New Britneyology

Mona Lisa (In Depth series)

Posted by: Karenannanina on: March 6, 2011

For a little while, Britney got into the habit of giving her fans a little New Year surprise. Some were less pleasurable than others – her marriage to Jason Alexander springs to mind. But the “Mona Lisa” incident was an intriguing one. It appears from an account given by radio station staff that Britney phoned KISS FM on New Year’s Eve, 2004 suggesting that she come to the station straight away to play her new song. The station at first suspected a student hoax, but one of the DJs happened to have met Britney, and knew her voice, so she was given the go-ahead.

The panic in the studio after she arrived isn’t hard to imagine. They had about 5 minutes to go before the next show began, and at first Britney’s demo disk wouldn’t play on their machine, so they tried another machine – and at last it worked! And thus was “Mona Lisa” launched into the world. I have to say, when the news spread across the internet (which happened within minutes of the broadcast) I was sure it was a hoax or a scam of some sort, but it turned out to be true – a brand new Britney Spears track had been leaked by the woman herself.

Reactions to the track on the online forums were mixed. Granted, there are a lot of fans who seem more than a little begrudging towards anything she produces, but this track sounded SO different. It was just a demo of a roughly mixed, half-finished recording, so the sound quality was pretty poor, and maybe that was why Britney’s vocal sounded so abrasive – almost snarling. On the other hand, she sounded like that in “My Prerogative” too, so could it be that the two tracks were recorded around the same time? Bloodshy and Avant were involved in both of them, so that may give some support to the theory.

She also sounded a great deal more powerful, mature, worldly-wise and full of attitude and drama than we’d become accustomed to from listening to the breathy stylings of “In The Zone”. But that album was her version of “Erotica”, so she was entitled to purr. “Mona Lisa” also had some high notes in the mid-section that were so startling and well sung that some skeptical fans alleged they’d been performed by somebody else. But that seems unfair, because Britney has shown us her ability to sing high on many other occasions. Even if we disregard the famous “hotel balcony” scene in “Chaotic”, we could check out, for example, the bridge section of “The Hook Up”.

But anyway! “Mona Lisa” was written by Britney Spears, Teddy Campbell and David Kochanski and these are the original words:

[Intro (spoken)]
This is the story about… Mona Lisa
That was her name…
Mona Lisa

[verse 1]
Ladies and Gentlemen, I’ve got a little story to tell
About Mona Lisa, and how she suddenly fell (huh)
See everyone knew her, they knew her oh so well
Now I am taking over, to release her from her spell

[chorus]
She’s unforgettable, (yeah) she was a legend though (yeah, yeah)
It’s kinda pitiful (yeah) that she’s gone
It’s kind of incredible (yeah, yeah)
She’s so unpredictable (yeah, yeah)
It’s time to let her go (yeah) cuz she’s gone, cuz she’s gone, cuz she’s gone

[Verse 2]
She was taken under, drowning in her sea (huh)
Running like an angel, she was crying but could not see (oh no!)
See everyone’s watching, as she starts to fall
Now don’t have a breakdown, you will hit the freakin’ wall

[repeat chorus]

[verse 3]
Now Ladies does that make you cryyyyyyy? (huh)
Now Fellas you have to say goodbyeeeee
Cuz Mona Lisa’s got to flyyyyy
Everyone, may we have a moment of silence? Right Here. Huh.

God?

[repeat chorus 2x]

After the leaking of “Mona Lisa” came days of analysis and speculation – what on Earth was the song about? Everyone assumed it was personal and autobiographical. On the face of it, it sounded like Britney announcing her retirement from the music business. But she said the track had been recorded while she was on tour, pretty much using her normal band and singers, and back then there was no talk of her retirement and her touring entourage would have been more than a little shocked if she had suddenly produced a song that seemed to be putting them out of a job.

It was quite a while later that Britney revealed the truth about “Mona Lisa” – it was an alter ego. “Whenever I feel like being mean or possibly bossing people around to get stuff right, it’s kinda easier to be called ‘Mona Lisa’ instead of Britney,” is how she explained it on “TRL.” Bearing that in mind, it’s a lot easier to see how her entourage might have accepted the words of the song as an in-joke between them and Britney and been grateful that the bitch was gone!

