Britney Spears and the search for meaning | Bleader

Britney Spears and the search for meaning

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There’s been so much ink spilled on both Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, though the kinds of press that the two attract couldn’t be more different: Gaga gets all the high-minded analysis (what other pop star would pranksters even think about playing a Slavoj Zizek-related trick on?) and Spears the white-trash jokes. So it was with high hopes that I went to Britney Spears 101, a three-person discussion at the Hungry Brain on Tuesday that I thought might bring some long-deserved deep thinkin’ to bear on the supersuccessful singer.

This wasn’t that, unfortunately. The first hour-plus of the event was characterized by a rambling reading of Spears’s bio, some technical difficulties, irritating interjections from the crowd (when the speaker was looking for a word to describe Spears’s look, one man suggested “hussy”), and at least one misplaced “virgin/whore” reference. The evening reached its nadir when one of the discussants, an academic, referred to a group of his male students as a “bunch of cocksuckers”—in the pejorative, as opposed to the strictly descriptive, sense of the word. My boyfriend and I left not soon after—not in some kind of offended homosexual huff, mind you, but just because—where can a conversation go after that? (Unless you’re on a date.) Things were not looking good.

Unsated, I turned to the Internet—specifically feminist music wonk par excellence Ann Powers, who’s written incisive things about (for instance) Lady Gaga, whom she called “the most sensational player in a wide field of musicians still struggling to comprehend and express the connections between sexuality and power.” Britney Spears, with her hot videos and hamfistedly salacious (though pretty great) song lyrics and titles (“If U Seek Amy,” “Hold It Against Me”), is certainly on that field, too—like any pop star. Sayeth the Powers:

The truth is, sexuality in pop can't be pushed aside, or ever exhausted. It's the main force and subject of the stuff. Popular music is an expression of many emotions and a container for many messages—about race, class, spirituality and the best kind of fun for a Saturday night. But it's also overwhelmingly erotic. I'd go so far as to say that pop is where sex lives most openly in our culture, and that it's not just a matter of surfaces . . . but of the depth and breadth of desire, frustration, satisfaction.

Powers has less about Spears than about Gaga, but there’s this interesting observation from the former's 2009 Circus tour:

One constant challenge for Spears and her collaborators is how to adapt the soft-core erotica at the heart of her self-expression to the family audience that's somehow stuck with her since she left "The All New Mickey Mouse Club." The circus motif proved ideal. Circuses are magical and creepy, home to pink-tutu-wearing high-wire princesses and creepy bearded ladies, loved by children but famously run by flim-flam artists and freaks.

In the circus, Spears finds her perfect metaphor for her own life as the world's favorite fallen angel.

Both pieces by Powers are excellent, particularly the first.

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