New Britneyology

Britney stops being “Britney Spears” again

Posted by: Karenannanina on: January 8, 2019

Doesn’t it feel like old times? Old, OLD times? Britney could’ve just busted her knee while filming the video for “Outrageous” and immediately – some say TOO immediately – cancelled the rest of her Onyx Hotel Tour. We, the believers, wouldn’t believe those who claimed that she’d been looking for an excuse to stop being “Britney Spears” and become the normal Louisiana hometown girl which she dreamt of being and had never really been. An excuse to escape from work and hang out with Kevin Federline. And back in those old, old days the talk was that the lost dates would be rearranged. But those dates were never rearranged and there are plenty of cities where fans are still waiting for a visit from Britney Spears.

She didn’t do much to encourage us during this long break. As the days went by and the paparazzi with their long lenses continued to photograph her on her famous hotel balcony, she demonstrated to us that the beautiful, glamorous girl we loved was “Britney Spears” – the pop princess – and the girl she was now was not necessarily beautiful nor glamorous. It was like deliberate self-destruction. Her hair looked dirty and tangled. Her skin was bad. She put on weight. She dressed like a tramp. The press started calling her “trailer trash” because that was what she looked like, even though she had never lived in a trailer.

Eventually she took a look at herself and literally cleaned up her act, but, aside from that, for fans the news wasn’t any better. Her “Letter of Truth”, in which she explained how tired she was of constantly running, and was now passing the baton to other girls, sounded like her retirement from showbiz. She fired everyone associated with her career, including long-term manager Larry Rudolph. And then she got pregnant. Twice. It looked like she was burning all of her bridges, and had no intention of ever coming back.

Fast forward to 2019. The parallels are obvious. Does anyone believe it was genuinely essential that Britney screw over the management of one of Vegas’ top venues and put a multi-million dollar career on hold to become an amateur nurse? Her father’s operation was two months ago! Shouldn’t she have made the move then, if she seriously thought it was necessary? How many hours a week does she need, to assist with his recuperation? And what practical yet exclusive assistance can she provide anyway? I know these questions all sound very cynical, but doesn’t it look like she wants to step out of being “Britney Spears” and into normal life again, just like she did all those years ago? Is it mean of me to wonder what she’s planning to do with Sam Asghari in the next year or so?

There are other theories. The unavoidable, malevolent one is that ticket sales for her new residency had been poor, and she (and/or her people) wanted to avoid humiliation and much speculation on her being “over”. The more benevolent one is that she feels lost and anxious without her father’s guiding hand, and he’s in no position to provide it at the moment, nor will he be in the near future. And we don’t know just how sick he is.

In what has been said so far, the word “indefinite” has been used, and it’s unclear if what’s happening to the “Domination” show is a cancellation or a postponement. I’m sure her management want to present it as the latter, but I seriously doubt that Britney has any plans in her mind for the foreseeable future. This show will probably never happen. 

As fans, though, we have learnt never to give up hope. We know there’s a fire inside Britney that burns low from time to time, but has always flared up again when she hasn’t been on stage for a while. She needs to perform. It was during her last major career pause that she did most of the work on her great album Blackout. We’ve been told that nothing like that is going to happen this time, but we’ve learnt to be careful about writing her off during her quiet spells.

One good thing about any future activity by Ms Spears – after her current hiatus and disappearance from the scene, a new album, Vegas show OR tour will be a comeback, in the truest sense of the word. And comebacks can be magical. The loyalty of Britney’s fans is being tested to breaking point, but if enough of them stick around, this next comeback may be just what she needs to revitalize her career.

The Spirit of Britney?

Posted by: Karenannanina on: October 28, 2017

  • In: Blog
  • Comments Off on The Spirit of Britney?

You’re right, it isn’t Britney! But if I couldn’t have Britney, this is the girl I would choose. Who is it? Well, it’s Louisa Johnson, the teenager who won the UK X Factor two years ago.

