Friday, October 26, 2007

Piece of Me

Song: Piece of Me
Artist: Britney Spears
Album: Blackout

Dark… it’s raining, and we slowly enter what looks to be a warehouse space. Thunder is heard outside, the moon letting in the only light upon the large room. Not a lot can be seen in the low light but a look to the floor shows something… what is it? A crack of thunder hits again, and then suddenly lightening… which flashes light on the room. The space is large but we only see the floor of the corner of the room; there are bodies, a pile of them lying in all directions clothed sparingly and tied down by what looks like large chains. We are suddenly close on the face of one of the bodies… a small amount of blonde hair sticks to the forehead by what looks to be dirty sweat, we only see a closed eye. Thunder again, and when the lightening crashes the eye flashes open, the pupil dilates, a scowl forms fiercely across the mouth. A noise which sounds like an alarm is heard and then a heavy beat.

The pile of bodies begins to move, jerky… as if they have been lying there for years and are re-learning how to move, to walk, to stand. There are moves and motions of ecstasy as the bodies come to life, the chains pressing hard into their sweat-wet skin, hair is flung back to the beat in an act of re-birth. In the center the blonde rises, also covered in sweat, chains, and the touch of the bodies around her. Her head flips up, pushing the blonde tresses back away from her face. It is Britney Spears. She is in a skimpy all black tattered outfit. She pulls at the chains, pauses to enjoy a male hand that moved slowly over her glistening torso. She turns back to sing against the hard driving beat; “I’m Miss American Dream since I was 17…”

The scene above doesn’t exist. It’s a fantasy… an idea of what I, we, COULD see as the video for one of Britney’s new songs “Piece of Me,” which may be the second single. The above is completely imaginable in the Britney universe, part “I’m a Slave 4 U” but a bit scarier, uncomfortable. While listening to this song this is what I envisioned. But it continues… and the warehouse space fills with “people” parasites that swarm the group. Despite the growing danger, Brit and her orgy/posse do not budge in their sexual convictions… they NEED to do this, and they need to do it FIERCE. But as the parasites multiply and come closer they begin to endanger the group, poking, threatening with fire. And when Britney comes to take them on looking strong, even a bit scary, a knife is branded and she is slashed across the stomach. The blood starts to emerge slowly and the sight of it excites the parasites, and there suddenly seems to be more. Britney is unfazed, and continues to sing… “I’m Miss bad media karma, Another day another drama, Guess I, can’t see no harm, In working and being a mama…” The parasites don’t hear her… they just want more.

“And with a kid on my arm, I’m still an exception.”

As the song progresses the parasites will claw at Britney removing pieces of flesh. She continues to sing, and sex it up, rubbing the sweat from her face only to be replaced by blood. They do not stop and continue until her arm is torn off, and more… and yet she does not stop… and the chained bodies continue their writhing among blood, sweat, water, and the encroaching crowd of blackness that has begun to tear them all apart.

I don’t really know how this little fantasy ends… I guess I am waiting to find out. We’re ALL waiting to find out what Britney is going to do next and you WILL hear about whether you like it or not. Does she have the kids? Did she go tanning today? Was she out all night? What was up with that VMA performance? Her record is going to suck…. On and on… ugh.

It’s been four long years since we got new music from Britney Spears, though it might as well be ten years. It’s not that she hasn’t been in the public eye, actually… thanks to daily blogs and entertainment “news” we’ve gotten to hear about every time our girl goes into a gas station rest room without shoes, goes to Starbucks, gets married, shaves her head, exposes herself… it just goes on and on. We seem to all be obsessed with Britney, and it’s reached a fever pitch.

I have personally been very suspect of all these media reports, and shocked by our need to tear this girl down. It’s that blood that we want that gave me the images above, and the hope that this four-year strong downward spiral is simply equal parts running from the limelight, tabloid fabrication, and a complex marketing plan that has us all believing she’s a gonner, a victim of her own celebrity. I’ve mentioned before how torn I am about Britney, and perplex at my own seemingly endless interest in her, despite the fact that her music, what I like to find most important, has been wildly inconsistent and her albums (again, what I consider the true creation of an artist) have never had any type of cohesion. Britney was from the beginning an excellent performer… which holds very little weight to me. (Though after watching the VMA performance I realized that that is a huge piece to miss.)

The VMA’s were disappointing, the video for first single “Gimme More” was so minimal you either surmise that she no longer feels the need for a big, bigger, biggest! brand of showmanship (yeah right) or that, right in line with our daily train wreck updates, she was barely committed to the shoot, barely sober, and the result is the best a bunch of editors could do with the footage. The official album cover (above) kinda stinks (enough to have fans petitioning a different one be created, some have done it themselves) and the leaked tracks sounded pretty awful, or flat out embarrassing.

