There’s a popular meme featuring a wild-eyed Britney Spears sporting a shaved head and wielding an umbrella with unhinged menace. It reads: If Britney can make it through 2007, I can make it through this day — a modern day version of “This too shall pass.” And, indeed, Spears defied the odds and, six years later, has slowly made a solid comeback. Sort of.
The pop stars of the late ‘90s and early aughts have all passed their peaks. And though they might maintain crumbs of relevancy, they will never return to the veritable bull markets of their former careers. Christina Aguilera, if you don’t count most of the nose-pierced Dirrty-era, maxed out at “Lady Marmalade,” perhaps even a little earlier. Despite a discography spanning ten years, Mandy Moore was a one-hit wonder who stayed in pop culture riding the coattails of an equally ho-hum acting career. Jessica Simpson’s public persona, from TV shows to licensing deals, surely overshadows what little impact she had on the face of music when she was actually making it. And these are the good ones, the cream of the crop, the names you still even bother to remember.
Out of all of these women, Britney Spears – despite her public meltdowns, alleged meth abuse, a few hasty marriages and the sloppy divorces that followed — has kept her skin in the game, opting out of judging singing competitions on television in favor of getting the kids on the dance floor to varying degrees of success. (Save for a one season stint on X-Factor, for which she was paid a whopping 15 million to sit with agape mouth.) Which, as it turns out, has left her as vulnerable to our judgment as soft-shelled crabs during harvesting season.
To our credit, we have patiently endured Britney’s clunky reinventions, tolerating the countless bad tracks laced with paper-thin vocals in exchange for the occasional fist-pumping club hit. Though her name retains some value, the limitations of her talent have become increasingly apparent over the years. Watching her dance is no longer the sexy, seamless hip shaking I remember practicing in the mirror, but more akin to witnessing a painful rehabilitation session, where a star athlete who’s torn their ACL is learning how to walk on a new knee. It’s almost uncomfortable to watch, like seeing your parent get back in the dating game as a senior citizen.
Britney’s appearance on Will.i.am’s “Scream and Shout” afforded her admirers new hope. Sure, her voice was incidental to the success of the song, an integer in an Auto-Tune algorithm, but she’s still here. With the recent announcement Will.i.am will executive produce Spears’ new album, the future is brighter still. Well, maybe not 2001-bright, but definitely not the dark pit of 2007. — Jenny Bahn