How Was I Supposed to Know? (or, Britney Jean, Our Lord and Savior)
It’s a Sunday night, nearing 11 p.m., when my friend Andrea hears the song “Work Bitch” for what she believes to be the first time.
We’re at work—she is my boss—and we are, along with Josh, another member of our department, all huddled over computers in a back office, sleepily, yet frantically entering the data from our department’s inventory. To break the silence of this time we have together in a small, quickly overheating space—at this point we are the only three people left in the building—and in an attempt lighten the rollercoaster of emotions that can only come from late night data entry, we’ve been listening to a shuffled playlist I hastily threw together before heading in, called “Inventory Vibez.”
The playlist has kept the energy as high as it can be for this time of night on a Sunday, after two out of the three of us have already worked a full day, only to have returned in the evening in order to complete this monthly project. Shuffling the playlist keeps things diverse and interesting—a little Taylor Swift, a little Carly Rae Jepsen, a little Michelle Branch; for additional eclecticism, “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” from Caroline Polachek, and, believe it or not, some Shania Twain.
There are certain songs that elicit more of a reaction than others when they begin—“Jumpin’ Jumpin’” from Destiny’s Child is one of those; “Tempo” by Lizzo and Missy Elliot is another.
When the energetic, opening bursts of “Ooops….I Did it Again” by Britney Jean Spears come on, I’m already instinctively shuffling my shoulders as best I can to the beat, mouthing the sultry “Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah,” along with Britney, all while still trying to focus on how fast and accurate my 10-key capabilities are; Josh looks up momentarily from his computer and, with a face that is both deadpan serious but unable to hide a slight smile, he quietly says, “You know, there’s never a bad time to hear this song.”
It’s a Sunday night, nearing 11 p.m., when we are in the final stretch of entering all of this information back into the computer system, and are printing out month-end reports, when the urgent, thumping rhythm, and slithering, rippling synthesizers of “Work Bitch” begin.
The first single from her 2013 album Britney Jean, it’s a song that is, truthfully, in my thoughts often enough to have been included in this playlist, but it’s a song that I haven’t listened to in a very long time, so I had forgotten just how aggressive, cacophonic, and dizzying it is. Tapping into the Electronic Dance Music (or E.D.M.) sound of the time, the word ‘enormous’ doesn’t do justice to the kind of atmosphere it creates from the moment it begins, taking the listener on a rapid fire journey of incredible highs that just seem to build off of one another. There are countless points throughout “Work Bitch” when it truly feels like it’s too much and it’s all going to collapse under its own chaotic energy—but it doesn’t.
It’s maybe both the wrong, and right, song to be listening to at this moment—we are attempting to finish up an important work related task. The frenetic energy from the song propels the three of us through the final bits of number entry and report printing.
We are, in fact, working, bitch.
But it’s also incredibly distracting, just because there is so much going on in the song.
“Should we be listening to something this aggressive this late at night,” Josh asks, as we are wrapping things up.
The next day, after we have eased into the morning, Andrea sidles up next to me and, with an anticipatory tone in her voice, asks me, unprompted, “What was that song we were listening to last night—the one that Josh thought was too aggressive?”
Three days later, I get a text from her that says, “I’m pretty sure I’m only going to listen to ‘Work Bitch’ in my car from now on. I am REALLY into that song; like, genuinely can’t get enough.”
It’s Halloween 2007 and my wife goes as Britney Spears.
We’re not married, yet—not even engaged at this point; just two people in their early 20s living together. We’re in the second year of of living in a small, one-bedroom apartment in a building with questionable neighbors1 and even more questionable smells2 emanating up through our bedroom closet.
This is the second Halloween party we’ve thrown, and it’s a little better attended than the previous year’s.
It’s Halloween 2007 and my wife goes as Britney Spears, but not just any iteration of Britney Spears; not the red catsuit Britney from the “Ooops….I Did it Again” video, or the schoolgirl Britney from “Baby, One More Time.” Wearing a gray sweatshirt and gym shorts, brandishing an umbrella around the apartment, with an inexpensive bald cap pulled down over her hair, my wife has gone as the Britney Spears that had a mental health crisis in February of 2007—the Britney that, out of desperation and madness, shaved her head, then eventually, was placed in a rehabilitation facility, where she famously attacked a tabloid photographer with an umbrella.
