We need only look back to one (fill in the blank) to explain and epitmoize the hyper-trajectory of popdom today. Her wrought saga is a projection surface for the perverse fantasies, self-loathing, and ecstatic, oblivious backwards-independence of the culture. Avant-garde and pandering all at once. A simultaneous come on and shakedown. Britney Spears is ultimately less a thing, a product, than an idea. To watch it is to tangibly feel the guilt of voyeurism, to see in base relief the domination of the male gaze and, ultimately, to understand the conundrum and psychotic desperation of the human trapped in a machine. Now, contrary to popular belief, that machine has Always been finely tuned. It is the perfect dramatic graph - rising and falling with a mostly unbelievable consistency.
This 2007 performance @ the MTV Video Music Awards in support of her much-hyped "comeback" album, Blackout (which also happens to be her best - more on that below), was cited by all as a further career-damaging bomb (with the requisite "fat" nastiness attached). But, in retrospective, it was just as vital in her dramatic canon as the three-way kiss with Madonna and Christina Aguilera @ the 2003 Awards. It had a particular effect, like most of her live appearances, of both highlighting and commenting upon the de-luxe sheen of her Pop image, and, by the extension the whole illusory Pop-matrix.
Now, we're presented with Femme Fatale - a summation of sorts - that again revels in and, by its multi-million dollar bootstraps re-imagines the illusion of empowerment. Destiny is controlled by a roster of producers who use Spears' voice as plastic material to explore and ultimately shatter the club-based electronics that have become de rigueur.
Femme Fatale is a sequel of sorts to Blackout, the sonically pulverizing electro-dance joy ride that, in its blindingly indulgent sen(x)sual backbeat, was, in '08, a kind of perfection of the over-produced mainstream pop aesthetic. Blackout is surrounded by thick tabloid flash pops, screeching side-street chases, and peepshow subversion. Rocking the body from the opening "It's Britney bitch!" this 21st century Monroe with her stable of sychophantic boy toys The Neptunes, rocks it hard all the way to the closing soft revision of classic 1999 girly swooning. Without a single dull moment, this is a party guilty without redemption, making a life of access and pious self-aggrandizement sound so enticing.
Timbaland protege Danja one-ups his mentor's work on J.T.'s "FutureSexyLoveSounds" with the real 21st century version of disco new wave juiced luxury redolent of Giorgio Moroder/Duran Duran 80s balladry. That's mostly because the sex is tangible - not just in Spears' pitch-shifted to infinity heavy breathing, but the propulsive tribal progression of the production - bouncing Tetris beats over pressurized synth melodies. It's a video game set in a strip club.
The oddly sincere love song "Heaven on Earth" (one of only 2 tracks where Spears is actually credited as co-writer) is what one might imagine a high-speed paparazzi chase would be like with Trent Reznor in the driver's seat. This is the balance: a production which piles icing over dark, thick processed industrialization. It reflects a hard-won (albeit jaded) maturity - accompanied by complicated hedonistic desires.
In its sound and images (which in this context are mostly interchangeable), Femme Fatale takes all of this oh so further. Above, I was throwing out ideas like "trapped in a machine" and "illusory Pop matrix." Not to be redundant, but take a peek at where we're at with Britney.2011_
This video manages to be a multitude of things, about 10 different commercials in one (makeup, perfume, clothing, website, Sony televisions and cameras, etc. etc.), dayglo cyberpunk, a primal standoff between the ego and id, and witness to a body and voice held under a microscope. This many-tentacled scope encompasses people, images, cameras, and more.
The sound of the album is reflexive of all of this and more - a still-young woman, the school mini-skirt traded in for a diamond-studded wedding gown, surrounded and smothered by men and their unconsummated desire. They possess her body, her voice, and her words. With Femme Fatale, the gaze has become like icicle eyes - frozen solid out of anything related to real human need. And it is this that places Britney at the top. What has been erected beneath and around her cannot crush that pea.