So, in what way does Louisa relate to the Spirit of Britney? It’s not in singing style, because Louisa is a straightforward (but thoroughly excellent) vocal diva. No, the answer is simple. She “gets it”. Unlike all previous X Factor UK contestants, she realises that you don’t get a lot of headlines and attention purely by singing. You have to use everything you’ve got, and if you have beauty and a great body, you can’t take the puritanical – if understandable – view that you shouldn’t have to use them.

As a new young teenage star, Britney was the first to stun the media with her unashamed use of bare skin and willing promotion of a coquettish and Lolita-ish sexuality. Guys noticed her unusual body. For a white girl, she was the first to possess a great ass. And that’s very important in the assessment of sex appeal, as Kylie Minogue and J.Lo will tell you. Almost 20 years later, the world of pop music still has not come up with anything comparable. Katy? Nope. Taylor? Nope. Miley? Definitely not.

But Louisa Johnson has it, and she’s not afraid to show it. Her gallery is full of pictures of her curvaceous booty. And she shows skin at the slightest provocation. OK, her frontage is modest compared to Britney’s, but it really doesn’t matter. I hate to see brilliant young singers appear and disappear after one season at the top, for want of the ability to engage the paparazzi. Louisa Johnson isn’t going to let that happen. And for that reason, she gets my Spirit of Britney award.

Britney’s Voice Revisited

Posted by: Karenannanina on: October 14, 2017

The Noisey website’s Lauren O’Neill in a new article about her Britney stanship describes her heroine’s voice thus:
On “…Baby, One More Time,” Britney Spears sings as though she’s chewing a piece of toffee or a soft pillow of bubblegum too large for her mouth. Her Louisiana twang drips with something pleasantly sour, her lips moving around vowels the way they might navigate a lollipop, slick with its glossy sugar.

This is meant to be a compliment, an account of an almost orgasmic reaction to hearing Britney for the first time. But it suggests enough ambivalence to remind us that the jury on Britney’s voice went out almost 20 years ago, and still hasn’t delivered a reliable verdict.

For some time, a disturbing number of people believed that the notorious “Britney, her real voice” alleged clip reflected the sum total of her talent. Assuming it was real (and there’s no firm evidence that it was), it consisted of a series of grunts – the kind of grunts you might make unconsciously when you’re dancing and not trying to sing. However, this supposed revelation came as a godsend to those who had been claiming that her contribution to her recordings was literally to “phone in” a couple of notes, from which the astonishingly creative producer would “autotune” all the vocals for a complete album.

A similar school of thought held that these producers could also “blend” Britney’s tone, timbre and pronunciation with the singing of another artist. They claimed that this was a common practice. Now here you have to note that they were NOT alleging that she sang along with a guide track, in the way Rihanna is supposed to have done with Sia on Diamonds. No, since Britney couldn’t sing, she wouldn’t have been able to sing along with a guide track. What was confidently stated by these theorists was that a producer could electronically add a Britney flavour to another vocal, so that any backing singer could sound like her. You’d think that, using this supposed technology, there would be a lot of crooners out there who would have benefitted from a “blending” with Frank Sinatra’s tone and timbre, or Tom Jones’s. It’s amazing what people can believe.

Further arguments were advanced that, on many tracks, “soundalike” singers were used to substitute for Britney. The usual suspect in this plot was Myah Marie, who denied it with some outrage – only to find that the conspiracy theorists simply refused to believe her. And there were those who believed that many of her tracks didn’t even sound like her, although by this stage one might have asked how they knew what she actually sounded like, if she never sang!

Producers have always testified on her behalf, from Brian Transeau remarking that doing vocal comps with her was tough because all of the takes were so good, through Corte Ellis insisting that she got her vocals right by her own efforts and she wasn’t one of those artists where you “fix it in the mix”, to Bloodshy and Avant, and T-Pain, separately reporting that she had recorded songs with the utmost professionalism in one take. Respected ballad writer Diane Warren added her endorsement to Britney’s singing ability. Would Diane lie? It seems unlikely. However, all producer statements were dismissed by the skeptics. They were ALL lying.

