"Cinderella": I think you're right about the feminist revision, Irin, except for one thing: Why's she apologizing? She keeps saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Cut it out! He's the one who should be apologizing! Musically, though, this is another winner. It would be great workout music, if I worked out.

"Let Me Be": The first of three forgettable "Me" songs that close the album. The pseudo-Latin guitar is pretty funny.

"Bombastic Love": Yeah, this one's rockin'. But I much prefer Shaggy's "Boombastic." See, that's the kind of word that can be used in one hit song per decade at most. I guess she wasn't willing to go the extra mile and call it "Sarcastic Love."

Smoke and mirrors at Madison Square Garden, last Wednesday night
photo: David Atlas
Smoke and mirrors at Madison Square Garden, last Wednesday night


Britney Spears

"That's Where You Take Me": more filler. Everybody says this sounds just like "I Want It That Way," and they're right. By the way, did you know that at the end of Britney's first album, there's an ad for a Backstreet Boys album?

November 26. From: Irin I got to thinking today when I saw a girl in a plaid miniskirt and a white button-down shirt (unrelated anecdote—as an initiation, one of the women's sports teams here had to show up at dining halls dressed like "Baby"-era Britney during freshman week): Up until now, Britney hasn't necessarily traded on her sexuality per se; she's traded on the whiff of it. What people found so tantalizing or immoral about her was how much she exploited the sexualization of innocence—so, yeah, that heaving bosom, but specifically encased in a Catholic schoolgirl outfit. I hate to focus more on Britney's breasts, since they've already gotten so much airtime, but think about it: The public's obsession with them centered around whether they could change that fast. Then it was her virginity. She's like a fast-forward morality play of adolescence, parodied beyond recognition and tacked onto the public imagination. I mean, have you even heard the MP3 that turns "Baby" into a ditty about her . . . well, you get the idea. I'm not gonna touch that rhyme.

Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote a great essay in The Guardian last year, saying, "Britney Spears's entire appeal is in denying her entire appeal. Unlike, say, Madonna, who never pretended to be anything other than an overtly sexual being, Britney Spears has built an entire image around insisting that she does not mean to be sexy." And where I'm going with this is, if Britney loses her virgin nymphet status, where is she? What is she? This new image of hers is crafted so carefully to show that she's grown-up. So what? So are a lot of the chicks in glitter tops and skintight pants lining up to audition for Pop Star. If Britney's currency has always been the temptation of awakening, how much will people care about her once she's fully awake, once she officially brands herself a woman? All of the fucked-up ideas our society has about female sexuality come to a head here—women lose cultural value with maturity.

November 26. From: Amy So few pop stars are successfully able to make that leap in audience from kids to adults. I can only think of the Beatles and Madonna—people who started out with an almost exclusively underage audience and were able to grow with them, the Beatles out of sheer talent and innovation and Madonna because she never treated the kids like kids in the first place. I don't think Britney's capable of making that leap. Already, this album is selling less than the other two—a lot less. And it's not because of September 11—people are still buying Garth Brooks albums like mad.

December 6. From: Irin Before lecture today, I sheepishly produce my Britney ticket stub as an excuse for missing the screening yesterday. After spitting out his soda in disbelief, my teaching fellow admits that it's a pretty good excuse.

Last night at Madison Square Garden . . . it ends up being about watching the line between irony and sincerity waver out of existence: We can't tell anymore who's kidding. It's not the little girls sitting next to us in Britney shirts, cooing, "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" in baby voices and toting teddy bears. Jury's out on the little girl's daddy who thought it would be cute to dress his four-year-old in coy Catholic schoolgirl attire. Gay men in glitter tops vie for vision with petulant teenage girls tarted up in homemade I * Britney shirts. Parents clap along amiably, as if they're doing time at Barney Live in Concert rather than the sort of Cats-meets- Moulin Rouge debauchery onstage.

Any healthy skepticism I had about the claim that Britney is any sort of role model, let alone a poor one, dies before she even comes on, as a girl of about six in a spangled midriff top performs an impromptu gyration against a railing. Her mother looks on fondly, the adults in the audience applaud and whoop, and she, still thrusting gamely, beams at the attention.

We summon a sort of rebellious superiority at having arrived in jeans and free of makeup. All girls within 10 years of us—eight to 28—are hyper-styled: unyielding, ironed, and maximized to obliteration. They only follow Britney's example. Her body is flawless, her dancing respectably close. But what you get from her show is, aptly, a cliché: smoke and mirrors. During "Lonely," real-life Britney challenges a life-sized video Britney to a fight, but no one cares who wins. Out of the smoke, dancers swirl around Britney carrying jagged mirrors, reflecting her out of existence.

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