Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What's Wrong with Britney?

What's Wrong with Britney?


Britney Spears is back on top.

The iconic pop star easily secured the number one position on the Billboard 200 albums chart this month, moving 276,000 copies of her new album Femme Fatale in the first week. It helps that the album is a triumph, arguably the best of Spears’ 13-year career, with a roster of über-producers lending their ears to a string of perfectly constructed pop songs. Britney is poised to dominate both airwaves and arenas over the next several months; Nicki Minaj just agreed to join Spears’ North American tour. Yeah, Britney’s back.

But there’s something wrong. Beyond those 12 autotuned tracks, Britney's barely there. Fans may be thrilled with her latest recordings, but others are wondering what happened to the last vestiges of her personality.

America's Sweetheart

Like so many of her pop star predecessors, Britney built her brand on a shockingly sexy image. Not yet 17 when her first single “Baby Hit Me One More Time” broke in a big way, Britney terrified conservative parents everywhere with her constant suggestion of teen sex. In her first Rolling Stone cover, an open-mouthed Spears clutched a pink phone in one hand and a purple Teletubby—the sexually ambiguous Tinky Winky—in the other, her toned and tanned midriff on display atop pink satin sheets.

But offstage, Britney dropped the vixen act in favor of the even more lucrative Relatable Teen. Spears’ public persona at the time was bubbly, flirtatious, spectacularly non-threatening. She cheerfully giggled at reports that she was romantically involved with her former Mickey Mouse Club co-star Justin Timberlake for years; the duo later played up their coupledom with matching outfits (we’ll never forgive Justin’s denim suit).

As Spears matured, her relationship with the public transformed as well. After she and Timberlake parted ways, Spears faced constant speculation over the nature of their split, with public interest bolstered by Timberlake’s highly suggestive music video for “Cry Me a River.”

Federline and Spears (Getty) 

Spears continued to distance herself from her squeaky clean image with a quickie Vegas wedding to childhood friend Jason Alexander (it was quickly annulled), followed by a scandalous relationship with one of her backup dancers, Kevin Federline, whose girlfriend was pregnant with their second child at the time.

Despite all the raised eyebrows, Britney bought herself an engagement ring, got hitched and had two children in the span of two years. Somewhere in the mix, Federline decided to launch an ill-fated rap career.

Britney offered her public support with an introduction at the Teen Choice Awards, but she filed for divorce a few months after his debut performance (which was, in all honesty, a waste of a perfectly talented backup dancer). The world understood, but sympathy for Britney was short-lived.

Comeback Queen

The current state of Spears’ career is in many ways a reaction to the loss of control Britney suffered in the wake of her divorce.

Spears and Lutfi, 2007

There was the head-shaving incident, the brief stints in rehab, the nights out sans underpants. And then there was the sudden dismissal of everyone close to her, including her parents, Lynne and Jamie Spears. A shady character by the name of Sam Lutfi began making decisions for her, continuing to cut ties with those who had helped to found Britney’s career. And all of this was captured on camera, of course, as Britney’s meltdown had become the staple of celebrity journalism.

Unsurprisingly, Britney’s personal problems ravaged her once-untouchable position in the pop world. An abysmal performance during the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards left Spears’ contemporaries stunned and longtime fans confused.

And then she lost custody of her children, was sent to the psych ward, and the courts stepped in. What's more, Kevin Federline was honored with a "Father of the Year" award by Las Vegas' Prive Nightclub. Presumably for the mere fact of his existence. Embarrassing.

After her stint in psychiatric care, Britney was placed under the conservatorship of her father, Jamie Spears. Now, every aspect of Spears’ life is managed, and managed well: Since the start of the conservatorship, Britney’s financial assets have skyrocketed from just under $3 million to almost $27,500,000, according to TMZ.

But even if Britney’s standing in the music industry has made a shocking recovery, it’s not clear whether she has. For the first time in her career, her music is far more powerful than her persona.

Behind the Music

Britney talking to NBC's Matt Lauer Britney doesn’t do live interviews anymore.

Perhaps she’s still wary of the unfiltered view. In 2006, she sat for a disastrous one-on-one with Dateline NBC’s Matt Lauer, in which she tearfully insisted that driving with babies on one’s lap was just her “being country.” She lost one of her fake eyelashes along with considerable public credibility. Whatever the case, Spears has miraculously managed to avoid potentially embarrassing off-the-cuff questions promoting Femme Fatale, perhaps because her team insists on viewing and editing footage before it hits the air.

Still, Spears’ team has tried to give fans a politely curated view into the pop star’s inner workings. Us Weekly even dedicated a cover feature to Britney’s “new life,” which apparently consists of mellow evenings in at home and time spent with the kids. She thinks maybe she’ll marry a third time: “Never say never!” Absent are questions about 2008. Also absent: questions about her ever-puzzling weave situation.

You'd think that, in a year when Jersey Shore's Snooki can land the cover of Rolling Stone, Britney would have been a shoo-in for a killer comeback profile in the country's most respected music magazine. But obviously, Spears' team just doesn't want anyone to look at their product in the slightest bit of depth. It's unclear what they've managed to avoid.

"What She Does Best"

Britney Spears (Photo Agency)

"There's not really going to be that sit-down with Oprah," Jive Records' senior marketing vice president told Rolling Stone of the promotion behind Femme Fatale. "This time around, it's going to be her showing up and doing what she does better than anybody—which is to perform."

Odd, then, that the response to all of Britney's performances thus far has been lackluster at best.

At worst, people wonder whether copious antidepressants may be affecting her ability to perform (one industry insider once predicted that Britney could have her career back with "good social support and good pharmacologists").

Britney fans have never expected their goddess to sing live. Spears’ reliance on backing vocals is well known and generally accepted: Who could possibly hold their notes while slithering around onstage with a massive python? But with the notes taken care of, one expects explosive visuals. And sadly, Britney just isn’t bringing them.

Spears reportedly employed no fewer than three dance doubles in her steamy video for “Till the World Ends,” a throbbing, inexorable ode to living it up. Her taped performances for Good Morning America and Jimmy Kimmel Live could easily be described as extended, pretty yawns with an occasional pop and lock.

Britney Spears (Photo Agency)

Britney’s put in some good, hard years as the reigning princess of pop, and as such she deserves a fair amount of slack. But one has to wonder how, with the world’s most accomplished choreographers at one’s heels, Britney manages to look so bored.

Maybe the answer is that Britney just doesn’t want to be a pop star anymore. Her latest work, however addictive, may just be a testament to the power of inertia.


No comments:

Post a Comment