by waxbanks

Until tonight I’d never actually seen a Britney Spears video.

I read John Seabrook’s The Song Machine this week and was struck by the account of Britney Spears’s insistence, early on, that what she most wanted to do was dance — she was a popcult punchline by the time I realized she existed, so I had no idea she was basically a naïve Southern kid before the world (and the songwriters) so consequentially misconstrued the words ‘hit me baby one more time.’ I’ve always known she was a middling singer at best, but what I didn’t realize, since I’d never seen her perform on video, was the seeming effortlessness of her dance routines. The videos for ‘…Baby One More Time’ and ‘Oops…I Did It Again’ are adorable.

And surprisingly: they’re beautiful.

This girl with long prom-queen hair beams a gajillion-watt smile while just kind of floating across the dance floor — she’s working hard, everyone in the video is, but since everyone’s equally obviously having a great time, and the star of the show is totally in her element, it projects a fantasy of a young woman’s power that’s not primarily sexual, though obviously not chaste either — she’s just radiating easy charm. The Catholic schoolgirl schtick (her idea!) actually seems like innocent dress-up, the ludicrous vinyl sci-fi jumpsuit thing is a Halloween costume; and she didn’t wear either of them for anyone but herself.

That’s what comes across in those videos. I can’t believe what I’ve just seen. All of a sudden I kind of…liked her.

Unfortunately, I also watched the video for ‘Toxic.’ Again, it was my first viewing.

She doesn’t get to dance in the video at all. She just poses, titillates some sweaty middle-aged men, offers some contractually obligated panty-shot fanservice, and is turned into a prop for a banal sexual fantasy.

The video for ‘Toxic’ is heartbreaking. How did she end up in a straitjacket? There’s your answer: the girl who insisted on doing gymnastics in her big debut video was reduced to flashing her underwear for…well, for your math teacher, probably. Or for you. Certainly not for herself.

The Song Machine is nauseating, by the way. An interesting book, if you’re not already up on the material, which I wasn’t, and wish I weren’t.