November 8, 2007

Record Review: Britney Spears

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Do you think it’s just a coincidence that Britney Spears’ initials spell BS? Well, yeah, duh — but it’s an interesting observation, especially in light of her latest album, Blackout!
Here, Britney attempts to recognize and respond to recent public scrutiny by singing out her media blues. To her credit, she succeeds: she vents her spleen all over this record. At issue, though, is that Britney didn’t personally write any of the songs appearing on the album, giving Blackout! a decidedly false — and, in many ways, comical — veneer.
The name Blackout!, for example, is supposed to refer to her propensity for getting ultra drunk and actin’ a foo. In “Radar” she even admits her vice: “Intoxicate me, I’m a lush.” Yet the joke here — evident when you see the album art — is that the real blackout is Britney’s hair color. Get it now? Britney’s gone ironic on us! It’s in this “ironic” manipulation of details that Britney tries to reclaim autonomy so as to be taken seriously. But her public image is now so clownish that these jokes and jabs come off feeling desperate and pitiful. While everything about this album is supposed to smack of defiant retribution, it largely falls short of its intention and instead comes off as the foolish rants of a semi-fallen Pop Princess.
Indeed, almost nothing on this record is truly retributive; and what’s more, perhaps in a cruel twist of fate, her lyrics merely count towards fodder for next week’s Us Weekly. Take the song, “Get Naked (I Got A Plan)” in which she tries to impress a gentleman suitor: “Baby, I’m a freak/
And I don’t really give a damn/
I’m crazy as a
motherfucker.” Impressive? Not particularly — she simply glories in her current reputation without challenging it. Likewise, in “Piece of Me,” she sings, “I’m Miss Bad Media Karma/ Another day, another drama/ Guess I can’t see the harm/ In working and being a mama/ And with a kid on my arm/ I’m still an exceptional earner.” Again, here, even though she seems to jab at the media, she offers no alternative to being “Miss Bad Media Karma,” and therefore changes nothing about her reputation.
By recognizing and owning her public image, Britney attempts to play her audience for fools, yet ends up all the worse, since the joke’s still on her — she challenges nothing of the status quo, and, in fact, reaffirms the fact that she’s crazier-than-all-hell … all without penning these words herself.
Still, this crazy-freaky aesthetic translates well to the other theme of Blackout!: sexy encounters. Along with being more unstable and pissed off than ever, she’s also a certifiable freak. There are many instances on the record where she turns her personal diatribe against the paparazzi into a sort of cat-and-mouse voyeurism. In one example from the song “Freakshow” she sings, “If they want to look, we can make it a freakshow/ We can give ’em a peep peep show/ peep peep show.”
This hint at voyeurism is not her only foray into the sexually (nearly) explicit. In a verse of “Break the Ice,” she croons, “You got me going insane/ And I can’t get enough/ So let me get it up.” This is certainly not the euphemistic stuff of “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” or even “Toxic” for that matter — but then again, why should it be? Her music need not gloss over anatomical workings as it once did when Brit was younger and apparently more naïve and less experienced. Blackout!, therefore, serves as the sometimes shocking, attention-grabbing coming-of-age record in the saga of Britney’s professional career.
If Britney’s ever been great at anything during her time, it’s that she’s good at getting bodies dancing. And by “dancing,” I really mean “dry humping on the dance floor.” Evidence of this power imbues the album, both in the high-energy melodies and in the aggressively flirtatious lyrics.
Take the first cut and current single, “Gimme More.” It’s my bet that this song will likely play at dirty, sweaty dance parties all the way into the new year. (Prove me wrong!) A Timbaland-esque backbeat serves as a steady pulse to the repetitive refrain: “gimme more/ gimme, gimme more.” What is it about this song that keeps us coming back for repeat listens, if there’s no real substance there? It’s simple: Britney’s producers are masterful — which is probably the cardinal reason why Blackout! is the current number one seller on iTunes. Maybe we are those who clamor for Britney to give us more, more of her antics and more of her hyperbolic sexiness; the woman is simply fulfilling our demand.
Oops! Brit’s done it again with Blackout! She crafts — under the aegis of slick producers handy in knob-tuning — her best, most danceable, albeit most ostentatious, record to date. And after all, no serious critique matters when it’s the freakin’ weekend, you’re sipping on your Cosmo and you’re just aching to get your booty-bounce on. So, instead of trying to rationalize this record, shut up, dance and enjoy it — what’s not to love? It’s Britney, bitch.