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Sep 14

BRITNEY SPEARS – “…Baby One More Time”

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#817, 21st February 1999

bomt How was I supposed to know that something wasn’t right?

It was a gilded age: the commercial zenith of the music industry at the end of the 20th century. In America, its apex as a money-making force came in 1999 when – adjusted for inflation – $71 per head was spent on music, a small box set for every man, woman and child in the country. Other countries hit the summit a little later, but they hit it. Did the industry see a crisis coming? Certainly – the Digital Millennium Copyright Act passed in the USA weeks after “….Baby One More Time” was released. But the biz was surely overconfident, it had seen its way through busts before. In 1981, when Britney Jean Spears was born, the industry was financially stagnant, caught in a recession-hit decline after the unsustained mini-boom of disco. It climbed back thanks to technology, and kept climbing. CD revenues rose and rose, and the machine to ensure they would not stop rising grew slicker and faster: radio, TV, promoters, manufacturers, labels, press and retailers meshing ever more efficiently in the pursuit of getting people to take home silver discs. And here we are at the top of the growth charts: peak pop.

The idea that pop had become mechanised soon became a weapon against the industry, a justification for forcibly free music. The list of those grew very familiar in the early 00s: rising CD prices, the mistreatment of artists by rapacious labels, convenient info-utopian philosophy – these reasons were regularly joined by “manufactured pop”. If the product was worthless and generic, why not just take it? And if you were to ask these pirate revolutionaries, who makes manufactured pop? Name me an act – I suspect Britney Spears would have been quick to their lips. Every ancien regime needs its Marie Antoinette.

So it’s time to dig into what “manufactured” means. Because, unquestionably, Britney was trained and raised as an entertainer from a very young age – even if the decision to make her a solo pop star was taken relatively late. And the pop world she emerged into was massive and complex and finely geared, not quite as businesslike as a Unilever or a Glaxo SmithKline, particularly at the edges, but aspiring in that direction. “Machine” doesn’t seem an awful description of it.

At the same time “manufactured” has an inevitably disdainful edge never really felt by other labels in other times who applied production-line principles to their music: Motown, most obviously, whose industrialisation of soul was generally described with purring approval for Berry Gordy’s Fordist vision of pop. And why not? The music was brilliant. Something else is happening when Britney and her peers are called manufactured. The implication is not just that the songs or playing are kit-built, but that the performers themselves are interchangeable, barely more than automatons. If millennial pop is a machine, then – according to this idea – Britney is not the owner or the operator, merely the product.

Do we need a different metaphor? Does Britney deserve one?

One hint towards an answer comes from listening to “…Baby One More Time”. Because, fifteen years on, two things jump out at me. One is, yes, how steely and immediate and effective this is compared to the (often very charming) bubblegum of Billie, B*Witched et al. “…Baby One More Time” is a ruthlessly lean, superbly constructed pop song: a track with awesome momentum earned by impressive economy, where every note or idea leads to a payoff, and each payoff sets up the next one. It’s a song with a fantastic ending – that final touchdown of “hit me baby one more time!” – but that ending is earned by the bit before where Britney drops the “I must confess / that my loneliness…” bridge, which in turn draws power from being a sneaky inversion of the rest of the song (where it’s the belief she’s confessing, not the loneliness), and so on all the way back to the iconic intro, a four-note knock on fame’s door given in full confidence it will be answered.

But the second thing that jumps out at me is that, for all the clockwork marvels of the construction – something she had nothing much to do with – what “….Baby One More Time” really, really sounds like is a Britney Spears song.

There have been an endless stream of studio leaks, abandoned vocal takes and live howlers which – apparently – prove how weak Britney’s untreated vocals are. But however they got that way, the vocals that appear on record aren’t just competent, they’re distinctive – Britney-as-vocalist may not have much range or skill but texturally her throaty southern cluck is unmistakable. It’s a percussive instrument – that first “oh bay-beh BAY-beh” and the pause straight after it is classic Britney. As of “…Baby One More Time” her voice is still the lead instrument – it’s not until the breakthrough into full-on R&B and club pop that she (and the producers) can really start playing with it, and with her role in the song. As such it has to do things it isn’t totally suited to – the melisma on “how could I have let you go-oh-oh-oh” stretches her thin, for instance. But even at this very early stage there’s no mistaking her.

