Over the weekend, Britney Spears took to her Instagram account for a broadside against “those of you who choose to critique my dancing videos,” hyperactive clips soundtracked by hits like Prince & the New Power Generation’s “Sexy MF” and Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly Away” that the pop star has been posting to the photo-sharing service for months now. The profanity-laced missive, which was accompanied by an image inviting any questioners to “step on Legos,” touched on how even though Spears had been hurt by her support system, she still had hope. Not to be ignored were the two potent words “I quit,” emphasized by four exclamation points.
It’s unknown whether Spears was indeed quitting music or just over trying to please people. But the note did echo a recent statement by her now-ex-manager Larry Rudolph, who said that she had “been voicing her intention to officially retire” in a letter resigning from his managerial post earlier this month.
One thing that Spears voiced objection to in her Instagram post was the way she had been ignored by her team while “begging to put my new music in my show for MY fans.” While this plea for agency highlights recent revelations of her utter lack of it, both in her conservatorship hearings and this year’s documentary Framing Britney Spears, it also brings up a compelling question about Spears’ career and artistic legacy. Spears was the biggest pop star of the Y2K teen pop era, and she still looms large today, with artists as varied as the nightmare-conjuring Billie Eilish and the alt-rock doyenne Courtney Love spotlighting her impact on the pop world through interviews and cover songs. If the Britney Spears catalog turns out to be complete as it stands today, how will we look back on her career?
Spears grew up in Kentwood, La., and appeared off Broadway and on Star Search before her big break as a pre-teen: a role in the Disney machine as part of the revived The Mickey Mouse Club, which also featured eventual stars like Christina Aguilera, Keri Russell and Ryan Gosling. While some suits believed she would only succeed as a member of a band like the Spice Girls, her precocious delivery and girl-next-door appeal led to her eventually signing a solo deal. “It’s very rare to hear someone that age who can deliver emotional content and commercial appeal,” Jeff Fenster, an executive at her eventual label Jive Records, told Rolling Stone in 1999.
How those assets were managed wasn’t entirely up to her at first. In John Seabrook’s The Song Machine, which came out in 2015, the writer notes that Spears’ original artistic vision had her making “Sheryl Crow music, but younger” during her come-up in the late ‘90s. Superproducer Max Martin, who spearheaded “…Baby One More Time” and a slew of other Spears hits, wanted to work with the singer because of her young age, which made her more malleable in his eyes. “She’s fifteen years old; I can make the record I really want to make, and use her qualities appropriately,” he reportedly told Spears’ A&R, Steve Lunt, in the run-up to her debut album …Baby One More Time.
That full-length project, released in 1999, wasn’t a full-spectrum showcase of those “qualities,” but it did offer listeners a crash course in her strengths. Chief among them is her voice, which balances the husky, knowing qualities it displays on the title track and other upbeat songs like “(You Drive Me) Crazy” with the wounded, searching emotionalism heard on ballads like the sparkling “Sometimes” and the pleading “From the Bottom of My Broken Heart.”
Pop songwriting is more laden with mythology than most entertainment products; credits can include people charged with writing toplines (vocal melodies), snatches of melody, or even bits that sound like already-existing hits (a la Right Said Fred’s credit for a borrowed cadence on Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do”). Run down the credits of Spears’ albums and you’ll see her name pop up under the lists of songwriters. What that actually might mean is fairly opaque; she could have written an entire song or just a line.
Still, Britney Spears wouldn’t be Britney Spears without the outsized, appealing personality at the megastar’s nucleus. Martin was onto something when he said he would “use [Spears’] qualities appropriately,” even if the phrasing does give one pause in the context of her present life under conservatorship. Over the years, her catalog has been studded with songs that reflect the facets of the singular traits at which she’s offered glimpses. Her 2011 comeback single “Hold It Against Me” pivots on a pickup line that sounded dated in the swingers’ era four decades prior–”If I said I want your body now, would you hold it against me?”–but her attitude, half-winking, half-serious, makes it work. Tracks like the defiant “Stronger” and the hip-shaking “Overprotected,” meanwhile, showed off her inner strength, presaging her recent courage in speaking out against her current situation. And other pieces of her catalog, particularly in the depths of special-edition bonus tracks, show off her personality’s quirks and depth, from the loopy 2016 track “If I’m Dancing” to the chilling video for her 2004 single “Everytime.”
