“You want a piece of me?”
In honor of Britney Spears’ fifth album, Blackout’s 10th anniversary, here’s a piece of me – part of my fascination, fandom and, ultimately, deep admiration and respect for The Legendary Ms. Britney Spears.
I was late to the Britney game, I’m ashamed to admit. When “… Baby One More Time” came out, it was the second coming of the apocalypse. Backstreet Boys had just broken through domestically after I’d been tortured by their omnipresence on MusiquePlus in my teen home not far from the Quebec border. I was “different.” I was “alt.” I liked bands like The Cure, Sonic Youth, and especially Smashing Pumpkins. I had an affection for Madonna and a kinda-secret fondness for the Spice Girls. I mean, at least Spice Girls promoted some brand of “female empowerment” and I was hopeful Sporty was queer.
Britney burst onto my television screen, baby-faced with pouty lips and honey skin. I was attracted to her, but I didn’t like it. I had a lousy joke; “She’s like Brittany from the Chipettes, but a person!” I had a tendency to make less-than-clever variances on the names of my musical nemeses, like “Collectively Soulless.” Hence, Britney Spears became “Bitchney Spreads.” I was the worst.
Thankfully, the “hate” didn’t last long. I liked her second single, “Sometimes.” When her second album, Oops!… I Did It Again came out, I found myself really into singles like the empowering “Stronger,” the Twain/Lange-penned “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know” and my all-time #1 karaoke jam, “Lucky” (sorry “Smooth” by Santana feat. Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20!).
Then, “I’m A Slave 4 U” happened. The debut performance at the 2001 MTV VMAs with the snake. Holy fucking shit. It was the sexiest thing I’d ever seen. The music video topped it. Britney sweaty and tan, in some kind of sauna orgy, wearing skimpy hot pink panties overtop of her ultra-low-rise jeans. It’s still one of her horniest songs, along with tracks from her fourth album, In The Zone, “Breathe On Me” and “Touch of My Hand.”
In The Zone seemed to legitimize Britney to former naysayers, mostly due to the strength of her Grammy-winning single, “Toxic.” It’s a great song. Far from my favorite. Want a guaranteed eyeroll from me? Tell me the only Britney song you like is “Toxic.”
In The Zone is where I turned from fan to fanatic. I made plans to attend her summer Onyx Hotel Tour stop in Toronto, which ended up being canceled. Deeper cuts like “Shadow,” “Showdown” and “Brave New Girl” are still in heavy rotation on my iPhone. To me, “Everytime” is its true pop masterpiece, not “Toxic.” As much as I love my sexy Britney, vulnerable Britney might be my favorite.
Between In The Zone and Blackout, Britney romanced, married and divorced Kevin Federline. They seemed fun in the beginning; Britney was a living heart-eyes emoji and he was actually pretty hot. They were fast food-scarfing, beach canoodling lovers in Von Dutch trucker caps. Others found them trashy, I found them adorable. Their weed-and-sex-based courtship right up until their adorably tacky wedding was documented in their Britney and Kevin: Chaotic series on UPN. Two babies in a row followed – Irish twins, Sean Preston and Jayden James. In November 2006, K-Fed was in Toronto, promoting his rap album, Playing With Fire, when he got Britney’s text, asking for a divorce.
Part of what endeared me to Britney and Kevin’s romance was that I fell in love not long after they married. We didn’t get married within five months of meeting like they did, but it was my first time falling in love since I’d been a teenager and that whirlwind of hormones and dopamine was undeniable. I felt a kinship to them, in a kind of way. Though my marriage has lasted longer than theirs, something about them really epitomized what it’s like to really get wrapped into someone when you’re in your early 20s.
Blackout came out at the perfect time for me. I was hopping from bars to parties to after-hours and it was the perfect pre-game makeup soundtrack. Sometimes the pre-game became the whole night. I can’t remember a lot of those nights, but “Gimme More” is the perfect summation of how I felt. Gimme more fun! Gimme more ketchup chips! Gimme more drinks!
On the other side, “Piece Of Me” was exactly the kind of song I wanted from Britney. I’d commented in early 2007 that it would be cool and ultra-meta if Britney covered Michael Jackson’s “Leave Me Alone.” As my favorite Haim, Este, noted in the recent Fader celebration of Blackout, “Piece Of Me” is her “Leave Me Alone”! To boot, the song itself is future pop gold and still futuristic, yet current, ten years later.
There isn’t a single dud on Blackout. “Radar” is deliciously flirty and cocky. “Break The Ice,” “Get Naked (I Got A Plan)” and “Freakshow” are breathy successors to her “Slave 4 U” and “Breathe On Me” sexcapades. “Toy Soldier” and “Hot As Ice,” are zany AF singalongs. But my personal favorite is “Heaven On Earth,” a pulsating, buoyant high-tempo dance ballad with whispered confessions and declarations of love that was steeped in future-80s influences long before Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen. In fact, my favorite Carly Rae jam, “LA Hallucinations” owes quite a bit to “Heaven On Earth”!
I finally got to see her live during the tour Circus tour in 2009, which was a de-facto tour for both Blackout and her 2008 album, Circus. I was overwhelmed by the amount of love in the room. I saw her again during the Femme Fatale tour and in Vegas on my birthday in 2014. I’ve purchased Britney-related artwork and proudly carry my keys on a “It’s Britney, Bitch” keychain. I’ve even attended a Britney panel discussion! Anytime you need to cheer up, look no further than Britney’s Instagram. It’s art.
Right now, I’m working on my own Britney-related art – a writing project. I’m incredibly excited about its potential! I’m going through old tabloid articles, reading Lynne Spears’ Through The Storm and of course listening to the music non-stop as research. Blackout is still the album that stands out the most, even though it might have soundtracked a few blackouts of my own.
Britney’s been through hell and back. Whether she suffers from a mental illness, addiction or both is between her and her doctors. I would be extremely touched if she would come out with such information, but that’s up to her, not me. I will say, though, as a bipolar woman near her age who’s had issues with addiction, Britney is my icon, my higher power, my absolute inspiration. Praise Godney!