So Britney isn’t interchangeable – but might she still earn that manufactured tag by being an automaton, a producer’s puppet?

Questions of agency in this high-stakes, professionalised form of pop are very murky. For instance, take two central decisions around Britney’s first single, ones that critically shaped what ended up in front of the public: what the music sounded like, and what the video looked like. In both cases, we know what Britney wanted. For the music, she would have preferred Sheryl Crow-style AOR – a good fit for her husky voice – and acquiesced to her management or label’s wish for bright, upbeat dancepop. (On the album, traces of AOR creep in – odd guitar solos here and there, though this may just be a natural function of bored session musicians doodling in the margins of a teenpop record).

For the video, meanwhile, her managers wanted something generically romantic – the singer and some hot dude or other. Britney had other ideas: she suggested the school setting and the dancing. Which, very obviously, works a lot better – it keeps the focus on her, fits the song (she’s dumped the guy, so best to keep him as a marginal presence), puts it in a setting her audience knows, and most crucially gives a better showcase for her dancing.

(Which is all the video looks like now, midriffs and all – a perpetual-motion song-and-dance number, its controversial sting long drawn by shifting standards. There are better records to talk about how the media obsessed over Britney’s sexuality – and how the Britney publicity machine fuelled that. For now, it’s enough to note that some of the Baby One More Time era coverage, like her first Rolling Stone story (“INSIDE THE HEART, MIND AND BEDROOM OF A TEEN QUEEN”, Britney clutching a plush Teletubby on the cover) surely stepped over a line into creepy Lolita territory. For me the video doesn’t get there, though the furore around it helped set the future press agenda.)

Both these decisions – the musical one Britney disagreed with, and the visual one she came up with – were the right ones, crucial to the single becoming a sensation. If we’re keeping a creative autonomy scorecard, this is a creditable tie. But the whole debate over who came up with what is also a red herring. Even if Britney had zero input into anything, it’s her name up there in lights – the whole enterprise depends on her. The idea that you can dig into the credits and origins of modern corporate pop to find secret lines of creativity and influence is a true one. But to imagine those stories are more important than the public ones can be a seductive fantasy of insider knowledge. Britney Spears, like every modern pop star, is the frontwoman of her own career: the story begins with her. It’s like politics, that other great bit of modern theatre: every candidate is the creature of a party machine. But the individual candidates – their strengths, foibles and priorities – matter. They are the story.

So if “manufactured” is unfair, what is the right metaphor for Britney’s relationship to the pop machine? Scanning the pop culture of the late 90s gives us a better possibility: mecha, the Japanese anime genre where beautiful, tragic youth fuse themselves to sublime, state of the art machines. Britney is not the machine’s puppet; she’s its pilot.

Pop culture’s relationship to “the system” – the societal machines it exists within – is regularly rewritten. The 21st century is a cybernetic era defined by the power (and vulnerability) of complex, interdependent global systems – the climate, the economy, the internet. So the inescapable symbiosis of human and machine – and how the doomed symbiotes cope with it – is as relevant and resonant a cultural metaphor in the 00s as ideas of “the road” and flight from the system were in the 50s and 60s. And such fusions became the dominant form of pop – singers and performers in entwined collaboration with nomadic producers who might end up superstars themselves.

The specific machine that Britney is piloting has a well-known engineer: Max Martin, writing and producing his first number one record as part of his Cheiron Studios production team. Even fans who have never begun to map the circuitry of contemporary pop have heard of Max Martin – and “…Baby One More Time” was a compelling introduction. Those big percussive chords – a statement of intent at the start of the single – became a signature trick of Cheiron and its later imitators. Martin was in a hard rock band at one point before hooking up with the late Denniz Pop and the other Cheiron boys, and you can hear the unashamed, aggressive theatricality of glam threaded through his work.

“Baby One More Time” has other debts to pay, though. It’s shot through with imagery of religious faith and doubt – “I confess”, “I still believe”, “Give me a sign” – and I don’t think it’s fanciful to hear traces of other 90s Swedish pop: the grandiose post-ABBA kitsch of Alexander Bard’s Army Of Lovers project. Their mighty and absurd “Crucified” is a prototype for the kind of fervour “Baby One More Time” trades in. Queen meets ABBA, then: not a bad marker to put down.

