Let's speak plainly: Britney Jean, the latest, "most personal" album from one Britney Spears, is not good. It has its campy moments (namely, "Work Bitch"), and, yes, I spent the better part of the weekend singing the one-note chorus of "Perfume," but neither song is destined for the Britney Pantheon. The rest is "dull and outdated," as New York's Jody Rosen put it, "full of blundering bottle-service club beats and way too many sodden ballads." It is the kind of album you listen to exactly once, out of obligation, before retreating back the Britney songs you actually like.
Fine. It is unwise — unfair, really — to expect anything more from Britney, the reassembled pop star who is still under conservatorship and who will begin the Just-Chilling-In-Vegas portion of her career next year. Her Zombie Fame Machine keeps on running, and she seems to have little say in the matter. Our time is better spent focusing on a moment from this year that actually understood Britney: her music, her sexualization, and her eventual breakdown. I am speaking of the "Everytime" scene from Spring Breakers.
The singer looms large over Spring Breakers: The four scantily clad girls sing "One More Time" in a parking lot, and two of the actresses are former Disney stars-slash-singers doing their best to titillate. (Britney understands.) This all builds up to the "Everytime" scene, which begins as a shotgun ballet and descends into a montage of blithe violence, all set to the 2003 ballad. I do not need to explain the pleasure of watching James Franco warble at a white baby-grand piano while facing the ocean. It is genuine entertainment, provocative and trashy, which is all in keeping with the spirit of Britney. But the song choice itself is a doozy — "Everytime" is middle-Britney, right when the cracks were starting to show. The first line is tragic, when you think about it: "Notice me." Her own video concept was a drug overdose in a bathtub, followed by reincarnation as a baby. The Spring Breakers sequence is not so different; the rage is pointed outward, but the violent reinvention is the same. It is about young, attractive girls who are done behaving the way they are expected to behave.
Then there are consequences, both in the movie and sadly, in real life. There was a theory that the entirety of Spring Breakers is a metaphor for Britney's breakdown; I am not so convinced, only because I'm not sure the movie holds together enough for any larger lessons. That "Everytime" scene, though, is an apt mini-thesis on the Lost Britney era. It both honors her gifts, and it acknowledges her past. That is more than you can say for Britney Jean.