Britney Spears: Architect of her own image

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” [1998], 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” [1999], 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”

[Watch the MTV Making the Video episode]

“Oops…I Did it Again” [2000], 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.”

[Watch the MTV Making the Video episode]

“Stronger” [2000], 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.’”

[Watch the MTV Making the Video episode]

“Toxic“ [2003], 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.”

[Watch the MTV Making the video episode]

“Everytime” [2004], 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’” [2005], 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 [2007], 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” [2008], 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” [2013], 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.”

-By Meghan Brozanic

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10 Underrated Michael Jackson Songs

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[All songs from his solo career only.]

1. Baby Be Mine [Thriller, 1982]

I know what you’re thinking; how can a song from an album that sold 30 million copies in the US alone be underrated? Well in an album with so many iconic songs, “Baby Be Mine” consistently gets overlooked. It is the best jam on that album, no doubt. I play it all the time at my DJ nights and people bop every time.

2. Stranger in Moscow [HIStory, 1995]

One of Michael’s most powerful and emotional songs. It flopped in America and was a moderate hit around the rest of the world. The HIStory period was not well-regarded by the press and most of the songs on the album were greatly overlooked, in my opinion. The melody to this song is beautiful and as usual, Michael’s vocals are transcendent and also very vulnerable. The “how does it feel” part gets me every time, man. Tame Impala recognized the genius and did a rad cover of this song earlier this year.

3. Give In To Me [Dangerous, 1991]

Michael always tried to do one rock song on each album and this is one of his most passionate and filled with sexual tension. Slash from Guns and Roses plays guitar.

4. Girlfriend [Off The Wall, 1979]

Paul McCartney allegedly wrote this song for Michael but ended up recording it with Wings first. Michael’s version is far superior and is a nice mid-tempo breezy number on an album full of dance floor bangers.

5. They Don’t Care About Us [HIStory, 1995]

Another song from this era that was big worldwide but barely made a blip in the US due to some controversial lyrics and bad press at the time. I really like all of MJ’s songs about his haterz and this song in particular always had a killer military inspired dance routine when he performed it live.

6. Another Part of Me [Bad, 1987]

Some people may remember this song from the Captain EO 3D film at Disney World and it’s a jam!! As you can see in the link above, it was a killer song to perform and Michael really got into it. The vocals on this song are flawless.

7. Who Is It [Dangerous, 1991]

A rare song where Michael sings in his lower register, giving it a very sultry energy. The Dangerous album had five Top 20 singles and this was one that was overshadowed by the media hoopla surrounding the others.

8. Dangerous [Dangerous, 1991]

I love that Michael always tried to keep in touch with music trends, and for the Dangerous album he worked with new jack swing producer Teddy Riley to keep things “fresh.” This song is the prime example of MJ incorporating those modern r&b and hip hop elements into his music but still making it “his.”

9. You Rock My World [Invincible, 2001]

This whole era was pretty much written off by the critics, but I think this song is a nod to MJ’s Off The Wall album but modernizing it for what was then the “TRL audience” of the early 2000s. And the chorus is catchy as hell.

10. Dirty Diana [from Bad, 1987]

I just think this is his greatest song ever and should be on ALL THE LISTS EVER.

What do you think are Michael’s most underrated songs?

A Tribute to Brian Eno

Brian EnoBasically a list of reasons why Brian Eno is cooler than most people.

  • His full name is Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, RDI. Only a rad dude would have a name like that.
  • He dressed like a glittery alien from outer space and wore makeup and probably got more chicks than the typical classic rock bros.
  • He played synths + tapes with one of the best bands ever, Roxy Music.
  • He enjoys taking a lot of photos with cats.
  • He is the pioneer of ambient music, even coining that term.
  • His Music for Airports album was played in the background at La Guardia Airport in the 80s.
  • He composed the startup sound for Windows 95.
  • He once gave an extensive interview to Chrissie Hynde about his pornography collection.
  • CHOICE QUOTE: “Eno forever altered the ways in which music is approached, composed, performed, and perceived, and everything from punk to techno to new age bears his unmistakable influence.”-some guy who writes for Allmusic.com
  • MGMT wrote a song about him.
  • He created the Oblique Strategies card deck in the 1970s as a way for artists and musicians to get out of their writers/creative block and get inspired. It’s like the I-Ching but with messages to help you think out of the box.
  • He most recent project is to create music and light installations for hospitals with the intent of the music aiding the healing process and providing overall good vibes to patients.
  • I mean just look at him.