I go as “Kevin Feder-Krein3,” Britney’s deadbeat ex-husband, back up dancer, and aspiring rapper—it’s an easy costume, assembled mostly with things I already have. I turn a baseball cap to the side, sag a somewhat larger pair of jeans down off my ass, and put on a very, very oversized white t-shirt.
At the time, we think this is funny—as does the popular culture at large. However, recently the internet told me it was the 13th anniversary of Spears’ attacking the photographer, and maybe it’s because I’m much, much older now and have lost a bulk of my sense of humor; maybe it’s because I began following a handful of Instagram accounts that regularly post information about mental health awareness; or maybe it’s because my own mental health has become increasingly fragile, especially in the last few years—maybe it’s a little bit of all three, but upon the 13th anniversary of Britney charging a photographer with an umbrella, I realize that this was never funny.
I realize we shouldn’t have been laughing at her expense.
What I realize is that Britney Spears was in pain, needed help, and wasn’t getting the help she needed. What I realize is that, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, we all have a little bit of that Britney—a wild, visceral, desperate look of pain in our face, umbrella cocked back—inside of us.
Born in 1981, Britney Jean Spears claims that, even as a teenager in Mississippi, she wanted more.
She had first tasted fame in the early 90s as a Broadway understudy, a contestant on “Star Search,” and eventually, as part of the revival of “The Mickey Mouse Club,” where she’d perform alongside the likes of Kerri Russel, Ryan Gosling, Christina Aguilera, and Justin Timberlake.
After a four-year stint in the cast, the show ended in 1996; within two years, after recording demos and pitching herself as a singer to myriad label executives, she inked a deal with Jive Records, and the label sent her to Sweden for two months where she recorded half of her debut record, …Baby, One More Time, with pop impresario Max Martin. The album, arriving 21 years ago, in January of 1999, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, powered by the titular track as its lead single—the song alone sold 500,000 copies on its first day as a single, and was number one on the Hot 100 chart for two consecutive weeks.
I was all of 15 the first time I caught the video for “…Baby, One More Time,” and have lived through and been marginally aware of Britney’s career up until the release of her 2007 album Blackout, issued at a time when both her tabloid headlines and fragile mental well being had both reached tumultuous peaks. As a teenager, I didn’t think too much of her, or her career as a whole, but the pace with which she worked during the first three or four years after her ascent to fame is staggering to think about now, as an adult.
It is also kind of heartbreaking—putting out three albums in three years, touring constantly in support of those albums, and finding time to star in a maligned but successful film, among other things—it’s pretty easy, in retrospect, to see how the mask—her mask—started to slip, and it’s admirable she was able to keep it up for as long as she did.
Taking only 2002 off from releasing an album, and working through highly scrutinized and public break up with Justin Timberlake4, Britney released In The Zone at the tail end of 2003—it includes the singles “Toxic” “Me Against The Music,” featuring Madonna, and the still devastating, eerie ballad “Every Time.” Arguably, the difficulty balancing her public persona with her personal life can be traced back to 2004, when she married a childhood friend at a wedding chapel in Las Vegas; the marriage was annulled 55 hours later, where it was determined, or stated during the annulment proceedings that she ‘lacked understanding’ of her actions.
Later that year, she began her whirlwind, volatile relationship with Kevin Federline—they were married by the end of 2004, and she gave birth to their first child in 2005; their second in 2006.
Within two months of the birth of her second child, she had filed for divorce from Federline.
In early 2007, Spears, apparently spent a single day in a rehabilitation facility; she left, then famously barged into a hair salon in Los Angeles, grabbed an electric razor, and shaved her head. Stints in other rehab centers followed—though what she was seeking treatment for is unclear—and as the year closed, with Blackout being released, she temporarily lost custody of her sons.
