November 3, 1998, was the release date of the ” . . . Baby One More Time” CD single and 12-inch (w/ “Autumn Goodbye” on the B side). For diary purposes, this pegs September 1998 as definitely my first encounter with Britney: I dug her pre-single promo cassette teaser (“Baby” plus three short samples) out of a 50-cent junk bin at the record store, and—convinced she was a black girl trying to sing white—sent it to my niece (age 10), saying, “Hey! This is good!” Well, she’s obviously not black. That’s the only thing we know for sure.
December 21, 1998: (Written on the back of a postcard featuring Bud Walton Arena, Fayette-ville, Arkansas—”Home of the Razorbacks”): Britney Spears is cool. Great lite soul early-’70s vocal sound. The B side is really good. The LP comes out January 12. If Debbie Gibson had been this good, maybe we would’ve been spared the grunge era.
March 30, 1999: The game is over. Set, point, and match. Once ex-Mouseketeer Britney is unleashed on any WB-TV show, forget it. Her busted knee has only postponed the day of reckoning until next fall. But the CD’ll go 3-4 million easy; the second single is a lock. Face it, this is scary, but she is the first Annette (’50s Mouseketeer sex bomb, yuck) since, well, Annette. Her doll collection is lame city, and her slut-makeup needs mucho work. But the girl is a SAGITTARIUS, which is 100% cool (unless you’re drunk dead asshole Jim Morrison); she played varsity basketball (which is 1000% cool). Still, with Lolita-Britney (see the Rolling Stone kiddie-sex-bomb photo that just came out—not the cover pic), it’s 20% music, 50% TV-career-to-be, and—God help us all—30% s-e-x. I dunno, is she the male gender’s revenge on all the lame dippy crappy boy bands?
March 31, 1999: OK—now that Britney’s slut look is out of the closet, I can see the appeal to 16-year-old boys. Duh! But what is her appeal to 14-year-old freshman girls? They want to be sluts too, want to . . . what? I give up! For instance, if you combine “Britney + Spears” and “Dawson’s + Creek” on an AltaVista search, the very first site is “Welcome to Debbey!” Yes, a 14-year-old freshman. Whose very favorite things in the whole wide world are: Dawson’s Creek. And Britney Spears. Pages and pages worth, out of control. Now, Deb-girl “writes stories” (except those pages are “screwed up,” so you can’t read them); I mean, she could be literate. But WHATWHYHOW is the Britney role model worship thing? I just DON’T GET IT. Musically, OK, “Baby Whomp Me One More Time” is a killer song and production. The second single, “Sometimes,” is hellacatchy and will be huge. “I Won’t Be There” is a hooky, dramatic ballad. “Thinkin’ of You” is lame but hooky, the melody stolen from some early-’70s soul song. But that’s it, the rest of the CD is nada, zippo, nothing, does not even exist. (I own one, have heard it, can testify. “Autumn Goodbye” is her second-best song; what corp doofus decided it didn’t belong on the CD proper?) (Brit’s original vision: to do something kinda “Sheryl Crow” style, yikes.) Brit is guileless, raw naked ambition combined with a wacko Southern Baptist upbringing. (South Park “sacrilegious”?—whoo! I guess that means the cussin’! Or just the Satan vs. Jesus boxing match? Britney—JESUS WON! Figure it out, girl!)
April 28, 1999: Britney on Leno was pretty damn weird. The good/bad news: She didn’t explode. She was wearing yellow jeans and a yellow jacket thing, a white half-top, and must she insist on airing her sweaty midriff every time she gets on a stage? Looks like she ate a lot of road food on tour; her bottom half on down was decidedly non-anorexic, and this is a healthy thing. The choreography [sic] was actually pretty good; she is a way decent dancer. Guess that Mouse Geek training stuck. And she can really sing. OK, it’s that chirpy-twerpy Mariah Carey-on-helium bubblepop voice, but I guess she’s been doing it for 10+ years, and her intonation is quite good—not always the case for hit singers live, of all types. The backup vocals were canned (off the record), but it was just her voice naked doing the lead. The musicians (her tour people?) were heavy-duty—a black rhythm section that was waaayy funky; I mean, the drummer had a groove and a half (wonder what they think about playing for a lightweight no-brain like Britney).
