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Sympathy for Britney

Veena Thomas

Call me “crazy,” but I pity Britney Spears.

It wasn’t always like this. I was a typical Britney-hater, waiting impatiently for the inevitable Britney backlash to start. It happened to the New Kids on the Block, and it must happen to all teen pop sensations. I was tired of seeing Britney’s face (and stomach) everywhere, and of being bombarded by “Oops ... I Did it Again” every time I turned on the radio. She managed to do what again? Annoy half the country?

Then I happened to see a special on VH-1 about how the music industry currently consists of young stars “showing off a lot more than their voices.” They showed a clip of teen singer Debbie Gibson’s music video in the 1980s. Gibson sang in a T-shirt and jeans, looking pretty, but very far from sexy. Cut to pictures of Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, barely clad in a little crop top. The times, they are a-changin’.

The show went on to talk about the amount of pressure that singers are under, from their record labels, the media, and their fans, to maintain a certain image. Britney obviously has to compete with the likes of all the other young blond singers. Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore, and Jessica Simpson are waiting greedily in the wings to take over if Britney ever slips from her reigning position of the Queen of Bubble Gum Pop.

This blatant exposure of sexuality is something almost deemed necessary in the music industry. From Britney Spears to Mariah Carey to country music crossover star Shania Twain, many singers have been baring a lot more than their souls to fans everywhere. It’s all a girl can do to keep up with everyone else in order to maintain her spot at the top of the charts.

Recently, leafing through a magazine from March 1999, I was shocked to come across a very small advertisement for Britney’s first CD. The ad features a photo of Britney fully dressed -- hardly any skin showing at all -- and with only a moderate amount of makeup. She looks innocent, even sweet. It’s surprising now to realize that Britney Spears was such an unknown only a year and a half ago that she had to resort to magazine advertisements to sell her CDs.

Enter Britney’s first smash single, “...Baby One More Time.” While the song may be energetic, few can actually say with a straight face that it has much musical value, or that Britney is a wonderful singer. Then again, who actually remembers the song? It’s the video that has staying power, showcasing Britney as the Catholic schoolgirl of male adolescent fantasy, with a kilt and a white blouse tied up to expose both her stomach and her black bra. Is it any wonder that she soon rocketed to stardom?

Britney has always wanted to be a singer, entering Star Search at age five. It’s going to be a rude awakening one day when she wakes up and realizes that she’s famous hardly for her singing talent, but for her body. It can’t be a sign of healthy self-esteem that Britney (allegedly) had breast implants at the tender young age of 17. While she may seem old and world-weary, in reality, she’s just barely an adult.

Would you really be happy, at 18, knowing that both teenage boys and sleazy old men were fantasizing about you and staring at pictures of your near-naked body? “I don’t want to be part of someone’s Lolita fantasy,” Britney told Rolling Stone. Undoubtedly her Rolling Stone cover photo, with her clad only in a push-up bra and hot pants, didn’t help matters any. Even Newsweek has taken to mocking her for her widespread appeal.

Britney posed for a photo which will be used to advertise for MTV’s Video Music Awards. The picture features an undeniably trashy-looking Britney next to a New York hot dog stand, wearing a plastic visor, barely-there shorts, an “I Love NY” t-shirt so cut away as to barely resemble a T-shirt, and knee-length soccer socks. While an MTV executive bragged, “It’s going to be hanging up in bedrooms all over the country,” Newsweek commented, “Sure, like their wives will let them get away with that.”

Britney Spears can’t possibly be thinking clearly right now, blinded by her meteoric rise to stardom. Surely this isn’t a healthy way to grow up. What will happen in a few years, once the Britney backlash begins and she’s shunned by unforgiving pop culture? Will she only be able to find work in pornographic movies? Perhaps someday Britney will join many other child stars who turn to drugs and alcohol for solace, and find their lives fodder only for “E! True Hollywood Story.”

Is she happy? This, perhaps only Britney knows. It’s easy to say that being one of the most lusted-after, famous stars right now is enough to make anyone happy. But what of this small-town girl, thrust into a very sexual role at such an early age? If her new song, “Lucky,” is any indication, there’s something else going on outside the glare of the media spotlight. In her song about a “fictional” celebrity named Lucky, Britney sings, “She’s so lucky ... she’s a star ... But she cries in her lonely heart, thinking if there’s nothing missing in my life, then why do these tears come at night?” The song continues, “Lost in an image, lost in a dream ... but tell me, what happens when it stops?”

Indeed, what will happen when it stops? Britney will undoubtedly experience the pain of rejection, the biggest shock of her short life. While some worship her, some hate her, and some fantasize about her, I choose to feel sorry for her. While she may sing “hit me one more time,” I don’t think she quite realizes what just did.