Or Is the Holy Spear-it So Yesterday?
Let’s get one thing straight: Britney Spears is a Pop icon. From the moment she emerged, she has been able to expertly hold the world’s attention. Her songs were so catchy! MTV’s Total Request Live named the “…Baby One More Time” music video as the most iconic clip they had ever aired in their 11 year history! Even her public meltdown made us go “Damn, nobody does it like Britney!”
Let’s go ahead and acknowledge something else, though: Britney Spears has been pushed off the stage by a new generation of performers. Yeah, I said it. After she went all Girl, Interrupted in 2007, Spears spent close to ten years wobbling around the world as a doped up robot. During that time, Beyonce became Beyonce, Rihanna became Rihanna and Taylor Swift became Taylor Swift. Side note: repeating a pop star’s name in italics simply illustrates how they have moved into an elite category I like to call “The Baddest.” Spears immediately became a member of “The Baddest” back in 1998 with her debut album but fell off around 2007. While there’s an infinite amount of space in this category (you’re almost there Selena but watch out for Hailee!), it is not uncommon for an icon to fall out (see: Madonna and Mariah) or never make it (see: Xtina). When you are one of “The Baddest,” your work helps shape the music landscape and greatly influences pop culture.
There is no question that Britney Spears as a Pop icon but someone on her team isn’t paying attention. They’re not paying attention to what is working today and they’re not paying attention to what she needs to do to properly evolve. She isn’t shaping the sound of Pop music anymore and we’ve seen these phoned in dance moves already. My friend Courtney said that she needs a choreographer and I agree but I also think she desperately needs a new creative director. Britney was never a vocalist but was viewed as a consummate performer and in that regard, she is incredibly out of touch with today’s consumer.
In 2015, she performed the atrocious single, “Pretty Girls (ft. Iggy Azaela),” at the Billboard Music Awards which still had people nodding in approval. Why? She seemed alive on the stage! Flash forward to this year’s Billboard show and she performed a medley of hits that, again, had people nodding in approval. There were some awkward moments but she was dancing! Just months later, she dropped a single, hot promo tracks and eventually a new album, Glory. The weekend she released that album, she returned to the MTV Video Music Awards stage which was hyped by the network and held the promise of something epic.
It was one song. It was a letdown.
Just this past weekend, she performed at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas.
It was twenty minutes. It was a letdown.
I’m still here as a fan and imagine I will be “Till the World Ends” but one of the most difficult things a performer can do is to try and recapture an audience once they’ve lost them. Is Britney Spears capable of taking back the spotlight like she did so many years ago? By the way, this has nothing to do with her age because she’s still young at 34 years old. Also, Beyonce is 35 and Jennifer Lopez is 47 so there’s that.
This also has nothing to do with the talent she’s worked with on Glory because they are all exceptionally talented. However, the overall takeaway is a sound all too familiar to what Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber and Drake have been putting out over the last year or so. It’s an updated sound for Britney but it doesn’t slice through the clutter like the majority of her discography did during her prime. Don’t get me wrong! The tracks I’m referring to are absolute bangers (“Do You Wanna Come Over?” is right up there with “Toxic”!) and proves that Britney is still the Holy Spear-it but I’m simply left wondering if it is enough.
Is it enough when Beyonce changes the world with every performance? When Rihanna undergoes one of the best vocal transformations in recent history? When Katy and Sia have mastered the modern Pop anthem? When Adele can make you laugh and ugly-cry all within three minutes? Is it enough?
Glory is actually one of the strongest Britney Spears albums to date but is it the type of Pop album that fans of the genre have come to expect today? She’s not just fighting to stay relevant amongst her peers but she’s also fighting against a history that is seen as reshaping the “teen Pop” genre.
Britney, girl, that’s a lot to deal with.