But the religious overtones in Britney’s song are mostly there as intensifiers for her emotional state: they raise the stakes, putting a reunion with an ex on the level of spiritual salvation, and making present despair seem starker. This is the thing about the “pilot” metaphor for 21st century machine pop: in mecha stories, the focus isn’t usually on the machines but on the young people inside them and their emotional arcs. And “…Baby One More Time” introduces a major emotional motif in Britney’s pop – doomed, melodramatic, helpless obsession. Not since some of the darker corners of the Shangri-La’s catalogue and the 60s girl group boom has a pop star been so abject, so often, as Britney Spears.

It’s the paradoxes that give “Baby One More Time” its power – a song of self-negating regret performed and choreographed as a statement of total confidence. A generational shift in pop that’s also a restatement of one of its oldest and truest beliefs – that teenage feelings matter, even the dumb and disastrous ones. An ebullient new star born at the onset of the industry’s long twilight. The machine pop age “Baby One More Time” heralds will be one whose pleasures generally come shadowed by complications. In this case – as with all her records when I listen to them now – the shadow is cast not by Britney’s youth, but by her future. The sixteen year old raised to be a star with the drive to insist that her first video be made on her terms is now thirty-two: for the last six years her life and finances have been under the total legal control of her father. Britney’s story, like the record industry’s, has so far not ended happily. Its beginnings, at least, were magnificent.

(This entry, and probably most of the Britney ones, is indebted especially to Isabel Cole’s Britney Week on One Week One Band. Thanks!)

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Comments

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  1. 91
    Tom on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Isn’t the actual “rift” – a very relevant question for this conversation – 1955-6 not 1963? The worldwide success of rock’n’roll and Elvis brought the ‘generation gap’ into sharp relief, creating the preconditions for the Beatles. The Beatles’ innovation was more in realising the possibilities for self-expression in the pop world Elvis’ generation of stars had created. (Exactly what I’m arguing the late 00s generation of pop stars managed.)

  2. 92
    James BC on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Aaaaargh yes I’d forgotten that this was the song that started the meaningful acoustic cover landslide. Another reason to detest Travis, if it were needed. They aren’t going to show up on Popular are they?

    I don’t hate everything that’s come out of the Live Lounge but there isn’t half some nonsense, and some nonsense talked about that nonsense. The idea that a song automatically becomes better when played on an acoustic guitar is very peculiar.

  3. 93
    Rory on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Tom @80, your Blackout review was a cracking read, and hearing that her first five albums get better and better is very encouraging. Just picked up her first seven for under a tenner second-hand on Amazon, and will get around to her 8th eventually. Sorted.

    @92 – Time for my Bateman moment as The Man Who Liked The Man Who… er…

    (No, they won’t appear on Popular unless something drastic happens. We had at them on the “Drugs Don’t Work” thread, though.)

  4. 94
    Alfred on 30 Sep 2014 #

    looking back, the idea of the “person who only thought Baby One More Time was good when Travis covered it” was more an ideological straw man than a real thing (Fran H excepted!). Their supposed existence was an excellent pro-pop rallying cry on one side, and a justification for endless shit Radio 1 Live Lounge covers on the other. But surely nobody actually thought it.

    This was a thing, I assure you. I still talk to two of these guys.

  5. 95
    sukrat and the rëst on 30 Sep 2014 #

    two of these guys = ed sheeran and jake bugg :D

  6. 96
    enitharmon on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Tom @91: 1955-56 and the construction of a teenage subculture was certainly a rift, though I’m not prepared to give Presley all the credit for this and it had been gestating ever since the end of WW2. It wasn’t an actual seismic rift enveloping the whole of society, coming out of nowhere, but it was part of what was to follow as, from a British point of view, was the Suez adventureCan we separate pop culture from the broader picture? I think not. 1963 (Larkin nailed it: “between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles’ first LP”) was the culmination of Britain’s eventual recognition of its changed role in the world (not that everybody seems to have grasped that even in 2014, have you Mr Farage?) the optimism of the Kennedy presidency and the emergence of the Civil Rights movement in America, plus Cuba and the eventual crisis. The arrival of near-instant global communications (think Telstar) and the consequential hybridisatision of styles – American comics and black music records arriving in the transatlantic ports as I’ve noted before and being seized on by enthusiastic locals. It’s entirely possible that I’m describing a primarily British phenomenon here, because Britain had a very different experience of the post-war period from the American one, but it did have a global effect from 63 onwards as the cultural centre of gravity shifted eastwards. British pop had hitherto been slavishly imitative of the white American scene but now it found the confidence to construct a distinctively British pop by inflecting American music with music hall, street song and folk music. Along with this new found confidence came a decade of optimism and gradual social opening up. It came to an end with the oil crisis following the Yom Kippur war of 1973, but that’s another story for another generation of teenagers. All the same, 2014’s pop is recognisably a descendant of 1964’s while 1964 pop is a universe away from 1914.