In early 2008, her troubles with her ex-husband, the fight for her children, and her struggles with substance abuse and ongoing mental health issues continued—hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai after police found her at home, appearing to be under the influence of an unidentified substance. In the aftermath of that, her visitation rights with her children were suspended and she was committed to psychiatric ward of UCLA Medical Center, and put on an involuntary psychiatric hold.
It was a this time that she was placed under a conservatorship of her father and an attorney—a decision that is still impacting her life, now at age 38.
Spears released additional albums in 2008 (Circus), 2011 (Femme Fatale), 2013 (Britney Jean, the album containing “Work Bitch”), and in 2016 (Glory.) It was also in 2013 that she began her Las Vegas residency, first with a show entitled “Piece of Me,” with a second show, “Domination,” planned for 2019, but ultimately and unceremoniously canceled due to her father having a near-fatal colon rupture.
In the wake of that family emergency, she has more or less put her entire career on hold.
Over the course of the last year, I have slowly, but unintentionally, destroyed (at least partially) my co-worker’s Google Music algorithm.
It begins innocently enough when Wesley opens a playlist5 with the ubiquitous single from Sixpence None The Richer, “Kiss Me.” Months go by, and the tectonic plates of this playlist, and other similarly minded lists (however that is determined by the algorithm) begin to shift, as it slowly continues to provide us with more and more ‘pop’ leaning music until it peaks with the unprompted inclusion of “Pieces of Me,” the 2004 single from Ashlee Simpson, and, shortly after that, the completely prompted inclusion of “Cruel Summer” by Taylor Swift6.
We make our way through Michelle Branch and Vanessa Carleton, taking me back to the fall of 2001 and my first year of college; we make our way through Avril Lavigne and try our best to deconstruct the flimsy narrative7 of “Sk8er Boi.”
We, eventually, find ourselves at Britney Spears. At “Ooops…I Did it Again.”
At “Baby, One More Time.”
I’m uncertain how we reach this point, but almost immediately, and with little, if any, hesitation on my part, I choose to embrace it. I, with open arms—with arms that flail wildly to the rhythm of these songs—welcome Britney Spears into my life, barely questioning this decision, over two decades after she first appeared, poised for much more than she ever anticipated.
Wesley, after some initial uncertainty, eventually also embraces it, as well as a majority of what we hear in the wake of the slow destruction of his carefully crafted Google algorithm—I’ve never been around when it has happened, but allegedly the pop music playlist has tried to insert singles by Paris Hilton into the mix, which he, flat out, won't allow.
But we embrace the slow, saccharine balladry of Savage Garden and the early songs of both the Backstreet Boys and N’SYNC. One of us instinctively reaches for the volume on the chintzy Bluetooth speaker, pressing it up as high as it will go by the time the refrain hits from “Since U Been Gone,” from Kelly Clarkson.
But it’s Britney; it’s “Baby, One More Time” that begins the playlist—often right away in the morning, or, if Wesley senses that I am having ‘a day,’ he knows those opening notes and the echoing “Oh baby baby,” uttered by a then 18 year old Britney Jean Spears, will try their hardest to put a smile on my face, and a groove, or a shuffle, into my shoulders.
It’s “Baby, One More Time” that I, most confidently, mouth nearly all the words to with a surprising conviction.
The juxtaposition is this—for as ‘simplistic’ as the pop music Britney Spears made for a bulk of her career comes across as being, her personal and private life, outside of the public persona she has worked to build, and then eventually rebuild, is anything but simplistic.
I was, up until somewhat recently, unaware that Britney Jean Spears was in need of ‘freeing.’ That she, nearly 40 years old, a wildly successful entertainer, with canonical work that redefined popular music and will endure for another 20 years8—that she did not have freedom.
The “Free Britney’ movement is a complicated place where the known facts about her life, and the conservatorship she is under, and the fiction or speculation that something else might be happening, converge into a strange gray area of intrigue that one wouldn’t suspect exists in the life of a pop star.
