Here’s an image for you: me, sitting in a little messy cubicle, answering hundreds of responses from unsolicited emails about history textbooks, listening to Britney Spears’ new album, Blackout way, way too loud on my headphones and bobbing my head. Every once and a while, like when Britney rhymes position, mission, and permission, or when Britney obviously misses several nasally notes in a row, I will stop bobbing my head and frown.
So yes, I decided not to Be Proactive to Help and go ahead and buy the album. And the bonus track.
I have a lot of mixed feelings. Before purchasing the album last night, I read a bunch of positive reviews of it online. “It’s totally not a horrible, overweight disaster!” record reviews wrote. “I really thought that this album would be a bad mother struggling with a substance abuse problem and a fresh divorce, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a collection of 13 pop songs!”
It seems that people like the album because it’s not another train wreck of a misstep like Brit’s performance at the MTV VMAs or her two children – their expectations were low, so it was a pleasant surprise. They can’t separate Brit’s life from her music. And the music isn’t bad. The beats are good and catchy and the production is great. I would say I even like three or four of the songs more than anyone should.
Of course, is it Brit’s music? I’m going to say no, and it’s not just because I’m a poor jealous talentless brunette. She can buy the best producers in the business, and this album features Bloodshy & Avant, the Clutch and the Neptunes – people who can make catchy songs out of anything. Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if Britney didn’t even sing in the studio for this album — she was just recorded having a whiny, breathy conversation out in the parking lot and they sampled bits and pieces of it. Like she said, “Gimme more fried chicken, baby!” and they cut out “fried chicken” and made two hit songs out of it.
Because, after all of these years, it’s still pretty apparent that Brit isn’t the best singer out there. She’s often shrill, nasally, and off pitch. The best songs are the ones where she’s mostly just talking in the background or making those weird sexy noises she makes. When it comes to guilty-pleasure pop divas, I’ll stick with Pink and Shakira – who are not only better singers, but who also manage to write their own songs from time to time (Britney is credited on two songs on Blackout, although one of them is the less-than-brilliant “oh oh Baby,” which contains the lyrics “oh oh baby baby baby baby baby” and is about the physical act of sex).
The lyrics on the album that are not the words “hot” or “baby” seem like a study in irony or perhaps just a lot of hilarious misunderstandings – songs like “Piece of Me” are about what a mess she’s been over the last year or so, and how she’s really sassy about it, but it becomes quickly apparent that she didn’t write the lyrics. I mean, you can’t really complain about people taking pictures of you while you get out of your car when you often show your genitals during the process. Can you?
In the end, I’m not sure if I learned any secrets about my enemy Brit by listening to this. She’s just not there very much – you can’t feel her presence like in some of her earlier albums. It’s unarguably a good album, though, perhaps for that reason. Either way, she’s probably widened the lead, just a little bit, in our race to have the more successful life.
Where does that leave me, and where does that leave Britney? I’m not sure. I think I learn more about her by keeping up on the gossip, the latest of which claims that Britney was breastfeeding JJ while she was drunk on vodka. And while I find it horrifying that she’s treating her kids to Baby’s First White Russians, I’m also going to keep listening to her new album while I reply to the rest of these textbook emails. I will not, however, bob my head during the sequence where she deems to rhyme man, hand, and understand.