Sharps & Flats

Forget the schoolgirl skirts and the psychosexual interpretations. Britney Spears sings calculatedly brilliant hits.

Topics: Music, Britney Spears,

Britney Spears
“Oops! … I Did It Again”
Jive

Just in case her thigh-high schoolgirl skirts and navel-on-parade routines are too subtle, Britney Spears asserts that she’s “not that innocent” on her new single, “Oops! … I Did It Again.” As a don’t-go-there anthem from teenie pop’s most forbidden fruit, the song makes for a sweetly sadistic companion piece to the masochism lite lurking beneath her debut, “… Baby One More Time.” “It might seem like a crush, but it doesn’t mean that I’m serious,” sings the cattier Britney 2000.

Yet even as she invites her would-be suitor to talk to the hand — “I’m a goob magnet, man,” she told Cosmo Girl magazine — she rubs up against her words, crossing her tease and batting her eyes with arched-back growls and cool space-kitten purrs. Sung so suggestively, a line like “To lose all my senses/That is just so typically me” comes off less as a lamentable self-realization than as a lip-licking appeal to the sordid powers of imagination. And in spite of its exclamation point, her hardhearted cry of “Oops!” sounds more like a conscienceless dismissal than a conscious apology.

Britney’s back, and so are the overwrought psychosexual readings that get attached to her otherwise throwaway teen-pop drivel. But it’s a safe bet that Spears is less concerned with identity politics than her critics are. “Oops!” then, on its own drivelly terms, is a masterpiece of sorts not for its message but for the way it applies the conventions of the pop-musical medium.

Most of “Oops!” was crafted by Max Martin and Rami, two Swedish superproducers from Stockholm who built recent hits for the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync. They are dubiously motivated product pushers, yes, but these guys are also Nobel-worthy scientists of melody. All seven of their songs on “Oops!” are saturated with choruses too well designed to be written off as anything less than calculatedly brilliant. “Stronger” — with Spears belting, “I’m stronger than yesterday/Now it’s nothing but my way/Loneliness is killing me no more” — could crush the entire self-help industry with its melody alone. And it’s just one of many.



Spears and her songwriting teams know their audience, too. Which is to say that “Oops!” is outfitted with a number of pop signifiers and psychological tags for listeners who like — and need — to be reminded that they’re having a good time. “Don’t Go Knockin’ on My Door” unabashedly rips off Destiny’s Child; it’s a funk hymn played on a dot-matrix printer. “What You See (Is What You Get)” lifts a melody line straight from Celine Dion’s “That’s the Way It Is.” “Lucky” reaches back to bite Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” And “One Kiss From You” goes ’80s by way of DeBarge’s “Rhythm of the Night.”

Then, in a definitive redefinition, Spears twists the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” into a cutesy electro-tribute to her own burgeoning girl power. But even if there’s a women’s studies term paper to be written about the way she toys with the Stones’ dick-swinging swagger — the Britney version goes, “When I’m watching my TV/And that girl comes on to tell me/How tight my skirt should be/She can’t tell me who to be” — who cares? It could be some sort of rallying cry for her audience of ‘tween and teen girls, but the smart money says they’re more concerned with whether she sounds great.

And she really, really does.

Andy Battaglia is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y. He is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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