There were also a lot of unconfirmed rumors that Jive in general and Barry Weiss in particular were not best pleased at Britney’s little initiative, and took their revenge by refusing to list for release the album she spoke about on Kiss-FM. It was to be called “Original Doll” and she said it was all but finished. If that’s the case, there must be a lot of unused Britney tracks lying in a vault somewhere.

Britney’s moment of madness may – or may NOT – have spelt the end of “Original Doll” but it didn’t put an end to “Mona Lisa”. Included as one of the songs on the bonus CD packaged with the DVD of “Chaotic”, it also leaked on to the internet at an early stage. But this time, the prevailing consensus opinion was one of baffled disappointment. There had been ample opportunity to take the raw original track, with its flawed sound quality, and progress it into the finished article. That’s what we wanted. But what we actually got was entirely different.

The sound quality was fine, but the whole feel of the track had been softened, denatured and smoothed over, and all of its poison barbs removed. Britney had re-recorded her vocals without the attitude that made the original so ear-grabbing and had also added a few little sweetening elaborations here and there. Everything seemed so much…..LESS. The pace had been slowed down with unnecessary drum breaks and even the wailing mid-section (“Ladies does that make you cry?”) had been toned down as if Britney didn’t want anyone to think she was showing off.

The revised “Mona Lisa” was a pop version of a rock original. It seemed that Britney was capable of world-weary bitterness so long as it was spontaneous, but, given time to reflect, didn’t feel comfortable putting herself forward in that way. Obviously, she and/or her “people” had become aware that the original version had been interpreted as her farewell, or as a sign of some kind of existential crisis (not that THAT would ever happen to Britney…..would it?) and those were impressions that presumably they felt had to be corrected. It’s a shame though, because most fans were impressed by the new directions in Britney’s music that seemed to be signposted by the original version.

These are the lyrics of the revised version:

This is a story about Mona Lisa,
THE Mona Lisa

Ladies and gentlemen,
I’ve got a little story to tell,
About Mona Lisa, and how she suddenly fell,
Now see everyone knew her, they knew her oh so well,
Now I am taking over to release her from her spell.

She’s the original (yeah, yeah)
She’s unforgettable (yeah yeah)
She wants you to know (yeah)
She’s been cloned…

It’s kind of incredible (yeah yeah)
She’s so unpredictable (yeah yeah)
She wants you to know (yeah)
She’s been cloned,
She’s been cloned,
She’s been cloned…

She was taken under, drowning in her sea,
Running like an angel, she was crying could not see (Oh no!)
Now see everyone’s watching as she starts to fall,
They want her to break down and be a legend of a fall

She’s the original (yeah, yeah)
She’s unforgettable (yeah yeah)
She wants you to know (yeah)
She’s been cloned…

It’s kind of incredible (yeah yeah)
She’s so unpredictable (yeah yeah)
She wants you to know (yeah)
She’s been cloned,
She’s been cloned,
She’s been cloned…

Ladies does that make you cry?
Mona Lisa’s got to fly
Nobody really dies

Everyone, may we have a moment of silence? Right here…

God?

She’s the original (yeah, yeah)
She’s unforgettable (yeah yeah)
She wants you to know (yeah)
She’s been cloned…

It’s kind of incredible (yeah yeah)
She’s so unpredictable (yeah yeah)
She wants you to know (yeah)
That she’s home,
That she’s home…

(repeats)

What’s THAT all about? On the face of it, it’s just some hastily re-written words with no clearer intention than to remove anything that could have been found controversial in the original version. “Nobody really dies” – huh! What made everybody go “Whaaa?!” was the thing about being cloned. WHO has been cloned? Leonardo Da Vinci’s model? Britney’s alter ego? Britney herself? People have tended to assume that it’s the last of these. But who is or the alleged clone? In the absence of any better evidence, do we go with another ambiguously sexy former child star, good-girl-gone-bad, queen of the publicity stunt and apparent subject of Britney’s continuing fascination – Lindsay Lohan?

OK, “Mona Lisa” is nothing more than a footnote in Britney’s history and very few people outside of her dedicated fanbase have even heard the track – in either version. But I think it’s yet another wasted opportunity in Britney’s career. If the original version had been released as a single or, perhaps, included in a movie soundtrack, it would have woken people up to the quality, individuality and quirkiness of her singing , and to the fact that Britney Spears is not just a pop singer but the apparent sole current inheritor of an ancient and important American tradition of acting-in-song that has included such icons as Billie Holiday, Eartha Kitt and Frank Sinatra.


  • 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)