Now it gets interesting. They send her over to the talk couch . . . well, she only gets 120 seconds, so she doesn’t have time to hang herself. She plays with/twirls her hair a LOT. Makes very disconnected facial expressions, which if I were to slow them down someday (I’ll get the stomach eventually) would include a lot of “I’m better than you and you’re boring me” SMIRKS. Has the creepiest phony smile I’ve seen in years; you can see her brain cell lighting up, almost . . . OK . . . SMILE! Does her brain feed that far? It’s safe to say our girl is not Rhodes scholar material. Did Madonna have a baby by Lucifer back in 1981 and put it up for adoption, with this as the result? I have NEVER seen someone uptight or unspontaneous while singing and dancing on nat’l TV. Maybe she just likes dancing like a robot. . . . OH, her (alleged) boob job! I’m no expert on the original size of Britney’s thingies; I guess it looks like a minor Tori Spelling-size plastic surgery. Like, who cares? She certainly does insist on semi-displaying them through her white top, though. GIRL, cover your bod back up! No one but gullible 15-year-old boys wants to see it! You should be ashamed of exploiting those innocent young men!
May 4, 1999: Last Saturday night: a “live” performance on the Nickelodeon Kid Awards. Well. The camera was dead-on frontal the whole time, and Miss B had no jacket on, so let’s just say her appendages were, uh . . . protruding. Could it be she kept all her old clothes which fitted a rather smaller, uh, chest? Did it cross her mind that she was performing for preteens?
September 30, 1999: What do you call the beat that’s on the radio remix of “Drive Me Crazy”? I keep waking up with the damn thing in my head. It’s really metronomic, i.e., not hip-hop. . . . Can the word “funky” be pulled out of its normal genre and used on other styles?
November 29, 1999: I was dubbing my niece a copy of the Britney Disney-TV live special (from about three or four weeks ago), and toward the end there’s a short segment I didn’t notice first time around: Her dancers have a day off, so they and Britney go to the closest indoor mall. Second or third stop is a record store, and before you know it Britney’s holding/pointing at a Best of Otis Redding CD and going, “I grew up in Louisiana, so I like the blues a lot.” Before you start to worry that aliens have got her brain, though, she’s back on earth turf, gushing about Madonna.
December 16, 1999: I’ve got the radio on in the bathroom while I’m shaving at 6:30 a.m., and they’re goofing on Britney because of her 18th birthday, calling her Britney “Legal” Spears. And then they say she’s presently working on her next album (knew that) with Max Martin (presumed that) and MUTT LANGE (??!?!!???). Now THAT is one unholy marriage. I bet Britney might actually know who Mutt is (re: “Pour Some Sugar on Me”), unlike the clueless Canuck Shania of six years ago. I’m actually having a mini-revival in my head this month of Britney’s five songs I like—distance now permits proper appreciation of “Baby Hit Me” as the best single of the year. And second hit “Sometimes” is already some sort of E-Z-listening recurrent on department store Muzak, and the song is doing a cute Carpenters vocal vibe for me. But that great Max Martin song (“I Will Be There”) had better be the fourth/last single, or I will be cheezed.
It’s a shame Britney and Mutt won’t be coming up with songs like “Shania’s a Skankin’ Ho” (a rap, obviously). Or “I’m Half Her Age but Twice the Skank (Love Song to Shania).” She’s 18, let the girl be a skank if she wanna.
Last I read, Brit’s Dawson’s Creek episodes were to tape in December, although Popular would be a more cutting-edge series right now . . . has the wheelchair girl from last year’s great mid-season sitcom Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane; this year (diff show, same network), she’s a cheerleader. Those wacky TV kids!
Last Britney quote on some awards show the other night was “If people think I’m sexy, hey, that’s great!” Her official PR stance on the quite modest implants has been “I gained a whole lot of weight since summer ’98.” (True.) Uh, and all of a sudden your bosoms radically changed direction and started sticking straight out. Hey, I’d be excited too if my tits weren’t all saggy anymore.
