Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Don't hold it against her

Well, Britney's third or fourth (I've lost count) comeback is now in full swing, and the new album is just five short weeks away. Although it seems like just yesterday that a sultry schoolgirl was inflaming the lust of pedophiles and misogynists, it's actually 12 years since the former Mousketeer implanted herself in the public consciousness.

A lot has changed since then, not least in the pop landscape, where Britney was once seen as the pretender to Madonna's fiercely defended throne. But that was all pre-Gaga, and now there's a new bitch on the block for Britney to fight off.

Initially, it looked as though reclaiming her title was going to be as easy as taking chicken nuggets from a baby (her own baby, in fact). New single 'Hold It Against Me' netted an astonishing 411, 000 downloads in its first week, making it the fastest selling digital single for a female artist. However, she didn't count on a certain Lady, whose own comeback single managed to score one million sales in the same amount of time.

But all was not lost, since Britney had another ace up her sleeveless halter-top: the video. Even as the Bellamy Brothers were preparing to launch a pointless lawsuit, claiming ownership of the world's lamest pick-up line, Britney was getting ready to share an eagerly awaited new film clip that would show her back on top.

Having endured more relentless teasing than a gay kid in Catholic school, we were finally presented with the finished article. And it all seemed a bit, well, meh.

On the plus side, Britney's looking good again, although she's squeezed into a busty top that seems to defy all known laws of physics (particularly concerning gravity and displacement theory. She stomps around the stage in a pair of unforgiving microshorts, and shows off a kind of wedding dress that most gypsy brides would consider a bit 'showy'.

There's a lot going on in the video - dancers in underwear, walls of monitors, paint splashed all over the place, an incongruous reference to the opening scenes of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Britney kicking her own ass, and even a flaming meteor. But none of it really hangs together - there's no coherent theme or narrative, except maybe the dark side of fame. Perhaps Britney knew that it was going to debut before an episode of Jersey Shore, and didn't want to tax the viewers with anything too cerebral.

But the most disappointing element of the video is the jarring product placement that seems to encroach on every scene, enhancing the sense of disjointedness. It's almost as though our attention span has been reduced to such microscopic levels that we need an ad break every eight seconds, because a four-minute promo would be just too much content to take in.

We see Britney spritz her Radiance perfume, brush on her Make Up Forever eye-shadow (does Britney do her own make-up on video shoots now?) and surf Plenty-Of-Fish, as well as suffering countless crash zooms into the Sony logo on her fancy new touchscreen laptop. It's all a bit wearying, and a far cry from the glimpse of wit we saw in the Womanizer video, which featured a close-up of a diary entry on her Nokia touchscreen that read 'Product Placement Meeting'.

Pop music is supposed to be commercial, and Britney certainly knows how to sell herself. But when the primary motive seems to be selling other people's stuff, the songs themselves become a secondary consideration. Suddenly, 'Me Against The Music' takes on a disappointing new meaning.

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