She warned us in 2001, when we weren’t listening close enough: “I’m a slave for you. I cannot hold it, I cannot control it.”
Full of fire and poison, Britney Spears was only 20 years old and had already blossomed into a pop icon. A garden-picked southern girl thrown into the MTV machine, clearly promised megafame and wealth in exchange for hard work and objectification. That child-like bubble gum voice was disturbingly sweet and recognizable, her all-American, heart-shaped face and flowing blonde hair made her dream-like, innocent sex appeal almost too hypnotic.
Every teenage boy wanted to rip off the schoolgirl skirt she effortlessly debuted in the music video for 1998’s “Baby One More Time,” while every teenage girl (and some boys) dreamt of wearing it. Did she know this? Did it make her feel powerful? What did she even want? Did she know it was going to last this long? Why do we still even care about her?
What was the plan, Britney Jean?
Her iconography in the first five years of her career was never obnoxious. It was always subtle, but strong.
1. She wore a burmese python around her neck.
2. She kissed Madonna in a wedding dress.
3. She simulated an orgy in a sweaty bath house.
4. She simulated suicide in a bath tub.
5. She wore nothing but diamonds.
She achieved the shock that so many clownish pop stars try to do today, but she looked the part so effortlessly and naturally, it was graceful, compelling and addictive.
She was unstoppable. It’s like this sweet girl genuinely wanted to be modest and wasn’t asking anything from us. She didn’t want to use her fame for some type of self-empowerment message or rage about politics, she just wanted people to escape and have fun. She just wanted to be dope.
In 2007, something changed about the way we looked at her. She shed the skin of the plaything with whom we were so comfortable. The one we got to know. Before we could even get a chance to say goodbye, the girl next door had moved away.
She wasn’t listening anymore, she was rebelling. She wasn’t comfortable being whoever the industry that robbed her of her identity told her she was supposed to be. She was confused. She was coming onto us. She wanted out.
Spears’s punk attitude was pop culture’s wet dream. A Shaved head, a random british accent, pink wigs, trips to the loony bin, all rumored to be fueled by a cocktail of prescription drugs and mental illness. The paparazzi were basically living outside her house at one point to give us our daily Crazy Britney fix.
You were all getting off on watching this “sick girl” run around, keeping up with the content in tabloids, Entertainment Tonight segments and refreshing x17, TMZ and OhNoTheyDidnt every night.
Why? Is it because you just wanted the movie to keep going on and on? Were we just waiting to see her die on a video shot by the paparazzo?
What was so magical about watching Britney Spears lose her mind?
What people don’t seem to understand is: Britney is never going to strike a chord with an album like 2007’s Blackout again. It was her gritty and experimental hadal zone opus. She executive produced the record and the lyrics; they reflect the chaos that was her life at the time. It’s a dark pop album where everything seems to go right, yet the person who is performing it is being told that her life is going down the wrong path. It was a confusing moment in time that will never happen again.
Move on and fast forward to 2013.
Britney Spears is not that angry girl anymore. She is a woman and a memory.
She is a pop cyborg who was once known to infect the first millennium’s radio-waves with provocative, electronica-heavy viruses like “Toxic” and “Piece of Me.” But today, instead of standing out, she is drowning out.
Will.i.am, executive producer of her 8th studio album Britney Jean clearly sees Britney as his own woman-bot. He forces her into the “EDM” sound that he inflicted on 2009’s Top 40 with his group The Black Eyed Peas. Maybe he thinks it doesn’t sound dated, or maybe he is just extremely tired, out of touch, and isn’t as creative as the dudes who were controlling her before.
Britney-bot is one that will listen to will.i.am’s commands, one that will do everything as instructed, because she has been programmed to do that since she was first activated in 1998.
There is nothing we can do about it.
It’s not surprising that in the first three minutes of the schizophrenic Britney Jean, she identifies with an extra terrestrial on the spaced out and chilling album opener “Alien” (produced by William Orbit). It flashes her complex vulnerability and we see life through someone that feels out of touch from the world. “The stars in the sky look like home, take me home…” For a second, you really want to go “home” with her. The post-Saturn’s Return vocal delivery in the chorus makes her voice foreign, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe Britney is just an alien that we will never understand, despite the relatable, humanistic words she is saying.
“Work Bitch” is loud. She sounds feisty, ready to start a fight over a big bass-heavy beat. Get the Bravo cameras out, mommy is mad and using her British accent again.
“YOU WANNA HOT BODY? YOU WANNA BUGGATI? YOU WANNA MASERATI? YOU BETTER WORK BITCH!”