I think what everyone is forgetting in all the Britney confusion/commotion is that she is a FAR BETTER DANCER than Madonna ever was, and enthusiastic too (maybe Madonna should’ve been a Mouseketeer; it might’ve improved her attitude). And another encouraging Britney career sign (#1: minimal touring) is that she isn’t hooked up with that management shark that the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync got ripped off by. (He’s still trying to plug Innosense, gag! Everybody around here calls them Innosluts.)
January 14, 2000: I don’t have any of those Stax/Volt sides on hand to prove this, but aren’t the first two lines in “Baby Hit Me”—”Baby, baby how was I supposed to know/That something wasn’t right here”—sung in that very fractured Otis Redding manner of clipping words off? Is there a Redding couplet somewhere that has a similar phrasing—maybe even an identical “baby, baby”? All I know for sure is that the dead soul guy did not do no sides in Sweden. What I guess is that Brit’s much older brother had a Redding CD a million years ago and she swiped it in order to see if what they say about black guys is really true (that they sing better’n Michael Bolton).
February 4, 2000: People magazine cover story on the stands today verifies that Brit and Melissa Joan Hart actually call each other on the phone—I think Brit-Brit is digging in for the long haul when she solicits girl-stuff advice from a 23-year-old compadre!! My only plausible theory about this totally wack MelissaJH-Britney alliance (MJH looked like she was about to slug Britney, big sis to little sis’s nose, the whole time on the MTV “male loser makeover” show) is that Britney watched Clarissa (on Nick) back in grade school. And would probably feel honored if Missy Joan DID break her nose (as a fraternal expression of love, not an artistic comment), much less tolerated her presence. My female friends who saw the same show theorize that MelissaJH is insanely JEALOUS (of Britney’s huge success); only, fire signs (which both are) aren’t exactly prone to pondering their motives, since that involves introspection, which could actually require thought, not action. So MJH is simply fascinated by Brit on the surface. And maybe a little leery of all those photos of Britney as ball-handling jockette . . . little sis could hit back. But I would sure not put them in the same band, unless you wanted to re-create the Davies brothers.
February 5, 2000: To 12-year-old boys (who I’ve seen many times staring at Britney posters at Kmart and Walmart . . . I think the supposed “Lolita” factor is silly and relatively minor in comparison), she must seem like the proverbial unbelievably sexy OLDER WOMAN (hey, she was a middle-school prom queen). No teenager since MMClub Annette has pulled that off in the last 40 years. If Brit was a Barbie model, she’d be “SINGING DANCING BARBIE”; she truly is an excellent hoofer—very physical, and probably also as good a “singer” for her times as Ginger Rogers (great dancer) was in 1939. We’ll kindly leave acting ability out of the comparison (Brit-Brit’s obvious TV destination would be a Friday-night TGIF series, where acting ability is not a big prerequisite. . . . “Pondering movie offers” like she’s doing now is a typically bad career move, but with her 1000% charmed life she’ll probably get some great supporting role, or even a full-out Desperately Seeking Susan fluke).
MJH vs. Brit? Missy Joan is fearless and rowdy, an Aries, but not known as athletic; Britney, as everyone knows, was a tomboy, a basketball point guard. Two fire signs, they would probably beat the holy hell out of each other. It strikes me as a weird coincidence that Britney and Christina Aguilera (the two femme 21st-century pop-giant prototypes) are mindless Sags, whereas the old rock royalty stereotypes—Madonna, Mick Jagger, etc.—were rampaging-ego Leos. You put the Sag factor into it, and dancing makes total sense. Hey, who said the Age of Aquarius had to be about hippies! Hippies were the most horrid dancers who ever lived, it drove me nuts.
February 18, 2000: People whose parents bad-mouthed “Mashed Potato Time” and “Loco- Motion” back in the day are probably the ones who can’t stand Britney. (Re: Dance or Die, the motto of all the girls back in 1965-66 junior high dances.)
March 14, 2000: In case you weren’t in a grocery checkout line over the weekend, the Star on Friday had Britney’s contractor/schoolteacher parents bellied up in bankruptcy court summer 1998 right before she left for her shopping mall promo tour. The article’s implication was that the 17-year-old was somewhat traumatized by seeing the family car being repossessed, and might henceforth be a little more . . . driven. It was all obviously her fault, since her Mickey Mouse Club job hadn’t paid beans. Lots of Freudian levels worthy of kooky superstar families like those of Elvis, Madonna, the Beach Boys.