This was why her performance at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards, during which she sleepwalked through the brooding Blackout opener “Gimme More,” was such a blow for fans. That show, which followed a string of highly publicized personal challenges exacerbated by the cruel tabloid landscape of the era—felt like a sign that Spears’ spirit, which had propelled her into the American mainstream, had been if not snuffed out, at least misplaced.
Blackout, which contained production and songwriting contributions from the likes of Pharrell Williams (with his duo The Neptunes) and “Toxic” hitmakers Bloodshy & Avant, was hailed upon its release, presaging the synth-heavier, moodier sounds embraced by the likes of Kanye West on 808s & Heartbreak and Lady Gaga on The Fame. While Spears was reportedly more in control on that record than any other, Blackout succeeds in part because she’s a mysterious presence at its core, her signature wail refracted by effects and shrouded in synths. The shadowy vibe reflects the atmosphere surrounding her at the time, with songs like the glitchy paparazzi rebuke “Piece of Me” and the spare synth pop banger “Radar” feeling of the always-on digital age.
Since Blackout, Spears has released four albums, all of which have sold well; their reception, though, seems to parallel just how weird she can get on them. The lead single from 2013’s Britney Jean, the brittle “Work Bitch,” was shrug-worthy upon release, and lyrics like “You want a hot body, you want a Bugatti/ you want a Maserati? You better work, bitch” land uncomfortably after her conservatorship hearings. In contrast, her most recent full-length, 2016’s Glory, was hailed for its explorations of post-millennial pop’s fringes. It concludes with “Coupure Électrique,” an icily minimalist track in which Spears whisper-sings, in broken French, of love in the dark, a throwback to the Blackout era that also lets her display her playful side.
More than two decades after her debut, Spears’ legacy as a pop artist is complex, made up of dazzling musical heights and music-business-borne lows. This year, Olivia Rodrigo’s path from Disney stardom to pop-chart domination bears broad similarities to Spears’. The “drivers license” singer was born a few years into Spears’ era of TRL superiority, though, and in a recent interview with Nylon, her response to a question about Framing Britney Spears indicated that she sees the treatment of the elder pop supernova as a sign of how easily pop stardom can be undermined by supposed allies. “I just hope that this next generation of women don’t get asked [invasive] questions…. I hope reporters don’t think that that’s OK. It’s just disgusting,” she said in the interview.
The twists and turns in Spears’ story over recent years have fundamentally altered the dream of becoming a pop star, even as the appeal of finding one artist who can make a song that changes the world for five minutes remains. While Spears’ catalog is part of the canon that defines the first 20 years of this millennium, one hopes that her public struggles, and the strength she’s shown while enduring them, will lead to her cementing her true legacy: Reshaping the machine that turns those songs into cultural touchstones.
An Open letter to Vladimir Putin from Roger Waters
Recently I have been reading comments on social media, asking why I’ve written to Mrs Olena Zelenska but not Mr Vladimir Putin? Very good question, I’m glad you asked, here it is.
An open Letter to Vladimir Putin:
Dear President Putin, since The Russian Federation invaded Ukraine on February 24th this year I have tried to use my small influence to encourage a ceasefire and a diplomatic settlement that addresses the security needs of both Ukraine and The Russian Federation.
In that endeavor I have written two open letters to Mrs Olena Zelenska the the wife of the Ukrainian President. These letters are readily available on the internet. I am increasingly asked to write to you too, so here goes.
Firstly, would you like to see an end to this war? If you were to reply and say, “Yes please.” That would immediately make things a lot easier. If you were to come out and say, “Also the Russian Federation has no further territorial interest beyond the security of the Russian speaking populations of The Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk.”
That would help too.
