Aaron R. Davis
What do you think about, Britney Spears?
When the night creeps in, and all is still and quiet; when the kids have gone to bed and the TV is off; when you have a moment to relax away from the hustle and bustle and constant movement; when you’re all alone and the dark surrounds you and you feel like the only person left in the world; do you have a long, dark night of the soul, Britney?
I ask this question because I saw you on The X-Factor and was amazed at what I saw.
See, I’m a bit older than you. You’re 30, and I’m 36. I first got to know you as a pop singer who had some really well-crafted pop tunes, but who was mainly being pushed on her alluring young sexuality. I was not immune. Though I was not the guy buying all of your merchandise and looking you up online to stalk you, I was the guy who would see your music videos and run across you in magazines and think, wow, what a pretty, inappropriately sexy gal. I fell a little bit in love with your little accent and your big smile and your purdy blonde hair. I really thought you were a beautiful girl. I may have had a poster. I may have had a couple.
Your music wasn’t always my cuppa, but I could recognize how well it was put together. I could see why it hit with kids like my little sisters. I still dig some of those songs, especially “Anticipating.” I don’t hate pop music at all; if something ephemeral and fluffy makes you feel good, who cares what it is, right? No one would claim a chocolate bar is a gourmet meal, but it still makes you feel pretty fan-freaking-tastic.
You grew up in front of us. We watched you get exploited, and in watching you, we participated in that exploitation. After a while, it got to be too much to watch. I had little sisters, and all I could think about is how awful it would have been for them to have to make all of their immature mistakes in front of an audience of billions — some of whom were fans, and some of whom only wanted to tear you down. I wouldn’t have been able to watch them be turned into symbols or the subject of stupid arguments about what they represent or objects to be exploited.
Britney Spears … you are someone’s daughter, someone’s sister and also the first — and sadly only the first — celebrity that I saw violent rape comics about online. “Britney” has come to mean a lot of things in the canon of our ever-shaky, ever-harder-to-qualify relationship with celebrity and pop culture. But in the process of achieving your level of success, you have been thoroughly dehumanized. You’re not a pop star anymore. You’re just Britney, and being Britney is your business. It’s still what you’re best at.
Like some people, I decided to check out The X-Factor just to check in on Miss Britney and see what she was up to. And sometimes it makes me a little sad.
Don’t get me wrong: I still love you, Britney. I always will in some way. Maybe because you remind me of a time when I had less responsibility and less to worry about, and more of life was in front of me than behind me. Maybe because I still smile and close my eyes for a second when I hear “Everytime.” Maybe because you wistfully make me think of when my sisters were still very young and one of them was still alive and only wanted a Britney Spears doll for Christmas. And maybe it’s because a part of me still feels very sorry for you because the trade-off for all of the fame and fortune has been your ability to be a human being.
And don’t get me wrong on this, either: I know you don’t need my sympathy. But I still feel it.
There are moments on The X-Factor when I see you watching an auditioner with a spark of talent, and this look comes over your face … and I’m curious what you’re thinking about. Are you putting it all into perspective? Are you remembering a time when you were young and enthusiastic, too? Are you thinking of what twists and turns there were on the road that took you from that young, fresh, readily-expoitable pop star to the immature, faded, disconcertingly dead-eyed woman who is now being paid more to judge amateur singing competitions than to record hit singles?
My God, I would love to talk to you and hear your thoughts on what the industrial machine does to young people.
Promise me you’ll write a book one day. Just do it. I know you have a story to tell, and I’m willing to bet it has its incredibly sordid moments. I’d tell you that you owe it to the girls who still want to grow up to be you, but of course that’s wrong. You don’t owe anyone anything. But I’ll read the hell out of that book, if only because I weirdly feel like I’m the one who owes you. After all, I was part of that audience that watched you fall to your lowest depths and read all about it.
And when I look into your jaded eyes, I have to admit, I don’t feel very good about it.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.