Spears’ conservatorship is a difficult thing to unpack and attempt to understand, even in a rudimentary way, and questions about whether or not someone of her age should still be under a conservatorship run by her father have been asked for years—a very poorly written, subjective piece from Forbes about this very thing dates back to 2013.
A piece written less than a year ago by Rolling Stone does its best to make sense of Spears’ situation—focusing primarily on her 2008 mental health crisis, the sudden cancelation of her Las Vegas show “Domination,” her sporadic social media presence on Instagram, and a podcast that, at one time, was solely dedicated to discussing her Instagram posts, and how the hosts of that podcast, Tess Barker and Barbara Gray, found themselves in over their heads in an All The President’s Men kind of situation, complete with an unnamed source providing them with alleged information about Spears’ well-being.
What the Forbes story argues is that, while the conservatorship, at the time, was a good idea in the sense that with her father calling the shots, it got Britney’s career back on track when she became a tabloid punchline—in the same breath, it questions whether or not she still needs to be under that kind of control; at the time the story was published, Spears was 31.
Between the breakdown of the conservatorship and larger implications of Spears’ situation from the Rolling Stone article, as well as taking with a grain of salt what is found on Spears’ Wikipedia page, the word ‘contentious’ does not do justice in describing this saga, with everything more or less boiling over at the beginning of 2019, with Spears’ otherwise regularly updated Instagram account going silent, her ‘co-conservator’ stepping down, leaving her father solely in charge, her father’s ruptured colon, and the cancelation of her Las Vegas residency.
From there, it is surmised she checked into a mental health clinic for a 30-day stay at some point in March, though the unnamed source who contacted the hosts of “Britney Gram,” Baker and Gray’s podcast, claims Spears had been in a mental health clinic since January, and that she was sent against her will after she stopped taking her medication to treat bi-polar disorder.
There is little information about what, if anything, is happening now with Britney’s conservatorship. The hosts of “Britney Gram,” as well as many of her fans, read some of her Instagram updates as veiled cries for help and freedom; her father, according to a thread on Reddit, stepped down as the head of the conservatorship due to his poor health, putting someone allegedly problematic9 in charge.
The current timeline of Spears’ Wikipedia concludes with information about both of her sons being granted a three-year restraining order from their grandfather—her father—after he became physically abusive toward one of them in the fall of 2019.
Her Instagram account—still very active, and somewhat bizarre at times10—continues to create concern for her overall mental well being, despite her claims to the contrary.
We all arrive at things at different times, through different means, and on different terms.
Something like a band, song, or album can strike us the moment it is released—but then it is, more or less, up to us to make the decision on whether or not it’s the kind of thing that we are going to carry through time, from one portion of our life into the next, or if it’s the kind of thing you leave behind, then having to make yet another decision, on if to opt for describing this band, song, or artist in one of two ways11: “I used to listen to that when I was in high school,” or “I listened to that when I was growing up.”
For two of my co-workers, who both have been a part of this unspoken, collective embracement of Britney Jean Spears, listening to her music was something they both admittedly explained as was they listened to in the past—not even high school, but earlier than that.
Madeline, relatively new to our workplace, and roughly a decade younger than me, reveals herself as a fan of pop music—specifically of Britney Spears—when she hears the iconic, dissonant strings from the melody of “Toxic” coming from Wesley’s Google playlist. She stops in her tracks and peaks her head in to describe the song as ‘a bop12.’
“I knew all the words to her early 2000s songs, but became much less dedicated after that,” Madeline explains, when I ask her what her relationship to Britney’s music is, or was, rather; Andrea—my boss, my friend—has a similar history, with her knowledge and interest in Spears’ catalog ceasing shortly after 2001’s Britney. Though, it only takes little bit of prompting for her to remember “Me Against The Music,” and the aforementioned bop, “Toxic.”
My knowledge of Britney Spears’ music—or at least her singles, extends a few years beyond that.
