Album: Femme Fatale
Britney Spears promises her mother she won’t get involved in anything dangerous with her new boyfriend in the tragic “Criminal.”
A condoling keyboard opens the single, setting a beseeching tone. Her mother was right. He comes home with wads of money, rolled up in bunches and hides them somewhere in her apartment. He leaves at various times of the day. If he comes back at all. He can be gone over several nights. He dropped out of high school sophomore year and never has had a legit job. She suspects he’s selling drugs. However, he’s told her he earned it by working under the table at a construction job he took. The cold stare he gives her challenges to poke holes in his story. She can only look down somewhere else. She pretends not to see the gun tucked in his hip. (“He is a hustler, he's no good at all/He is a loser, he's a bum (Bum, bum, bum)/He lies, he bluffs he's unreliable/He is a sucker with a gun (Gun, gun, gun.”)
In the pre-chorus, her mother asks if she is still with him. The last time they spoke, her mom pleaded with her to leave him. The family will help her. Her mother told her he could turn on her any minute. She’s in too deep, though and realizes she has made a poor decision. (“I know you told me I should stay away/I know you said he's just a dog astray/And, he is a bad boy with a tainted heart/And even I know this ain't smart.”)
In the chorus, she answers her mother’s question with a “yes.” As her mom cries, she tells her their relationship is only based on sex. It’s nothing actually really serious. She’ll keep herself safe. She cares about him and has seen the good side of him. (“But mama, I'm in love with a criminal/And this type of love isn't rational, it's physical/Mama, please don't cry, I will be alright/All reason aside, I just can't deny, love the guy.”)
He’s been in jail a few times. Drug possession and attempted murder are his two major crimes. He often works both sides, telling what the other group is doing and botching their schemes. There is no telling how he will react. His eyes glimmer as he relishes a man’s plea for his life. He’s a sociopath capable of things she prefers that do not exist. (“He is a villain of the devil's law/He is a killer just for fun (Fun, fun, fun)/That man's a snitch and unpredictable/He's got no conscience, he got none (None, none, none.”)
In the pre-chorus, her mother told they’ll get her out slowly and with police protection. She has to believe he’s clean now. (“All I know, should let go but no/'Cause he's a bad boy with a tainted heart/And even I know this ain't smart.”)
The chorus is sung again.
In the bridge, she was ready to call her mom. She put her cell phone down once he opened the door. He was grinning and showing off his arm. “Look what I got for you, baby!” He explains to her that she’s been in his life, he has turned another leaf. She thinks she’s guilty of judging him like her family and friends has. They tell her she can do better. She tells them they are wrong, they don’t know him as well as she does. (“And he's got my name tattooed on his arm/His lucky charm, so I guess its okay/He's with me/And I hear people talk (People talk)/Trying to make remarks, keep us apart/But I don't even hear I don't care.”)
The chorus is sung three times to close the single.
She’s meek, trying to convince herself as well her mother, that she’s not headed for trouble. With each justification, she crushes down her reservations. But with each of his suspicious actions, they build up again. All her mother can do is hope her daughter will be safe. His crimes aren’t real to her yet.
Coupled with Spears’ child-like vocals and the menacing description of the boyfriend, the foreboding “Criminal” lurks out in the open, leaving no room to escape from the vulnerable moments.