Britney Spears: Britney

Britney Spears: Britney

If Britney Spears has demonstrated one talent in her wildly celebrated career, it's an uncanny ability to serve as a blank canvas on which listeners and viewers can project fantasies, intentions, and perceived abilities. A virgin and a sex kitten, a cheerleader and a man-eater, a superstar and the girl next door, Spears is all things to all wishful thinkers. She's also been an overtly ambitious careerist from day one, but if the poisonous, narcissistic, insultingly hypocritical Britney is to be believed, Spears has fallen victim to the dreaded Perils Of Fame. On the self-explanatorily titled "Overprotected," she rails against handlers who hold her back, a lament that might pack more rhetorical weight if it weren't written by Max Martin and Rami. On the even more self-explanatorily titled "I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman," she bares her soul about the decidedly Spears-specific purgatory in which she resides, a situation clearly understood by the song's author, Dido, working in collaboration with Martin and Rami. The offenses pile on in rapid succession, from the ticky-tacky Janet Jackson knock-off "Boys" to a ridiculous cover of "I Love Rock 'N' Roll" that makes Spears' past obliteration of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" sound revelatory by comparison. It's bad enough to hear Spears proclaim her creative, personal, and sexual independence in songs written by the monsters who made her. (Though she's billed as a songwriter among umpteen collaborators on a handful of tracks, she leaves "What It's Like To Be Me" to boyfriend Justin Timberlake and Wade Robson.) What's far worse is that Britney is an unmitigated drag. The songs just aren't catchy—"That's Where You Take Me" comes closest, thanks to a hook lifted from The Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way"—and even if they were, Spears alternates between rehashing bubblegum tropes and engaging in solipsistic sob sessions about the frustrations attached to being one of Earth's biggest stars. All together now: Boo-hoo. Spears has long had it both ways, hailed for her successes but never held accountable for the junk that doesn't work. The joyless Britney marks a bold new era in which, though neither a girl nor a woman, Spears inspires grown-up anger on her own.

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