April 29, 2000: The new single finally hit local radio today. A stale remake of ” . . . Baby One More Time”? Nah, to my ears “Oops! . . . I Did It Again” is one of the swellest pop singles of the past 10 years. The choruses’ stacked vocal sounds have their own parking space in the Abbaworld Hall of Fame. If Max Martin at his best is a one-man Bjorn & Benny-channeling Phil Spector for today’s dance music generation, then the best Martin/Britney tracks do a helluva job channeling Anna & Frida when the A*Teens have to go to bed early. Mark my words, 20 years from now “Hit Me Baby” and “Oops” on oldies radio will seem like songs that’ve been around since the dawn of time, as definitive of their era as “Da Doo Ron Ron.”
May 5, 2000: The one really weird thing about today’s Rolling Stone cover story is that not once did it mention Max Martin by name. Considering that each classic track inches Max a bit closer to being this era’s Goffin-King and Phil Spector combined . . . well, maybe Max read a Phil Spector bio or two and decided that “cult of personality” was not something to strive for. I actually slightly prefer Britney’s chipmunk-Mariah vocals to Ronnie Spector’s cartoonish chipmunk-Frankie Lymon.
May 8, 2000: Trapped for two long weeks at Boy Scout pioneer camp way back in July 1965, I pronounced “Satisfaction” and its tin-can-beat-from-hell the most monotonous, boring, and annoying song of all time. Since I had been following rock radio for a full six months, crossing age 12 into teendom, obviously I was a perfect authority on all things historical. Folks, I don’t care if Britney farts all the way through her upcoming remake. How could it be any worse? Keith Richards thought it was a stupid song; I thought it was a stupid song. Jury closed.
May 9, 2000: MTV First Listen. Britney says that, while r&b and rock are hep to throw in on albums, her first and foremost allegiance is to pop music. Right on, sister. Her live performance of “Oops” has a That ’70s Show color scheme fittingly screaming Abba—silver with yellow pants.
May 12, 2000: At the risk of enraging millions of Stones fans, let me reiterate my Britney = ’65 Stones theory. When the pre-“Satisfaction” Stones metamorphosed from a scruffy, wonderful r&b band (with a pretty good singer who wore sweatshirts) into the world’s best-known prototype “rock” band (with a poofy superstar up front), a few original fans like me might have hit the snooze button, but not even a blind man could have missed their archetypal status. Or their immediate influence—witness 1,275,436 of the 2,109,329 American garage bands the very next year.
The Stones probably weren’t the best, at anything, but that’s beside the point. What they excelled at was their grasp of the Van Halen Theory of pop music: THEY APPEALED TO BOTH SEXES. When I see totally normal hunky guys whooping for Britney on TRL, going, “Yah! Britney! Woooooo!,” I’m initially dumbfounded. Then I remember that eternal mantra: Guys thought David Lee was cool, girls thought he was hot. Just as surely as ’60s Jagger/’84 David Lee Roth had enough of a “bad boy” vibe to successfully work the opposite-sex angle, Britney has just enough “bad girl” and plenty enough tomboy to work the sexy dance thing for boys 12 to 18 who would never, ever, ever listen to pop music otherwise.
Hey, I’ve changed my mind again. If Britney wants to be David Lee Roth and wear butt-less pants, that’s OK too.
May 13, 2000: Britney successfully hosts Saturday Night Live and participates in four sketches, all of ’em pretty good and totaling a whopping 18 minutes of camera time. Given her MMC training, it’s no surprise she has plenty of TV presence—if she ever blows her voice out in Timbuktu, Sista B could pay the rent on a cheezy family sitcom (I actually watch, uh, King of Queens, so I know whereof I talk).
May 14, 2000: MTV Britney Live. I’m as suspicious as the next man when celebrities use their charm or personality to hawk the next day’s product, but SNL combined with these two hours of live MTV has to be the most effective marketing blitz I’ve EVER seen for a pop/rock album. These two shows within 24 hours did more to get across a saleable personality than everything from the previous 18 months combined—that physical, goofy, loose-cannon Sagittarius personality (think a sober Jim Morrison) comes across clearly during the unscripted MTV show.
