Britney Spears — “Piece of Me”

Released: 11.27.07

Peak: #18

Britney’s luded 2007 VMA sleepwalk capped as humiliating a stretch as any modern celebrity has successfully weathered. This was the year our girl shaved her head, ducked in and out of rehab, wilded out on paparazzi with an umbrella, ducked in and out of court — a year lots of us reasonably guessed she might not outlive. I was glad I had no professional responsibility to follow her ordeal in depth, because I’d just have trafficked in old-guy rants about the rancid media-celebrity dynamic at the core of pop culture. To perform “Gimme More,” an insatiably blob-like throb of all-consuming masochism, as though half-assing a tech rehearsal — how perfectly unflattering a reflection of our spiteful, automated desires.

Then came “Piece of Me,” and Britney was exciting again. Simply by refusing to play the victim, she juiced up a lyrical genre that had choked on its own self-pity ever since Michael first whined “Leave Me Alone.” With a sigh of “Another day/ Another drama,” she goes about business as usual, even while casting a more defiant gauntlet at media foes than even “My Prerogative” — the Bobby Brown original, I mean, not Brit’s faint Xerox. Her titular taunt was also an invitation to the carving knives, to give ’em give ’em more, to deliver on the introductory promise of “It’s Britney, bitch” that “Gimme More” ducked out on.

Bloodshy & Avant are hardly the geniuses of Miike Snow fans’ dreams, but as producers they know how to shape the sinister undertow of Britney’s fame: Sub-woofer bass and malfunctioning synth tweets, a chain clank suggesting both S&M and a railroad gang, and above all, those heavily treated vocals. “Piece of Me” is as druggy as dance pop comes, as druggy as early ’70s Stones, back when Mick was wondering whether on-stage suicide could sate teenage lust. Three decades of celebrity dysfunction, Britney knows that blood would just get the little fame-whores going. And yet, she recognized that the key to post-millennial stardom is to never to leave the crowd wanting more, to revel in mass hatred and adoration alike.

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