I remember, in late 2007, when the album Blackout arrived13. A four year gap in between albums for a pop star—even one who has managed to remain in the headlines for things other than their music—can feel like an eternity, and between 2003 and 2007, the pop marketplace was changing. Blackout wasn’t a failure (though according to the Wikipedia for both Spears herself and the album, her performance of “Gimme More” at the 2007 MTV Music Awards was ‘universally panned’), and the three singles released from the record charted, but it represents a shift in Britney’s career, as far as trying to regain what she had maybe lost her hold on due to the amount of time lapsing between records, as well as her tumultuous personal life, lived very publicly through gossip magazines. Her name, over the last decade plus, is still very obviously recognizable, but it’s associated with music from another time—for some of us, a lifetime ago, really, and she has more or less eased herself into an ‘elder stateswoman’ of pop music role, with her mid, to late career records all still sell well enough14, but by no means being as wildly successful or ubiquitous as her first four records.
The last time I see Danielle, or really have a conversation with her, was 15 years ago, at a homecoming party15—a year after she’s graduated, and roughly five months after I had, and was still living in Dubuque, the town where we both went to college, and first met, four years prior.
“Gross,” she said, once I reached out to her over Facebook messenger. “I can’t believe it’s been 15 years.” At the party, we stand in the living room and catch up; I remember we had a conversation about Kanye West, who, at the time, had both just released Late Registration, and had gone off script during the Hurricane Katrina telethon, exclaiming to the world that “George Bush didn’t care about black people.”
I contact Danielle, 15 years later, because almost everything I know about pop music in the late 1990s and early 2000s, is because of her. Incredibly eclectic sells her taste in music very, very hort, but pop music was always the frontrunner of what you could expect her to be listening to at any given moment. Danielle was the reason I saw the Britney Spears star-vehicle Crossroads not once, but twice—once in the theatre; she’s the reason I am aware of the Lance Bass/Joey Fatone romantic comedy On The Line; she is the reason I found myself at a Super Wal-Mart after midnight on a Tuesday morning, so she could get a copy of Justin Timberlake’s Justified the moment it came out.
At the time, I never had reason to question why Danielle loved pop music so very much, but in reflecting on these moments from my past, and this music that was so ubiquitous during my late teenage years into my earl 20s, I wanted to ask her why she was originally drawn to it, and if it’s something she’s carried with her into adulthood.
Danielle traces her interest in pop music, specifically the pop music that defined the end of the 1990s, back to “Total Request Live,” and to a different kind of MTV—one that we, so often, refer to as the MTV that ‘still played videos,’ or ‘still cared about music.’
“TRL” gave a glimpse that the artists were almost people,” she told me. “Those same artists showed ‘a day in the life of’ with ‘Diary16.’ The video making process was featured in ‘Making The Video,’”—a show that I almost forgot about entirely.
“I thought, and still find, most of the songs to be fun and catchy,” she continued. “But I appreciated seeing the work that went into the music and videos instead of just the finished project—like the “Pop” video for N’Sync. Joey broke his foot during the filming and the choreographer had to fill in.
“Joey is all of us.”
Danielle explains that she hasn’t moved on from pop music—it can’t be described as what she ‘used to listen to’ because it’s what she still listens to right now, mentioning she goes back to even solo outings from J.C. Chasez17 of N’Sync, as well as albums by Nick Carter and AJ McLean from Backstreet Boys.
“And Backstreet Boys!,” she exclaims during our exchange. “They keep making new music! I loved DNA18, and I saw them in September. It was a hell of a show considering they are old like us now.”
She added that O-Town19 keeps ‘sneaking new music out,’ and that she went to see ‘them and a laptop’ in concert in 2017—a performance that apparently coincided with he release of a SyFy Channel movie Dead 7, featuring members of O-Town, 98 Degrees, N’Sync, and Backstreet Boys.
Even though I haven’t remained in touch with Danielle in 15 years, in our correspondence over the internet, the mannerisms with which she speaks (or in this case, types responses to my questions) hasn’t changed from the person I knew in college. I ask her what, in the end, her take away from listening to pop music is.
“Instant happy!,” she says. “It’s comforting and makes me less stabby. My work peeps know that it is serious and to leave me alone when boy bands are playing.