And, hey, I dig the trend of superstar acts performing live on the TRL/MTV studio bare stage. It’s like seeing an arena act in your neighbor’s garage. Brit and her band do really good all-live versions of “Drive Me Crazy” and “Oops”; they also torture us with the heinous Lange/Twain ballad “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know,” just like on SNL. But that’s what volume controls and shotguns are for.
May 16, 2000: Finally! Today is Consumer Day! I fork over my $14.98 for the Oops! . . . I Did It Again CD, and since expectations aren’t unrealistic (two or three or four good cuts are all that’s expected/hoped for), I feel more like a “pop music” fan than anything else.
May 17, 2000: Britney album listening sequence: #1,2,3,4,10,7; OK: #6,8; AVOID AT ALL COSTS: #5,9,11,12 (hideous ballads). Cheiron Studios/Sweden tracks: #1,2,3,6,7,9,10; Max Martin songs: #1,2,7 (and the dire #9). Look-like-projected-singles sequence: #1,5,2,7 (three great songs + Lange/Twain ballad).
May 20, 2000: Happy news, the album’s a whole notch better than anticipated—I’m getting genuine pleasure from six cuts (last year it took a non-album B side and the “Drive Me Crazy” MMartin single-remix to get Britney’s passing grade to five). The cause-and-effect for improvement? Simple. Cheiron Studios’ input has increased 40% this year, now up to seven tracks. Sweden’s world teenpop domination continues, unchallenged by mere Americans or Brits.
“Stronger” jump-starts the set (following the title track opener) with a pounding stomp-beat similar to Backstreet’s “Larger Than Life.” The melody has some really unusual twists and turns, and the lyric is simple and effective inspirational bombast for all world citizens in breakup mode. But the album’s mega-gonzo pop track definitely is “Lucky.” Melody and string sounds right out of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me,” over-the-top lyrics out of a ’50s Hollywood B-movie treatment—wow, Shelley Fabares could’ve totally run with this one in 1962. It doesn’t quite get there, but the song is almost cheezy-but-touching in the manner of Boston’s two greatest Top 40 tunes, “A Man I’ll Never Be” and “More Than a Feeling.” I love it, I love it, I love it.
Did I mention, no surprise, that king-of-pop Max Martin is named as the writer, producer, and mixer of both of these tunes, plus “Oops”? (Actually, “Max Martin/Rami,” to be correct.) Detective work reveals that Max is also the nerd voice on the spoken dialogue of “Oops.” Backing vocals on my top three track picks (“Stronger,” “Lucky,” “Oops,” not to mention a year ago” . . . Baby One More Time”) are credited to Britney, Max Martin, and Nana Hedin. Could Nana be the Darlene Love—nameless voice heard and loved by millions—of the modern pop scene?
If “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know” is a forthcoming single, though, remind me to kill myself. And Diane Warren’s “When Your Eyes Say It” and Britney’s “Dear Diary” are quarantined at the very end for good reason: They’re worse than sleeping pills. But the album’s r&b quota (read: musical credibility with the over-12 set) succeeds beyond expectations. “Don’t Go Knockin’ on My Door” is Cheiron/Sweden’s version of a Destiny’s Child or TLC smash, herky-jerky verse and harpsichord sounds and all.
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is also pretty darn neat, as deconstruction jobs go. Britney claims credit for suggesting it, pushing for it, and recording it without any A&R approval or enthusiasm. (Has everybody forgotten that the venerable Otis Redding totally butchered the song? [#31 pop, 1966.] I mean, completely botched it. Unlistenable.)
June 4, 2000: May I make a suggestion so obvious that Dave Marsh, Greil Marcus, Robert Christgau, and a barrel of monkeys would never think of it? Britney is quite probably THE NEW CHER. A diva of marginal vocal talent, with a future movie or definitely TV career if/when she wants it.
Less than Madonna, but way more than Annette, our girl is certainly an icon of our time, deservedly omnipresent though hardly larger-than-life. I am so glad this is all settled—Backstreet are the Beatles, Britney is the Stones. Whether the eternally dopey ‘N Sync can be shot to the moon is a matter for U.S. postal authorities to determine.
Still, let’s keep everything in perspective: The new Hoku song is great!