  7. 97
    enitharmon on 30 Sep 2014 #

    I have a whole album of Travis (from the 17yo’s iPod). There’s no version of BOTM on it but I quite like it. Well, there you go, it takes all sorts :)

  8. 98
    swanstep on 30 Sep 2014 #

    The Pill’s arrival in 1960/1961 is normally taken to be a pretty big starting flag for the ’60s. Psycho, Eyes Without A Face, Breathless and the beginning of the collapse of film censorship in 1960 too.

  9. 99
    Tom on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Ah gotcha Rosie – I thought it was simply a pop thing! In terms of societal shift I dunno if fixing the change to a specific year is the best approach – eg (to take Swanstep’s example) do you date the impact of the Pill from its introduction or at a later point on the adoption curve? (Same goes for all mass technologies tho – to get back to Britney, the Internet is clearly a mass medium by 1999 but at the same time Britney’s early career feels completely unaffected by it – she’s in the lineage of MTV era stars, one of the last really huge ones. Whereas now it’s very very hard to imagine pop stars emerging without a big internet presence, a YouTube smash, etc.)

  10. 100
    Kinitawowi on 30 Sep 2014 #

    #86: part of what I like about Travis’ take on this is their actual sniggering. They know what they’re doing is ridiculous, but fuck it they’re having fun, and you can’t ask for much more than that from music. Reminds me of Michael Stipe laughing his way through The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite.

    I was at uni at the time of BOMT, and one of my mates drummed in a thrash metal band named Nervous System – who at one point covered this. Either the ultimate expression of the song’s cross-genre appeal or the ultimate expression of how ripe it was for parody…

  11. 101
    enitharmon on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Tom @90 You’re right, I’ve had a look at what’s coming up between now and the end of the year and much of it looks unutterably depressing. Of course there’s one or two I don’t recognise at all and they may just give me a pleasant surprise.

  12. 102
    flahr on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Final point: I once mildly impressed someone at university by remembering that this was called “…Baby One More Time” rather than “Hit Me Baby One More Time”. Given my usual success rate I consider mild impressing something of a win.

  13. 103
    Mark G on 30 Sep 2014 #

    I felt bad for Travis, they didn’t deserve to crash/burn as fast as they did. I guess it was one of those things where in that direction is Radiohead, and in that direction is Coldplay, and the middle ground they occupied didn’t exist for long.

  14. 104
    Ed on 30 Sep 2014 #

    @91 That’s a nice analogy.

    So if Britney = Elvis, Lady Gaga = John Lennon, Katy Perry = Ray Davies, and Ke$ha = Reg Presley. Miley Cyrus = Bowie.

    Which would mean that Tom = Greil Marcus, of course.

  15. 105
    enitharmon on 30 Sep 2014 #

    A further point that has really only just occurred to me today is probably pertinent to my appreciation or lack of it of BOMT. I just don’t hear this as a 14-year-old would, not because I’m grumpy and set in my ways but because natural ageing has taken away the top registers of my hearing. So I have to concede, rather reluctantly, that I may be missing quite a lot and I can’t really know what. Somebody pointed out in the context of the early Stones hits that records in those days were cut to sound great on transistor radios; heavy on the treble and light on the bass. I was in my mid-40s when I originally heard BOMT and I haven’t heard it much in the intervening years until this week so even more of those upper registers will have gone.

    So I guess if us wrinklies don’t appreciate today’s pop as much as younger people think we ought, it’s not because we’re being stuffy, it’s because we remember the sparkling pop of our youth and today’s stuff doesn’t cut the mustard!

  16. 106
    thefatgit on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Mark G @103, Isn’t that middle ground occupied by Elbow?

