Remember a couple of years ago when Britney Spears got herself elected the Mayor of Crazytown? One day she was this virginal sex symbol with Republican undertones and an airtight public image, the next she was married to and divorced from a shifty looking back-up dancer, bare-foot, puffy and bald, running through gas stations and, presumably, a lot of money. It was pretty much the best.
Celebrity gawking is a time and soul killer, but the Britney goes crazy storyline was just so grabby. It was like the Albert Goldman’s Elvis bio chapter “The Fun Years,” only in public, in real time and with elevated tension because of gender and how passive Spears seemed throughout the whole thing.
Rolling Stone ran this great story about a reporter attempting to interview Spears having to deal with money-hungry pimp-like boyfriends and handlers; Spears seemed like this sedated figure in the distance. Sort of like “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” the story was vastly improved by absence of access to its alleged subject.
But where the Sinatra story was all about how the petty tyranny of the Chairman of the Board reverberates through masses of people, the Rolling Stone story, purposefully or not, made the case that the least important person in the Britney Spears organization is Britney herself.
Then her Dad took control of her life, because somebody had to, I guess. He whipped his hollow-eyed songstress back into money-earning shape and sent her out into the world again. Logically, he should have been steering her, Colonel Tom Parker-like, into cash-in crap.
That weirdly didn’t happen. Her music instead got tougher and more ambitious. It’s not all perfect, but a lot of it is pretty great.
That weird passivity is very much front and center. In her best music, Britney Spears’ voice is the least important element. Her voice is indistinct; I had heard the song “3” dozens of times before I realized it was her (the wanton lyrics probably kept me from suspecting America’s once most famous virgin was singing). If she has a vocal signature, it’s how thin and whispery she can be. That’s not a fault at all: vocal importance is incredibly overrated in modern pop music.
Singing is annoying, and often gets in the way of perfectly OK songs. One of Spears’ greatest strengths is that she lacks confidence in or maybe just doesn’t care that much about her singing, so the songs never have to stop to let her show off her (ugh) range.
Anway. It’s pretty excited that Spears’ boring voice is cast aside in favor of weird and abrasive sounds from forward thinking producers. That’s when you get the cocaine disco battle-cry on “End of the World” and the dub step hiccup bridge on “Hold it Against Me.”
So I applaud Britney Spears’ bold strike for anonymity and against the tyranny of voices. But I kind of wish she would go crazy again.