So, pop-tart Britney Spears says she’s abandoning her teen fan base for older listeners.
This will come as a great relief to the grown-ups who, not to put too fine a point on it, hate Britney, who just released her fourth CD, “In the Zone.”
Google the words “Britney hater” and you get 9,000 hits. Go to CNN’s Web site and learn, from a Quick Vote poll earlier this month, that one out of three visitors enjoys Britney while the rest say she’s either “living off her past glory” or is “about ready for the ‘Where Are You Now’ file.”
Karen Kreutzberg, a Navy commander with an 11-year-old daughter, Kara, tries to be polite by calling Spears “lightweight,” then adds, “Don’t get me started.”
Britney rage isn’t confined to custodians of the cradle, but there were a lot of parents silently cheering when they heard that Maryland’s first lady, Kendel S. Ehrlich, pumped up a crowd last month by saying, “If I had an opportunity to shoot Britney Spears, I think I would.”
Maybe moms are jealous that at 21 Britney looks better in boy briefs than they do or ever did.
But it’s more than that. You don’t hear the same comments about hotties like Jennifer Lopez or Christina Aguilera.
Over the five years of her pop career, Britney has come to epitomize the widespread belief that there’s something rotten in girl culture, something that tells girls that their bodies, not their brains, are the means to power and success, especially if they’re wrapped in skintight pants that stop just above the pubic bone.
Britney popularized the slut strut in music videos assembled by a former porn director and single-handedly wiped out the Spice Girls.
Short skirts became known as “Britney skirts.” Young girls grabbed Teen People off the newsstands when Britney was on the cover, packed Britney look-alike contests and Britney concerts.
Girls, especially pre-pubescent girls, want desperately to grow up. Britney gave them a way to do that. At the tender ages of 8, 9 and 10, they became thong feminists, singing that they would do whatever it took to snag a man. This drove older pantsuit feminists crazy.
Did we work our way into America’s boardrooms for this? the pantsuits asked.
Some Britney haters feel betrayed because they took the pop icon at face value.
They watched her grow up, starting out at age 12 as a Mouseketeer. She sang in the choir at First Baptist Church in her hometown of Kentwood, La.; at 16, she launched her first CD, “Baby One More Time.” Her blond girl-next-door looks won her acclaim in national magazines as the country’s prom queen.
When she started revving up the sexpot image it was OK, at first, because she claimed to be a virgin.
“I’m not a girl, not yet a woman,” she sang.
Then it came to light that she had given up her virginity while pretending she hadn’t, and Britney haters really came out of the closet. She was losing her voice, they said. That’s why she lip-synced at all her concerts. Her voice was digitally processed, they said; her dancing not as fluid as it once was.
“The old Britney was really fun,” remembers Kreutzberg, who lives in Bethesda, Md. “Innocence was a part of it. Her choreography was new and fresh; she was kind of an original. But in the ensuing years, she’s gotten cheap. If you’re promoting yourself only from the sexual angle, you’re missing a whole life.”
Meredith Small, an anthropologist at Cornell University, says: “We get upset when our actresses turn out to be awful people.”
Britney rage is not just about Britney, says Nancy Gruver, publisher of a magazine for girls and a newsletter for their parents. The anger is also aimed at an increasingly savage marketing industry that sells fashion and beauty to girls with the notion that sexiness equals independence.
In 1959, Mattel started pitching its Barbie doll directly to girls instead of their parents, and almost half a century later, we have Mattel’s Miranda doll, which closely resembles Britney. There’s also Britney on sunglasses, handbags, bellybutton rings, video games and, of course, singing Pepsi’s “Joy of Cola.” Last year, according to news reports, the Britney empire made more than $100 million, more than the Tiger Woods machine. Is this what America means by girl power?
Parents don’t get off the hook here, not entirely. A not-so-secret secret is that Britney’s mother has stage-managed much of her daughter’s career. And who takes all those young girls to Britney’s concerts? Who doles out $18 for a Britney baby-doll shirt or $33 for a corset?
Perhaps parents are overheated because they haven’t told their daughters that trash is trash no matter how glamorous it may seem. Or they’ve told them, and it didn’t amount to a hill of beans against the Britney package.
Kay Hymowitz, a scholar at the Manhattan Institute who writes about children, thinks parents should give their Britney anxiety a rest. At least some teens are losing interest in Britney, she says. “Britney’s a little too shelly,” says Kreutzberg’s sixth-grader, Kara.
As in skanky? “Yes. Like the clothes she wears, the underwear. I liked her when she was younger, but her style has kind of changed. She has to keep her publicity up.”