I say this because, I know some people who think you want to overrun the whole of Europe, starting with Poland and the rest of the Baltic states.
If you do, f**k you, and we might as well all stop playing the desperately dangerous game of nuclear chicken that the hawks on both sides of the Atlantic seem so comfortable with, and have at it. Yup, just blow each other and the world to smithereens. The problem is, I have kids and grandkids, and so do most of my brothers and sisters all over the world and none of us would relish that outcome. So, please Mr Putin indulge me, and make us that assurance.
Alright back to the table, if I’ve read your previous speeches correctly, you would like to negotiate a state of neutrality for a sovereign neighboring Ukraine? Is that correct? Assuming such a peace could be negotiated it would have to include an absolutely binding agreement not to invade anyone ever again. I know, I know, the USA and NATO invade other sovereign countries at the drop of a hat, or for a few barrels of oil, but that doesn’t mean you should, your invasion of Ukraine took me completely by surprise, it was a heinous war of aggression, provoked or not.
When Mrs Zelenska replied to me via Twitter, I was very surprised and mightily moved, if you were to reply to me, I would mightily respect you for it, and take it as an honorable move in the right direction towards a sustainable peace.
Roger Waters is a musician
An Open letter to Mrs Olena Zelenska from Roger Waters
Dear Mrs Zelenska,
My heart bleeds for you and all the Ukrainian and Russian families, devastated by the terrible war in Ukraine. I’m in Kansas City, USA. Iread an article on BBC.com apparently taken from an interview you have already recorded for a program called Sunday with Laura Kuenssburg which broadcasted on the BBC on September 4th.
BBC.com quotes you as saying that if support for Ukraine is strong the crisis will be shorter. Hmmm? I guess that might depend on what you mean by “support for Ukraine?” If by “support for Ukraine,” you mean the West continuing to supply arms to the Kiev government’s armies, I fear you may be tragically mistaken. Throwing fuel, in the form of armaments, into a firefight, has never worked to shorten a war in the past, and it won’t work now, particularly because, in this case, most of the fuel is (a) being thrown into the fire from Washington DC, which is at a relatively safe distance from the conflagration, and (b) because the “fuel throwers” have already declared an interest in the war going on for as long as possible.
People like you and me actually want peace in Ukraine, don’t want the outcome to be that you have to fight to the last Ukrainian life – and possibly even, if the worst comes to the worst, to the last human life.
If we, instead, wish to achieve a different outcome we may have to seek a different route and that route may lie in your husband’s previously stated good intentions.
Yes, I mean the platform upon which he so laudably ran for the office of President of Ukraine, the platform upon which he won his historic landslide victory in the democratic election in 2019.
He stood on the election platform of the following promises.
To end the civil war in the East and bring peace to the Donbas and partial autonomy to Donetsk and Luhansk.
And to ratify and implement the rest of the body of the Minsk 2 agreements.
One can only assume that your husband’s electoral policies didn’t sit well with certain political factions in Kiev and that those factions persuaded your husband to diametrically change course ignoring the people’s mandate. Sadly, your old man agreed to those totalitarian, anti-democratic dismissals of the will of the Ukrainian people, and the forces of extreme nationalism that had lurked, malevolent, in the shadows, have, since then, ruled the Ukraine. They have, also since then, crossed any number of red lines that had been set out quite clearly over a number of years by your neighbors the Russian Federation and in consequence they, the extreme nationalists, have set your country on the path to this disastrous war.
I won’t go on.
If I’m wrong, please help me to understand how?
If I’m not wrong, please help me in my honest endeavors to persuade our leaders to stop the slaughter, the slaughter which serves only the interests of the ruling classes and extreme nationalists both here in the West, and in your beautiful country, at the expense of the rest of us ordinary people both here in the West, and in the Ukraine, and in fact ordinary people everywhere all over the world.
Might it not be better to demand the implementation of your husband’s election promises and put an end to this deadly war?
Roger Waters is a musician.
