What kind of world would it be if Britney Spears’ debut single wasn’t “…Baby One More Time?” This parallel universe impossible to imagine would have become a reality if Simon Cowell had done what he wanted. In an interview with the British music mogul/reality singing judge on the latest episode of his America’s Got Talent Howie Mandel co-star Howie Mandel does stuff podcast, Cowell revealed that he once gifted producer/songwriter Max Martin a brand new Mercedes for the track.
“I had a boy band at the time called Five, which I had put together, we were about to get them out of America,” Cowell told Mandel of the five-piece London band that he signed with BMG/RCA. “Someone called me from America and said that this song had just been played for me. It was written for TLC. TLC came by and he played me on the phone and was like, “Oh my God, I gotta have this song.”
This track, of course, is the one that finally propelled Spears into the pop stratosphere. Spears released her first single in September 1998 and it became one of the best selling singles of all time and topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for two weeks.
But it could have gone otherwise if Cowell had made the deal with Martin. “So I phoned Max and I said ‘please, please give me that song,'” Cowell said in his first-ever podcast appearance. “And he said, ‘I promised somebody else.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ll send you a Mercedes 500 SL if I can get that song.'” Much to Cowell’s chagrin, Martin insisted the track was already spoken and was going to move on to a new act the old american idol villain had never heard of it.
“And he said ‘no, I promised somebody else,'” Cowell said, Martin told him. “And I said ‘who?’ And he went, ‘Britney Spears.’ And I said ‘Max, let me give you a piece of advice, nobody’s going to be successful with the name Britney Spears’. She wasn’t even known. Even though he didn’t get the song for Five, in the end Cowell told Mandel he thought it was the right choice.
“He’s honorable,” Cowell said. “He promised the song and he wasn’t going to break the promise, and look, he made the right decision… We’re still good friends now. Listen, I would have taken the car! And remember, no one had heard of this girl before so he wasn’t going to break his promise. So I missed that, but that’s how we met and became friends.
Listen to the episode below (“…Baby One More Time” starts around 38:30).