“It helps me recenter and focus.”
We all arrive at things at different times, through different means, and on different terms.
Wesley and I often joke, when we’re at work, about how neither of us ever thought we’d be where we are right now in life (me, late 30s, him, a few years younger than I am) and legitimately enjoying and unironically listening to Britney Spears, among other pop artists of that era. I never imagined I’d be gazing at the picture disc reissue of …Baby, One More Time, when I wander the entertainment section of Target, wondering if it’s worth the nearly $30 price tag, and if it is an album that I need to own on vinyl.
I never imagined I’d have items from the official Britney Spears online store bookmarked with the intent of purchasing at a later date.
My in-earnest interest in pop music is something that began, very slowly, in 201320—accepting, though still a little surprised at the fact, that I could genuinely enjoy some music from artists like Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, and Miley Cyrus; or when I first discovered Carly Rae Jepsen’s 80s-inspired pop masterpiece, E•MO•TION, in 2015—an album that, yes, I appreciated at the time, but have become more and more fond of and attached to in the five years since its release.
We all arrive at things at different times, through different means, and on different terms, when it is needed the most—perhaps when it is needed and we don’t even realize that it is.
When “Baby, One More Time” comes on, depending on what else is happening at the time, or sometimes, who else is around, I will more than likely begin to flail wildly, but if I take a step back—just a small step, I can see that it’s music like this that doesn’t so much help me to ‘recenter and focus,’ but it helps, so I understand where the sentiment of ‘instant happy’ comes from. It lightens the mood, however heavy it may be, and serves as a form, albeit brief, of escapism.
It is, though, still surprising to me that the music I whole-heartedly balked at two decades ago is something that I now find a small amount of joy—at at times, a feeling of catharsis—in hearing. And it’s surprising how much of this music I actually know, deep down in the fiber of my being—knowing when the key change21 comes near the end of “I Want it That Way,” or knowing the words without really realizing that I did—something that speaks to how ubiquitous pop music was during a formative time in my life.
That even if it wasn’t something I sat down and listened to, it was still around me, thanks to cable television and “Total Request Live.” That it was still informing me, and that it would be waiting, still, so many years later, as a bizarre but needed source of comfort.
Spears, herself, for now, is still not ‘free.’
A piece published by Business Insider, on February 20th, provides the most recent addition to the saga of Britney’s conservatorship.
Repackaging a bulk of the already available information about the conservatorship’s history, as well as the possible intrigue surrounding the ‘Free Britney’ moment and whatever information they may be receiving from a source inside, the article discusses a recent court hearing that temporarily extended the conservatorship until April 30th, when there will be an additional hearing to decide what the next step is.
Britney has never directly addressed this movement before, even after the frenzy surrounding her apparent need for freedom reached a cacophonic peak in 2019. The only instance of her addressing the controversy surrounding her conservatorship, even in a very vague way, is found in an Instagram video from April 2019. The text accompanying the video begins with “I wanted to say hi, because things that are being said have just gotten out of control!!!!”
“I am trying to take a moment for myself, but everything that’s happening is just making it harder for me. Don’t believe everything you read and hear,” she continues. “My situation is unique, but I promise I’m doing what’s best at this moment.”
The written post concludes with Spears, a public figure—she has been for two decades—imploring again for privacy to ‘deal with all the hard things that life is throwing my way.’
“If you could do that, I would be forever grateful.”
In the video, Britney, maybe looking a little older than the way we might want to remember her—forever the fresh faced teen idol—her voice, now a little lower, says she just wants to check in with everyone who is ‘concerned about her.’
“All is well,” she assures her followers.
The playlist “Inventory Vibez” has sat untouched for the last month, and will not be used again for its intended purposes—a late night energy boost—for the foreseeable future.
It was a Sunday night in late February when it was last used; the inventory for the month of March has been canceled. With how things are going, I am uncertain of when the next time my bosses and I will be tucked away, huddled down over computers, entering data, will be.