IN ADDITION TO NOT HAVING ANY PROPER MUSICAL TRAINING, BRIAN ENO PRODUCED THESE CLASSIC ALBUMS WHICH I’M SURE YOU ALL HAVE HEARD A MILLION TIMES:

  • More Songs about Buildings & Food / Fear of Music / Remain in Light, Talking Heads
  • Ultravox’s self-titled album
  • Q: Are We Not Men A: We Are Devo / Devo
  • The Joshua Tree / Achtung Baby / U2
  • Laid by James
  • The last two Coldplay albums.

Not to mention he was David Bowie’s main collaborator on the albums in his “Berlin Trilogy” (Low, Heroes, Lodger)

BRIAN ENO IS AN AMAZING HUMAN. THE END.

Brian Eno

Random Thoughts About Music While Listening to Adam Ant

Adam Ant the Ants- Kings of the Wild Frontier (Top of the Pops 1981)

A lot of people who I follow on Tumblr are teenagers who are beholden to the music of the 1960s and 1970s, and I get that. It was an amazing time in music. And I’m sure that it might seem odd to people that I post about the Monkees and then a band like Oasis or Adam Ant or Tame Impala. But to me, all of these bands are very connected and important in their own way.

Music is so interconnected that to me, liking something outside of that small parameter of time isn’t that weird. Adam obviously named the Ants as an homage to the Beatles, and his influences are clearly T. Rex, Roxy Music, Motown records, and the same music of the 50s that influenced people like the Beatles.

This particular song uses two drummers playing the Burundi style of drumming made popular by Bo Diddley in the 50s, and the guitar riffs not just on this song, but on their first album are a direct nod to “Rumble” by Link Wray, which is also, as we all know, a favorite track of Jimmy Page.

Adam’s fashion sense is also a mix of the sort of freak clothes that the GTOs and the dandies in the UK in the 60s wore, but obviously with more of a punk/ugly aesthetic.

I don’t really know my point except to say that there is good, fun, well-crafted music from every decade. The 60s gets a lot of press for being an amazing decade, but every decade has valid cultural movements that make society change for the better.

Like Syd Barrett wearing eyeliner in the 60s and then David Bowie and the glam kids following his lead, and then Adam Ant and the punks doing the same but twisting it so it was “ugly/pretty”, and then Adam Ant influencing people like Boy George to feel comfortable enough with himself to wear makeup, etc. It’s all important. If the 60s was a renaissance for the women’s movement and civil rights, I’d like to think that these male popstars being so open about their sexuality and wearing makeup and still being considered sexy and desirable and that it was OK to be a little femme was helpful in the major movement in the 80s, the gay rights movement.

And then Adam influenced the next generation of British musicians like Suede and Blur who definitely took a similar approach to gender roles in the 90s.

But like all of our 60s heroes, these are still catchy three and a half minute pop songs. This is still a person who has the same influences and background as many people from the 60s. All he was doing was just modernizing it for the times and twisting it around a bit.

I know it’s easy to get stuck in one frame of mind in terms of music, but when you really think about it, whether it’s Jimmy Page in the 70s or Adam Ant in the 80s or Blur in the 90s or Jack White, all of these dudes are all musical peers who are worthy of attention, in my opinion.

