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Vice: Is Britney Spears the New Jesus?


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The Resurrection of Britney Spears

By Hermione Hoby

August 25, 2016
Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz

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Britney Spears was, in a way, my introduction to ****. I was in secondary school when my classmate relayed, with all the righteous disgust distinctive to teenage girls, how she'd found her brother's cache of images: of Britney's professionally grinning face pasted onto professionally naked women. This was confusing, even then. Hadn't Britney already given us herself singing "hit me baby one more time?" while dressed as a midriff-bared schoolgirl? Wasn't that enough, in terms of fulfilling teenage boys' fantasies?

That was 16 years ago. Now, in the same week that teen-pop Svengali Lou Pearlman died, my friend's brother's homemade Britney **** seems a sort of allegory for all the ways we have used and abused America's first pop princess. That is a tale that can be told in her two decades of VMAs performances—and Britney knows this. On Sunday, ahead of the release of Glory, her ninth studio album, she'll perform at the VMAs, nine years after the disastrous appearance that preceded what is always referred to as Her Very Public Meltdown. In a teaser video released last week, she appears only in a perfectly worded voiceover: "The VMAs don't just give you a stage, they give you a story, some way of taking a fraction of a second, and making it live forever. Before you know it, it's history. Before you know it, it's Britney, *****."

The new Britney, who tells you to "work, *****" (as she did on the 2013 capitalist anthem of the same name, via a bizarre British accent that was equal parts Posh Spice and **** Van ****), hasn't quite eclipsed her former incarnation. Even before those deathless images of her bug-eyed, grimacing, and bald appeared in 2007, her songs seemed to invite a troubling kind of exploitation. I remember a friend's mother, a British woman who'd come of age during Greenham Common and Spare Rib, sputtering, apoplectic, and incredulous when a voice simpered over the car radio: "I was born to make you happy."

That was 1999. By 2001, the sugared sentiment of "Born to Make You Happy" had been refracted into something less docile—just as servile but much slinkier. "I'm a Slave 4 U," with its Neptunes beats and glissando vocal is, along with the itchy, shivery "Toxic," one of Britney's best. In 2001, she took it to the VMAs stage, gyrating with a live white python draped around her shoulders in a performance universally received as "iconic." It made VMAs history, as Britney well knows.

The word "iconic" blazed again for Britney two years later. In our post–marriage equality age, we might squirm over the politics, or lack thereof, involved in two ostensibly straight women kissing each other for the cameras. But in 2003, Madonna snogged Britney, and it was received as pure pop sensation. The cherry on the cake was the camera cutaway to a somewhat stunned Justin Timberlake, Britney's ex-beau.

She didn't perform again at the VMAs until 2007, and by then, it was as if Banana the white python had strangled the life out of her, and we were watching not the lithe and limber dancer of "...Baby One More Time" or "Oops I Did It Again," but that woman's rather unsuccessfully reanimated corpse. Her single back then, "Gimme More," includes the lines, "Feels like the crowd is saying / Gimme, gimme more," which, painfully, could not have been further from reality.

To witness a disoriented and confused Britney shuffle and mime was to want to drape not a snake around her shoulders, but a nice warm cardigan—to sit her down and make her a cup of tea and tell her it was all OK, and she didn't have to do this. The world, obviously, was crueler than that. The New York Times, for example, lamented: "She didn't disappoint; she was awful. Visibly nervous, she tottered around the stage, dancing tentatively and doing nothing that sounded or looked like real live singing." Even Whoopi Goldberg, not exactly Perez Hilton in the bitchiness department, said on TV that, "She looks like she doesn't care. This is like a bad ********."

In 2007, we would have snarked at this. In 2016, we're a little more enlightened and compassionate about both mental health and the humanity of our celebrities.

In the months that followed, Britney lost custody of her children, was admitted to a psychiatric facility, and she was placed under the conservatorship of her father James Spears and attorney Andrew Wallet, who still maintain control of her assets. As a comprehensive New York Times piece pointed out, such arrangements are usually only made for the old, disabled, or mentally ill.

Today her Instagram gleams with ripped abs, bland and sweet inspirational quotes, and what she would most likely call positive energy. But decisions about her own life, at least her own health and finances, remain out of our hands. In 2007, we would have snarked at this. In 2016, we're a little more enlightened and compassionate about both mental health and the humanity of our celebrities. Britney herself, whom Forbes named the fifth-highest-earning female musician of 2015, has learned to address us as "*****" at a time when that word has less to do with bullying female entertainers and more to do with those same entertainers reclaiming it for themselves. 
So it is that, nine years since her last VMAs appearance, this one comes on a rising swell of Britney goodwill. She might, at last, have a little Glory. Chris Crocker, wherever he is (the guy who found early and fleeting YouTube celebrity by sobbing into a camera to leave Britney alone) has had his wish come true. Maybe we love her for the extremity of her suffering and the patency of her vulnerability. Or maybe we love her because she was and remains, for many of us anyway, our youth. Or maybe we love her because we've grown up now and Beyoncé, goddess-parent to us all, has taught us how to treat our pop stars right. They are not slaves for us, or born to make us happy—when we hurt them, we hurt ourselves.



Slay *****


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Ok article but a little delusional, I find we are still as ignorant about mental health but people pretend they are not - eg people will share on facebook posts like 'SUPPORT R U OK DAY, ERASE THE STIGMA OF MENTAL ILLNESS' but Britney still cops comments like 'LOL THIS F--KIN' ***** SHAVED HER HEAD HAHA' I mean look at Wendy Williams on a national TV show mocking mental illness whenever she discuss Britney and also saying stuff like Zayn decided to 'get' anxiety before his show. Ppl will pretend they care but unless they experience something themselves they won't care or understand. OMG that's it for me with Whoopi I didn't know she said that, I've had it with that ignorant ho! :lessons: Such a shame because I love her old movies especially Sister Act but she is honestly AWFUL! 

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