Pop has changed. Over the course of the last decade or so, what was once an outlet for one-dimensional electronic ballads such as Spear’s Top 10, Toxic, has become one that allows expression of the complexities of more than simply romance, artists are expressing the intricacies of their lives.
Pop has come to encompass a great deal of music as well. Suddenly, Adele, Ed Sheeran and Britney Spears are all in the same category. That being said, in many respects, the pop bar has been raised in just the last 10 years. Even in sub-genres of pop such as electronic and dance, the themes present are more complex. The remix version of Mike Posner’s hit “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” isn’t simply a club song. It’s his declaration of dissatisfaction with a life that so many glorify. He warns his audience “You don’t wanna be high like me/never really knowing why like me/you don’t ever want to step off that rollercoaster and be all alone.” As a result, the artists in the game are encouraged to push their songwriting and production abilities to express more than the basic attraction that we as music listeners hear so much of. People are listening to the music; the lyrics, the production, the melodies and the voices.
Britney Spear’s Glory shows the evolution of production. For example, the melodies and beats present in the second track of the album, “Make Me….(feat. G-Eazy)” are catchy and depthful. They draw the listener into the lustful scenario she presents. She sings, “I just want you to make me move/like it ain’t a choice for you/like you got a job to do.” We’ve seen the power behind a lustful ballad, in other pop artists of the day. A great beat, lustful message, and soft voice carried The Weeknd’s “Often” right to the top of the charts.
However, production aside, even artists like Rihanna are exploring the depths of their feelings regarding her emotions. Songs like “Needed Me,” speak about Rihanna’s independence as a woman and the protection of her heart that we’ve seen her evolve into. We’ve seen her grow, but I for one, have not seen that same progression in Britney’s music. I was momentarily impressed with the one song in particular on the album,“Man on the Moon.” The song begins as Spears sings “Dark mascara dripping down my face/only fools could ever feel this way.” Could it be? A song that shows growth and depth that could develop over the course of a 34 year-old woman’s life? Could it possibly be a song that sings of a transformation in her life? The answer ultimately revealed itself as no. The chorus goes on to repeat the same themes of waiting for some man to come into her life and change things. Dependence and lust. We’ve heard it before.
It has been said that when Spears first emerged with “….Baby One More Time,” she was a symbol of sexual confidence and served as an inspiration for young girls who never felt as though they could own their sexuality. That might be true, but all I hear in this album is lustful male dependence. Let’s draw the comparison to Rihanna for example. Riri might release an emotionally depthful song such as “Stay,” or a sexually independent song such as “Needed Me” but Britney Spears uncomfortably blends the two. She sings, “See it in my lips, you feel it in my kiss/I’m desperate, so desperate/say you don’t want to cross the line but I’ma make you change your mind.” I expect more Britney. Actually I don’t, I just figured age would bring wisdom. The only song on the entire 17-track album that exhibits any sort of independence is “Liar.” “It’s too late for apologies/nothing you can offer me now/I’m looking at you on your knees.” Still no depth though. Still no complexities. What I’m saying is that this could be a 34 year-old, mother of two’s song, or a 17 year-old Disney star’s song. I really can’t tell the difference.
Even relatively newer artists like Selena Gomez have made it a point to produce music that could have messages that might resonate in one’s mind. On Revival, the album Gomez dropped late last year, she considered themes other than the casual bag, shag and skedaddle. “Same Old Love” considers themes of a realization of self-worth, sending a message to her young audience to aspire to more. Songs like “Kill Em With Kindness,” encourage the idea of turning the other cheek, and she’s 10 years younger than Spears.
I guess in some respects I am waiting for an transformation or a development. I’m waiting for progress in more than the production department. (Kudos to those producers though. “Make me….” and “Slumber Party” are still stuck in my head. I’ll forget them in 10 years, but for right now, they’re stuck in my head.) Glory has been called a comeback, but I’ve yet to understand how this applies to her. The album has the same shallow themes as her work from 17 years ago, she basically never left. Don’t get me wrong, the sound is different. It is the only change on the album, but if we’re talking themes and undertones, she might as well have stayed that 17 year-old.
Sometimes I find myself thinking, there are prominent pop-artists artists like Ed Sheeran and Adele who are writing their music, and because it comes from the heart, they’re producing memorable ballads such as “Thinking Out Loud” or “Someone Like You.” There are artists that may not necessarily be songwriters, but they are performers that have asserted themselves as role models, coming to symbolize something important, such as defiance of gender roles like Beyonc. There are also some artists that do that as well as simply having voices that will undebatably echo through the generations, such as Barbra Streisand. So what exactly do artists like Britney Spears contribute? Yes, it is understood that she proposed an ownership of sexulity at a time in which it was frowned upon. But its 2016 now. We have Beyonce, Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. Do we really need thin-voiced, pop dancers that can send no message to the younger generation other than sex is really awesome? I understood when it was 1999 and she was 17. But that was 17 years ago and the message is still the same. Pop has changed. Music has changed. It’s been 17 years, Britney, haven’t you heard the story of Glory enough? Haven’t we heard the story of Glory enough?
I’m disappointed. Maybe I’m being harsh but in light of the albums that have been released this year, I think these comparisons are important. If the goal was to create an album of upbeat, catchy, sex songs, then she has succeeded. Congratulations to you Britney. But if the goal of the album was to produce art that would provide this generation with music that would last past the party and a message that would resonate past this year, then Glory has fallen short.
Rebekah Jones is a freshman in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.