When Britney Spears released Perfume last month, the second single off her upcoming eighth studio album, it wasn’t just another thirst quencher for her trusty hordes of fans, which I’m proud to call myself a part of...
Penned partly by Britney herself and with personal lyrics and clean, untreated vocals reminiscent of her Mickey Mouse Club years, it signified a new and unexpected chapter for the singer, who has been the world’s favourite symbol of manufactured pop since her debut in 1999. This was Britney, unfiltered.
For fifteen years, Britney has been a constant in pretty much all pop cultural spheres of the world. With her steady stream of crowd-pleasing hit songs, big-budget music videos and all the personal characterisation that follows, she has become the youngest living legend in entertainment: part idol, part icon, and part myth. But unlike her peers (if, indeed, she has any) Britney has never sought to establish her personality, general views, politics or desires in the public forum. Like her music, and excluding 2007 and 2008, she has been a somewhat inoffensive brand of girlie, sexy sing-along fun. Put on any of her seven albums and you’d have to have an exceptionally cold heart not to see it through to its last track, and although I may be the hypocrite who turns down the volume on my iPod when someone takes the seat next to me on the bus, I still listen to Britney on eighty percent of my cross-London journeys. This is the infectious and addictive quality that’s been the solid foundation for Britney’s relatively stable popularity throughout her fifteen-year career.
Where singers such as Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey and Lady Gaga have paired their at times turbulent public images with occasional questionable quality levels when it came to their work, Britney has never released a bad record, received a damning album review, or neglected to live up to the expectations of her fans. There’s not a Britney song on Earth that I don’t like, and I know this goes for all the Britney fans I know – closeted or not. On an almost tragicomic side note, Britney released her most critically acclaimed album to date, Blackout, in the middle of a public meltdown that saw her attack a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella, spontaneously shave her head for all the world to see, and get taken to the hospital strapped to a gurney. (On different days, it should be noted). For all the heat Britney takes for her debatable lack of stage presence, inexistent improvisational skills, and general vagueness in interviews, I think it’s safe to say she’s doing a pretty phenomenal job at being Britney.
Sneer at the naivety of the lyrics to her new single as much as want, say she doesn’t have a big voice, and that her producer probably did most of it for her, but Perfume is the closest we’ve ever got to the core of the real Britney, or at least since Everytime from 2003. If the innocence and the sparkle in the eye that defined her fifteen years ago somehow disappeared along the way, a truer and realer (#triller?) Britney seems to be making her return – or her debut, depending on how you look at it. To me, Perfume implies the first step in what could be Britney’s evolution into a more multi-dimensional performer, who isn’t just the pop poppet of a well-oiled money machine of record producers, marketing people and other mean money men.
Could she, like Madonna before her, eventually take full control of her lyrics and music and use her colossal platform for raw personal expression, social awareness and all-important provocation? And if she did, what kind of person would she be? Because as mind-blowing as it sounds, this hugely famous pop star, who’s been a household name symbol of the post-internet generation for the past fifteen years, is essentially a total stranger to us – even for fans like me, who’ve grown up with her since we were teenagers. Do we know what Britney’s political conviction is? Do we know if she even has one? And would we want her to? For a 31-year-old, who’s only in the early summer of her career, there’s a striking blank canvas on which to build. As a fan of fifteen years, there’s nothing I want more than for her to finally embrace it.