What Britney said, or should have
November 4, 2001
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
Talking to the media in any real or substantive way seems to strike Britney Spears as the most onerous burden that comes with her current position as the reigning diva of teen-pop. And yet speak she must--especially when she's about to drop an eagerly anticipated third album, "Britney," on Tuesday.
Spears' label, Jive Records, the teen-pop monolith that is also home to 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys, does not believe in one-on-one interviews with its artists. Instead, it favors round-table conference calls with two dozen or more journalists at a time. Each reporter is allowed to ask one question, with no follow-ups. You ring a special number; hit "*" and then "#" to secure a place in the line of questioners; pose your query, and then are immediately muted as everyone listens to the star respond.
Such "interviews" are frowned upon by serious journalists on every other beat, but Britney and her ilk get away with it, and many reporters subsequently pass off these comments as "exclusives," slyly omitting any mention of the actual circumstances of the "interview."
Still, for all of their faults, these sessions can produce moments of interest for fans and students of popular culture. What follows are highlights, in order, from Spears' teleconference on Oct. 24. Many of the more mundane questions have been omitted ("What was it like working on your HBO special?"); Spears' language has been "cleaned up" according to standard journalistic practices (How she really talks: "So, I just, I mean, I just have to, uh, laugh it off, you know, when stuff like that comes up, like, you know?"), and I could not resist footnoting her comments with the follow-up questions I'd like to have posed, corrections of factual errors, and some suggestions for what she should have said.
Otherwise, the following is 100-percent unadulterated Britney.
Quick with "*"/"#" trigger finger, I got to pose the first question.
Q. Jim DeRogatis: Britney, this is a fairly hot and horny record--a lot of people are comparing it to Madonna's "Erotica." Now, when I've seen you in concert before, I've generally been surrounded by 12- to 16-year-olds--young kids--most of them girls. I wonder if you've thought about the message you send to them? I see them looking at you, twirling around the pole in that Demi Moore sort of strip-tease, and I wonder if you worry about them getting this message of sexuality at a pre-sexualized age?
A. First, I'm very flattered that such young kids look up to me, because the innocence of them is a really beautiful thing. But I think it's honestly up to their parents to explain to them that I'm a performer, and that when I'm on stage, that's my time to perform and express myself. I don't wear those clothes to the supermarket or to a ballgame. You know, little kids, just like when they go into their mom's closet and they dress up in their mom's clothes, it's fine and fun, and it's like their time to play at home. But that's not what they're supposed to wear out into reality in the real world.
The follow-up I never got to ask: But Britney, how many moms have dominatrix outfits in their closets--not to mention the python-as-accessory that you sported at the MTV Video Music Awards?
Q. Derek Simmonsen, The Washington Times: I noticed that you did a lot more writing on the new album compared to your last one. I was wondering what that experience was like for you?
A. This album is the first album that I've ever really written on, so I really took my time on it. When I actually listened down to the whole album, it's just that much more special because you put your heart all over it. It's like your baby. And even just performing--like I'm at the rehearsals right now--when I get to get on stage and I get to sing a song that I wrote, it just means so much more when it comes from you. I don't know if I'm the best songwriter in the world, but I had a lot of fun doing it, and hopefully I'll get better and grow.
The missed follow-up: Come on, Britney, level with us: How much of this stuff did you really write, and how much was you just sticking a line in and taking a credit?
Q. Doug Pullen, The Flint Journal: I was curious about the mindset going into this record, because it really reads like a declaration of independence from adolescence.
A. I really didn't have a concept going in. I was really just inspired by a lot of hip-hop and R&B when I was on tour before I even recorded the album, and so that's why I changed up the producers I worked with a little bit, just to incorporate that. And, you know, I go into the studio and whatever vibe we were feeling at the time, whatever I was going through at the moment, that's how I kind of express myself.
The missed follow-up: At what point in this self-expression did Jive Records' focus groups and marketing armada come into play?
Q. Gabrielle Grubka, The Buffalo News: Some are already predicting first-week sales of your new album. How do you deal with that pressure?
A. You know, it's kind of hard to top something like "Baby One More Time" and "Oops! I Did It Again." And honestly, I pray that it does something like that, but my expectations aren't really there. I know this album is probably going to be a growth record for me, and I just want people to buy it--maybe even like an older generation--just buy it and have respect for it.
The missed follow-up: So you're saying that, with the teen market shriveling like a slug in a salt lick, you're hoping that heavy-breathing older men will sustain you?
Q. Gary Graff, Reuters: I don't know if you're aware of this or not, but in Alice Cooper's current stage show, he has his daughter dressed like you, and he winds up assaulting and killing her-as-you.
