Or, Why hating Britney plays right into the hands of Them
When people -- critics and casual observers alike -- denounce Britney or any other pop starlet, they approach the given pop tart from an auterist perspective, which in all such cases is mistaken. In more pejorative terms, yes, she's fake, but for every teenybopper who thoroughly enjoys Britney-qua-Britney, there are just as many critics who aim their vitriol at a whole lot of nothing, which is what "Britney Spears" is. Or to look at her another way, she's a lot of everything, way more than what a single human could be, and thus, merely a victim of the cultural phenomenon that springs forth from her very image.
The performer whom we saw slogging around on the VMAs is not a single individual; she's a simulacrum of a person, a simulacrum that consists of a matrix of music producers, sound engineers, stylists, makeup artists, and trainers, and most importantly of all, her handlers and marketers who orchestrate her public persona. The actual person (if such a person exists, and I have to admit to anti-essentialist po-mo prejudices against the notion of the Self -- more on this later) who goes along with the body known as "Britney Spears" probably has some limited amount of creative input into her official artistic persona -- and almost certainly autonomously influences her tabloid persona to a large degree -- but in the overwhelming glare of paparazzi and 24/7 gossip coverage, no businessperson with a lick of acumen would let an erratic and coddled girl-child call more than the occasional shot, merely out of courtesy, to sustain a profitable career.
That said, I don't think the "real" Britney at this point is much more than a young cash cow who's been exploited to the point of acting out in a spectacularly public flameout. So directing any ire at her for whatever crime against taste, that's exactly what her handlers want -- she takes the heat while she helps them rake in the dosh while keeping her squarely in the center of public consciousness. Don't like her music? She doesn't write it. Don't like that she's all image -- and a highly sexualized and fetishized one -- and no "substance" (whatever "substance" is)? Even if the vapid pop tart image is a front for some Machiavellian image-making, a just-out-of-her-teens ex-Mousketeer probably isn't savvy or self-confident enough to come up with the idea. Don't like the fact that despite her lack of musicianship, she continues to be a big seller? She's not buying up her own records, and it's not like she's backwards-masking subliminal messages into her music to get the young girls and middle-aged perverts to lay out the cash for In the Zone or to Yvan Eht Nioj. The real perpetrators of "Britney Spears'" crimes against taste are off to the side, counting their money and laughing, because they're the truest beneficiaries of the "any news is good news" maxim. The real Brit is just a Southern girl getting ground up in the engine of commerce and anti-celebrity worship.
Indie rating: Britney Spears - "Toxic"