Posted by: Karenannanina on: February 25, 2012
I’ve always been one who has rushed to the aid of damsels in distress. But when damsels are getting it easy and having things their own way, I can be a little begrudging. This is how I feel about the Blessed Beyonce and Mother Teresa of GaGa. And, back in 1998-2000, that was how I felt about Britney Spears. She didn’t need me. She was doing absolutely fine on her own, and not only that, the little bitch was taking the spotlight away from the artist I was really stanning for – Mariah Carey, who was having a miserable time. Of course I had filed away a mental note about Britney, “has the best white-girl ass I ever saw” but overall I was not a fan. However, this was soon to change, and as Mariah needed me less and less, I perceived that little Ms Spears was needing me more and more.
Every new phenomenon in the world of celebrity gets a period of grace, in which he or she is written about with awe and wonderment. This can extend for quite some time – every music journalist in the world is still waiting in line to interview GaGa and gush about how she’s not only the future of pop music, but also its present and past. Britney had her period of grace too, with an avalanche of breathless magazine articles and even “Britney Spears Days” on TV. But in her case, it didn’t seem to last. Maybe the media have matured into something a little wiser and less vicious these days? Maybe Britney’s outward appearance of chipper squeakiness annoyed the hell out of them? Maybe they hated the pop revolution she Spear-headed? Anyway, they were looking to take her down after a year or two.
Even by the benighted standards of those days, Britney’s treatment was pretty extreme. I can’t think of any other artist who has been the subject of an almost entirely destructive and thoroughly malicious biography at the age of only 21, but Britney was thoroughly maligned in Larry Getlen’s “Britney – Not That Innocent”. Since this was based on the compilation of numerous articles by Getlen that had been appearing in the National Enquirer since Day One of Britney’s career, you can see that she never had a truly clear run. Above all, some people wanted to portray her as sleazy.
From the get-go, Britney bore the brunt of a ferocious attack as an early sexualizer of young girls. Some of the two-shoed parents who still blame celebrities for making sinners of their children should ask their teenage daughters why they love to wear their school skirts 8 inches above the knee. Hormones will not be denied. Yet the American Family Association called upon “all God-loving Americans to boycott stores that sell Britney’s albums” and Nestle, one of the main sponsors of her first headlining tour, withdrew their support. Meanwhile, self-righteous, self-publicizing, self-important big-mouthed rabbi Schmuley Boteach was forever producing open letters (why open?) concerning the almost unfathomable depth of her moral degradation.
Ironically, a few years later, Britney’s pioneer work in sexualizing young girls and flinging filth at our pop kids appeared to have been forgotten, as one pop historian after another went amnesiac about the wondrously steamy “I’m A Slave For You” video and bleated instead about the supposedly innovative and game-changing nature of Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty”.
Anyway. Larry Getlen took a delight in every setback endured by his youthful victim. Here he describes what happened at the Grammys in 2000: “…the shocker of the night was the winner of the award for Best New Artist – Christina Aguilera. Britney, despite selling more than 9 million albums and becoming one of the most popular celebrities on the planet, had been deemed not worthy by the industry.” While many of us might feel that this is a case where the messenger deserved to be shot, the saddest thing is that what he said was true.
Even to this day, while the Grammy awards committee loses all sense of proportion when faced with GaGa’s gimmicks and Adele’s pachydermal bellowing, they still can’t bring themselves to acknowledge Britney’s genuinely seismic original impact and continuing profound influence on pop music. In 13 years of producing Number One albums, she has been bestowed with just one Grammy, jointly with Bloodshy and Avant, for “Toxic” as Best Dance Recording in 2005. Aside from that, she’s been totally and consistently snubbed, year after year. A whole string of One Hit Wonders, and acts as disreputable as Milli Vanilli, have received more Grammys than Britney, so don’t give me the old “they only reward genuine talent” sneer.
She’s done a little better at the various MTV Awards, but still begrudgingly. Fans laugh annually at the way MTV inevitably hints that Britney will be there. Clearly they understand that she has the power to generate interest and publicity like no other, and to attract viewers, but (apart from what appeared to be a sympathy vote for “Piece of Me” which won 3 awards in 2008) she’s been snubbed by them too, totalling only 6 awards from 30 nominations. Some of the most influential and most copied videos of all time, such as “Toxic”, “I’m A Slave For You” and – incredibly – “Baby One More Time” failed to win MTV Awards.
