I don't know who you are, but you need to let Britney stop.
On Wednesday, Britney Spears dropped a video for her new single "Pretty Girls," a "Fancy" facsimile with diminishing returns. "Pretty Girls" features "Fancy" auteur Iggy Azalea, the go-to feature du-jour for pop divas in desperate need of some radio heat.
The video finds Spears and Azalea as an alien and as a trashy '80's real housewife, respectively. There's also a convertible, egregious Samsung ad-placement and some pretty sus dialogue, acting and, most notably, dancing. Some of this is bad on purpose, sure, but none of it is funny for the reasons it thinks it is. In short, it's all another weak installment in what feels like the interminable unraveling of Britney Spears, Pop Icon.
There's little need to rehash what is, at this point, an indelible and tragic cornerstone of 21st Century Pop Culture. But as is common knowledge, Britney Spears, Person, has not been present with us in any meaningful way for about a decade.
Indeed, ever since her public breakdown in the mid 2000s, the Britney with whom we first fell in love, Britney 1.0, has effectively vanished before our eyes. Britney had always been a product, perhaps the last big-budget music industry creation of the Roaring '90s. But Britney 1.0 was an electric dancer and live performer, equipped with the best pop tunes money could buy. Manufactured or not, the original Britney incarnation owned every aspect of what it meant to be Britney Spears. Her status as a cipher mattered little in the glare of some pretty great entertainment, performed with aplomb by the ephemeral glitterball at its center.
But as could be expected from a young woman thrust into the spotlight before she could legally operate a car, Britney 1.0 could not sustain. Her public undoing in 2005 and 2006 displayed the dark underbelly of superstardom in the starkest fashion since Michael Jackson's molestation trial and experiments with cosmetic surgery. During this meltdown, we got a one-off album from what we'll call Britney 1.5, Blackout, ironically her best, most revealing and indeed unnerving work.
Beginning with 2008's Circus, however, Britney 1.0 had been completely replaced by Britney 2.0, a tentative, robotic rendering of the girl we once knew. She was still blessed with the best hooks culled from the top writers in the biz. But whoever created Britney 2.0 was not immediately clear. Was it her label? Her manager? Her dad? In fact, the only thing that was obvious was a palpable sense that Britney 2.0 wasn't steering, or even willfully riding, the ship.
Beginning with the video for Circus' lead single "Womanizer," Britney appeared listless, utterly afraid to move her body in the way that was once her calling card. Her videos themselves, once the primary platform for her talents, were made to obscure her as much as possible. Her voice, never a powerful instrumental but a highly distinctive coo, became so anonymous under mountains of tuning that many questioned whether she was even showing up to the studio at all.
More disturbing than her lack of any discernable virtuosity, though, was the fact that Britney didn't really seem happy to be there. "There" could be anywhere - singing on a track, dancing in a video, performing on her still very profitable tours or engaging in interviews and promotion. She looked uncomfortable, going through the motions of a dance routine with the timidness of a dress rehearsal or spewing canned sentences to the press while trying to force a smile when it seemed painful to do so.
Given how far Britney had fallen as a performer between 2004's "Toxic" and "Womanizer," along with how desperately unhappy she seemed with being a pop star at all, it is perhaps most astounding just how long the Britney Machine was able to maintain relevance. Indeed, Britney Inc. continued to top the charts through 2013's "Scream & Shout," all while each passing single, video, tour and album showcased an artist in sharp decline.
This chasm between chart performance and the state of the artist herself was almost unprecedented, especially considering how many of Britney's far more able late '90s peers like Christina Aguilera had been wholly dismissed by the public long before. But even the hit machine faltered with 2013's much derided Britney Jean, her first post-breakdown album without a top-ten hit and by far the lowest selling offering in her discography. It represented the moment when Britney, the Industry, finally caught up with Britney, the Artist.
All of which brings us to back "Pretty Girls," her first single since Britney Jean and, along with the well-documented sleepwalking featured in her multiple year residency in Las Vegas, a long-coming nadir in a career that has perhaps gone on for too long.
Aside from the general lack of ingenuity of the song itself - it's Britney's most desperately trendy single to date - the video once again features an obviously disengaged Spears. She mimes through her dances and her forced smiles and canned laughter have never seemed more pronounced.
Most tellingly, despite "Pretty Girls" featuring the opening line, "Australia all the way down to LA," an overt reference to Britney and her duet partner Iggy's home-bases, a recent interview to promote the song with Z100 had Britney feeling unsure of where Iggy originated. "I think Iggy is Australian?" she blurted. Current Britney, Britney 3.0, doesn't even know what the lyrics in her song mean or why they're coming out her mouth in the first place.
And that's where I think it's time to stop.
The problem is that Britney doesn't seem to have the ability to pull the brake lever herself. Maybe it's because she doesn't know a life other than churning out musical product, keeping the numerous leeches who feed off her industry employed since she was confirmation age. Maybe it's more overt financial pressure thrust on her by her team. I don't know.
But whoever does have the ability to stop this train needs to stop it. Britney deserves to be happy. She is clearly neither passionate, nor able to be a pop star anymore. I mean what 16-year-old knows who they want to be for the rest of their lives? I sure didn't.
The one thing that has always been true about Britney, even in her current embodiment, is her sweetness. She genuinely seems like a good-hearted and simple soul whose life has played out under extraordinary circumstances.
So whoever you are, the person who has the ability to help Britney live the best life for her, you needs to let her go live that life. Or at least present her with the choice to leave the pop game behind which, I'd take a gander, isn't necessarily an obvious option to her. I say this as a fan of Britney's, who grew up worshiping her and loving her music: it's time to let Britney stop.