When will we finally #FreeBritney?
Stream "Overprotected" and our other music recs to kick off the weekend
This week Daysia has a lot of thoughts on Britney, media, bimboism, misogyny, and how Framing Britney Spears fits in this moment of post-#MeToo contemplation. Meanwhile, Hannah discusses how Abel aka The Weeknd did not earn her praise with his performance at the Super Bowl.
Daysia and Hannah
This Week’s Fixations
What’s taking up our brain space this week?
Hannah: I love being right and this time I was right about how The Weeknd was not a good choice as the performer for the Super Bowl Halftime Show. From the moment it was announced I knew Abel would be an underwhelming choice because he just doesn’t have the right vibe for the show. I’m not really passionate about the NFL, Super Bowl and everything that comes along with it (not to mention that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic!) but I appreciate a good show. And I think The Weeknd gave a good show, factoring all the obstacles posed by the pandemic, but it wasn’t a Halftime Performance. Lady Gaga and Shakira and J. Lo are tough acts to follow but Abel didn’t even set himself up for success. He should have taken the Coldplay route and recognized there are strength in numbers. (Maybe there were restrictions about having other performers? Maybe no one wanted to perform in the middle of a pandemic? Understandable.) I did not feel blinded by the light and I’m going to save my tears for the incredible news about Fearless (Taylor’s Version). I’m not saying that T-Swift is a great choice for a Halftime Show but I’m not not saying that either…
Daysia: Where to start with the Framing Britney Spears documentary? It was truly difficult to watch because it is an unflinching look at how Brit was absolutely ripped apart in the early-aughts. The documentary, at its core, is a case study on how the media and culture at large reinforced and perpetuated misogyny and how devastating this era of celebrity culture was to those who endured it. A large part of the media ecosystem (paparazzi, the tabloids, even magazine programs like Diane Sawyer’s “Primetime”), now but especially then, revolved around scrutinizing famous young women. As journalists and critics, it is our job to hold celebrities accountable for their actions when they mess up or cause harm. We may even poke fun (that’s clearly what we do in this newsletter) at rumored happenings. However, there is a fine line between these things and tearing down a person for the benign (appearance, relationships and other personal choices). But as critic Wesley Morris notes in the film, “There was too much money to be made off of [Spears’] suffering.” The same can be said of many of the other early 2000s starlets.
It is a miracle that any of these women came out of this time (relatively) okay, but we know that many did not make it out unscathed. It was easy to frame celebs like Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, or Amanda Bynes as crazy or out of control. It was far more difficult (and less profitable) to admit that a) the mistakes that these young women were making were often the same ones “normal” young women make in private and b) much their “bad” behavior was a reaction to the invasive documentation of their lives and the intense, unfair standards they were being held to.
Britney’s hyperfeminine pop star persona also played a role in the way she was regarded in pop culture. She, alongside some of her peers, was labeled a bimbo (when it was still considered bad to be one)— a pretty, dumb young woman that was paradoxically the ideal and the exact opposite of what a young woman should be. It’s the classic double-bind that women find themselves in every day. Femininity and bubbliness were coded as unserious. Spears’ contemporary and tomboy foil P!nk tried to distance herself from the traditional girly pop ethos by disparaging women like Spears. She bemoaned “Stupid Girls” in a song of the same name, saying (not subtly) that women who are blonde, sexy, and scantily clad were, well, stupid and implying that girls who avoided girly, bimbo sensibilities were smart. She sings: “Outcasts and girls with ambition / That's what I wanna see” and “What happened to the dream of a girl president?” as if political and corporate leadership positions, traditionally male-dominated, were the only vocations women should aspire to if they wanted to be respected or valued. But why shouldn’t we want to be serious pop stars? Or serious anything else for that matter?
It is also fascinating to see women (P!nk, Diane Sawyer, the governor of Maryland’s wife) blame other women like Spears for supposedly discouraging young girls from being ambitious leaders, as if the roadblocks inhibiting the advancement of women in corporate America do not exist. With over a decade of hindsight and the fall of the #GirlBoss, it is clear that avoiding femininity and leaning into a system of white, male supremacy did not dismantle shit. I, and other Zillennial cuspers who grew up to see both the Phoenix-like story arc of the bimbo and the failed promise of the Girl Boss, would rather be a beautiful bimbo than deal with the strain of a bureaucratic corporation.
The bimbo persona also made Spears out to be unintelligent and incapable, even though it was clear from the start of her career that she was an incredibly brilliant entertainer and individual. Pair this with a breakdown fueled by incessant paparazzi harassment and you effectively turn a decidedly capable person into a “crazy woman.” All of this, then, contributed to the way she was (is) judged in court when deciding the terms of the conservatorship. Spears has said since the beginning that she has known what she wants, needs, and can do— it’s just that no one has ever listened to her, not the public nor the people around her. In one of the interviews featured in the doc, she says “They’re hearing what they want to hear. They're not listening to what I'm telling them.” Now, we are finally beginning to actually listen to and believe Britney which hopefully means that she will be in control of her own estate and assets soon.
Something I’ve been wondering since watching: would this documentary have traveled as far if it were released earlier? I don’t think so. I think it fits quite well into this moment of post-#MeToo contemplation following the releases of Promising Young Woman and I May Destroy You. Spears’ story is obviously not the same as those depicted in this movie and show, respectively. However, the vicious rhetoric and victim-blaming around her public humiliation by the press and the public in regards to her outfits, her breakups, and her experiences with harassment are likely familiar to anyone affected by androcentrism. Where the three pieces of media converge is in their interrogation of the way forward. We’ve identified the problems of misogyny and rape culture pervasive in our society, but where do we go from here? How do we begin to dismantle and unlearn these harmful ideas both internally and in our culture? And how do we begin to help people heal from decades of trauma inflicted onto them? I don’t have the answer, but I hope we find potential solutions soon.
Has Lorde dropped a new album?
No, but maybe her Twitter was temporarily suspended for inactivity? This could totally be a hoax, but it just goes to show… Miss Ella really is giving us nothing 😭
Also please enjoy this spectacular tweet that is tangentially Lorde news:
In the meantime, listen to Dua Lipa’s new sultry Future Nostalgia B-sides on the album’s Moonlight Edition (“That Kind of Woman” is so good!). Or, if you’re in for a nostalgia kick and/or major hyperpop injection, listen to Rebecca Black’s new “Friday” remix featuring Dorian Electra, Big Freedia and 3OH!3 (and produced, of course, by 100 gecs’ Dylan Brady).
Of course, you can always listen to a bit of Britney ❤️ May we suggest "Overprotected?" She really spelled out what was happening from the very beginning.
Too Many Tabs
Our fave reads of the week
There are so many reasons we love the iconic 1997 Cinderella starring Brandy and Whitney Houston and now it’s finally available to stream on Disney+! For Vulture, Zoe Haylock interviewed Brandy and asked her everything we ever wanted to know about making this movie.
In the words of Lady Gaga, “That’s gossip!” and the place to go right now for celeb gossip is the Instagram account @deuxmoi. Maureen O’Connor explores the implications and consequences of an account that publishes blind items and the search to find out who is behind the account in Vanity Fair.
Lakeith Stanfield is a chameleon both on and off the screen but in this Slate interview with Allegra Frank the actor says, “I’m just a human being and that I’m not really that deep” and also shares about his preparation for portraying FBI informant William O’Neal in Judas and the Black Messiah.
Our very own Daysia Tolentino in Study Hall analyzes how tea and drama YouTube channels report on influencers and their limitations: “Yet despite wariness about entering new information into the record, tea and drama channels regularly express opinions about scandals, and their takes can hold considerable weight.”