Saturday, December 20, 2008

Outlining the Record

I love this moment:

This is the Britney I like—cute, cheerful, one who has good video concepts. I don’t know why the director decided to go with this for “Womanizer”:

As Ellen Carpenter at Spin writes,

[“Womanizer” is] a lusty blend of The Office and Alias, the flashy, streamlined vision of the modern sex wars takes place in some sleek corporate setting — as if the high-school girl from "…Baby One More Time" has become a vampy career woman and brought her school's back-up dancers with her. There are Louise Brooks wigs, "Mad Men" glasses, choreographed dance sequences, and not a single stripper pole.
Although the song has grown on me (I wish I remembered my first thought upon hearing the song—something about her voice belonging to a old, craggy woman who had been chain smoking for fifty years), I’m dismayed (I know, I shouldn’t be) by the gratuitous nudity. Really, Britney, a naked you veiled in sweat and smoke? This has been done by oh, everyone, including you. It’s not titillating in the least, especially as there isn’t a semblance of seeing anything remotely interesting.

Carpenter happens to agree with me. There’s no reason here to show off her body—it doesn’t fit into the storyline of the video—except because she can, and that’s not always the best reason. It’s not risqué or cool, not even vaguely interesting, but practically expected. Blah.

"For the Record" shows Britney living her life—one dominated, as one might expect, by dance rehearsals, photo sessions, and security, security, security. She’s always surrounded by people, never alone, and you rarely see her with her children. It’s hard to think of starlets as actual mothers, and Britney is a glaring example of why. It’s not that she’s not motherly, it’s because she just doesn’t care for them directly and have the mindset of what most mothers have. As Carpenter again puts it:

Ever since Britney trotted out her tagline "not a girl, not yet a woman," she's been stuck in some kind of limbo. Though she has two children and two failed marriages under her belt (if she wore a belt) none of us can quite consider her an adult. Certainly not the kind of adult we think of her putative role-model Madonna as being -- someone who self-exploited with a bit more flair and authority.
"For the Record", available online by MTV in 23 different installments (!!!!! And yes, I watched it all in a row, Fantasy commercials be damned), received a lot of criticism for false advertising, for not showing us the real Britney and the “truth” behind her last few years of craziness. There are few details in “For the Record”, that’s true, but I enjoyed the documentary, ostensibly to promote her new album, Circus. Britney came across fairly intelligently, and her goofy humor is apparent when she happy and enjoying herself, usually interacting with her close associates. Britney very much has a babygirl voice, one that has been exploited in conjunction with her body for years, but it shines through most genuinely when it is unencumbered by pop stylings.

But we always want to learn more, and her past few years have only made us want to see the reasons behind the odd behavior. Britney, true to form, likes to tease us, promising that we will understand her through her music, but that’s rarely the case. Why should we expect so much out of dance pop?

Britney Spears is making a habit of putting out albums with titles that promise more self-revelation than she's ultimately able to provide. Last fall, she released Blackout...which turned out not to have anything to do with experiencing blackouts. This year, it's Circus, with a title track that's not about the madhouse her life has become but just a brag about her prowess as a whip-cracking sexual ringmaster.
That’s the opening to Entertainment Weekly’s review of Cirucs, which has generally received positive reviews. But as with most music of her genre, the review barely means anything. It’s hard to believe that Blackout came out a year ago—we’re so used to Britney the Paparazzi Princess that her music has become quite the backburner, even though it’s supposed to fuel her life. Up until a few months ago, it was kind of a big deal that she had never won any moonmen at the MTV Video Music Awards, despite being, arguably, their biggest star this decade. So, engineered for her “comeback”, she wins a few for “Piece of Me”, a song that's supposed to be about how she loses herself among her celebrity life. Bleh. Really, out of all her songs she could win for—especially for Video of the Year—“Piece of Me” should not even remotely be on the shortlist. But it’s supposed to be “deep”, a real look at the inner Britney—all bunk as far as I’m concerned. So many artists nowadays especially sing and moan about the perils of being famous that it all gets so trite to the listener, especially as it’s not a universal experience. But that’s a rant for another time.

I have no doubt that Britney will go on being Britney, and we will be treated to plenty more gym-ready gyrations, just as we will go on endlessly discussing her life. But don’t go on expecting a real breakthrough.

P.S. Though I’m not a fan of Lily Allen, she has a pretty good cover of "Womanizer".


John said...

1) That song is terrible, and the video is just odd. I thought the naked Britney in the sauna was supposed to be the same Britney who cooked her man eggs in the morning, and that she's just waiting for him to come home so she can tear his clothes off and show him how much of a modern, empowered, take-charge, "post-feminist" woman she is.

B) Of course Britney hasn't grown up. She hasn't had any form of agency over her own life since she was sixteen! That scene with her personal shopper reminded me of the days when I wasn't allowed to shop for clothes on my own (back when everything I wore came from kids 'r' us!)

C) You watched all 23 installments? That's worse than my watching all 26 (or however many there were) chapters of "Trapped in the Closet!"

D) Wow. Lily Allen cranks out covers faster than Weird Al does parodies. I can remember a time when artists waited at least a year before covering a song, but that was during the dark, ancient days of web1.0.

John said...

whoops, looks like I switched from numbers to letters in my last comment. Let's just pretend that 1) is really an A).