What is Britney’s Next Move?

There’s magic hanging in the air. The sun is shining brighter, my smile is wider and nightfall feels just a little sexier. Ladies and gentlemen, Britney Spears has a new album out.

After a wait that felt tortuous for fans, Spears released her ninth LP Glory last Friday. Even though the phrase has graced news titles for years, Britney is back feels so certain this time. Though her single “Make Me…” is not dominating the charts, Britney’s streams and sales look promising in the first week of the release. The album kick-off was at the 2016 Video Music Awards, where she was hyped to make her “triumphant return” to the VMA’s stage. Britney performed her new single with a live feature from G-Eazy and sampled his popular “Me, Myself and I” with steamy chemistry. Dazzling in yellow, Britney ground out her slinky choreography with minimal set design. As her presenter Kim Kardashian reminded us, the performance was every bit of Britney, bitch.

As high-profile as it set out to be, her performance was met with mixed-negative reviews. Her lip-syncing was overwhelmingly poorly received. After immediately following Beyoncé’s power-house 15-minute Lemonade medley, many were left wondering: why try? As an artist with new material to promote, we can’t help but consider Britney’s place in a bustling industry of fresh-faces. Certifiably a music icon, Britney has some legwork to do in order to follow up on her name. The game has changed in the near 20 years since Britney debuted. How can Brit build upon her legacy rather than rely on it?

The heart of this issue lies heavily in the Video Music Awards, as so many of Spears’ historic looks and performances come from the awards show throughout the years. The VMA’s and Britney Spears are almost synonymous. Their relationship carries a bit more of an embedded meaning under further analysis. For a long time, both Britney and the Video Music Awards encapsulated the media movement of the new millennium. Extending beyond sound, Britney was able to weave together a pop persona in and outside the VMA’s that celebrated youth culture in the 90’s and 2000’s. Britney remains the most marketable, sexualized artist of her time. The very concept of Britney dives deep into our roots as a society, speaking to our desires, curiosity and obsession with fame. The following is a list, including but not limited to, the boundaries Britney Spears has pushed in her music videos, performances and subject matter:

  • Debuted her first music video as a sexy Catholic school girl (as a minor)
  • Stripped to a nude-illusion bodysuit in a performance at the age of 18
  • Appeared in a Rolling Stone cover shoot that toyed with the idea of pedophilia
  • Made a worldwide spectacle of her virginity
  • Played the role of Eve by dancing with a snake in a live performance
  • Referenced sex and slavery in the same breath lyrically
  • Brought lesbianism to the attention of mainstream audiences by sharing a live kiss with Madonna
  • Discussed masturbation and oral sex in her fourth studio album
  • Released a music video in which she starred as a stripper
  • Delivered a raunchy performance in the midst of a highly-publicized mental health battle
  • Produced an anthem in direct response to her abuse by the media
  • Cleverly snuck “F-U-C-K me” onto major radio stations
  • Tackled the subject of group sex in a #1 song

The above list is a minuscule sample of the shocking, captivating image Britney Spears enforced of herself. Largely relying on sex and sexuality, Britney has made the world lust after her again and again. Reinventing an act as obvious as sex and making it so consumable is what makes the Britney machine so magnetizing. Perhaps she was not the first artist to make music about sex, but she was the first introduction to sex for the millennial generation.

Even more intriguing was Britney’s hold on the public. For a star whose career is almost entirely sexual, she was miraculously able to maintain her all-American charm. Britney was that girl everyone wanted to be (or be with) in school. The meshing of her purity and sexuality at a young age reeled us in. Her youth factored greatly into her success, as she intermittently released songs like “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” and “Overprotected”. These tracks were sprinkled with feminism, clueing us in to her control over her mind and body. As Britney became a woman however, the forbidden aspect of her sexuality became blatant. Her career did stumble as a result of this— and obviously other malicious forces in her life.

But known as the comeback queen, Britney Spears has had herself newly packaged for us countless times. Reinvention is a key in a successful career in the music industry and Britney knows the formula. But at the age of 35, with unmatched success and innumerable iconic moments paired with her name, what does Britney have left for us? What possible angle can Britney and her team come at us from if they have explored all of them already?
The music artists of today, particularly the female pop stars, seem to be pitted against one another for acclaim. Each album, single, video, performance or appearance is meant to outshine somebody— artists are continually expected to outdo themselves and bleed innovation in their work. Beyoncé’s VMA performance on Sunday was in true Bey fashion. She was larger (and longer) than life. Britney Spears was met with poor reviews that claimed her performance lacked the purpose or direction Beyoncé’s did. She looked hot, of course, but the performance was identifiably simple— something that Britney is not known for on stage. But with greater understanding about the Britney Spears of 2016, we may come to the conclusion that simplicity is now Britney’s purpose.

In a recent interview on Elvis Duran and The Morning Show, Britney explained the thought of performing after Beyoncé at the VMA’s never really crossed her mind. Britney is familiar with the spotlight, as it has shone on her for over a decade now. For this reason, she is aware the spotlight has changed directions. New artists are selling out stadium tours, flocked by thousands of adoring fans and headlining every gossip tabloid— just like Britney at the height of her popularity. Britney’s life, primarily restructured by the aftermath of her public breakdown, does not consist of the aforementioned pop star elements. Britney headlines a high-energy show in Las Vegas three nights a week then returns home to her two sons. Made evident by her popular Instagram account, Britney’s interests are hiking, yoga, home-cooked meals and inspirational memes. A woman with such a casual, wholesome life shouldn’t have to force artistry that is artificial. She’s already the Britney Spears. Her latest work uses her legacy as a stepping stool— the Britney we knew now wants us to see her truth.

Her new album Glory is the closest connection we will receive to said truth. Though sexuality is inevitably a theme in her record, the tone has completely changed. As a grown woman and a mother, Britney’s sexy side isn’t so garish. The panting, animalistic sexuality we were acquainted with is no where to be found. The music is airy, unassuming and even cheeky at times. The maturity in Glory appears lyrically and sonically, as the fussy EDM production of Femme Fatale and Britney Jean has been exchanged for a melodic, chill sound from meticulous producers. Britney claims this is her best work yet and there’s no indication of her being wrong.

As for her image this era, many stand firm in their belief that the VMA’s performance was underwhelming by Britney’s standards. Sure, there wasn’t a yellow boa constrictor or a particular moment that impacted popular culture as we know it. But perhaps the most crucial part of the performance remained: the fire in Britney’s eyes. That certain something that made us gravitate toward the pop princess in 1999— the fire that the world almost lost back in 2007.

Signature Britney elements remained in her performance: hair-ography, a sassy strut in thigh-high boots, and that “mmm-yeah” vocal growling we all can hear from a mile a way. The pieces of Britney that we have held dear throughout her career are still there; if anything they are full-force. Britney Spears has reached a point in her career where success becomes optional. Perhaps by choosing not to prove herself, Britney is being the best Britney she can be. What’s left is to simply appreciate artistry without gimmicks or fallacies. This is finally Britney Spears in all her Glory.