It was particularly obvious that Britney would soon be needing my help some time in 2002, after the UK “Crossroads” premiere debacle. For those who don’t know what actually happened, Britney, arriving late, didn’t stop to chat with her waiting fans. A couple of press photographers started booing and tried to get everyone else to join in (with extremely limited success), and disparaging remarks allegedly made by a couple of mothers (not fans) were syndicated around the world. A kind of catharsis for Britney haters had finally arrived, and a torrent of pent-up Britney-hatred was unleashed in the UK tabloids. At least her career has outlived the News Of The World!
Speaking of Crossroads, it was inevitable that the celebrity gossipers and bloggers of the time would judge it harshly, probably before they even saw it. I wish I had a dollar for every time I read that it was a flop. It wasn’t. It made a decent return on its investment and held its place in the UK’s top ticket sales for several weeks. Obviously, since this was Britney Spears, her acting had to be panned too, yet when I spent a few minutes in the late-lamented Borders bookstore in Bristol, England, one rainy day 5 years later, and took the trouble to check out the reviews in half a dozen movie guides, I found that every one of them praised her performance, using words like “slick”, “professional” and “credible”.
Meanwhile, her fanbase was beginning to show early signs of the bitchiness we have come to know and hate. Former-and-now-embittered-ex-fan Ruben Garay was disappointed not to be invited into Britney’s inner circle by her “people” or by Britney herself, and posted an extraordinary blog on his World Of Britney site, where he bleated about the unfairness of it all, said Britney wasn’t the girl she used to be, and promised to bring as much bad news and comment as good in future. He was more than true to his word, and for as long as he continued to run the site, one malicious story followed another. People (very much including myself) began to vent their rage against him on the WoB Forums, and eventually, in a final attempt to destroy Britney’s career, he closed the site down, making sure every media outlet knew that, and why, he’d done it.
So sure were the journalists of yesteryear that a teenage pop star, whose main appeal was to other teenagers , couldn’t and wouldn’t last that they were writing her musical obituary almost continuously throughout 2003, in preparation for giving her forthcoming album “In The Zone” the bum’s rush it would obviously deserve. No doubt they hoped their prophesies of doom and disaster would be self-fulfilling, but it didn’t work out that way. When the album arrived, and shot dutifully to No.1 in the US charts, Britney was everywhere, and was still clearly the biggest sensation in pop music. She had done something the experts had deemed impossible – she was a teenybopper bubblegum pop star who had grown up and brought her audience with her into young-adulthood. Research showed that her demographic was not 9-15 as had been assumed, but 16-26. About this achievement, the “experts” were mysteriously silent.
It’s strange that people EXPECT Britney to be, not only untalented, but ignorant about her own profession. Just today I was reading the reaction of some “fans” to the unlikely rumor that she was in the running for a position as a judge on the US “X Factor”. If their asses were in front of me right now, my Cat boots would be swingin’, since most of them were saying “Britney Spears judging a live singing contest?! NO!!!” Do they not realise that she’s been in showbiz longer than most of them have been alive? Do they buy into the deluded notion that she’s a “manufactured” star? Don’t they know that she came up the hard way, through talent shows, state fairs, local gigging – all of it live – and penniless months at performing arts schools in New York, where she spent endless days in singing and dancing lessons and practise? Why WOULDN’T she know better than most people which contestants in a talent show have the qualities it takes to make it?
It’s all part of this culture of undervaluing everything she does, even when it’s irrational to do so. We are expected to believe that she makes no contribution to her own albums and videos – but where is the evidence for that? Everything points to the contrary, and has done so right from the beginning. Who refused to go along with Nigel Dick’s plans for the BOMT video, and came up with her own ideas? That was Britney, before her career had even begun. Everyone close to her personally has always maintained that she is the very opposite of a puppet and does what she wants to do. Remember how she fired everybody after she married K.Fed? Can a puppet fire the puppet-master? No, to be able to do that, she had to have both power and authority.