A. Oh, well, that's really nice. Seriously, stuff like that, I don't take myself that seriously. I just have to laugh it off when stuff like that comes up, you know? I find it interesting they find me so interesting.
What Britney should have said: "Who the heck is Alice Cooper?"
Q. Chuck Klosterman, The Akron Beacon-Journal: One of the first questions was about the somewhat overt adult sexual nature of this record. Here's what I'm curious about: The people who bought your first record when they were 13 or 14, now they're 16 or 17. Do you consciously try to stay ahead of the curve as your audience grows older?
A. Really, maybe I should think that deep. But honestly, I think when you grow as a person, you're going to grow as an artist, as well. And I just think for this, my third album, I had to grow creatively. I couldn't do "Baby One More Time, No. 3." For me as a person, I just had to change it up a little bit and just pray that people will think that's cool and appreciate or really love my music.
What Britney should have said: "Listen, Chuck, you've GOT to stay ahead of that curve or be left choking on someone else's dust. Just ask Tiffany or the Spice Girls."
Q. Andrea Dresdale, ABC Radio: About the Las Vegas HBO special [which airs on Nov. 18]--you're dressed like Elvis in all the ads, so are you a big Elvis fan?
A. Yes, I am a really, really big Elvis fan. And I think the real reason why we did the whole Elvis thing is because, you know, he's from Vegas. And I always thought it would be really, really fun. My family--we're all really big Elvis fans.
Correction: Elvis was from Tupelo, Miss.--not Las Vegas, Nev.
Q. Janet Giovanelli, www.J14.com : You said that this album is like a peek inside of your diary. I'm just wondering, how do you balance expressing yourself in your lyrics and trying to maintain some sense of privacy?
A. Seriously, this album was very therapeutic for me, because when you're feeling something, you can express it through a song. But there are still definitely a lot of songs that I write that I keep to myself. It's hard for me, honestly, because I am an open person. That's something that I've had to constantly tell myself to hold back from. But I definitely still do keep a lot of things for myself. Oh, my God, I have to!
What Britney should have said: "Come on, now! Do you think any of this is real? That embarrassing on-air tirade backstage in South America--now THAT was real! And wait until you see the question down below about me and Justin--that's TOO real!''
Q. Mary Awosika, The New York Times: I have a question in relation to the song "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman." You're coming of age. Obviously, you're growing up in the spotlight and it's difficult at times. What does it mean for you personally to be not a girl and not yet a woman?
A. Honestly, I guess it depends on what your definition of a girl and a woman is. I think my definition of a girl is someone who hasn't experienced her life at the fullest potential yet--who's very naive and she's still growing. And a woman is one who has fulfilled her life, and she has a lot of wisdom; she's gained all the wisdom that she needs. She's just completely lived her life the way she needs to, and she knows herself in and out.
I think that I'm kind of right in between there. I think I'm on the verge of being a woman, but it's just kind of hard because, since I have grown up in the spotlight, people place these things on you to be a certain way. Not even necessarily my fans or anything. It's the people around me. They treat you a certain way when you're 16 or 17, and it's up to you to stand up and say, "OK, I need my own identity. I need to grow and be an adult and do things on my own." I think a lot of teenagers can relate to that because they're going off to college, and their parents want them to grow up and be this wonderful independent person, but yet at the same time they want to feel needed. They're like, "I want them to be my baby forever." So, it's a teenage issue.
The missed follow-up: How does your infamous stage-mom manager play into all of that?
Q. Kira Schlecter, The Harrisburg Patriot-News: On this record, you cover "I Love Rock and Roll." On your last album, you covered "Satisfaction." Why cover songs like these that are so associated with particular performers? Isn't that kind of risky?
A. Well, really, the song "I Love Rock and Roll" is associated with a movie that I just did ["Not A Girl"]. There's a karaoke scene in the movie and they said, "We need a song for you to sing." And actually I sing "I Love Rock and Roll" all the time in karaoke, so it just made sense for me to do that song. I wanted [producer Rodney Jerkins] to come in and redo the track and make it really funky. I just love the song. I love Pat Benatar, and I just think she's amazing. It's like she's a rock 'n' roll chick and she's just having a good time and it's a very empowering song.
Correction: Joan Jett wrote and recorded "I Love Rock and Roll"--not Pat Benatar.
Q. Doug Elfman, The Las Vegas Review-Journal: This is a little personal question, so you can slap my face verbally if you want to. But I asked a lot of people--I told them that I was going to be talking to you--and of course what they wanted to know is, [you say] you're a virgin, but are there other ways that you and [boyfriend] Justin [Timberlake of 'N Sync] "work things out?" I don't know how else to put that, exactly.
A. We can go to the next question.
What Britney should have said: "Wouldn't you love to know, you pervert?"