Growing Up with Britney – Bitch!
By Ashley Robinson
Seeing Britney Spears tear up the stage last week was 13 years in the making, for me. I remember the first time anyone mentioned her name – I was in my freshman journalism class – and after that, all my friends loved her, for years.
I wouldn’t say we adored her. I don’t think rational people can adore Britney. Not because of anything she does or does not do, but because of who she is. She is like us. She is relatable. She is the girl next door, the girl I went to high school with, shoot, the girl I watched the Mickey Mouse Club with.
Watching her on stage is not just a going to a performance, it is showing support for what she is doing. Fans love her, we want to be her, but we also recognize what has happened to her.
Britney is not much older than I am, about a year. To some degree, she and I have gone through the same phases of our life together. When I was in high school learning to make do with myself, she was becoming a massive pop star. She was revealing herself to us and defining her role. She shared her hopes and dreams – to get married, have kids, wait to have sex before marriage, never get a tattoo, etc. Those were all things my friends and I related to.
Her boyfriend was our imaginary boyfriend (need I even say his name?). Well, some of us claimed him as our boyfriend. I was more of a Brian Littrell gal at the time.
And when she started to veer off the road, I was in college, doing the same. I found success in college, but at one low point, I was out drinking almost every night, crying in public (worst.thing.to.do.ever), and just in general, falling into a hole of emotional instability. Seriously, if I had paparazzi following me around during this breakdown, I would have taken a Goddamn umbrella to the windshield of a car. It’s not so far off.
About the time she started to clean up, I was easing into the professional world. Now, she’s – I won’t say reinventing, because she isn’t Madonna suddenly creating a new persona – she’s maturing into her celebrity, I suppose.
I think this is the thing that will keep Britney relevant for years. She wasn’t just a massive pop star in the early 2000s, she is an ongoing symbol of a moment in time and my generation’s celebrity icon, good or bad. She is multi-dimensional. She isn’t Jessica Simpson with her flowing blond hair and dizziness, or Christina Aguilera with her unreal vocals and once “dirty” status. (Even current pop queen Lady Gaga revels in two-dimensional detachment and extremes, keeping us from truly embracing her as the person behind the hype.) Britney is us. With all her flaws and rebounds. We know her for what she is.
Before the concert, I was trying to catch up on her most recent songs, many of which I wasn’t totally familiar with. And as I was going through her biggest hits, the thing that struck me was the continuing theme of unnatural co-dependence … on her audience.
Sure, her songs are drenched with overt sexuality, but that’s not the real story. It’s a clever cover. Her biggest hits almost always are twisted love stories about battling the love/attention/lust of a voyeur, the audience. Her celebrity is intoxicating but sickening, her fans have enslaved her, and she can’t escape because she needs us just too much.
“What’s practical is logical. What the hell, who cares?/ All I know is I’m so happy when you’re dancing there./I’m a slave for you. I cannot hold it; I cannot control it./ I’m a slave for you. I won’t deny it; I’m not trying to hide it.”
“You’re toxic, I’m slipping under/ With a taste of poison paradise/ I’m addicted to you/ Don’t you know that you’re toxic?”
And those are just the first songs to come to mind. There are more out there. Furthermore, she used music to reflect her own personal struggles and ambition, again masked in romance. Even as early as 2000, we saw that she was not just a star; she was someone having a hard time managing pop-dom and widespread scrutiny.
“She’s so Lucky/ She’s a star/ But she cry cry cries in her lonely heart/ Thinking, if there’s nothing missing in my life/ Then why do these tears come at night?”
My friends loved this song. Not just because it was good, but because it was a song about crying and feeling and being lonely. We weren’t alone in our teen angst. It was as raw as bubblegum pop music could be for high schoolers.
It made us need her more – and she answered back. Britney’s rise and fall has always been about her relationship with the audience … which is why I wished she would have interacted with the audience a little more at the concert. The brief attempts were obvious and bland. It felt contrived. Deflating.
Another critique I would provide about the concert is that she looked like a million bucks in unitards – tummy covered. But not so much in the two pieces. It’s not that she looks unfit, ‘cause I can’t imagine that she is, but she just looks soft. It’s slightly distracting. It’s a very glaring reminder that she’s older, she’s had kids and she isn’t the same girl we knew from the MTV Music Awards. She’s a woman and a mom, done.
Again, it’s another sign that everything Britney does is a direct response, call to her past we all know too well. We can’t cut those strings, even if we wanted to.
I congratulate Britney on the success of her tour kick-off. It really was a fantastic show. I think we all look forward to her next step in this journey, and I’m sure she’s waiting to see how we will react.