Maybe Britney Spears doesn’t seem like someone I’d cover here. In truth, if we have to do the bullshit either/or, good/bad preference thing, I’m totally Christina Aguilera over Britney Spears. Except for that time when “Dirrty” first came out and I was bummed out that Xtina decided to celebrate sluttiness. Then I recanted and celebrated the sluttiness too, though with weird feelings about how Aguilera selectively channeled her Ecuadorian roots by playing up the spicy Latina, only to later highlight her whiteness in subsequent reinventions.
But the music video for Britney’s new single “3” from her second greatest hits compilation recently debuted on the Internet. Also, I have to say that I actually like Spears’s music. “Toxic” was a neat little jam. Blackout was a pretty fun, dark pop record despite and because of its context (you might remember that Britney was in the tabloids a bit in 2007). And I haven’t really listened to Circus, but the hits have been fun. The older she gets, the edgier and less kid-friendly she becomes. Sure, the producers have a hand in all of this, and perhaps there’s some unfortunate credence to Tom Ewing’s analogy between Spears and Twin Peaks hardened, debased, tragic beauty Laura Palmer. But I still like Britney. And maybe like Rihanna, another beauty with a cyborg’s voice who seems to look and sound even more edgier after her own travails, I root for her.
Like the South Park dudes, I have sympathy for Britney Jean. 1) She was raised to be a pop star, 2) she became a pop star when she was really young and probably didn’t get to grow up in a normal environment, 3) suddenly people started making fun of her for not seeming very cultured or politically aware because she spent all of her life becoming a pop star, 4) she had a headline-making break-up with some boy who later told everyone that he took her virginity, 5) she is perceived as damaged goods while his star continues to rise, 6) she makes a lot of bad personal decisions, 7) she gives birth to two boys in quick succession, 8) she suffered through post-partum depression and perhaps bipolar disorder in public, 9) people made fun of her supposedly chubby post-pregnancy body, 10) then her handlers make her over for real and magically all is well again.
I really hope that’s true. She’s 27, a cursed age for rock and pop idols. I hope she makes it to 28. And, like Carrie Brownstein, I hope she gets to make friends with fellow Southern girl Beth Ditto, who has packaged herself as a proudly fat and queer sex symbol and vocal powerhouse. It also makes me glad that I know almost fuck-all about Lady Gaga’s personal life. I’ve pro’ed and con’ed her, but I like that I know very little about her off-stage persona. I’m assuming she took a note from Britney. I’m also hoping Britney took a note from Beyoncé.
But let’s get to “3” and its video. It’s dirty. It’s all about threesomes. And, unlike earlier Britney singles, this one doesn’t hide behind a lot of innuendo. Stuff I like about it.
1. Um, is this song already a hit at gay bars across the world? It’s about to be.
2. I kinda love how unclear (and thus potentially queerable?) the groupings are in this song. The reference to “Peter, Paul, and Mary” seems to suggest some boy-boy-girl action. In addition to loving that the stiff, pious folk trio are name-checked here, I hope that the two boys in the trio tend to each other’s needs as well as Britney’s. Based on the video, the trio could also be three ladies. While the video is totally vulnerable to the heterosexual male gaze, there is no tired two girls for every boy situation explicitly being offered up here.
2A. I hope Britney’s queer fanbase comes up with all manner of pairings and positions when they bring this song to life.
3. While I hate the slowed-down, ballad-y bridge where Britney suggests (once again) that “what we do is innocent,” nothing is meant by it, and this could just be a twosome, I like that she slyly sneaks in that it might also be fun to turn the duet into a trio or even a quartet. Britney’s grin really sells it.
4. I’ve always liked Britney’s Southern accent and her military dance moves.
Stuff that’s icky.
1. Britney’s white leotard when she’s next to the chorus line of female dancers. Her white blondeness is exacerbated by the women’s black outfits, which racialize and subordinate them alongside the pop star. I hated Ciara and Justin Timberlake’s similar music video for “Love Sex Magic,” but at least I felt like Ciara was dancing with the chorus line rather than having them orbit her.
2. Product placement. Duh, she’s a brand. But does she really have to apply her Fantasy perfume at the beginning of the video? Or, for that matter, does she have to spritz on some Curious at the beginning of the “Circus” music video? Oh, she does? It’s probably in her contract? Gross.
3. While I like that her trimmer figure hasn’t sacrificed her curves, I never really thought she had any weight to lose.
4. The “livin’ like this is the new thing” lyric is problematic because it kinda sounds like a sales pitch. Ugh. I guess a queer poly love jingle isn’t the worst thing, but still. Queer love, polyamory, and threesomes are totally not the new thing. They’ve been identities and expressions of desire probably since the beginning of time.
5. Since configuration of the threesome is deliberately ambiguous in the Diane Martel-directed clip, I wish the star played with male drag. Didn’t she seem to have butch potential when she shaved her head? Doesn’t it seem like part of her career makeover is to make her normatively feminine and sexy again? But that’s so boring. I’ve long thought that Britney’s thick neck and broad shoulders could make her a potentially good looking drag king, perhaps convincing as Mariah or her ex-boyfriend. She could at least oscillate within the butch-femme binary like Ciara did in “Like a Boy.”