It’s 3AM and I’m sat in the dark doing what I’ve spent so many hours doing in my life: watching Britney Spears. The blue glow of my screen flashes images of the star all lit up by the flashing bulbs that accompany her everywhere. It is as if they are a part of her skin.
You don’t get to pick who’s siren call will be your first pop obsession, it is engineered for you.
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In a video on ABC I see Perez Hilton’s wax work face light up while talking about “following Britney at all hours” in 2007. “Everyone wanted a piece of Britney!” Undeniably true. - In 2007, the photo agency X17, which had a team trailing her 24-7, estimated that Britney accounts for 30 percent of its revenue: It sold $2.5 million worth of Britney photos in 2007 alone, including $500,000 for its exclusive ‘Bald Britney’ pics.
For 2007 was the year that, like all Barbies, Spears finally got her head shaved. I remember staring at the pictures for a long time. - It was scary for little girls, like me, watching grown men chase a small woman down the street. She was their rent, she fed their families, put gas in their cars. It’s a strange sensation looking at all of this now, how can someone’s mental breakdown make me so nostalgic?
To the world at the time Britney was the embodiment of the Madonna–Whore complex. She was marketed as a teen sensation with good old fashioned Christian roots, she was tanned, toned and bleached blonde. A 16-year-old showing midriff in a school girl outfit was pretty shocking, especially when she was being sold as a role model to girls around the world.
Her video for 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' is arguably one of the most controversial music videos ever made.
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A picture of Britney was worth half a million because she was so very easy to despise. She was disliked by older women for leading their daughters astray. She was disliked by older men for being some sort of provocative Jezebel. She was disliked by young girls, shoved down their throats and used to sell a feeling of unworthiness by being a role model they didn’t ask for. Most young men found the whole teenybopper thing a fad or a joke, a freak phenomenon that only served to create more counter cultural backlash in the form of grunge and rap. She really had all corners of the market covered.
The atmosphere towards female celebrities felt archaic, even at the time. Nobody cared about women’s bodies as more than commodities. Whatever 70’s rad-fem movements we had faded to no more than a dirty secret. The cocaine-slim 80’s working woman had replaced the 50’s housewife with a vengeance. The only big difference being she had to be perfect at home AND at work. The 2000s bought around the first era of globally accessible internet porn and attitudes to sex were changing in Hollywood and around the world. It became a part of fashion. I love to watch old VMA tapes, it's bizarre now to see all the blow-job lips, pencil thin eyebrows and fake tits.
Of course, that wasn’t my Britney when I was five. My Britney had little to do with the real world. I had never even set eyes on my idol yet.
To my mind Miss Spears was a 7ft tall brunette amazon warrior who fought crime. An action hero if you will.
Whenever I heard a stab of ‘Hit me Baby One More Time!’ I heard swords clash to thunder and lighting. - I didn’t read feminist-lit or listen to the lecherous Howard Stern talking about countdowns to being 18.
I had more of a concept of the Iraq war than I did the battle of the sexes.
I went to the cinema with my dad, we would watch blockbuster movies. I liked the dark susurration of the cinema but even more I liked the sense of vindication I got, audibly gasping at the sound of a jet engine and squeezing his hand. Turning to each other and grinning, faces lit in the light of an explosion.
So Britney fit into my internal world the only way she could, she got in on the action. - That in a way is how I still see her, her musical voice felt like the word of God to me. To me she was Eve in her garden or some sort of angel. That’s the funny thing about insidious marketing, it can plant a seed in your head but it can’t predict the tree that will grow or the fruit it will bear. - In fact my growing into a woman felt linked with her somehow. Every time I saw Britney in the paper I felt I was under the huge eye of ‘Big Sister’, Big Brother’s Americana-blonde twin sizing me up and always asking me to be just a little less.
I was part of some of the earliest free Britney movement internet threads, at the time mostly populated by gay men in their 20s. I failed to see how they were much different from the men chasing her. Still they continue to dig up paparazzi shots of her worst moments from years ago. Circle her eyes to show how tired she looks. It is an apt representation of what the 2000’s press has morphed into. Now everyone masks their judgement under the guise of concern. Like a high-school gossip talking about “how worried we all are for you.”
Still, to this day, Britney is making whole careers for men and women. YouTuber SL04N’s channel has grown from 100,000 to half a million in less than a year almost solely off the back of the #freebritney movement. It is also rumoured that Shane Dawson, recently banished from the good graces of the internet, will be using fee Britney for his comeback, not a bad PR move at all.
So is Britney a saint or a sinner? Is she a martyr or a temptress? The Britney Spears we know of is nothing but a collective work of fiction. She’s as much my superhero as she is any of the various things she has been portrayed as throughout her life. The truth is much less exciting: Britney is a grown woman who wants to have her own life.
Keeping in mind that her conservatorship has actually just changed hands from Jamie Spears, her father, to Jodi Montgomarey, a private firm who still controls her estate, I think it’s time we, once and for all, left Britney alone.
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