“I’m a Slave 4 U” was an unsatisfying introduction to Act III of the ever-impinging adulthood of Britney Spears. If only the song had left a little more to the imagination, and allowed us to hear “U” as the audience to which Britney was indentured, or the public image in which she had been imprisoned. Or if only it had left a little less to Britney’s stunted imagination–she knows only one way to prove she’s not the little girl that all you people look at her like she is. The Neptunes’ high production values only served to make the exhibition ickier.
To follow up that cum shot as coming-out party, however, professional handler Max Martin scribbled down a minor act of rebellion. “Overprotected” offers a case study in what happens when the identity crises of adolescence are commercially postponed until young adulthood. When claiming that her decisions belong to “no one else but me,” Britney ends on what may be her most defiant and egregious distention of the long-e sound ever. And if “Overprotected” thumps along to a beat far less ingenious than even the Neptunes’ filler (nice try, Jerkins), that just befits a song about realizing there’s more to life than dancing.
Despite its terrific title, the third single from Britney, “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” (another Martin product) was a blah ballad. Set alongside “Slave,” Britney seemed suspended between the two forms of adult female agency pop had come to recognize: entrepreneurial porn star or Celine Dion understudy. Now that Britney’s life has reached no unhappy ending (at least yet), despite her years of acting out in public, the reassuring backing chorus of “Overprotected”–“You’ll find it out, don’t worry”–feels even more resonant. Looking back, now, we can see that Britney had nothing to lose but her chains.