Britney Spears / Circus / December 02, 2008
It’s been about two weeks since Britney Spears’ Circus leaked over the Internet and I just got the meaning of “If You Seek Amy,” perhaps a clever analogy for everything Spears’ latest album stands for: an attempt to shove the last few years into the closet, but forgetting to close the door when the guests come over. It’s as if Blackout never actually happened (and if “Radar” wasn’t tacked on as a bonus track, we could keep pretending it hadn’t). It’s obvious that Team Spears has been doing major damage control the last couple of years; a flip through the latest issue of Rolling Stone reveals an interview interesting for all the things it doesn’t say: no mention of the process of recovery, no mention of Jamie Lynn Spears’ pregnancy, and nothing in attempt to refute crazy paparazzi stories. In fact, the only thing the writer seemed to be allowed to ask are things about the album and how her kids were doing which equates to flat, cliched conversation and a brief moment of indignation when Spears hints as if letting us in on some big secret that Federline might be a bad father.
Circus is set up in the same vein. Like Spears’ albums in the past, it contains catchy hooks and a shimmering production of songs that build around her sometimes raspy, feeble vocals that work well on numbers like “Womanizer” that subsist of little less than catcalls, but completely fail on songs like “My Baby.” But unlike Blackout, these vocals are hers and have not been digitally tweaked to the point of pop-robotics: there’s a natural progression to the album that makes it seem as if Spears is not just reinventing herself, she is flat-out refusing to admit shit ever went down. This gives her the elan to sing songs like “Unusual You,” a song about falling in love with a good guy who calls back and goes where he says he’ll be and “Mmm Papi,” a completely unironic sequel to In the Zone‘s “The Hook-Up.” She also sings about sex (“If You Seek Amy”), having sex, (“Lace and Leather”), and fucking with the American public (“Circus”). In a rare moment, she shines through on “Out from Under,” a tender ballad about a break-up, before verbally abusing the same break-up in “Shattered Glass” – it’s calculated, but not really; like the average pop album, there’s no central cohesion that links any of the songs, save the singer. In a rare moment of brilliance, the bonus tracks are all almost equally as good, if not better than most of the album tracks (“Amnesia” is a cutesy, retro-pop song about going blank in the presence of a crush, and “Phonography” is the answer to Kylie Minogue’s “Speakerphone,” except more explicit).
What makes the album really great is the circus concept behind the album itself. I suppose we’re meant to believe that a) Spears’ life is crazy, you know, like a circus, and b) she puts on shows, you know, like a ringleader, but really, c) nothing that serious ever happened. And because it never happened, our new self-proclaimed queen of pop has the audacity to let you know there are two types of people in this world: those who entertain and those who observe. I think there are two types of people in this world, too: those who make a mass exodus to the dance floor the likes of which “SexyBack” has never seen when the deejay plays “Womanizer,” and those who don’t.