Iron Maiden: Where Others Gloss over the Horrors of Celebrity Culture, Britney Spears Lets It All Hang out, Writes Alice O'Keeffe
O'Keeffe, Alice, New Statesman (1996)
"It's Britney, bitch." Thus begins the latest album by Britney Spears, marking her metamorphosis from teen sweetheart into the most terrifying woman in contemporary pop. Even when she was cavorting around in a school uniform, there was a hint of steel in Spears's megawatt smile (and in her early announcement--admittedly soon abandoned--that she would remain a virgin until she married). Now, after two children, divorce, a custody battle, bereavement and alleged problems with drugs, she looks cold and glassy but apparently indestructible, like a kind of popstress-terminator.
Out of the well-documented wreckage of her personal life has emerged Blackout, a feisty and, at times, brilliant pop record. It could also serve as a morality tale for anyone who believes that being famous might be fun. It is de rigueur for stars to complain about the pressures of celebrity, but few have made it sound as unequivocally hellish as Spears. On "Piece of Me", her robotic-sounding voice intones wearily over a knockout punch of a bassline: "I'm Miss American Dream since I was 17 ... /Miss Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous/Miss Oh My God that Britney's Shameless/Miss Extra! Extra! This just in/Miss she's too big now she's too thin." At times, the exasperation is barely contained: "I'm most likely to get on TV for slipping on the street when I'm out getting groceries ... /No wonder there's panic in the industry/I mean, please."
The griping is a bit rich, coming from somebody who, when she first married the dancer Kevin Federline (who had left his eight-months pregnant partner for Spears), signed up for a reality TV show called Britney and Kevin: Chaotic. But that tension is what gives the album its claustrophobic power--Spears evidently knows that she is being devoured by her own fame, and yet she still craves it. The thumping first single from Blackout, and Spears's biggest hit in several years, is appropriately entitled "Gimme More"; her dazed, stumbling performance of the song at an MTV awards ceremony in September indicated that more was the last thing she needed.
Elsewhere, the songs on Blackout sound like the voracious cries of a sex-crazed cyberwoman--in a good way. On the best song on the album, the stupidly bouncy "Hot As Ice", Spears professes to being "just a girl with the ability to drive men crazy". …