Throughout her career, it’s been suggested by critics that Britney Spears is a mere pop music puppet; a brainless talentless record label controlled pop tart without a mind of her own.What many people don’t realize, is that since the beginning of her career, even as a teenager, Britney was very outspoken and in control of the image she projected in her music videos.
Whether it’s deciding to don a Catholic schoolgirl outfit in her first video, or wearing nothing by a few well-placed diamonds in “Toxic,” these often controversial and always memorable video concepts defined her career and a generation of pop music, and were ways that Britney could authentically define herself and her experiences as a young woman growing up in front of the world; a world that watched and judged her every move.
Britney Spears, interviewed at age 17 in 1999: “So far we’ve used a lot of my ideas on all of the videos, which is really cool because you actually get to see that on TV and see what your idea turns out to be like.”
“Baby One More Time” , directed by Nigel Dick
Britney was just 16 years old when she helped create one of the most iconic and career defining videos in music history. The Catholic schoolgirl dancing in the hallway image is one that resonated with an entire generation, and even at that young age, she was the one who came up with the concept that visually introduced her to the world.
Britney Spears, 1998 [at age 16]: “The first idea we had for the video was so off the wall. I was like, ’I want something a lot of kids can relate to.’ It’s just a fun video.“
Nigel Dick: “I had a completely different idea for the video, which I can’t remember now. I submitted [something] but everyone said, “No, this is wrong. But speak to Britney, she’s got an idea.” So the video that we made was essentially her idea, and I think it was a good one.”
Nigel Dick: “I decided to try this idea that someone had thrown at me and they hated it — they absolutely hated it. So I jumped on the phone with Britney and she says, ’Well, I now I think it should be about me in school and there be lots of hot boys around,’ and that was pretty much it — oh, and a bunch of dancing. And my response was, ’OK.’ ”
Nigel Dick: “My [wardrobe] idea originally was just jeans and T-shirts, and we were at the wardrobe fitting and Britney holds up the jeans and T-shirts and says, ‘Wouldn’t I wear a schoolgirl outfit?’ ” he said. “Every piece of wardrobe in the video came from Kmart, and I was told at the time not one piece of clothing in the video cost more than $17. On that level, it’s real. That probably, in retrospect, is a part of its charm.”
“(You Drive Me) Crazy” , directed by Nigel Dick
Britney Spears: “The reason why I love him so much is because he really listens to my ideas and he’s so easy to work with, and he’s smart and the results that come out in his videos are phenomenal”
Nigel Dick: “It’s great to know what’s going on in her mind and to make a video for her that is in a situation for her that she feels right in.”
Britney Spears: “Actually, the concept of the video is all my idea. It would be cool to be in a club, and we’re dorky waitresses, and we break out and start dancing”
“Oops…I Did it Again” , directed by Nigel Dick
Nigel Dick: “Yeah I worked with her on three other videos [BOMT, Sometimes, Crazy]. She would give me like a two sentence perspective of what she wanted. When we did “Oops…I Did It Again,” she said, “I want to be in a red outfit on Mars, and I don’t want there to be a rocket ship.” So the rest was up to me to figure out the way we were going. You create Mars. You give her a red outfit, which she ends up rejecting and comes up with her own version of it, and that’s how you proceed.”
Britney Spears: “This whole idea [for the Oops video] was my idea. I was like, ’I want to be on Mars, dancing on Mars.”
Nigel Dick: “There was another catsuit, actually, which was fantastic, which I loved, and the night before, I was told that Britney hired this guy that worked with Michael Jackson,” the director said. “And so we’re going to use that catsuit. So that’s the catsuit.”
“Stronger” , directed by Joseph Kahn
Joseph Kahn: “For ’Stronger,’ she said, ’I would like to dance in a chair and drive in a car and break up with [my] boyfriend.’ Those are your three elements.’ And then, as a director, you go, ’OK, well, how do I make that cool?’ She pitched it to me as an original concept by herself, but the first thing that came to my mind when I thought of the chair sequence, in terms of how it applies to music videos, was Janet Jackson’s ’Pleasure Principle’ — the iconic chair sequence in that.”
Joseph Kahn: “There’s a shot here where I’m tracking with her, and her legs are spread, and Larry [Rudolph], the manager, was like, ’Don’t do that.’ And she was like, ’Yes, definitely do that.’”
