Reader, I must confess something. I’m a Britney Spears fan. I have been since I bought her first album in 1998, when I was a mere toddler. That being said, as a student of pop culture and entertainment, I’m fairly objective when commenting on anything in the industry, and that includes dear, old Brit-Brit. During promotion for her last album, I, along with many fans, noticed that something was off with Ms. Spears and her brand. The music was great, in fact, “Femme Fatale” was one of her most lauded albums in recent memory, and it spawned multiple top ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Despite these achievements, some were disappointed in Britney’s apparent lack of involvement on the album. Due to this, the album seemed like nothing but a sterile attempt by ‘Britney Spears, Inc.’-namely her management team-to make some money. The other problem was Britney herself. Her dancing was stiff, she seemed bored, and more importantly, the spark in her eyes, the spark that captivated America back in 1998, was gone. She seemed uninterested in the music she was performing, and it showed. Chalk this up to knee injuries, motherhood, etc., but the fact that something was off was evident. Watching all of this from the sidelines, it was becoming apparent that she was nothing more than a figurehead for a larger enterprise, much like Mickey Mouse is to The Walt Disney Corporation. Oh, what an ironic twist of fate for a former cast member of “The New Mickey Mouse Club”.
Eventually the “Femme Fatale” era ended, and Britney went on her usual post-album hiatus. Rumblings of a new album began last winter, and fan sites went crazy when her management team promised a new kind of album from Britney, they even threw around the ‘P’ word-Personal. We didn’t even blink an eye when Will.i.am was announced as the Executive Producer. Visions of ballads, William Orbit, and Sia all danced in our heads like pop music sugarplums. As summer drew to a close, “Work Bitch” was finally released….and it didn’t work….bitch. In fact, it only peaked at #12 on the Hot 100. It’s not that the song was bad, in fact, I’d argue it’s one of the boldest EDM influenced Top 40 tracks to be released this summer. What upset fans, were the promises made by Britney and her team. All summer, fans were promised a personal album, one that Britney was heavily involved in-an antidote to “Femme Fatale”. So what does her management do when it was time to release the first single? Britney, Inc. releases an EDM song that, while catchy, is one of Britney’s most vapid, soulless songs to date. It makes “Toxic” seem like an Adele song. However, we cannot deny that Brit looked smoking hot in the video for “Work Bitch”, and she danced better than we’ve seen in years. Like any good Britney fan, I was willing to substitute style for substance.
To calm fans, her team started talking about a personal new song written by Britney and Sia, called “Perfume”. “Perfume” was hyped by her team as the second coming of pop’s princess; it would be a career defining epic. Supposedly, it was about Britney’s personal life, and fans ate up this rare showing of depth. When it was released, while it was great to hear Britney’s voice unfiltered and so raw, it ended up being generic and overproduced by Will.i.am. The backing track threatens to swallow up Britney’s delicate, sultry voice during the chorus. In fact, this supposed career epic was the first Britney song I didn’t rush to buy on iTunes, and even after a dozen listens, I still wasn’t ready to dive headfirst into Britney’s “Perfume”. At that point, it dawned on me that the rhetoric spewed by Brit’s team was simply to appease fans, like myself, that yearned for a more personal record. Was “Perfume” even authentically personal, or did her team just say that for promo purposes? I was starting to have my doubts.
Not surprisingly, it dropped faster than “Born This Way“‘s second week sales when it was released on iTunes later that day. This was expected, as she hardly lifted a finger to promote either of the singles off of “Britney Jean”. I know some fans will argue that she’s an icon now, and she doesn’t need to promote her music anymore, as she’s releasing it for her fans and for herself. That’s wrong, though. Britney’s job is to sell records and singles, that’s why she gets paid the big bucks. Her team, on the other hand, seems to agree that she’s reached icon status, like her idol Madonna, and that promotion is beneath her. In fact, Britney’s promotion for “Britney Jean” is similar to Madonna’s promo tour for her “MDNA” album, in that less is more. However, Madonna is 55 years old, and 30 years into her career. Britney is barely 32, and only 15 years into her career. 15 years into Madonna’s career, she released the epic “Ray of Light”, and promoted it intensely. If you promote like Madonna in 2013, you’ll get Madonna in 2013 style results. Namely, low charting albums and singles.
A credit to Madonna’s sustainability as an artist was “MDNA“‘s debut on the Billboard Top 200 chart at #1, having moved close to 400,000 copies in it’s first tracking week, despite the limited promotion. Will “Britney Jean” be able to even come close to that figure, after the terrible promotion her team is orchestrating? It’s doubtful. Radio interviews that air in the early morning, and a quick appearance on “Extra” and “Good Morning America” aren’t sufficient promotion anymore. It doesn’t help that Britney’s team controls the questions she’s asked so tightly, that once you’ve heard one interview, you’ve heard them all. Of course, I don’t know the underlying reasons as to why her team feels the need to do this, and frankly it’s none of my business, but as a fan, it’s becoming quite grating.
All this being said, I deeply respect her management. They’ve crafted one of the most storied careers in pop music history, but if they want that story to continue, it might be time to reevaluate their promotional tactics and her overall connection with fans. The new documentary, “I Am Britney Jean”, premiering on the E! Network on December 22, is a step in the right direction, but her team must learn how to utilize social media and television more efficiently. Madonna, at 55, participates more on Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, and Redditt. Britney, as a new member of the old guard of pop music, must adapt to new promotional tactics utilized by today’s superstars, or risk being swallowed by the current pop music market.
As a fan of the quintessential pop star, I hate seeing Britney’s potential going to waste. If Britney and her team are happy with the mediocre performance of “Work Bitch” and “Perfume”, that’s fine and dandy and they should continue doing their thing. In my opinion though, it’s time for Brit to go from charismatic figurehead, to President and CEO of her personal industry. After all, it is BRITNEY (Inc.), bitch.