2 million digital downloads in the United States according to Nielsen Soundscan.[1] It is her second best-selling digital single in the country.[1]

In Canada, the track debuted at number two based solely on digital downloads, being blocked from ascending to the top spot by Lady Gaga's "Poker Face".[26] On December 8, 2008, "Circus" entered the Australian Singles Chart at number fifteen, becoming the "Highest Debut" of the week.[27] On December 22, 2008, the song peaked at number six.[28] It was certified platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) for sales over 70,000 units.[29] In New Zealand, "Circus" peaked at number four, and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ) for selling over 7,500 copies.[30] The song was also successful in Europe, peaking at number twelve on the European Hot 100 Singles on March 21, 2009.[25] "Circus" also reached the top ten in Sweden and the top twenty in Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.[31][32] According to The Official Charts Company, the song has sold 223,000 copies in the United Kingdom and is her thirteenth best selling single in the country.[33] It became the tenth best selling digital single of 2009, selling 6 million copies worldwide.[34]

Music video[edit]

Development and synopsis[edit]

The music video for "Circus" was filmed from October 28 to November 2, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. It was directed by Francis Lawrence, who previously worked with Spears on the music video for her 2001 single "I'm a Slave 4 U".[35] Spears chose Lawrence, since he was the "only person who could capture it, make it really twisted, eccentric and different".[5] On November 17, 2008, an exclusive three-second clip premiered during a promo for her documentary Britney: For the Record.[36] The video was set to be released on December 5, 2008 on Entertainment Tonight, but it was moved at the last minute to December 4, 2008.[37]

The video begins with Spears at a vanity, putting Curious on and earrings by Bulgari. She is then seen holding a top hat in front of her face, while doves fly out of another hat. Spears starts singing in the vanity but stands up and puts on a ringmaster jacket. She walks through an aisle while dancing suggestively with several circus dancers. Throughout the video, there are interspersed scenes of different circus performers, including ribbon dancers, contortionists, clowns and a mime on stilts. There are also scenes of Spears singing with the top hat, wearing a nude body stocking in front of a red curtain, with a spotlight on her. This is followed by a group dance scene in the middle of a circus ring, where Spears wears the ringmaster jacket, sequined hot pants and a feathered top hat. In the second verse, she dances with a chair and a whip wearing a nude bra covered in leaves. The video continues with a series of intercut scenes, such as Spears in slow motion in front of a shower of sparks, her surrounded by a pair of lions and in front of an elephant. During the bridge, Spears and her dancers perform a routine in front of flames. In the last chorus, Spears returns to the circus ring, surrounded by two elephants, many more circus performers, dancers and fire breathers. The video ends with Spears in the spotlight, laughing with the top hat over her head.[37]


Davil Balls of Digital Spy described the music video as being "cheeky, seductive and more than a little bit ridiculous" and said that Spears "delivers some killer dance routines".[38] Tim Stack of Entertainment Weekly compared the dance in the chair with the music video of "Stronger" and added that "best of all, she actually looks animated in this video and appears to be having fun".[39] James Montgomery of MTV said that after watching the video "you are overcome with the sudden urge to go to the Big Apple Circus. Or pick up some Curious perfume. Or you know, possibly both".[37] The music video won the category of Best Moves at the MTV Australia Awards 2009.[40] It was also nominated for four VMAs at the 2009 awards in the categories of Best Art Direction, Best Choreography, Best Cinematography and Best Editing.[41] It was also nominated for Best Video in the MTV Europe Music Awards 2009, but lost to Beyoncé's "Single Ladies".[42] The video won Best Video of 2009 in Fuse TV, making Spears the only artist to win two years in a row.[43]

On December 9, 2008, animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued a press release condemning Spears for using "cruelly trained lions and elephants" and demanding her to "stop using exotic animals in her videos and concerts once and for all". Spears had previously received criticism from the organization when she used an albino python and a caged tiger during a performance of "I'm a Slave 4 U" at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards. Kari Johnson from Have Trunk Will Travel responded, saying, "[the company] has never issued a written endorsement, nor does it condone using electrical devices to discipline and control elephants except in situations where elephant or human safety is at risk. [...] The American Humane Association monitors animal action in film and television. A representative was on the set of the Britney Spears 'Circus' video with our elephants, Tai and Kitty, to ensure their safety and welfare [...] Britney, the director, producers and the entire crew were respectful of the elephants' needs and comfort and a pleasure to work with."[44] Circus got a certified in the digital platform VEVO after reach 100 million views on YouTube.[45]

Live performances[edit]

Image of a blond woman. She is standing in the middle of a fiery ring, wearing a black, white and gold outfit, with a pink led screen in front of her. A guitarist can be seen on her left.
Spears performing "Circus" during her residency show Britney: Piece of Me.

"Circus" was performed on December 2, 2008 at American morning talk show Good Morning America, along with "Womanizer". She wore a midriff-baring shirt, leather pants, a ringmaster jacket and a top hat.[46] "Circus" was a major part on The Circus Starring Britney Spears (2009), as the opening number of the show. The costumes of the performance were selected to show a metamorphosis.[47] The show began with a video introduction featuring Perez Hilton as Queen Elizabeth I, welcoming the audience to the circus. In the middle of the video, the cylinder screen surrounding the stage started to rise, while Spears appeared on the video and shot Hilton with a crossbow, causing him to fall backwards onto the floor. As the video ended, Spears started to descend from the ceiling on a suspended platform, wearing a cheetah headdress, a ringmaster jacket, black shorts, high-heeled boots and carrying a whip.[48] The headdress represented an animal. When she reached the stage, she took it off to represent both a ringmaster and a lion tamer and "Circus" started.[47] It featured acrobats taking the stage and spinning on giant rings in the air. The performance ended with Spears taking off her ringleader jacket to reveal a Swarovski-crystal corset, representing a slave.[47] She then ran into the center of the main stage, surrounded by jets of smoke, to enter a golden cage and perform "Piece of Me".[48] People writer Chuck Arnold wrote that Spears, "descending from above in a red ringmaster-meets-dominatrix outfit" to sing the song, "showed that her body was tight, even if her dancing always wasn't."[49] James Montgomery of MTV considered both "Circus" and "Radar" performances "great".[50] Spears included the song on her current residency show in Las Vegas, Britney: Piece of Me. For the performance, Spears appears from the back of the stage, in the center of a fiery ring, resembling a circus showgirl.[51]

Track listings[edit]

Credits and personnel[edit]



Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA)[75] Platinum 70,000^
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[76] Gold 7,500^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[77] Gold 7,500*
United Kingdom (BPI)[79] Silver 223,000[78]
United States (RIAA)[80] 3,200,000[81]

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

Release history[edit]

Country Date Format Label Ref.
United States December 2, 2008 Rhythm crossover radio Jive [82]
Spain February 17, 2009 Digital download (EP) Sony [83]
Austria February 20, 2009 [84]
Germany [84]
Switzerland [84]
France February 23, 2009 Digital download (Remix EP) [85]
Canada February 24, 2009 [86]
Spain [87]
United States Jive [88]
Austria February 27, 2009 CD single Sony [89]
Germany [89]
Switzerland [89]
United States November 9, 2009 Digital download (Digital 45) Jive [90]
Austria August 30, 2013 Digital download (Twister Rave Remix) Sony [91]
Canada [92]
France [93]
Germany [91]
Switzerland [91]
United States September 6, 2013 RCA [94]


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External links[edit]