“Toxic“ , directed by Joseph Kahn
Though Spears didn’t co-direct this video, Joseph Kahn marveled at how the singer came to him with a fully formed idea for the video, down to the smallest detail. Case in point: Near the beginning of the video, Britney knew she wanted to drip some water in a passenger’s lap, provocatively dab it up and then turn around and kiss a child on the head.
Joseph Kahn: “That’s part of her brilliance. She has this weird awareness of her appeal. She totally understands that she’s naughty and nice, that she’s the girl next door gone bad who is constantly titillating you. She’s not like most artists who flaunt their pure sexuality. She toys with you and leaves you conflicted.”
Joseph Kahn: “Britney said she wanted to shoot a scene wearing diamonds and nothing else, and I’m like, ’How do I make this work?’ She said she wanted to dance. I didn’t like the bikini she was wearing.”
Britney Spears: “Joseph’s very ambitious. He’s a professional. I came up with the concept and threw it out there. … There are jewels all over my body. There’s nothing actually underneath.”
Joseph Kahn: “She said she wanted to join the mile-high club and be a stewardess that makes out with someone in the bathroom. My contribution was to make him a fat guy, because you know at some point in her videos she’ll make out with hot guys. Picking out the everyguy is a fantasy on one level for her, but you put a chubby guy in there and the common man gets something too.”
“Everytime” , directed by David LaChappelle
This is another video that was completely Britney’s concept. The original treatment had Britney accidentally dying by taking pills and drowning in a bathtub. This controversial concept was nixed after outcry from the public who said it was glamorizing suicide.
[Entertainment Weekly, 2004]: “A month ago, Spears announced that the video, directed by David La Chapelle, would be her version of ”Leaving Las Vegas,” the Oscar-winning downer about a man who drinks himself to death. In the initial video, Spears was to dramatize her reaction to the press onslaught surrounding her quickie Vegas marriage earlier this year by taking refuge in a Vegas hotel, immersing herself in the tub, and overdosing on pills.”
Actor Stephen Dorff, the love interest in the video: “There was an original video, too, which was a lot darker. It was like much more like a suicide type video with pills and wine. It was a little dark probably for the fans. She originally died in the video and then in this video she wakes up in the end.”
“Do Somethin’” , co-directed by Britney Spears and Billie Woodruff
Perhaps sensing that Britney was becoming over-exposed tabloid fodder at this point in her career, her label originally did not support making the “Do Somethin’“ video. Unfortunately for them, this was a period in time that Britney sought control of her career more than ever before and she fought hard and persisted.
Britney Spears, 2005: “The things I’ve been doing for work lately have been so much fun, because it’s not like work to me anymore. I’ve been even more ’hands on’ in my management and the business side of things, and I feel more in control than ever.“
Britney Spears: “Billie [the co-director] had no ego whatsoever, and the whole process was just so much fun. I even came up with all the choreography and styled the entire shoot myself using Juicy Couture clothing. … I think everything came out great. After doing about 20 videos, it gets kind of boring playing the same role. I feel like being behind the camera is sometimes more satisfying than being in front of it.“
“Gimme More , directed by Jake Sarfaty
Even in the midst of her 2007 breakdown, Britney still sought to maintain control of her video image.
In 2007, MTV reported that “First-time director Jake Sarfaty was “handpicked” by the singer, a rep from label Jive confirmed, adding that the project, shot over two days, was purely Spears’ “concept and her vision.’“
The final version of “Gimme More” was far different than the original version, which allegedly featured a funeral scene and a scene on a bed that has reached near-mythical status with fans. It’s been rumored that Britney sabotaged the video’s first attempt, which is not surprising given the rest of the events of 2007. This resulted in the final “stripper without a plot” concept. However, that time in Spears’ life is shrouded in mystery, so I guess we will never know the truth!
“Womanizer” , directed by Joseph Kahn
“According to Kahn, the video was a completely collaborative effort. She came to him with a clear idea and a strong-enough song that made directing a piece of cake.”
Britney Spears: “I came up with the idea for the video. I’m playing this one guy throughout the video, and it’s like a “Toxic 2″ but it’s better.”
Joseph Kahn: “It’s a much more mature sound and much more mature lyrics, and she always has the greatest ideas. The initial kernel of the idea always came from her. She’s hyper-aware of pop culture.”
“Work Bitch” , directed by Ben Mor
Adam Leber, Britney’s manager: “This is a vision that she had and she created with the director, Ben Mor. Britney wanted this to feel real editorial, real fashion, a little bit risque.”