This article is Ancient (archive 2011)

Remixing Britney’s Virginity; I don’t Hold it Against Her

With her latest album Femme Fatale, Britney brings her exploration/exploitation of femininity to a new, more obvious level. Britney’s (too) long discography contains a cultural discussion of pop femininity, but the recent surge of celebrity-as-object (read: femme-pop-star-as-object) songs and videos since Lady Gaga gives Britney’s team a whole new tool set. Don’t hold it against them.

The first time we see Britney is through a camera, and though she’s wearing white, the bullets on her belt demonstrate that she’s in no way virginal. This is Britney the brand, the one we all know, selling her selfhood and sexuality as perfume as presumably captured by a Sony (made in Japan) camera. Her narration sells us the story of her sexuality while the video constructs her as a product to sell just like her perfume.

We eventually switch to Britney surrounded by televisions, seemingly a part of the machine, wearing a monster wedding dress and looking sweetly into the camera with her ballad face on. The video alternates between the ballad-singing-from-the-heart shot and the circle full of screens, eventually revealing videos from “Sometimes,” “Baby One More Time,” and other memorably virginal moments in her career. Her virginal moments are mostly shot from above, while the mechanical moments are shot from below hinting at the imbalance between her feminine image and her real-world earning power.

What causes the breakdown of the Britney-machine? A fight between two Britneys (red and blue) leads her to malfunction and ejaculate neon spray from her hands, staining her wedding dress and splattering images of teenage-Britney during Baby One More Time. The video ends with a cock-rock worthy buildup to thumping pyrotechnic towers, a spray of confetti, and ultimately a literal neon question mark.

All of the meta-product placement aside, what really strikes me about this video is the need to reference Britney’s virginity in order to construct Britney as a virgin. It is the most clearly she’s ever been portrayed as an object, and she malfunctions due to her real desires. These videos use The Fame Monster’s concept of celebrities as objects to describe women as objects (have you ever seen an image of male celebrities as objects?). In this video, Britney-as-Virgin makes her virginity itself an object by showing you her ballad shot then exposing all of the machinery behind it.

Marilyn Monroe’s glamorous image stems from this pattern of objectification, and many music videos for blond pop stars seem to reference the “gilded cage” idea of being trapped by wealth, glamor, and femininity. Virginity becomes a desirable object in these videos, but in order to remain edgy and explore the themes of the album (Femme Fatale) and song (which employs an idea of schoolgirl sin with the chorus “If I said I want your body now/would you hold it against me”) the video must show us that the virginity is just an image, and finally stain the wedding dress to tear that image down.

Later this week: Britney as Barbie, in which we explore the other images Britney projects in order to remain the Queen of Pop. Subscribe or follow to get this post delivered to you!