Sunday, April 10, 2011

Development studies

Part I : What led me to Britney

A nostalgic Sunday morning often leaves you reflecting on bygone eras. In turn, this in depth retrospection often leads to blaring music that is in tune with the mood of the hour. This in most cases leads to Britney Spears.

Britney Spears is quite the star. She definitely broke the mold of female artists in the 90s and sort of paved the way for the Miley Cyruses that there are today. She’s right up there with things that accelerated a cultural revolution- the internet, facebook and reality shows. She’s so widely accepted that I don’t even get any spell check options when I type her name.

i. The inner workings of teenage girls

Good lyrics are often compared (if rightly so- I’m not to judge) to good poetry. The Beatles were renowned for it- barring their initial not-so-deep ‘I wanna hold your hand’ kind of stuff. Lyrics can make or break you and usually the bands that do well are the ones that are able to truly express themselves through the verses of their songs. Today’s Britney-shame-spiral left me analyzing her lyrics. Her lyrics coupled with her robotic-hypnotic, yet bubble gummy and hence ironic voice characterized her and differentiated her from all other contemporary acts. Teenage girls everywhere were thinking- ‘Boy! She really gets me!’ But what was unusual about these lyrics that exemplified universal feelings of angst, love and confusion among teenage girls, was that there the degree of personal-ness about them. I mean to say, thus, that though these feelings are quite universal amongst most girls between ages thirteen to seventeen, what was really interesting was the transparency of her thoughts, making it apparent that she was going through this odd phase as well.

ii. Lyricists

Panning her evolution as an artist is most fascinating especially when you place it in the context of the struggles she was facing in her personal life. The lyrics of selected songs from her first three albums that really reflected this caught my attention. Interestingly, majority of these songs are credited to Max Martin and Rami Yacoub and not Britney herself. I’m not an expert on the degree of artistic freedom she had at the age of seventeen when her first single was released, but taking a wild guess, I’d say not too much; evidence of which is her rebellious breakthrough a few years later. Despite that, Martin and Yacoub did try to keep the lyrics as close to Britney’s personal feelings as possible and the songs composed by them do seem to reflect her inner thoughts. Britney said it herself in an interview with the Rolling Stones in 2001 “He (Martin) gets exactly what I am saying when I tell him what I want and don’t want musically." And she continued to stand by this statement a decade later concurring that "There is nobody I feel more comfortable collaborating with in the studio."

Part II: Psychoanalysis

Britney has always been an interesting character to analyze. It’s probably because, as aforementioned, she was one of the first stars that really grew up in the limelight, enabling fans and the general public to track her evolution as a human being. When she first appeared on the scene, with her video “Baby one more time” she came across as cutesy at the most, typical of a good girl. An interesting fact that adds a third dimension to that video is this- the producers initially wanted it to be animated, an idea that Britney rejected, proposing instead the idea of the naughty catholic school girl. It is thus clear that her current ‘womanizing’ tendencies were somewhere embedded in that sweet teenage girl the world saw in 1999. David Browne of Entertainment Weekly got it right. He perceived that while “Christina Aguilera may flash skin and belly button, but in her music and manner, she's too eager not to offend — she's a good girl pretending to be bad. Spears, however, comes across as a bad girl acting good ...

Supporting this theory was her behavior during tours when she became criticized for her racy outfits. They contrasted heavily from her bubble gummy videos.

i. Oops I did it Again: I = Producers (1999-2001)

Britney concedes that ‘Baby one more time’ was part of the ‘massive hits’ that allowed her to gather legions of fans. Her artistic freedom was limited to what the producers thought would make international hits. In ‘Oops I did it again!’( released in 2000), the first signs of what can be seen as perhaps artistic unhappiness are reflected in the lyrics of single ‘Lucky’ released the same year. The verses and video revolve around a discontented star with the lyrics “They say she’s so lucky/ she’s a star/ but she cry, cry, cries till the early hour/ thinking/‘if there’s nothing, missing in my life, then why do these tears come at night?”. In ‘Stronger’ released a few months later, Britney appeared “Stronger than yesterday”, singing further that, “There’s nothing you can do or say/ I’ve had enough/You think I won’t make it on my own/ but now I’m stronger than yesterday/Now it’s nothing but my way/my loneliness ain’t killing me like before/stronger than i ever thought I be”. The song seemed almost like a rebuttal to Lucky and was perhaps her first lash out at the constant scrutiny that she was being placed under. I also think there is a hint of backtalk to some of her producers who were intent on making her stick to the good girl image that she had developed.

ii. Britney is overprotected (2001- 2003)

Her next album was aptly entitled ‘Britney’. For the first time, Britney had a greater hand in composing her songs, thereby allowing the complexities of her thought process to really become public. She sang “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman” reflecting her inner struggle of outgrowing her fan-base. She pleaded further- “all I need is time, a moment that is mine while I’m in between.” In “Overprotected” she lashed out for the second time, “You're gonna have to see through my perspective/ I need to make mistakes just to learn who I am/ And I don't want to be so damn protected", mainly exclaiming about being over judged by everyone around her.
From the start of her illustrious career up till this point in 2003, Britney’s private life was under the eye of the public. Her relationship with Justin Timberlake (and its woes) was constantly publicized, which (I feel) allowed her no privacy. Personally I believe that this is what led her to her breakdown- the fact that she was pressurized by record labels to produce things that were alien to her artistic interests while struggling to grow up while the world watched as a witness. She always had a rebellious streak in her- signs of which were apparent in the tie-up school shirt in her first video itself- and during this period, the rebelliousness rose up inside of her.

This phase also saw the end of a four year relationship with fellow pop icon Justin Timberlake. A ‘war’ followed, akin to the hip-hop rivalry between East coast ‘The Notorious B.I.G.’ and West Coast ‘Tupac’. (Perhaps this analogy borders on blasphemic?)

The video of the single released by Timberlake, ‘Cry me a river’, featured a blonde Britney look-alike while Timberlake proceeded to wreck the former’s house, singing “Your bridges were burned, and now it's your turn/To cry, cry me a river."

Apart from post-relationship rivalries with Timberlake, Britney was also often pitted against former blonde-haired contemporary, Christina Aguilera. Eventually however, the two pop idols shifted tracks following their own creative paths, moving out of the squeaky clean pop songs that had created them. The two even had a chance to publicly kiss and make up during the 2003 MTV music awards.

iii. Britney is In The Zone (2003 onwards)

My psychoanalysis of Britney concludes with her 2003 album entitled ‘In the Zone’. Critics state that Britney moved out of the in-between phase that she was facing two years previously and became, for the first time, a full-fledged woman in the eyes of the world. Her music was far more electronic, her videos much more risqué and both were comprehensively ‘sexual’. In an interview with Rolling Stones in 2003, Britney explained her album, stating that “this record is where I am at right now in my life. It's sensual, it's sexual. I'm probably writing about that subconsciously because I don't have that right now."

Thus with In the Zone, Spears had finally moved into the realm of adulthood, leaving behind the braided and skirted schoolgirl that she had started out as. What followed the album release was one annulled marriage, another marriage a year later that ended in divorce, two children, a reality television show and weeks of rehab. Britney had moved into The Zone, and steadily out of it as well. The most fascinating thing about this was that it was all reflected in her music and under the public’s watchful eye.


apoorva said...

I hope there will be a part deux about Femme Fatale.

sc said...

how about a dissertation on the backstreet boys.