Without Britney Spears, what would MTV have left? A few thousand ex-Real-World contestants, the mummified body of John Norris, and hundreds of girls screaming during the Hills After Show, their cheap jersey Lauren-Conrad-Collection dress/tents billowing in the breeze? She's their go-to product, their guaranteed VMAs hook, because even if all she does is show up, and all Britney ever does these days is show up, she's bound to make news.

I pondered all this while watching the last five minutes of the "live" countdown to Britney: For The Record, Britney's documentary/Circus promo/infomercial. The whole thing, as they repeatedly told us before breaking for perfume commercials, was brought to us commercial-free by Britney's two fragrances, Curious and Fantasy. Can a commercial tell you that something is commercial-free without all human logic snapping like a twig? Evidently, yes. I've never sampled Britney's perfumes, but judging by the documentary, they probably smell like new plastic, Styrofoam, and packing material, with heavy notes of sadness.



MTV promised (and promised and promised, over the course of weeks) that For The Record would be "no holds barred" and a "tell-all." The documentary's highly dramatic intro told us plainly that "no question went unanswered," which I guess was true, but only because the major questions (Did you have a drug problem? Did you shave your head to avoid drug testing? When you say that you surrounded yourself with bad people, who and what are you specifically referring to?) weren't ever asked. That, coupled with the fact that Britney, being a kind of blank, vague outline of a person herself, is more than capable of speaking only in vagaries–punctuated at regular intervals by a question that no one could ever answer affirmatively coming from Britney Spears, "You know what I mean?"–meant that the documentary didn't allow all kinds of holds and left many things untold.

Still, that wasn't its primary function. For The Record was supposed to under-cut the perception of Britney as crazy while re-introducing her as someone you may want to buy an album from this Tuesday, and it was pretty good at that. Britney definitely didn't come off as crazy in the documentary–she was lonely, sad, weary, a good mimic (her impression of her dad was spot-on), controlled, at times funny ("It's very Katie Holmes."), but never crazy. Overall, she seemed blank, a figurine fresh out of the package and waiting to be posed or wound up, placed here or placed there. Was it illuminating to listen as Britney plumbed the depths of her self-realization only to come up with, "What was I thinking?" Definitely not. Was it interesting to watch her try on dresses with her assistant or escape paparazzi throngs? Not really. But it was all oddly hypnotic and somewhat beautiful, due to the weighty, cinematic way that the documentary was shot. Several times you did get the feeling of being right there, next to the human placeholder that is Britney, and nothing really did feel like something.

But For The Record did reveal at least one person's craziness: Madonna's.

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Looking more feline than Jocelyn Wildenstein is still considered crazy, right? Isn't it funny how the more spiritual-speak Madonna uses the more her face looks like a flesh-cloud with eyebrows and padded cheekbones?