Noel Gallagher in Hammond, IN

Photo credit: Me

Noel Gallagher playing “Wonderwall” in Hammond, IN last Sunday. It was an amazing show. He did all of my favorite songs from his excellent solo album “Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds”, which is so vastly undiscovered here in America. He also played some Oasis era songs, including “Wonderwall”, “It’s Good To Be Free”, “Talk Tonight” (my personal favorite), “Half the World Away”, “Whatever”, and “Don’t Look Back in Anger”.

In my opinion, Noel’s voice only gets better with age and I thought he had an overall confident stage presence. He also interacted with the crowd and was his typical snarky and witty self when some obnoxious Oasis superfan in the audience kept shouting embarrassing things at him. Please don’t be that guy.

People in America don’t really understand my infatuation with Noel and with Oasis because they don’t have the same cultural impact over here, but I still think Noel is one of the best songwriters of the last twenty years and Oasis will always have a huge impact on my musical life.

Here’s the full setlist from the show.

Here’s Noel performing “Wonderwall” on Saturday night. Video not by me.

10 Essential Music Movies

1. A Hard Days Night (1964)— Starring the Beatles. What would it be like to be the biggest pop band in the world? This film gives a fairly accurate depiction. It’s also notable for film techniques that would revolutionize the world of promo films and music video, and giving the Beatles their own archetypes that they would be saddled with for much of their career (John- the sarcastic one. Paul- the cute one. George- the quiet one. Ringo- the funny one). It features snappy smart dialogue and a killer soundtrack with all original Beatles songs.

2. Gimme Shelter (1970)— Starring The Rolling Stones. A documentary by the Maysles Brothers of the Rolling Stones’ 1969 American Tour. The 1969 Tour was supposed to be an epic welcome back for the Stones who had not played the US since 1966 and instead became a symbol of the death of the 60s and hippie culture. Much of the film focuses on the tragedy at Altamont Speedway and the most memorable moment is Mick Jagger watching the playback footage of Meredith Hunter getting stabbed to death in front of the stage. Also notable is the footage of the Jefferson Airplane and the Keith Richards attempting to make the crowd chill out. Very moving film.

3. This is Spinal Tap (1984)— Starring Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer. A classic mockumentary of famous hard rock and prog bands in the 70s and 80s that was a little too realistic for many bands of that era (Jimmy Page, Steven Tyler, and Eddie Van Halen thought it hit a little too close to home.) The movie was mostly ad-libbed and much of the plot points and quotes have become legendary (“Turn it up to 11”). Before you go through airport security, always remember to take the cucumber out of your pants, by the way.

4. Purple Rain (1984)— Starring Prince. Prince aka “The Kid” is a musician in Minneapolis, MN and comes from a troubled family life. The movie focuses on this, as well as his romance with Apollonia, his sweet motorcycle, the color purple (naturally), and his rivalry with Morris Day of the Time, who is genius in the antagonist role. Prince isn’t the most natural actor but you are treated to a bevy of performance footage of Prince in his peak of sexiness and popularity.

5. Don’t Look Back (1967)— Starring Bob Dylan. D.A Pennebaker follows Dylan around the U.K during the height of his fame. Dylan was not thrilled by this documentary, but it features many classic and influential moments, like the music clip of “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, Dylan’s complicated and enigmatic relationship with the press and in his reluctant role as a celebrity. Also features memorable cameos from Donovan and Joan Baez (not seen in flattering lights, unfortunately).

6. HEAD (1968)Starring the Monkees. The first of many collaborations between Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson featured The Monkees as a symbol of manipulation by Hollywood and the pop culture climate of the time. The Monkees effectively killed their career with this film and sometimes appeared giddy to do so. The movie pioneered many film and editing techniques and has grown to be a cult classic that is routinely taught in film school and shown on the big screen even in 2012.

