The Jitterbugging ‘00s, Part I: Britney Spears and Other Mistakes
Part of me is surprised that I didn’t write on this Monday when I came into work. At the time, The Zombies seemed much more important. But I’ve reconsidered the significance of Britney Spears’s poor performance at the VMAs last weekend. People went nuts over her lackluster dancing/walking, poor lip-synching, and her out-of-shape body (of course, people, she wasn’t out of shape. Certainly less in-shape, but not out of shape,) but beyond all that, the incident marks a shifting trend and now Britney Spears, for the second time in her life finds herself the harbinger of change.
Popular music has cyclical trends, shifting focus from solo performer to band back to solo and back to bands. When Britney Spears first entered the genre of "teen idol popstar who probably wouldn’t be working were it not for her looks"--a well-established genre--boy bands and popstars had been gradually nailing the hard-working band’s coffin shut. Spears in this metaphor would be the hammer as she became way more successful than anyone else before her and opened the floodgates for more popstars. Now, though, her disastrous performance might just be hint that the pendulum could be swinging back. Much like when Michael Madsen buried the Bride alive in Kill Bill, Vol. 2, hard-working bands are still alive and currently punching their way out of their grave.
Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay, and plenty of other diverse and new groups are getting their share of attention, praise, and/or hits. Of course we have American Idols and High School Musical finding amazing success; people still love the pop vocalist. But I remember watching an episode of SNL in 2004 where Ashlee Simpson ran off stage after her lip synching failed and then get boos at the next Orange Bowl. Now two and a half years later, Britney Spears does a bad show and the entertainment media are having a veritable field day.
In a Times of India article, Fergie (a Black-Eyed Pea) commented the press’s treatment of Spears (as well as Lindsay Lohan,) "I think it is really unfair to them when they are trying to get help. We're all watching as a nation and commenting day by day on their rehabilitation. It's not fair." And she’s right. The tabloids are just taking potshots at Spears, at her figure (especially when tabloids also have no problem pointing out when celebrities are underweight) because she’s a celebrity. Frankly, when was the last celebrity faux pas, the bread and butter of the tabloids, that wasn’t highly publicized? But unfair as it is, it actually proves my point. Right now, the success of popstars is foremost dependant on their faces (and bodies) being everywhere. Music is second. That tenuous arrangement means "little mistakes" don’t exist for the popstar, because they are now front-page news. In the climate of the Aughts (the '00s,) hard-working bands thrive by their music and eschew tabloids, a huge advantage. Are we in the midst of a back swing from vocalists to bands? I’ll answer with the immortal (and famous last) words of Milli Vanilli, "Girl you know it’s—girl you know it’s—girl you know it’s—girl..."