  17. 107
    Duro on 30 Sep 2014 #

    Associate this with my Art GCSE but it is a legit 9-rated banger in any era. It’s also the last 9 I’m going to award for another three and a half years, and although a wealth of very, very good 8s once we get out of the 1990s brighten things up a bit, there’s some fin de siècle horrors awaiting us very soon…

    In short, let’s remember the 90s this way. It tried, god bless it.

  18. 108
    Mark M on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Re59/74: I’ve probably said this before, but chart pop has always been an audio-visual medium for me. My earliest memory of music is Top Of The Pops, we had early MTV in Mexico, and I still watch the pop channels from Kerrang to the all-Bollywood B4U Music. I certainly couldn’t imagine hearing a Britney track without conjuring up the video. Which is to say that my experience of pop must work on a fairly different level from Rosie’s. A good video can definitely help sell a song to me, but the flip also applies – I’d really taken against the current Pharrell/Miley single until I heard it on the radio, away from the nasty models-auditioning video.

  19. 109
    Patrick Mexico on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Sorry I’m late to the party. Great thread, great responses.

    There seems a split in the camp between those roughly under 25 who see BOMT as a pop epiphany, and those over 25 who see it as the straw that broke pop’s back.
    Look me up in the Yellow Pages, I will be your rock of ages under “A 7/10 that I wouldn’t play in anyone else’s company.” By now I had left Bowland High and as I’d slipped from hero to zero to such an extent in a year’s terrible introduction to adolescence, the only choice for me was to move to Bentham Grammar, a private boarding school in North Yorkshire near Lancaster which three men and a dog attended and no longer exists.

    This era’s pop factory farming would yield some of the most cynical, anodyne pop of all time – but all music is “manufactured” in some way and I never let rockist snobbery get in the way of a great tune or pop moment, the bland and meaningless offend me far more. And whilst Disney Club (a lobotomised BRIT School?) graduates with the career trajectory of squeaky clean -> naughty but nice -> hello, lads’ mags -> dragged through the mill -> inevitable unfortunate breakdown -> repeat, have always left me a bit cold, I can’t deny this is a great pop moment. There’s no trite soppiness, it’s not being deliberately, maximally irritating, cheesy or naff, and it’s not trying to be outwardly vulgar – the Achilles Heels of many nineties chart toppers. For a “manufactured” record going all-out to be the biggest pop song in the world, it actually wants something – a sense of subtle honesty there’s something not quite right in Britney’s life and she wants something more, maybe something she can’t have, maybe something we can’t have or shouldn’t have, through a medium of (almost Southern rock-tinged) subtle sleaze. Therein lies the problem.

    I was a 14-year-old schoolboy at the time, so I never saw a “pervy” or “paedo” side to the video then.. she reminded me of the Bentham fifth year/lower sixth girls I was mad about who were obviously out of reach as they dated 20-year-olds with their own cars, and also because most people seemed so stuck-up and humourless at this new place, she reminded me of my female friends back home having grown up a lot, and able to actually go on dates, to the cinema, etc. rather than kiss-chases and daisy chains etc.. it was a “look what you could have won if you’d stayed at Bowland and in, you know, salt-of-the-earth rural East Lancashire.” So in those drab times any new teenage crush was welcome.

    I probably fancied Britney like mad for about a week then moved on to someone from Hepburn or the Honeyz, but anyway, the local sixth form I’d move back to in 2001 still had a uniform policy (I certainly wasn’t complaining about the girls then!), so I thought she was a 16-17-18 year old, older than me, depicting a 16-17-18 year old (legal in the UK obviously), nothing more, nothing less, and the outfit was apparently her idea, not some dirty old man’s. Plus the popularity at the turn of this century of “School Disco” club nights, I thought the women in revealing outfits were just depicting sixth formers, or having a laugh about the high school “cliques” brought over from America, you know, the carefree atmosphere of films like American Pie (it was obviously a smutty film, but smutty about baked goods ;) ) I didn’t think there was any kind of dark subtext.