Check out the official video for “Gimme More”

Over three million views and counting…

So while we have been set up for one of the worst public falling out’s in entertainment history this side of Jacko and Whit, there are a lot of things that don’t quite add up to me. And while there is some part of me that wants to think this is all some big crazy marketing plan, the question I need to ask myself is… why? Why not just do things like they always have been? Well… maybe because it’s not guarantied anymore. Christina’s record kinda tanked, though it was a big ‘ol mess… and remember, we all remember that BRITNEY kissed Madonna during that VMA performance, do you remember that Christina was there as well?

So the video idea above is me coming up with what I envision, what I hope, Britney could do at this point, and “Piece of Me” is the perfect platform for her to answer all, make a statement, and return to what we all remember that was Britney Spears. And why do I still care? Well… “Gimme More,” her first single from “Blackout,” has been spinning over and over on my iPod non-stop. It’s her best single since “Slave” (Yes I think it’s better than “Toxic”) it’s her best selling since her first (“Baby, One More Time”) and, with “Blackout” arriving early next week she’s releasing her best album EVER. So why not take all of these expectations and just BRING IT, and in a way nobody expects. Sure, my video idea of Britney being ripped apart and blood everywhere certainly isn’t going to get on MTV… but in the age of the internet who cares?! It will be seen, it will be judged… it will be Britney Spears 24/7 everywhere. Kinda like Madonna in the 80’s no?

Over the last month and a half over thirty songs of Britney’s have leaked which is unprecedented (for any artist not to mention one of her caliber) and literally amazing. What is suspect though is how they came out. Just as she was shaving the head, fighting K-Fed, and attacking the paps with an umbrella, “Baby Boy,” a pretty embarrassing ballad popped up along with a couple so-so dance tracks. But slowly more stuff leaked, including stuff that is actually on the album BUT they were demo versions (or my favorite… the leaked “Pieces of Me” had singing and comments by some fag fan over the music saying “LOVE Britney!” and “this is almost as hot as me”) and soon some blogerotti were calling the new stuff pretty good. Just when there was a day or two without something new of Britney to report, new songs came out. Of course the label acted as if they were freaking out and moved the release date up because of the leaks. (Yeah and that was ANOTHER story that made the rounds one day. There has literally been something to report on this girl every day of the week.)

But yeah… the record is actually pretty good, and might just be great. It’s her most consistent, and the songs are all pretty strong. While “In the Zone” had a bunch of great songs it was a mess… it was Britney trying to be everything to everyone, hitting every demographic, and just seemed like a collection of songs, not an album. In fact, “Blackout” is her first that feels like a real album. These are club tracks that are fun, edgy, and work together. The topics are pretty much the same, “You’re sexy, I want you,” “I’m sexy, you must want me,” “I’m sexy can you handle me?” and yet there are a few hints into what is going on in her life. “Toy Soldier” shows her disappointment in men (to an insanely catchy beat, most likely a single) and “Why Should I be Sad” the one track that seems to be strictly about K-Fed, though not explicitly. After Paris Hilton put out what I argue was a killer pop-club record that was catchy, consistent, and edgy (none of which it had the right to be) it seems partying with the girl helped Britney to form a singular idea. You may have wanted a complete disaster, but “Blackout” is far from it. Finally… let’s mark one point for Britney Spears!

I have quite enjoyed this entire process of hearing all of these songs in various forms and versions… it has let her fans become Jr. A & R people. “Baby Boy” was pretty much lambasted by everyone that heard it (as publicly detailed on blog after blog) and it didn’t make the album. The catchy, sexy, and daring “Radar” seemed to thrill fans beyond belief… and there it is as track three. There was a lot of music, and even a few that I thought were album worthy but didn’t make the cut.

Here are my thoughts on the record track for track:

Gimme More – It’s killer. She’s taken elements of hip hop (the current top-dog of pop music right now) and infused elements of electro and club music. Catchier with every listen, honest to goodness sexy.

Piece of Me – This could have been awful, and it’s amazing it’s not really. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY wants to hear entertainers complain about how hard being a celebrity and the limelight is. The audience can’t relate, but in the case of Britney it makes sense. There hasn’t been a pop star that’s had this kind of media abuse Britney’s seen and lived, and she doesn’t just rest on complaining a little… she wants to take people on; “You want a piece of me?” she asks/attacks. Not to mention this is a pretty amazing club song. It’s sexy, futuristic, and the first time I’ve thought the girl had something to actually SAY.

Radar – Pure elctro-pop and one that has seriously grown on me. It’s produced by the same crew that did “Piece of Me” as well as “Freakshow” and “Toy Soldier.” The song ismodern, fun, and the direction I’d most like to see Britney take on. Help the US catch up with Europe Britney!

