Last week I was lamenting the fact that Britney Spears is naked in her new video. You'd have thought I complained about Burger King pushing Whoppers. "How else is she going to sell records?" one of my fellow (male) editors responded. The other two (male) editors in the room nodded.
I heard a tumble of grandmotherly syllables coming from my mouth: "Um, maybe her music would sell records?" Everyone looked at me like I just shaved my head in the Hustler store. "Do you really think the music matters?" the (still male) editor responded.
That's the crazy thing. I do. And I'm actually not convinced that Britney's full-dorsal, steam-room nudity in the video for her new single "Womanizer"- a less Zen, more gyrating version of Alicia Silverstone's nude ad for PETA - will help her reclaim the pop throne.
It's not that I don't get the Britney product. I know she represents the twinning of porn and pop culture -- and has ever since she first tied a midriff-baring knot in her crisp, white schoolgirl top for the "...Baby One More Time" video ten years ago at age 16. It is thanks to Britney that American malls stock slut-wear in the preteen girls' section. I get it.
But I ask you this: Who likes seeing Britney naked? Dudes. Straight dudes. Straight dudes who wouldn't be caught dead looking under "S" in Wal-Mart's music bin for anything other than Staind or Slayer. Will they ogle her body on Youtube? Sure. Will they Google digitally-rendered R-rated versions of her video? Probably. But actual Britney fans - women between the ages of 15 and 30, gay guys of all ages - won't necessarily be moved by her acting out a scene from a high-budget version of a late-night Skinamax video. That won't make them buy her CD. A good dance-ready single will.
True, naked-Britney is not a new commodity. Sheer nylon-and-rhinestone bodysuits and artfully obscured naughty-bits were her calling cards four years ago. So while this latest flesh display isn't appalling in itself, the frustrating part is that it actually feels, dare I say it, gratuitous.
At least in the context of the video, which is surprisingly good (watch it below -- directed by Joseph Kahn, who also helmed "Toxic," arguably Brit's best). It's a lusty blend of The Office and Alias, the flashy, streamlined vision of the modern sex wars takes place in some sleek corporate setting - as if the high-school girl from "...Baby One More Time" has become a vampy career woman and brought her school's back-up dancers with her.There are Louise Brooks wigs, "Mad Men" glasses, choreographed dance sequences, and not a single stripper pole. Britney even fries up a square egg!
So why did they have to intercut the action with Brit flat on her back doing the pelvic thrust?
I'm not trying to protect Britney. Her actions don't offend me. But I do feel -- insane as this may sound after her past two years -- let down. I'm only two years older than she is, I also grew up in the Bible Belt, and I watched her on The New Mickey Mouse Club when I was in middle school. In a way, I've known her for a long time and I'm ready for her to start respecting herself.
Every since Britney trotted out her tagline "not a girl, not yet a woman," she's been stuck in some kind of limbo. Though she has two children and two failed marriages under her belt (if she wore a belt) none of us can quite consider her an adult. Certainly not the kind of adult we think of her putative role-model Madonna as being -- someone who self-exploited with a bit more flair and authority.
In these latest nude scenes, Britney looks like just another ingénue on a porn set -- a striking contrast to another then-24-year-old female singer who appeared truly naked (not teasingly naked, but actual bare-butt-on-the-subway naked) in her video for "Thank U." When asked why she did this, Alanis Morissette told a reporter, "When I'm naked, I feel so free and liberated and unself-conscious and close to God. So I thought it would be appropriate to be naked in my video." Something tells me that wasn't Britney's motive.
Not that anyone's expecting that kind of thing from Britney. They want her to be shocking, risqué, outrageous, new. But nudity is so 2004. Time to try something else on. Literally.
Now Watch This: Britney Spears, "Womanizer"