7. Monterey Pop (1968)— Starring Various Artists. Shot by D.A Pennebaker. Woodstock gets more acclaim these days, but Monterey Pop was the first big music festival dedicated to pop music and features many bands in the blissful period of their careers when they were just taking off and times were groovy (Janis Joplin, Hendrix, The Who, The Jefferson Airplane). Monterey Pop is notable for also featuring one of Otis Redding’s first concerts in front of a primarily white audience and also being his last filmed performance before his death in late 1967. The documentary also captures the summer of love in all of its glory, with some amazing crowd shots that give a good perception of what it was like to live in California at that time.

8. DIG! (2004)— Starring The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. A documentary of two Portland, OR bands that are lead by two charismatic frontmen (Anton Newcombe and Courtney Taylor-Taylor) that have a love-hate friendship and competitive musical relationship. You’re probably thinking, why do I want to watch a documentary about two mildy successful indie rock bands? Well Anton is a total self-destructive weirdo that gets jealous of the more slickly commercial Dandys and watching The Brian Jonestown Massacre implode is highly entertaining. Both bands are great and highly underrated if you ask me.

9. All You Need Is Cash (1978)— Starring The Rutles. A parody of the Beatles with probably the most impressive list of comedian co-stars in history, most of whom are plucked from the glory days of SNL (The Rutles originally started off as a skit on SNL). Also features genius cameos by George Harrison, Mick Jagger, and Paul Simon. The Rutles’ songs were so expertly crafted to sound like Beatles songs that Neil Innes got sued. Whoops. Cheese and Onions!

10. 8 Mile (2002)— Starring Eminem. Released at the peak of Eminem’s critical and professional success, 8 Mile gives a semi-autobiographical look of his early life and a realistic glimpse of battle rapping. It also has many strong supporting performances, and Eminem reveals himself to be a good dramatic actor. In my opinion, it has a lot of similar theme and parallels to Purple Rain. The movie’s theme song “Lose Yourself” won Eminem an Academy Award.

Foxy Friday: Liam Gallagher

For our first edition of Foxy Friday, a day dedicated to celebrating the foxiest dudes in music, TV, film, and sports, we turn our focus to Liam Gallagher from Oasis.

Liam celebrates his 40th birthday today, and what an eventful 40 years it’s been.

Liam follows a long list of Byronesque “Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know” rockers like Jim Morrison, Keith Richards, and Johnny Rotten.

His bombastic personality, personal charisma, love/hate relationship with his brother, and love of dropping the f-bomb and beating up paparazzi has been legendary and well documented by the British tabloids throughout the years.

The legend of Liam continues, as this year he was voted the greatest frontman of all time and came in second place in NME’s “Ultimate Icon” poll (John Lennon was number one).

But behind the bravado, the ever-evolving badass haircuts, and the unexplainable swagger, Liam has soul. His voice turned many of his brother Noel’s most famous songs into anthems that wouldn’t have had the same impact without his sneer, inflection, and in some cases, the sensitivity and depth of his voice. In recent years, Liam’s songwriting has at times equaled his brother, showing a more dynamic side to his personality.

In my opinion, Liam is the last great rock star. He made popular music an exciting place for many years, living by his own phrase “I’m mad for it.” And he behaved accordingly.

Liam has an unexplainable mix of arrogance and vulnerability, of swagger and sensitivity. He was a cocaine snorting, partying, shit-talker, but he was also a romantic, a loving dad, and someone that always would stand up for his brother, even if they weren’t always getting along.

So cheers to you, Liam. I hope it was mega.

Favorite Liam Gallagher quote: “I suppose I do get sad, but not for too long. I just look in the mirror and go, ‘What a good looking fuck you are.”

Favorite quote about Liam: “Often, Liam can look like an unwashed mechanic with a nose-hair problem; at other times he looks sublime and hauntingly beautiful. Today, it’s the latter. He slouches deep into his chair and stares blankly. If my face were a television screen, he’d be reaching for the clicker.

“You’re looking great,” I sputter lamely.
“You’re not looking bad yourself,” he snaps back, “but I’m married.” (Spin, 1997)

Oasis song that best describes Liam: “Rock n Roll Star” (written by his brother, Noel)