Britney Spears
By: Douglas Wolk | Categories: HiLo Heroes

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It can be hard to distinguish BRITNEY SPEARS (born 1981) the performer from Britney Spears the cultural construct — which one shaved her head, again? which one’s got the unerring song-sense that led her to “…Baby One More Time” and “Piece of Me” and “Toxic”? But the truest thing she’s ever said was in a 2003 interview with Entertainment Weekly: “Anyone can sit down and write some boring artistic song. Pop music is the hardest s— to write.” If you think of pop music not as “three-to-five-minute-songs with vocal refrains” or even as “what happens when Scandinavians, synthesizers, and MMC veterans collide” but as the musical entertainment that’s actually popular — that appeals directly to the tastes and experiences of millions of people — then it’s nearly impossible, a mountain that defeats almost everyone who challenges it and destroys the few who reach its summit. The particular genius of Britney-the-construct is that nearly every hit she’s had since “Oops!… I Did It Again” in 2000 has been, literally or metaphorically, about the pop process and what it’s done to Britney-the-performer: it’s claimed every aspect of her life as a performance.

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Douglas Wolk is the author of Reading Comics and Live at the Apollo. He writes for Techland.com, Time, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Wired, Print and elsewhere.