It is somewhat difficult to believe that only one month has passed since that Sunday night, and introducing my friend, and boss, to the song “Work Bitch,” and her instant attachment to it. It’s difficult to believe that only one month has passed because it feels like a lot longer than a month.
It’s difficult to believe because everything is different now.
We are alive during the time of a pandemic. Some people call it ‘COVID-19.’ Some call it ‘Coronavirus.’ A few of us at work who are trying to keep a sliver of a sense of humor call it ‘Dat Rona.’
People are told to stay inside and work from home if they are able.
People are told to ‘socially distance’ and ‘self-quarantine.’
Small businesses more or less shutter. Restaurants, if they remain open, only offer carry out orders, or curbside pick up.
We work in a grocery store. Our jobs are suddenly deemed ‘essential’ during this unsettling time.
On her Instagram, Britney Spears asks that we stay with people who ‘lift our frequency to a higher ground.’ “To get through this together we need to remain positive and lift each other up,” she writes in post, that accompanies a somewhat awkward video of her addressing her follows.
In the post before that one, she shares the kind of thing you would expect to see on your mother’s, or an aunt’s, Facebook page—a black box, with white text that reads: “Nobody watches you harder than the people who can’t stand you,” and with this, she addresses the people who criticize her social media presence, or those who were apparently offended that, she had made a previous update about horses.
“For me,” she writes, “I get really excited about my posts…and I like to share them with you all!!!…Hard times like we are currently living through should really teach us to be nice to one another!!!!!”
Regarding the horses, she responds by saying, “I think it’s important to see things that bring happiness during hard times and make light of a situation can sometimes help people!!!!”
Roughly a week later, she posts a quote from writer Mimi Zhu. The quote is long, and it’s mostly about the struggles of ‘self isolation’ that have come out of living through these dark times. “We will learn to kiss and hold each other through the waves of the web,” it says, before taking a surprising turn. “We will feed each other, re-distribute wealth, strike.”
The internet immediately welcomes Britney Spears ‘to the resistance,’ though it is unclear if Spears even knows the socialist implications within the message she shared.
We work in a grocery store. Our jobs are suddenly deemed ‘essential’ during this unsettling time, though not everybody is comfortable with placing themselves in the line of fire. It creates palpable tension and anxiety among the staff that remain, and I spend a lot of time, outside of work, trying to check on colleagues I care about the most.
The colleagues who, in a sense, lift my frequency to a higher ground.
Wesley takes a number of days off with Corona related anxiety. At the end of a text message exchange that we have mid-month, I tell him to take care of himself.
He responds by saying, “You take care of yourself as well. Walk in the light of our lord and savior, 2007 Britney.”
1- This is an aside, non-Britney related, that is too long to shoehorn into the essay, but it is a story that I tell sometimes. My wife and I (before marriage, etc) lived in a small apartment in a large building of apartments, in a huge cluster of apartment complexes. Our downstairs neighbor, outside of blaring loud heavy metal and hard rock music, in the summer of 2007, had passed out while cooking something on his stovetop. His apartment filled up with smoke, and a pregnant woman in the building woke herself up from feeling the heat in the building. Someone pulled the fire alarm, but nothing happened. The police were the first to respond, and went through the building pounding on doors, yelling ‘fire.’ My wife and I stood outside in our pajamas, and watched as the police, after breaking down his door, threw open the sliding glass door to his ‘porch’ to get outside, and carry his body out onto the lawn. My wife’s first thought was “I hope he’s not dead.” Mine was, “I hope he’s dead—maybe we’ll get a new neighbor.” He didn’t die. He was allowed to stay in the building. We moved less than a year after this event.
2- Probably weed? Something incredibly foul though that we were grateful did not cling to our clothing.
3- See, it’s funny because my name is Kevin Krein. And his name is Kevin Federline.
