Femme Fatale, the seventh studio album from Britney Spears, hits stores today, and the (generally positive) reviews are in, quick to pre-emptively defend Spears against pop haters. “For years, critics have dismissed her as a cipher with a wisp of a voice,” Jody Rosen writes in his four (of five) star review for Rolling Stone before dismantling that strawman in his praise. In the Los Angeles Times, Carl Wilson suggests that “Spears is free to rise above persona games altogether,” while at the same time remaining “dumbfoundingly adept at withholding straight answers about her own feelings or identity.”
In other words, she’s a pop icon – ??maybe the last one standing! Spears’s persona-of-no-persona is hard to be critical about, because there’s no there there. But in the New York Times, Jon Caramanica comes closest:
There’s something irretrievably last-decade about Britney Spears, once the bionic princess of the pure pop revival and now a relic of quainter times. For today’s female stars, pop is the medium, but the modes of delivery are convoluted, even counterintuitive…Spears is above all that and also incapable of any of it.
What’s fascinating is not the “incapability” but its complete irrelevance. Witness her appearance on Good Morning America today:
Let’s list some of the things that shouldn’t work here:
- An evening performance taped in San Francisco on a weekend for a Times Square weekday morning show. (Not to mention the fog machines.)
- A vocal performance that was either lip-synced or dubbed over (unless Britney has surpassed us all by having a vocal effects suite implanted in her trachea).
- A lackluster “dance” performance that, for Britney, involved lots of gesticulation but little footwork.
But look at that crowd! They are out of their minds with excitement.
Let’s talk about the dance for a second. Britney’s fans have attributed her immobility in recent years to the knee injury that torpedoed her tour for In the Zone in fall 2004 (and, less frequently, to the toll that motherhood can take on the female body).?But Britney has never publicly acknowledged that her dancing has changed at all. She has remained Britney by refusing to acknowledge the possibility that she is no longer Britney. Despite the injury’s alleged consequences, she continues to strap herself into ridiculous heels and, though she does little more than strut, she struts like she was born to strut and has never done anything but strut. The whole performance is going to be dubbed over? Who cares! Put that microphone on and go through the motions as hard as you can even though everyone can tell you’re going through the motions. I bet she didn’t even bat an eye when Enrique Iglesias announced today that he was pulling out of their joint summer tour just hours after it was announced.
Not her producers, not her PR: this is what makes her a pop icon. And not just any icon: think about her punny-racy song titles (“If You Seek Amy” and Femme Fatale‘s “Hold It Against Me”), her all-male coterie of backup dancers, and her frequent success in Vegas. Britney Spears is our Mae West. And she’s going to keep being Britney forever. Mae West was seventy when she guest-starred on Mister Ed, who quipped, “Maybe she can come up and shoe me sometime.” Britney is still only 29. Long live pop.