Bob Dylan Book on ‘Modern Song’ to Come Out in November
Bob Dylan has a new book coming out this fall, a collection of more than 60 essays about songs and songwriters he admires, from Stephen Foster to Elvis Costello.
The new book, “The Philosophy of Modern Song,” is his first release of new material since the acclaimed memoir “Chronicles, Volume One” was published in 2004. “The Philosophy of Modern Song” is scheduled for Nov. 8.
“He analyzes what he calls the trap of easy rhymes, breaks down how the addition of a single syllable can diminish a song, and even explains how bluegrass relates to heavy metal,” according to an announcement issued Tuesday by Simon & Schuster. “And while they (the essays) are ostensibly about music, they are really meditations and reflections on the human condition. Running throughout the book are nearly 150 carefully curated photos as well as a series of dream-like riffs that, taken together, resemble an epic poem.”
The 80-year-old singer-songwriter won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2016 and has continued to tour and record, his most recent album, “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” was released in 2020.
Jennifer Hudson wins top honor at 53rd NAACP Image Awards
Jennifer Hudson was named entertainer of the year at the 53rd annual NAACP Image Awards that highlighted works by entertainers and writers of color.
After Hudson accepted the award Saturday night, the singer-actor thanked the NAACP for inspiring “little girls like me.” She beat out Regina King, Lil Nas X, Megan Thee Stallion and Tiffany Haddish.
“I was just standing here thinking ’It was here – the NAACP Awards – where I watched so many legends and icons that inspired me,” said the Oscar and Grammy winner. “Now, I’m standing here holding an award like this. It’s because of seeing the Arethas, the Patti LaBelles, the Halle Berrys, all these legends right here on this stand that inspired me.”
Hudson played her idol Aretha Franklin in the film “Respect.” She was summoned to meet with Franklin in 2007 to portray The Queen of Soul shortly after Hudson won an Oscar for “Dreamgirls.”
“Respect” follows Franklin from childhood through the 1972 recording of the gospel album “Amazing Grace.”
“This is for Ms. Franklin’s legacy,” Hudson said after she earlier won best actress.
The awards ceremony aired live on BET in Los Angeles with some talent appearing in person while others watched virtually. There was no in-person audience.
Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, were honored with the President’s Award. He showed gratitude to the NAACP for welcoming him into their community before he spoke about those in Ukraine impacted by the ongoing Russian invasion.
“We would like to acknowledge the people of Ukraine who urgently need our continued support as a global community,” said Prince Harry while standing next to his wife. The couple was recognized for their outreach efforts in the U.S. and around the world.
“It’s safe to say I come from a very different background than my incredible wife,” he said. “Yet, our lives were brought together for a reason. We share a commitment to a life of service, a responsibility to confront injustice and a belief for the most overlooked that are the most important to listen to.”
Both talked about inspiring the next generation of activists through the NAACP-Archewell Digital Civil Rights Award. It’s a newly created award that acknowledges leaders creating change within the social justice and technology realm to advance civil and human rights.
On Friday, the inaugural award was given to Dr. Safiya Noble, who Meghan called a “visionary.”
Samuel L. Jackson received the NAACP Chairman’s Award for his public service. The ceremony highlighted his acting achievements and activism including a moment when he was expelled from Morehouse College in 1969 for for locking board members in a building for two days in protest of the school’s curriculum and governance.
The video mentioned Jackson’s efforts to raise awareness toward cancer checkup for men and autism. It also spotlighted him and his wife, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, who created a performing arts center at Spelman College.
Jackson quoted activist Marian Wright Edelman after he accepted his award.
“I was fortunate to grow up in a lot of different eras where I had the opportunity to use my voice and my legs and my body to fight for things that were right,” said the 73-year-old actor. He has appeared in more than 100 films including Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” and Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever.”
Jackson also starred in several other films such as “Do the Right Thing,” “Unbreakable,” “Snakes on a Plane,” and multiple Marvel films including “The Avengers” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
“We got it done,” he continued. “Right now, we still have things we need to do. The most important thing being the voting rights act. I know we can’t change that. But we can put our legs, our bodies and our voices to work to make sure that people do get out and vote – no matter what they do to keep us from doing it.”
