Back on the first show (that I was actually around for) of my wonderful, now-over-but-possibly-available-on-zShare radio show The Hour, we tried to introduce a feature called ‘Alex Defends…’. The first candidate for this was Britney Spears, who I muttered fairly incoherently about as I tried to express exactly why I love her the way I do, something my good friend and co-host Sam Willet disapproves of.
We didn’t do it again, but it’s something that’s bounced around my brain a lot since. The main point we got out in that conversation was that there’s no irony in the way I feel about Britney. Admittedly, there’s a certain pleasure in loving something so far into the mainstream it becomes almost niche again (I think this is a traditionally indie-kid pleasure, tending towards the most obscure or the hidden-in-plain-sight joys of music.)
I also tried to establish that Britney works because she’s a Goddess-like figure of legend, for me. This is probably a case of history:
I remember waiting in the car for my mom, age 10, a kid who didn’t really like music, tapping the dashboard along to …Baby One More Time.
I remember doing some quiz in high school, aged maybe 13, and everyone turning to me when they asked which video had Britney in that red PVC catsuit (Oops! …I Did It Again, obv.)
My first year of Uni will forever be crystallised within Gimme More (the song that brought me back into the Britney fold after losing interest, around Toxic.)
Britney’s persona is key, too. It’s shifted over the years, and isn’t entirely consistent: but that’s myth for you. Obviously, the nature of pop music is such that none of the songs Britney sings are her own but, given her unique status, people will write songs about her, for her, this can become a positive.
When I listened to the Circus album, I started to realise how self-aware Britney’s stuff is. Kill The Lights introduces her as “our pop princess, now Queen of Pop.” Which is pretty obvious: it’s something the media have been talking about for years now. But in Unusual You, which would otherwise be a fairly weak track, Britney addresses the way she’s presented herself over the years. Wedged among songs about the usual misadventures in love she asks her man,
Didn’t anyone tell you, you’re supposed to break my heart? She expects him to.
And it hits me. Through the years Britney’s played a number of key parts, some of them contradictory, most of them cyclical- she’s the Victim of Unrequited Love, she’s the Accidental Cocktease, the Devoted Girl In Love. She’s Girl, as processed by Pop; then, as that identity takes form as Britney, she becomes Britney, as processed by Pop, giving us the Victim of Fame, the Good Girl Looking To Escape Her Reputation.In the SavageCritic(s) post I linked to in the Scott Pilgrim brain’splosion down the page, Abhay mentions Susan Douglas’ book, Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media and how Douglas talks about the way
“the success of the girl bands of the 1960’s can be attributed to how they allowed girls of that generation to ‘try on’ different sexual identities, whether the troubling thrills of dating the bad boy of Leader of the Pack or the hopeful uncertainty of the Shirelle’s Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?“
Whether Britney, taking on this role in a post-sexual-liberation age, is surplus to social requirements is debateable. But, as a Boy growing up with the Mass Media portrayal of women, Britney helped lay out some templates of what girls might be like. Maybe they were a little warped in parts, but I’m still in love with the Girl Britney provided.
Plus, if you can stop yourself singing, dancing and/or miming throughout all of My Prerogative, you’re either a better man than me, or dead inside.