4- Despite the fact that Justin Timberlake was the de facto frontman of N’Sync and is responsible for both some incredible pop bangers both with the group, as well as a solo artist, he is a wildly problematic individual; why is it okay for him to have been welcomed back to the Super Bowl as a half-time performer when Janet Jackson was more or less blacklisted from the entertainment industry following their role in the infamous ‘wardrobe malfunction’ of 2004? Also, Timberlake, in one of his many appearances hosting “Saturday Night Live,” was in an incredibly misogynistic sketch where he made a joke about how he and Britney Spears pretended they were not sexually active while dating, but that in truth, he had ‘hit that,’ to which the crowd roared with laughter.
5- This was, at least partially, discussed on the podcast Wes did with me, as well as in the guest piece he wrote, and I featured on the site.
6- My love for “Cruel Summer” has been well documented.
7- The narrative of “Sk8er Boi” is tough to unpack, because Avril Lavigne is not an unreliable narrator, but one that leaves out important clarifying details that explain the connection between her, the titular ‘boi,’ and the other girl mentioned in the song.
8- This was tagged as a footnote to both specific that it’s doubtful that, even though there are myriad pop stars right now, that any of them will be responsible for a song that is so fucking wildly successful the way early singles from Britney Spears were; this was also tagged because who fucking knows if we’ll all still be alive in 20 years?
9- The person put in charge of the conservatorship apparently has been charged in the past with conservatorship abuse.
10- This is a little editorializing on my part. I just started following Britney on Instagram shortly before beginning this essay, at the beginning of March, 2020. Her posts, at the time, were mostly about breaking her foot while dancing, but there are also a lot of photos of her, wearing white, taken in front of a red background.
11- This is a concept that I borrowed from another piece of music writing I read a long time ago, and it’s a concept that I explored in a retrospective I wrote about something (probably something turning 10 or 20 or whatever) last year. But it is an interesting concept to me, in how we talk about music, and our pasts, and where they collide.
12- Sometimes I don’t warm to new people at work right away but it was once Madeline used the expression ‘a bop,’ that I knew she was somebody I should try harder to befriend.
13- I remember seeing Blackout at Target, probably, shortly after it was released, but I also remember the single “Piece of Me,” mostly because in 2010, the British trip-hop artist Tricky did an oddball cover of it that I liked quite a bit.
14- This is a little more editorializing on my part; records don’t really ‘sell’ the way they used to, and artist primarily rely on streaming numbers. So, like, comparing ‘sales’ of Britney’s latter day canon to her early work is not really a fair comparison at all.
15- This is aside, not related to Britney. When I was in college, I was in the theatre department, and I was invited to the annual homecoming party thrown by a member of the department’s faculty. It was mostly alumni who were much, much older than me, so it was always a little awkward with the younger students gathering in one part of the part, with the older students who we had never met, and only heard about, gathering elsewhere. In 2005, I went to this party, and it felt weird—it felt weird to be going to a ‘homecoming’ party when I was still living in Dubuque, months after I graduated. I felt a little disconnected, and I wrote an essay about it that was published in a magazine I was writing for at the time; needless to say a lot of the people who read it, who were at that party, were upset that I felt out of place at the gathering. I still think about this a lot, actually. Maybe I should let stuff like this go. But I don’t. And I still hang onto mistakes I’ve made 15 years after the fact.
16- The show had the catchphrase, “You think you know, but you have no idea.”
17- J.C. had a minor post-N’Sync hit with “Blowin’ Me Up With Your Love.”
18- DNA is the title of the most recent album from the Backstreet Boys.
19- O-Town were originally put together on the first season of “Making The Band.”
20- I started writing about music for Anhedonic Headphones in 2013, so I think I was slightly more willing to listen to pop music, so that I would have things to write about. Also, I think in 2013, I noticed that pop music was beginning to be gentrified in some ways. Maybe ‘gentrified’ isn’t the right word, but there was a much looser distinction between ‘indie’ music and ‘pop’ music and what was hip and what was mainstream, and a lot of big name artists making ‘pop music’ were getting coverage on Pitchfork.
21- The idea of a key change near the end of a song being something that is ‘earned’ is something I read in a piece of music writing a long time ago, but do not recall where. This concept, though, his something I have written about in the past and it is something Wes and I often discuss w/r/t pop music.