    Fast forward to the present and I have serious ambiguity about this whole concept. You can take the angle of “well a 29 year old with a 17 year old would be very creepy but it’s just a uniform, fancy packaging, there’s no law against having fantasies about people of legal age etc etc etc” but apparently a lot of people at these school disco nights dressed in that knowing outfit, using a knowing, ironic “slutty” image but with certain tropes – pigtails (ok they were in BOMT as well), lollipops, drawn-on freckles, which point to a much younger, verging on pre-pubescent “schoolgirl” than someone doing their A-levels. Some of the American Hallowe’en costumes I’ve seen on this theme (though they “sexualise” practically any female (sexist much!) fancy dress outfit beyond lunacy) also make me think “You cannot be serious”..

    And that taps into some people’s very twisted world, and makes them legitimise their sick behaviour – prominently, the stream of celebrity convictions in the last two years. Relating it to this video is a massive grey area – many British TV series have used Britney’s outfit as a theme for humour – Shameless, Phoenix Nights – but also the brilliant Jimmy McGovern’s The Street where an (adult) teacher who enjoys his (consenting adult) wife dressing like that is mistakenly accused of “flashing” and is emotionally tormented by neighbours who accuse him of being a sex offender (but only for the latter).

    However, there are some celebrity individuals who have started with this “innocent”, “borderline” fantasy and then slipped down a slippery slope to simply horrendous things (don’t want to name those people as they make me feel ill, it would spoil the debate).. and don’t get me started on Japan.

    The most telling contemporary experience of this was a comparison of university experiences. In 2005, at UCLAN second year journalism, there was a “school disco” in Fresher’s Week, and walking up the stairwells of my halls, it was full of (18-21) year olds in similar outfits to Britney’s, short skirts that left nothing to the imagination etc. Any red-blooded straight male could have had a heart attack on the spot.

    When I returned to university in 2013 at UWE Bristol, there was another “school disco” theme, but this time people dressed much more conservatively, just normal clothes with a few “geek glasses” and school ties. I couldn’t help thinking to myself “That could be because of the recession or changing fashions, but it could also be because of Yewtree” :-/

  20. 110
    Tom on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Goodbye smiling Britney :(

    Luckily she’ll be back. Sadly, so will the bunch of clowns replacing her.

  21. 111
    Steve Mannion on 1 Oct 2014 #

    At this rate maybe both banners should be Popular-based (the two most recent)!

  22. 112
    Tom on 1 Oct 2014 #

    http://instagram.com/p/tl7ZqLm8Ha/?modal=true

    It was 16 years ago today….

  23. 113
    Chris Retro on 1 Oct 2014 #

    It’s alright – but having lived through the late 70s, the 80s & the 90s, I never saw it as more than a well-executed, of-its-time, pop record.
    Compared to the generic sounds of this decade it’s excellent, but I can’t get excited about it.
    If I was to pick a Britney Spears single, it would be either I’m A Slave 4 U or Piece Of Me

  24. 114
    Rory on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Nobody’s going to mistake Britney in this video for prepubescent. And that’s the point: she’s so obviously older that the objection becomes that the uniform itself is suggestive of younger children. American high schools skew older than UK secondary schools – 14-18 rather than 11-16 – which won’t have helped UK perceptions of this video. But we then end up with the bizarre situation where Billie Piper (b. 22-9-1982) showing a bare midriff in her “Girlfriend” dance routine in 1998 is fine, while Britney Spears (b. 2-12-1981) doing the same in this one in 1999 isn’t. So, attractive 16-17-year-olds are fine if they look like they could potentially be adults, but not if they look… well, what is the lowest estimate people would put on Britney’s age in this video? In both Billie’s and Britney’s cases, their ages were regularly mentioned in public discussions of their initial hits, so when I look at this I can’t see her as anything less than 16 or 17.

    If we’re going to make slippery-slope arguments, there are other slopes to consider than the one pointing downhill to Yewtree. The age of consent is what it is, and there doesn’t seem to be any push to raise it in the UK (which would be difficult at a moment when 16- and 17-year-olds have just been able to vote on whether to break up the UK itself, and could end up as permanent voters after the next general election). In Britney’s home state of Louisiana the age of consent is 17, the age that she was in 1999. If consent is to mean anything, it must also mean that people of that age have the right to portray themselves how they wish, whether as sexy or as squares.

    The crimes of Savile, Hall and Harris were about lack of consent, either because the victims were underage or, if older, didn’t consent. DLT’s conviction was in relation to an adult victim, but was still a case of lack of consent. If we start policing what autonomous individuals can wear, we’re potentially reinforcing the idea that victims of rape or abuse are “asking for it” by dressing in a way that turns their rapists and abusers on. If we criticise them for wearing clothes normal and appropriate for their age group, we’re implying they’re asking for it by being that age. Or being female, or blonde, or whatever. It’s unfair, and it targets the wrong people, and we should resist it.

