THE FIRST CD I ever owned was Britney Spears’ Baby One More Time. I was around nine and I became obsessed with Britney Spears. It wasn’t that the songs were all that great, or that her lyrics spoke to me in any meaningful way, she may as well have been singing the dictionary; my tweeny self wouldn’t have noticed. For all I knew, Britney Spears™ wasn’t even a real person, but she was pretty, she seemed nice enough, and, for a time, I wanted to be her. It was never about the music. It was about the packaging.
Earlier this July, Ryan Kristobak of HuffPost reported that an unedited, sans-autotune version of Spears’ “Alien” was leaked. Spears’ track producer William Orbit responded to the leaked footage by emphasizing that what is captured in the video is merely a warm-up session, and not a final “take” by any means.”I’d like to affirm that ANY singer when first at the mic at the start of a long session can make a multitude of vocalisations in order to get warmed up,” Orbit wrote in a statement on Facebook. “I’ve heard all manner of sounds emitted during warm-ups. The point is that it is not supposed to be shared with millions of listeners.”
According to Kristobak, this isn’t the first time an autotune-less Britney Spears track has been leaked. She’s also gained a reputation as a notorious lip-syncher. And though there’s a feeling of mystery and excitement one feels as a reader in gaining access to a track that wasn’t “meant to be heard,” why are we still cringing in disbelief and disgust? Yes, the track is bad. But is anyone really surprised? Britney Spears uses auto-tune. A lot of famous pop singers use autotune. WE ALL KNOW THIS. Don’t we?
Google-search “auto-tune fail” or “lip-sync fail”, and you’ll find this isn’t the first time a pop singer has horrified us by *gasp* not being that good at singing. Katy Perry suffered a painful-to-watch moment at a live performance in France at the end of last year that, due to a technical difficulty, revealed her to be a shameless lip-syncer and, surprise, not that great at actual singing. And that’s ok. Practically everyone does it. It’s sad, yes, to think that if you buy tickets to Britney Spears’ Las Vegas show that you won’t get to hear her “real” voice because she won’t “really” be singing. Still, it’s a surprise anyone is still surprised when something like the “Alien” leak happens. Do we just enjoy a good trainwreck? Why are we upset when we don’t get perfect realness, authenticity, and voices free of auto-tune coming from people who are paid to entertain us? Since when are celebrities supposed to be anything remotely “real?”
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge what has to be acknowledged before we can proceed with a conversation about “keeping it real”:
Great. Now, that we’ve addressed that, we can move on.
Is “keeping it real” always necessarily the best? It seems everyone’s looking to hop on the “real=better” bandwagon. There’s the “real” food movement, there’s Dove’s “Real Beauty Campaign.” You can even have a “real” (fake) wedding to show everyone how “real” and “honest” you are, or watch this “real” (fake) video of people being really, really real together. #nomakeup and #nofilter selfies on Instagram claim to be “real” and unretouched, but even some of those are only faking realness. We don’t follow celebrities because they’re just so, so real. We follow them because they provide an illusion of the real. Why would I care whether or not Beyoncé actually sings at her concerts or not? We’ve only come for the mindless escapism, haven’t we? If I wanted to see something real, I’d watch what happens when I forget I have an open container of Nutella in my fridge only to stumble upon it three months later, covered in a rainbow of moldy fuzz. Not spend $200 on a concert ticket.
So, what happens when “keeping it real” goes wrong?
Do we then feel bad about ourselves for not being real enough? If we’re not “real,” do we still exist? A new standard for “realness” is created, and becomes an unattainable goal, because, if we’re being really, really, real? Nothing is 100% real or authentic.
Except Britney Spears in 2007. That actually happened.