Britney Spears

Thomas Kienzle/AP

1 out of 5 Stars

Britney Spears is one of the most polarizing figures in the world of pop culture. Love her or hate her, ignoring the “princess of pop” is an impossible feat, and rehashing her much-scrutinized life story would be both laborious and unnecessary. Disney, MTV, tabloids and cable news channels have done a sufficient job in communicating the ultimate good-girl-gone-wrong narrative.

Celebrity culture usually provides famous people the chance to redeem themselves through the entertainment medium that gave them celebrity status in the first place. In Britney’s case, it would be naïve to assume her public image has been derived primarily from her music, but music has always provided her an opportunity to counter (or supplement) that image. More often than not, however, Britney has abused that privilege. Her latest album Circus is no exception. This time around, Britney claims she’s cleaned up her drug and alcohol problems, and decided to be a good mother. Circus finds a way to disprove the alleged rehabilitation.

Britney’s first claim is dispelled in “Blur” as she feebly utters, “Can’t remember what I did last night … Hope I didn’t but I think I might’ve … everything is still a blur / What’s your name, man?” Meanwhile, the love she feels for her child is called into question on “My Baby,” a snail-like ballad that is severely out of place on a record full of up-tempo dance songs. But more importantly, it feels completely insincere. An uneasy Britney asks “How did I get through / All of my days / Without you?” and proves her creaky vocals can be just as awkward as her lyrics.

Upon viewing the video for the first single, “Womanizer,” the idea that Britney could have made herself over in other ways — like wearing less risque clothing — proves to be wishful thinking as well. The video displays a completely naked Ms. Spears trying to show that men are selfish pigs and women will forever be their subordinates. Her solution to this problem was to write an illogical attack in song form. She appears writhing and helpless (and sweating and sexy) as a nice visual accompaniment. It’s a prime example of the redemption process gone wrong.

The (lack of) clothing and provocative dancing that Britney so naturally displays confirm the suspicion that Britney never really cared about reinventing herself in a positive light. She just wants to be the center of attention — the ringleader of her own circus, so to speak.

This concept is the central theme of Circus. On the album’s title track, Britney informs, “There’s only two types of people in the world / The ones that entertain / And the ones that observe,” and then dubs herself “the ringleader.” Within the context of the song, she is simply leading a never-ending dance party. By now, however, Britney is so transparent that even she must know she’s not fooling anyone. She’s really the ringleader of millions of people who are inescapably obsessed with the dramatic roller coaster of her life.

Throughout her career, Britney has played the roles of trapeze artist and acrobat, and she’s certainly played with fire. Instead of creating a positive image for herself, Britney continually goes through the same motions that are expected of her. Someone should do Ms. Spears a favor and tell her the charade is over and the silly metaphors are wearing thin. Unfortunately, the circus of Britney’s life doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.

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