    As for all those pervs aged 18-88: we shouldn’t let ourselves be drawn into policing or preventing thought-crime. Let them think what they think; it’s actions that should concern us. Those actions could be as slight as saying “I’d hit it” in a comments thread; there’s way too much of that online, and the more we can do to challenge it as fellow commenters, the safer we make online spaces feel for everybody (I hasten to add that Popular is an exemplary space in this regard). I don’t mean banning speech, I mean calling people out on things they’ve said, so that they and others can see where the limits of social acceptability lie. If we can extend that vigilance to the wider culture, we’ll end up with a society where anyone can safely wear what they want and dance how they want without fear that it gives some sort of permission to rapists and abusers to attack them. That’s what’s sad about any dressing-down impact of Yewtree: that it implies that young people think they need to in order to feel safer. I don’t think they’re wrong in thinking or feeling that, given the current state of things, but I do think our aim should be to make a society where they feel safer to be themselves, which should include dressing up for fun at a school disco at uni in the same uniform you were wearing every day only a year or two earlier.

    Depressing though its parade of household names has been, Yewtree has been a positive step towards this. One by one, high-profile perpetrators are being uncovered, sending a message to potential others that they won’t get away with it. It’s prompted all of us to look again at some of the dodgy characters with us today, here and now. Let’s save our criticism for them, for what they actually do and say, and not for the targets of their thoughts.

    [Edit:] tl;dr: Leave Britney alone!

  25. 115
    Rory on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Just realised that I’ve completely failed to note that “…Baby One More Time” spent nine weeks at the top in Australia in February-April 1999. Our last number one in common for several Popular months.

  26. 116
    swanstep on 1 Oct 2014 #

    @rory, patrick. ‘Older guys dealing with inappropriate thoughts about high school girls’ ended up being one of the themes of 1999 in the light of BOMT’s vid and then Kevin Spacey’s turn in American Beauty. Plenty of guys thought of Spacey’s character as a hero (no women felt that way about Annette Bening’s character) and I’ve always wondered whether that very sanguine judgment of him was rooted in those fans having recently experienced their own guilty responses to B.. Anyhow, T.A.T.U’s big bunny might be the natural place for further (anguished) reflection on this sort of imagery and audience-baiting in the pop of the period.

  27. 117
    weej on 1 Oct 2014 #

    A bit late to the party with this one, but just wanted to say that it was oddly fitting that this entry was posted the day my second (and almost certainly final) child was born.

  28. 118
    Rory on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Congratulations, Weej!

  29. 119
    fivelongdays on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Yeah, I’m late to the party. I’ll keep it brief

    This is a very, very rare beast indeed – a full-on mainstream POP! song that I went out and bought. Why did I do that when (if you’ve been following my posts) it’s quite clear that I was into rock, metal (although there’s more on that in a couple of Popular years time) and the harder end of Indie? It’s because it’s a bloody good POP! song. It’s catchy and it’s got a great tune. More to the point, the charts/radio hadn’t been totally taken over by songs that (in retrospect) wanted to be this really rather badly. Plus, I was still 16 at the time, so I could fancy Britney without looking like a filthy old pervert. All things considered, I have no option but to let it scrape an eight.

    It’s a shame Tender didn’t get to number one though – I suspect I would have given it a higher mark than either Country House or Beetlebum.

    Travis were, as I think I alluded to on The Drugs Don’t Work’s thread, shit. I still believe (don’t you know I still believe!) the only reason anyone gave a toss about them is because when they played at Glastonbury ’99 they did Why Does It Always Rain On Me? (because you’re a nesh cunt, Fran) just as it started to rain for the only time at that festival. The BBC promptly jizzed their pants. Meanwhile I, and everyone I ever met who was at Glastonbury ’99, was seeing the far superior Ash on the main stage.

  30. 120
    Patrick Mexico on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Thanks Rory. That was an extremely difficult topic for me to put into words, and sorry if I was being a little unintentionally morbid or judgmental, but you’ve helped explain and conclude my argument perfectly. Great work.

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