The awards ceremony featured a performance by nine-time Grammy winner Mary J. Blige, who was a co-headliner at the Super Bowl halftime show this month. She performed her single “Good Morning Gorgeous” and “Love No Limit” from New York City’s Apollo Theater.
Anthony Anderson, who returned as the show’s host, won best actor in a comedy series. With his mother in attendance, the “black-ish” star screamed out “I told you I was going to win, Momma” before he ran on stage and chest bumped her.
“I would like to thank my momma for sleeping with my daddy and making me,” he jokingly said before turning serious. “I’m just a kid from Compton, California. If you dream and believe, anything is possible.”
Other top awards handed out include Will Smith who best actor for his role in “King Richard” and “The Harder They Fall,” which took home best film. Issa Rae won for best comedy series and Nikole Hannah-Jones was honored with the social justice impact award.
Sterling K. Brown shouted with joy when he won outstanding actor for a drama series. After Tiffany Haddish virtually presented him with the award, the “This Is Us” actor thanked the show’s network, NBC, before he joked about hanging out with Anderson’s mother.
“There’s way too many white people on my show for me to actually win this thing,” he said. “But I got to say ‘Thank you, Black people for voting for me. I really do appreciate it.’” AP
Three Members of K-pop BTS Diagnosed With Covid-19
Three members of the K-pop superstar group BTS have been infected with the coronavirus after returning from abroad, their management agency said.
RM and Jin were diagnosed with COVID-19 on Saturday evening, the Big Hit Music agency said in a statement. It earlier said another member, Suga, tested positive for the virus on Friday.
All three took their second jabs in August, the agency said.
The BTS is a seven-member boyband. The four other members are J-Hope, Jungkook, V and Jimin.
According to the agency, RM has exhibited no particular symptoms while Jin is showing mild symptoms including light fever and is undergoing self-treatment at home. The agency said Friday that Suga wasn’t exhibiting symptoms and was administering self-care at home in accordance with the guidelines of the health authorities.
RM had tested negative after returning from the United States earlier this month following his personal schedule there. But he was later diagnosed with the virus ahead of his scheduled release from self-quarantine, the agency said.
After returning to South Korea this month, Jin underwent PCR tests twice — upon arrival and later before his release from self-quarantine — and tested negative both times. But he had flu-like symptoms on Saturday afternoon before he took another PRC test that came back positive, the agency said. Media reports said he also traveled to the U.S.
Suga, who has had a number of personal engagements in the United States during the band’s official time off, was diagnosed with COVID-19 during quarantine after returning from the U.S., the agency said.
The agency said it’ll continue to provide support for the three members for their speedy recovery. It said it will cooperate with the requests and guidelines of the South Korean health authorities.
Since their debut in 2013, BTS has garnered global recognition for their self-produced music and activism, which includes giving a speech at the United Nations and publicly calling out anti-Asian racism. The band topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart three times in 2020, and was nominated for prominent music awards like Billboard Music Awards and MTV Video Music Awards. AP
Blanchett, del Toro on the femme fatale of ‘Nightmare Alley’
With a touch of Barbara Stanwyck, a sumptuous Art Deco office and a deadly shade of crimson lipstick, Cate Blanchett plays a femme fatale in Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” with cunning embrace and subversion of the film noir archetype.
If “Nightmare Alley” is del Toro’s lushly composed love letter to noir, the movie’s pulpy heart is in Blanchett’s conniving psychiatrist Lilith Ritter. She doesn’t enter the film until halfway through, when Bradley Cooper’s carnival huckster, Stan, catches her eye in his nightclub mind-reading act, and the two begin scheming together. But when she does turn up, Blanchett shifts the film’s fable-like frequency, conjuring deeper shades of mystery from the movie’s rich tapestry of shadow and fate.
“We tailored the part for her, but she fit in those clothes on the first try,” says del Toro.
