When Britney Spears first burst onto the music scene, she was heralded as the leading entertainer of the new generation of Pop stars primed to dominate the turn of the century. Of course, beyond her talent as a performer, what propelled her to the top of the pack was her packaging as the next Madonna…or was she really just Janet Jackson by another name?
If you paid close attention to Spears’ style during her younger years, you should have observed the blatant similarities between her and Jackson. The budding vocalist who showed off impressive pipes during her first appearance on Star Search adopted more sultry singing suited to club hits that could have easily been written for Jackson. Spears also included group choreography into her routines and a subtle sex appeal that bordered on risqué without crossing the line into hooker territory.
Spears’ career even followed a similar trajectory to that of Jackson as she matured as an artist. She gradually swapped her girl next door image for the sexy vixen at the bar who was clearly out of your league but you still asked her to dance because you couldn’t resist the dimples and tramp stamp on her lower back.
In fact, Spears was basically one step behind Jackson in 2001 as her coming of age album, Britney, seemed to be an ode to her counterpart’s All of You record of that year. She was suddenly showing more skin, her videos were laced with darker, more sexually-charged imagery and her footwork emulated Jackson’s movements, which were based on the slick turns, smaller steps and perfectly timed heel to toe switches. Clearly, I watched far too many episodes of America’s Best Dance Crew.
By the In the Zone album of 2003, Spears’ fashion choices, dancing and music was so similar to Jackson that it was baffling that they weren’t being highlighted by the media. Even her ballads were comparable to Jackson’s work. Really, the piano and string-assisted “Everytime” was just the depressed little sister of Jackson’s “Again”.
Yet, if these parallels between Spears and Jackson were so clear, why was the former presented to the world as the next Madonna? You know what I’m about to suggest; you can feel it in your bones and you’re hoping I don’t say it but I will. The answer is simple: Madonna is white.
Although Madonna has long been known as the industry’s unapologetic tramp – well, Rihanna technically stole that title a while ago – and the memory of her Sex book continues to haunt the memories of middle America citizens, the mere fact that she is a white Pop artist opens doors that black acts have to work much harder to crack. Even when her career had lost steam in the mid-1990s, and Jackson was dominating both the charts and the tour circuit, Madonna was still recognised by the media as the “undisputed” Queen of Pop.
Naturally, if Spears’ team wanted her to be great, it would make perfect sense to market her as the next Madonna instead of comparing her to Jackson, although Spears had very little in common with Madonna beyond the colour of her skin. Think about it: how many major white performers have ever been called the next [insert black artist other Michael Jackson here]? As crude as it may seem, cultural and social ideals reflected in the media would deem such parallels as unfavourable. Simply, that would be “beneath” them.
So, Spears copied Jackson’s every move prior to the Damita Jo album, targeted a younger crowd and was paraded to the world as the next Madonna. Moreover, with the formerly music-driven MTV, specifically TRL, providing the viewers audience with a steady stream of propaganda to support the
delusion illusion, it was difficult for any person to change public perception.
Interestingly, a white artist has since shattered the smoke and mirrors that tricked the public into believing that Spears was the second coming of Madonna. Indeed, Lady Gaga imitates Madonna to such a startling degree that it is impossible to deny their similarities and now that Spears has become unfit to carry the mantle following her breakdown, there is space for a new heir to imaginary Pop throne.
Many of you may be wondering why I include discussions of race/colour/ethnicity while presenting my theories and analyses of various artists’ careers but I remain resolute in my position. It is impossible to develop an understand of popular culture without deconstructing the various ideologies that feed the beast. This isn’t a fantasy land; it’s the music industry, and similar to other areas of mass media, it affects and reflects reality.