Britney Spears is truly America’s sweetheart. However, as one of the world’s biggest pop stars, Spears’ stumbles are all too documented. When other sweethearts stumble, they tend to fade into obscurity, usually in a haze of drug addictions and run-ins with the law.
We forgive Britney Spears. In February 2008, amid a flurry of flashing sirens and helicopter blades, the singer was taken to a UCLA psych ward. By December of that year, a sober, smiling Spears graced the cover of Rolling Stone — weave intact — with the headline “Britney Returns!” heralding her album “Circus.”
And now, after a successful world tour and a low profile, Spears’ seventh studio album, “Femme Fatale,” the first in almost three years, dropped Tuesday.
It seems free of the bad PR plaguing past releases. And though she’s auto-tuned as ever, early reviews from music magazines hint that this may be the best effort of Spears’ troublesome career.
See? Britney Spears could probably rob a bank while pregnant and nude and wielding a bucket of spicy drumsticks from KFC — and America would still find it in its great, big, land-o’-the-free heart to forgive her.
Musical talents or shortcomings aside, it is important to consider that above anything else, Spears’ staying power with American audiences rests in what we (think we) know of Britney the celebrity, Britney the pop culture phenomenon and Britney the should-be disaster who manages to sell amazing amounts of records.
Here’s how celebrity works in the world of Britney Spears.
Remember when Spears was a virgin? It was such a big deal because Spears’ alleged virginity seemed to contradict the manufactured sexuality in her earlier music videos.
In the video for her very first single, 1998’s “... Baby One More Time,” Spears was labeled a provocateur for saucily sashaying in schoolgirl attire. Media rumors concerning the singer’s sexual availability swirled.
The end of her high-profile romance with *NSYNC heartthrob Justin Timberlake burst that bubble when Timberlake told a reporter in 2002, “She hasn’t been a virgin for a while now. And I should know.”
Fans (and parents) were devastated. They should’ve taken note of her 2000 hit, “Oops! ... I Did It Again.” Was Spears ever that innocent?
Not so, because these days, celebrity means building stars up to see them fall and then rejoice when they’ve reclaimed the throne.
Socialite Edie Sedgwick once said Andy Warhol threw America back in its face. Warhol turned Campbell’s soup cans to icons.
And later, Spears and her handlers capitalized on Britney Spears Inc. The brand is accessible and transcendent, with lucrative products like dolls, video games, perfumes and a clothing line with Candie’s. America is capitalist and a touchstone for accessible products. So as Spears’ brand rose to empire status, so did her stardom — and her net worth.
In the last fiscal year, according to Forbes magazine, Spears banked $64 million, becoming the second highest-paid celebrity younger than 30.
Take that, America.
At the end of the day, Spears is rich, famous and powerful because we made her so. Sure, Spears has that undeniable spark one must have to achieve superstardom, but even that is dwindling.
Spears’ career is dictated by producers, managers, publicists and occasionally her parents (Spears was under estate conservatorship in 2008). It’s interesting that at nearly 30 years old, Spears still lacks control of her professional life.
But like all successful empires, dollars make sense.
Musically, expensive sound engineering helps Spears, and her videos are still multimillion dollar affairs. However, Spears’ spark only comes through because she is Britney Spears the celebrity, the pop culture phenomenon, the should-be disaster.
She doesn’t interview well. It can be argued that she doesn’t dance as ferociously as she used to. She seems to be half-assing while everyone covers her ass, scrambling to build the Britney Spears that once was. Stripped of her support, what and who
would she be?
It’s like Britney Spears gets away with murder simply because she can.
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