Britney gets no credit as a singer, in this benighted era of endless “belting”. People don’t just say they prefer the belters. They talk as if Britney was some ignorant farm girl who mooed at the Kentwood cows then dropped from the skies into Max Martin’s studio with no history of singing. Again we’re supposed to have amnesia about her long journey to the top, making it the hard way. We’re also supposed to forget the toughness of the auditions for the New Mickey Mouse Club, the phenomenal achievement in being selected from so many applicants, and the fact that, at that point, her singing ability was rated only a little below Christina Aguilera’s. It’s her choice to interpret songs using character and personality instead of screaming the hell out of them. Songwriter Michelle Bell said of Britney: “She seemed like she also loved being… a chameleon when she sang. She liked playing a character in each song and she found a way to bring it out.” I wish more singers would follow her lead. One who DOES is the new young star whose enigmatic, smoky, erotic, understated vocals are already making her a minor icon in her own right – Lana del Rey. She says she never bothered much with what other singers were doing, yet she was attracted to the way Britney sang.
Britney’s professional competence as a musician has been shown by the testimony of producers, who have pointed out on more than one occasion that she requires very few takes – sometimes only one. But she gets no credit for this either! Firstly the cynics brush it off with the sneer that producers are all on her payroll and they have to be nice about her. Which is plainly bullshit, since she must have even more embittered ex-producers than embittered ex-security guards and you can be sure that at least ONE would have come forward to spill the beans. The Brit-skeptics then deploy a wonderfully two-pronged attack. She lays down lead vocals in one or two takes? Well, that proves she has no passion or involvement in the music. But then I pointed out to one armchair expert that, if the word got around that she took all day to lay a track down, he’d be snarking that it took that long to get a useable take, and he admitted that what I said was true. She can’t win.
The desire of the media to do her damage has extended into almost every part of her life and career. She was the first high-profile victim of the paparazzi’s then-new technique of taking a digital “burst” of pictures, each capturing a nanosecond in the birth of a facial expression, the blink of an eye, or even a muscle contraction, then looking carefully for the nanosecond that shows a celebrity looking her worst. In this way, they were able to con the world into believing that a muscle contraction is actually cellulite, when they must have known perfectly well that, one nanosecond later, the alleged cellulite had disappeared. But that’s trivial stuff compared to the malicious captioning of nanoseconds to tell a tabloid-style, completely fake story. “Britney Spears in tears as she angrily confronts her bodyguard” yada yada yada. “Britney Spears’ expression shows what she really thinks of Pepsi!” yada yada.
During the darkest hours of her life, the custody battle where she lost custody of her beloved children, the media and public at large were only too happy to be suckered in by a campaign of daily smears and ridiculous legalistic pettifoggery. Instead of sneering at the ridiculous stories, or at least looking into them a little more closely, they bought into every one of them. She was a bad mother because she drove her car on a Louisiana license instead of a California one. Really? She was unfit to be around children because she was a habitual user of alcohol and drugs. Again, really? Ex-bodyguard and chief witness for the prosecution Tony Barretto admitted that he never saw her take drugs, or be drunk around her kids. A named individual associated with Kevin Federline came forward to allege that Britney was also unfit to be around kids because she was involved in frequent lesbian frolics at her home. Are we to believe that the News Of The World didn’t bother to try and locate one of these lesbians for an interview? They followed up every other salacious allegation about Britney’s life and would have paid well.
During these troubled times, it was not uncommon to hear media commentators remark that they woke up each morning wondering if she was alive or dead. Yet, on finding that she was still alive, they spent the rest of the day going to work on her. With photo-agencies and celebrity bloggers leading the charge, she was scolded, blasted, judged and never shown the slightest sign of sympathy. It was rumored that Perez Hilton was looking forward to writing about her celebrity downfall and death. Shortly after that, Perez posted a blog full of excitement at actually seeing her in person for the first time, as her car drew up beside his at traffic lights. On realising that she was actually a human being, he began to warm to her, and has been kinder to her ever since. TMZ’s Harvey Levin seemed to have the same epiphany around the same time – an awareness that she had been ill-used in the past, and that everybody had made a lot of money out of exploiting her misfortunes.
And then came the breakdown, hospitalization, conservatorship. At last it seemed that the media in general had decided that enough was enough. Her rites of passage to survivor status had been completed in spectacularly painful style, and they began to treat her more respectfully, with the narrative of her life now a very positive one of recovery, career success, wonderful man in her life, lots of family time, happiness. And at this moment, suddenly the combination of bitchy queens and queenly bitches in her fanbase turned into full-time skeptics. The baton of snark dropped by the general media has been all-too-eagerly picked up by people who should be supporting her. It seems that she’s destined to live her life in perpetual shade.
Comments are closed.