Break the Ice – Another fun club track from Nate “Danga” Hills, who did “Gimme More” as well as three other tracks on the record. Oddly, this song sounds like it should start the album as she opens with “It’s been a while, I know I shouldn’t have kept you waiting…” I think it’s not the first track because it’s just not as strong as “Gimme” but it’s good, again a catchy dance track that is bouncy and not quite hip hop.

Heaven on Earth – The Gorgio Moroder style beat will recall Donna Summer and Kylie, and what starts off as very sexy turns more loving and upbeat pop. This one reminds me the most of the Paris record and more like some of her “In the Zone” work. Not in love with it but think it’s good and fits on the record.

Get Naked (I Got a Plan) – sexy bouncy track that is the most hip hop on the record. Though it’s a little strange, a lot of vocal tricks, not just Britney but the male voice as well. (Whom I don’t know.) Another catchy fun club track. I’m sounding repetitive here but understand that this is no small feat. The songs are consistently good and varied.

Freakshow – Well okay, this one is my least favorite on the record. It’s okay, just a little uninspired.

Toy Soldier – This one has catchiness to spare. I love the simulated military drum and the chorus is killer. I hear a hit with this one.

Hot as Ice – This one was one of the leaked demos and it’s been spruced up a little (for the better) in this full version. It cracked me up then, and does now. It’s a semi-goofy update on 70’s funk with a ridiculous chorus that I LOVE. (“I’m cold as fire baby, hot as ice, if you’ve ever been to heaven this is twice as nice.) She steals Rick James back up singers for this one… was anyone expecting that? I really like this one, despite it being goofy.

Ooh Ooh Baby – Might be my favorite on the record. It starts with a Spanish guitar and Gary Glitter a-la “Rock & Roll Part II” beat, and then the vocal melody seems to be stolen from The Turtles “Happy Together…” but when the chorus kicks in you are sold. This is from dance-pop mastermind Kara DioGuardi who wrote my favorite track on the Paris record (“Not Leaving Without You”) and she works her same magic here. GREAT.

Perfect Lover – Last Nate Hills production, I like this one okay. It seems she is going for the Stefani vein here, mixed with her own “Slave 4 U.” Serviceable album track.

Why Should I Be Sad – Britney always likes to go personal and introspective on the last track. For “In the Zone” it was the cringe-worthy but single anyhow “Everytime.” Luckily we have this Pharell Williams creation (the closest to a ballad on the record though it’s not really that either) instead of “Baby Boy” which seems to be about the same thing (K-Fed) but catchier, more interesting, etc.

While this is Britney’s best, it still isn’t the “album” that I think she might have in her, and if you didn’t like her before you won’t now. It’s not a complete reinvention. Given the different production teams working on track for track it still feels disjointed, like a mixed tape… but only slightly. (It will remind you of Gwen Stefani’s work without the self-consciously weird stuff.) Yet it does come together better than any other previous effort. And also, while it may not have that artistic collaborative whole that say Timberlake’s “Futuresex/Lovesounds” did, it’s a better record than Justin’s (yes, unbelievable huh) as it doesn’t lose it’s way. It’s lean and mostly all top quality songs.

The album is being released Tuesday so we will all soon find out how it will do and what Britney will do by way of promotion. In the past, she would be everyone selling the hell out of it… will she? Or is she really living in her own self absorbed drug addled universe? (It was reported that when asked what her second single for the record was she responded that it was “Someone” and that she was looking for dancers for the video to come out in December. There isn’t a track called “Someone” on the record though… red herring or is she out of her mind?) I would really like to see something as edgy and fun as the music is here, and even more so, I would like to see Britney make a statement. We’ve taken the internet/TV instant access type of “journalism” that really boils down to tabloid garbage too far, Spears being one of the first stars/victims. She’s the perfect person to comment without apology and “Piece of Me” is the way to do it. I remember when “Entertainment Tonight” used to be actual entertainment news about upcoming music and movies and not focused on Lindsey’s latest rehab stint and when the nightly news was about the country, the world, and less Anna Nicole Smith. Burn your U.S. Weekly!

Unfortunately I’m still tuned in, and while I can blame cultural osmosis for some of this stuff the truth is I am on Britney watch as she captivates me in ways I don’t quite understand. Maybe I should be embarrassed about it, but since the rest of the world seems to be as well… I’m just one of the gang.

Stay tuned…


The fake “Blackout” covers come courtesy of Rolling Stone (whom Britney has helped sell many a magazine) whom collected “fan” created alternate artwork. Take them in, get what you need, chew them up, and spit them out.

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