But odd little incidents crept under the artillery fire, and we heard her singing with our own ears. There was the time, ages ago, when she was walking to her car with Justin Timberlake, hassled by surrounding paparazzi, and sang a little comment to them. There was the time she sang You oughta know live in concert. And recently we have had a few more indicators. A Toxic demo emerged in June 2017 which stunned many disbelievers and generated many headlines. Shortly after that, she was filmed singing Happy Birthday and that was actually her, actually singing too.

At this point, she seemed to become suddenly aware of the doubts that surrounded her ability, or lack of it, to sing live. And she made some defiant statements. Such as “I’m glad you’re addressing this question because it’s really funny. A lot of people think that I don’t sing live. I do usually — because I’m dancing so much — I do have a little bit of playback, but there’s a mixture of my voice and the playback. It really pisses me off because I’m busting my ass out there and singing at the same time, and nobody ever really gives me credit for it. You know?”

Nobody really believed her, but it was encouraging to note that she was aware of the issue. And then, as if to prove what she had said, another full live performance burst upon the lucky audience at her Vegas show. Here she sang Bonnie Raitt’s Something to talk about – a title pregnant with meaning – and did a perfectly good job. As with You oughta know, she didn’t try to dance at the same time.

What have we learnt from all of this? Well, she thinks she’s singing while she’s dancing, even if we usually can’t hear her. She CAN sing when she’s not dancing, but apparently doesn’t think her audience wants that. Oddly, it was from the Happy Birthday clip and the impromptu song for the paparazzi that I noted something interesting. For some reason, even when she sings the simplest song, she can’t help turning it into a heavily inflected soul ballad. I have a suspicion that she can’t create that styling and still sing loudly. And maybe that’s been her biggest problem all along.

The old Britney versus the new

Posted by: Karenannanina on: February 27, 2017

In these days of Glory it’s an oft-expressed opinion that Britney’s best album – so far – was actually In The Zone. But back then, when Britney entered that Zone, it was an oft-expressed opinion that her best album was Britney. And back when she was no longer a girl, but not yet a woman, there were many who preferred Oops I Did It Again.

We have grown up with Britney, and our tastes have evolved as we have grown. But now she is very much a woman, and has been so for many years. From Blackout to Glory, changes in her music have no longer been a question of growing up, and haven’t been seen as incremental developments, or as steps in a progression. Far from settling into a cohesive and distinctive musical style as she gets older, she seems to have lost or abandoned any sense of genre she may once have had. Now, it seems that the inspiration or guiding principle for each album is completely different. Each is a work complete unto itself, for better or for worse. Recent albums have sounded more like questing than settling, and the situation doesn’t seem to be heading for a resolution.

But there was a time when she seemed to be defining her own very characteristic genre. Taking Oops as emblematic of the early Britney (it’s a better and more developed version of early Britney than …Baby one more time) the first thing we notice is that her voice was very different from the one we hear on Glory. She sounded so young, because she WAS, but that “still a girl” voice was claiming improbably to be “not that innocent”, and “stronger”. On Satisfaction there are occasional glimpses of a tougher personality shining through some grittier notes, but then on Don’t Let Me Be The Last To Know she sounds so sweet and vulnerable you just want to give her a hug. Indeed, the theme of most of the songs is the angst of growing up, breaking out of the restraints of being a young teenager and embracing more adult emotions – all of which burst powerfully out in Where are you now? and You got it all. But, as if to illustrate the conflict between youthful years and the future to which they aspire, One kiss from you, When your eyes say it, Girl in the mirror and Dear Diary are full of simple yearning, and, even to the older ears that we hear them with today, extremely touching. They remind me of why I loved her so much.