In period films like “Carol,” “The Good German” and “The Aviator,” Blanchett has often evoked a classical kind of mid-century movie stardom. But in “Nightmare Alley,” an adaptation of the ’40s novel first made into Edmund Golding’s well-regarded 1947 film (currently streaming on the Criterion Channel), Blanchett slides into one of the movies’ most iconic types by trading less on her character’s seductiveness than on her razor-sharp intellect.
“What I thought was timely and dangerous about this story was it’s an exploration of the truth,” Blanchett said in an interview from Brighton, England. “Playing such a deliberately mysterious and ambiguous character I found really challenging because you have to know there’s a lot going on, but you’re never invited into exactly what she’s thinking.”
It’s one of two roles this December for Blanchett that revolve centrally around American deception and disinformation. There’s “Nightmare Alley,” currently in theaters, and Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up,” which arrives Friday on Netflix. In the latter, she plays a TV morning news anchor who cheerfully steers the news away from an impending asteroid doomsday and toward lighter subjects — like the sex appeal of Leonardo DiCaprio’s scientist.
There may be something timeless about Blanchett in “Nightmare Alley,” but to her, both films are characterized by their timeliness.
“It was such a privilege to be on a film set in this particular point in human history,” Blanchett says. “One should always be alive to the time in which what you’re making is going to be viewed. I never felt that more profoundly than making these two films.”
Blanchett and del Toro had discussed various projects for years but came together for the first time on “Nightmare Alley.” (She also voices a role in the director’s upcoming stop-motion animated “Pinocchio” — another film about truth telling.)
Del Toro, who calls his kinship with author James M. Cain “profound,” had long pined to pay tribute to noir. His affection for the genre runs deep. In his previous film, the best-picture Oscar-winner “The Shape of Water,” del Toro explicitly referenced Otto Preminger’s “Fallen Angel.” An avid collector, del Toro calls the portrait that hangs in Preminger’s “Laura” “the one prop I would kill to own.”
“I read all of (Raymond) Chandler right before I married,” says del Toro. “I’m not sure why.”
Del Toro scripted “Nightmare Alley” with film critic Kim Morgan, whom he wed earlier this year. His taste in noir leans toward seedy, rather than the more elegant varieties, and films that inhabit an audacious psychology.
“I like these characters, like Bette Davis in ‘Beyond the Forest,’ who are too smart for their environment,” he says. “I root for them not because I think they do things that are good but because I agree that they are left without recourse in what seems like a rigged game. That’s the noir that I find interesting.”
One touchstone for “Nightmare Alley” was 1949’s “Too Late for Tears,” a nasty noir starring Lizabeth Scott as a housewife who finds a bag full of cash. (Del Toro and Morgan screened it recently on TCM.) Tasting a chance for freedom from her husband and more, Scott’s character clings to the money. Del Toro and Morgan envisioned Lilith similarly as operating within a male-controlled society.
“Frankly, it’s the character I was completely passionate about creating with Cate,” he says. “She’s almost like an avenger. We said: Whatever happened to her in the past, she’s sort of righting the wrongs.”
To Blanchett, the term femme fatale suggests a diabolical woman — “like a siren seeking to draw the male character onto the rocks to destroy them for no reason apart from they have diabolical urges.”
Blanchett and del Toro instead played with subtle gradations in Lilith’s motives. Blanchett thought one line of dialogue was too straightforward, and del Toro agreed in cutting it. But he still quotes the speech a little ruefully: “Do you know what it is for a woman like me to grow up in a town where the smartest man is just a stupid beast?”
“Even though there’s nothing explicit that Lilith says about her background, there’s a sense that she’s damaged goods from the system, that she wants to burn down and she’s going to use Stan to do it,” says Blanchett. “Her faith in him and the men who run the system is nonexistent.”
Del Toro shot Blanchett’s scenes with Cooper, he says, like three 5-10-minute miniature plays. Inside Lilith’s ornate, wood-paneled office, the two con artists dance — a shifting drama told through blocking and camera movement. It’s a chess game that Lilith, inevitably, will win. AP
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