Brilliant deconstruction of Britney Spears’ Vegas residency in Matter magazine by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, saying, in essence, she came to Vegas to find some stability and ended up SAVING THE CITY and redefining herself in the process. Read the whole piece here, when you have time, but I’ve excerpted two fascinating sections below.
On the surface,“Work Bitch” is a bizarre dance song with depressing lyrics. It is the first song she sings in Piece of Me: You want a hot body? You want a Bugatti? You want a Maserati? You better work bitch…
Without getting into the politics of a woman calling herself or another woman a bitch, consider what Britney is trying to tell us. She’d promised that this album would be her most personal album yet, and what do we get? “Work bitch”? Is she the bitch? Are we calling her a bitch? Is she instructing another bitch as to the secret of her success? How is this personal?
Vulture published a disgusted review, calling her not just the most boring singer on the planet but “the most boring person,” and “anti-matter in a belly shirt.” Flavorwire kindly rushed to Britney’s aid, asking why we talk about Britney as if she’s not a prisoner. (A reference, again, to her conservatorship.)
I’d like to submit a different theory: What if this is a personal song? The song’s sentiments are certainlythe only ones in current pop that I can relate to. Its message is that nothing comes easily, that you can’t keep your kids in private school and your community gated and your ex-husband in his nation-building ambitions without work. Britney isn’t the fuck-up we decided she was during a relatively short but well-publicized period of her life. She drops off her kids and picks them up from school just about every day. She shows up on time, hits every mark, is polite and soft-spoken. She rehearses five or six hours every day, saying, “Let’s run through it one more time.” Britney works.
So, are we prepared to dismiss our preconceived notions of her as some sad gum-chewing has-been to make room for another interpretation? What if Britney has somehow become a feminist role model for single working mothers here and everywhere?
Maybe that’s what I was seeing. For her entire career, Britney has been a living, breathing Rorschach test not just to me but to anyone who regards her. She presents us with action and art, all for interpretation, maybe even fucking with us a little while she does it. And whatever we see in it, that tells us a lot about who we are, not who she is.
Example: She recorded a song for the 2013 Smurfs sequel called “Ooh La La.” Here are the lyrics: Take my hand, we can go all night And spin me round just the way I like It feels so good, I don’t wanna stop So baby come with me and be my ooh la la
If you find that song sweet, you are one kind of person; if you find it to be a song about anal that somehow made it into a children’s movie, you are quite another.
Meanwhile, here is the bridge for “Work Bitch”: Hold your head high Fingers to the sky They’re gonna try to try you But they can’t deny you
Mine is just as valid as any of the hundreds of theories that others have proposed over the years. Alas, Britney’ll never confirm or deny it. I never did get to interview her—as I said, she refuses most in-depth interviews. In December, she told InStyle that she’s gotten lip injections, and so the coverline reveals this is “Her most candid interview yet!” Everyone wants her most personal album and her most personal interview ever—we are a nation riveted by Britney’s personhood—and no matter how many times she answers our questions, still she is a whore and a liar and an idiot and a fraud.
Instead she answers the same questions she’s always answered: The crazy rumor, the favorite city to visit, the secret crush (that she died, for Christ’s sake; London, but she’s not sure why; Brad Pitt! Brad Pitt! For the love of god, it’s always Brad Pitt!). They’re gonna try to try you but they can’t deny you.
So now we get nothing, either because she’s wary of us or because she knows that if you’re reading this, your decision has already been made. Now she’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle bound together by a hair extensions. Now, the weatherman gets to interview her.
Our very own Fenton Bailey weighs in on the Britney-as-workhorse phenomenon. (After all, he knows a thing or two about the Britster, having co-directed the documentary I Am Britney Jean):
“There’s Britney Jean, the little girl from Louisiana,” said Fenton Bailey, who co-directed the documentary I Am Britney Jean and spent months with her. “There’s Britney Spears the pop star. And then there’s Britneyplex, which is the enormous machine built around Britney Spears. It’s not just one person. It becomes like an aircraft carrier, all people, personnel, interrelation business, and industries.”
If you imagine the Britneyplex as concentric circles, you’d find her and her parents and her sister and brother, but also her kids and Kevin and Kevin’s other kids, and then the managers and the agents and publicists. Further out on those circles are the dancers, many of whom have trained all their lives to be her dancers. (Unlike some other stars, she likes to share the stage with them, and isn’t threatened by their presence — something that occasionally works to her detriment with some of the critics, when they compare her with her much younger compatriots.) From there are the musicians and costume designers and the many, many people who work for the costume designers, stitching in silk and locking in corset boning. Additional circles house the people who make their livings, even if briefly, documenting Britney — like Bailey and a 26-year-old Vegas local named Jordan Miller, who has run the fansite BreatheHeavy (which receives more than 70,000 uniques per day) since he was 15 years old. And then there are the people who work the Britney Spears store that’s open after her show, all the way down to the carpenter who was now in charge of gutting the old Aladdin to make way for Britney, and even further to the twerking little person Britney lookalike who was doing impressions of her down the road at a dive bar for $300 a night. (It is not lost on me that I, too, have momentarily entered the Britplex while reporting and writing this story.)
“There is a myth out there that she is a robot or just a controlled person,” said Bailey. “I don’t think it’s true at all. I think she is the captain of her ship. It’s just that she’s not an alpha personality in the way that Madonna is an alpha personality. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, I think.”