And that’s the problem. If we compare any of her more recent albums with those up to and including Britney, what will we be comparing with what, and how fair could a comparison be? Those early albums are icons of youth, youthfulness, innocence, teenage protest and girlish angst; and for us now, icons of rosy-hued reminiscence. When we look back on them, we’re also looking back on our own lives and the intensity with which we experienced them at that age. We hadn’t been made bored and cynical by the numbing, repetitive patterns of adult life, and everything – good and bad – seemed so new and vivid. Our feelings as fans were passionate, and full of the kind of devotion and obsession that now seem quite alien and impossible to recreate. The recollection of a night I sat in my car and prayed for Britney fills me with wonderment that I cared that much about anything. And throughout each day, I wrote in a little notebook thoughts and ideas I could work up into articles about her for the fan forums I used to inhabit for hours every day. And those forums! They weren’t just “message boards”, they were communities, full of friendships and feuds, dramas and disasters, characters, cliques and conflict.

We look at Glory with a colder eye and a hundred times more perspective. We’ve heard a lot more music, and other artists have elbowed their way past Britney in contemporary consciousness. Why, she’s even back to being “Britney Spears” again, after years when “Britney” was enough. Away back in 2003, she told OK Magazine that, in a few years, she would dial back on her career and look for a better work/life balance, and it seems that she meant it. As for sweet and innocent, it would be crazy if she sang songs of teenage angst now, and she’s way past the Lolita ambiguity phase, so she sings about sex, romantic love, relationships and dancing, and an album wouldn’t be a Britney album if it didn’t contain some “parental advisory” language. Do we relate to the lyrics, as we used to do? I dunno. Maybe no-one expects us to. We’re all adults now, and her words are definitely adult, but for many of us, life consists of putting one foot in front of the other, day after day and year after year. We could definitely relate to songs about cooking and cleaning, the boss, houses, getting the kids out to school, finance and so on, but creative artists don’t seem to find inspiration in those areas. There’s always the environment to worry about, domestic abuse, the patriarchy, racism, state intrusion, terrorism, multinationalism, housing shortages and poverty, but Britney doesn’t want to get into the serious stuff. She wants her music to be fun, but, to be fair, she still tries to awaken some emotional intensity in our sad old hearts. And if some meaningful phrases ring out and stick in our heads, her job is pretty much done.

The medium is part of the message. The Britney voice of yesteryear would hardly be a suitable vehicle to convey what she’s saying now. And her voice has changed a lot over the years. The legions of Britney imitators, from Ariana Grande to Nicole Scherzinger, inevitably offer a caricature of 1998 Britney. But she doesn’t sound like that now, and it’s strange that so few reviewers, critics and media commentators seem to have noticed. In the very early days, you might have thought of her vocals as cute and poignant, but never beautiful. And, despite the attractively breathy voice she has deployed on many songs from the Oops album onwards, she has usually preferred to experiment with the metallic, the robotic and the synthetic. Until now. Most of her vocals on Glory (with a couple of regrettable exceptions) do in fact sound genuinely beautiful to my ears.

I think she has achieved something important here. Her singing voice now sounds like a manifestation of her personality. I need to explain: I had previously thought of Britney primarily as a vocal performance artist who could pull on a different style for every song – and did it brilliantly – but on Glory the voice we hear sounds like HER. The work of her soul. The high register she uses on most tracks isn’t JUST breathy now. And it isn’t grating like Jess Glynne’s or colourless like Ellie Goulding’s. It has strength and character, but with sweetness and a certain indefinable adorability. And we love Britney because she is… uh… so damn lovable. So we may not identify with her songs as much as we used to, but we identify with the character in her voice as much as we have ever done.

  • Karenannanina: I agree with you about the residency. It's the road to irrelevance for an artist. But a new album would be a golden blessing for her fans. Her albums
  • George: Spot on thoughts on the issue. Honestly, I don't... really care whether she does the residency or not? As long as there is new music, I'm fine. P.S: G
  • Sarah G: You should write an In-Depth of Glory or even Mood Ring (that's a groovy tune)