The demanding attitude in this song can’t help but make you feel bad for her. This is her way of letting people know that fame isn’t actually that great, and that living a live of opulence is a reward that comes from working hard and sacrificing your privacy in ways you could never imagine. It almost sounds like she’s ready to punch a young girl in the face after telling her: “I just want to be you” on the streets.
“Perfume” (co-written by Sia and Chris Braide) is a love letter to self-hatred, paranoia and insecurity.
“Sometimes it feels like there’s three of us in here…” It’s very simple and silent, it’s barely there — like she’s barely there — and will no doubt be remembered as a classic Britney ballad. Her voice acts as an instrumental while she worries over a man who’s cheating on her. The truest vocal performance on the whole album is featured in this song: “I hide it well, hope you can’t tell but I hope she smells my perfume…”
“I don’t even know where will.i.am came from, like literally who is he? How did him and Britney even meet and how can we go back in time and prevent them from making music with each other? Figure out how to rip out your tracking device from under your arm, Bot Britney! CALL JOHANNA!” are some thoughts that should pop in your head while listening to the next track.
“It Should Be Easy” is horrifying, simply because it exists. It’s something that doesn’t even make sense as an actual musical composition. Her voice is so vocoded that it sounds like they produced it with Garageband, made her swallow helium, and didn’t let her hear the playback. The production (co-produced by Nicky Romero) is indescribably awful. It’s even more upsetting that a major record label thought it would be OK to put out a song like this under a name as big as hers.
The lazily-looped urban drum MILF jam “Tik Tik Boom” is weak. She’s talking about a guy who’s going to make her climax, yet it doesn’t feel very erotic. T.I. wears misogyny like a badge in his alarming verse: “She like the way I beat her, treat her like an animal. Somebody call PETA!”
You are really going to sit there and duet rap about treating Britney Spears like an animal? On her own song? Bro…
“Body Ache” is a straight-up hands up in the motherfucking air, sniff some moon rock and dance ’til your body is numb anthem. Throw out your useless music intellectualism and just let this song do its magic. David Guetta gives her emotive vocals a chance to finally breathe, and the music commands you in all the ways her most iconic singles do. This is where she is at her strongest: wearing the classic Britney Spears costume. This is a reminder that Electronic Dance Music is not the enemy some people make it out to be.
“’Til It’s Gone” aims for euphoria but fails. It’s fit for an unknown’s mid-90s warehouse rave. The opening vocals are stronger than the actual song. It seems like nobody who worked on the song had any idea what to do with it after it peaks in the first 15 seconds. It could have worked in the shiny, simple way “Body Ache” does, if the producers didn’t think “Meh, lol, let’s just loop the chorus and make it sound like she is computerized-stuttering. I got other more important shit to do, like submit demos for the next Miley album…”
The most personal and powerful song, “Passenger,” seems to be a real mirror of who Britney Spears actually is. If you are wondering, she believes in God and uses religion as a way to guide her life like the millions of other people on this planet. I know, not that exciting right? Well she might make you want to check out your local church service after the way she belts that chorus: “I’ll let you lead the way now cause I want you to take the wheel/ I never knew how good it would feel.” Diplo helped her find a ray of light and everything suddenly makes sense.
“Chillin’ With You” features her sister Jamie Lynn. It’s intimate and awkward. It’s all about them hanging out together, a casual look at an all American sisterly bond. It’s strange in it’s own dizzying normalcy. They talk about drinking red wine and “walking on the sky”, you know casual Spears’ family get together shit.
“Don’t Cry” closes things off with a basic sad ballad about her leaving. It’s all over. She’s off. “Pack my bags can’t take no more. Adios, I’m out the door. Hide your tears and dry your eyes cause I don’t wanna see you cry!”
Is it a break up between the listener and her, or is she plotting her escape from will.i.am’s studio?
Is this who Britney Jean really is?
At the end of the day ya’ll: she’s just a normal 31-year-old mom who likes to have sex, likes to hang out with her sister, gets annoyed when guys are cheating on her, pops some meds, likes to dance with her friends, probably even runs on the treadmill to “Party All The Time” by The Black Eyed Peas during her work out session.
She survived some public troubling times and God and religion helped her find what seems to sound like “personal” happiness, and she isn’t afraid to let you know that in her “most personal album ever.”
She somehow still manages to be one of the biggest pop stars in the world and keeps us interested, even though she really isn’t even that interesting.
Britney Jean is ordinary and proud of it.
Does she even care? Who really cares?
It’s Britney, bitch.