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?

Davy Jones is the best teen idol of all time.

remembering davy jones

Sure, Ricky Nelson, Frank Sinatra and Elvis predated Davy, and yeah, maybe Leif Garrett and David Cassidy had better hair, and Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake had more solo success, but Davy is still the best.

Davy Jones represented all that’s great about teen idols. Physically, Davy was all you could ever ask for in a fave rave. Small in stature as to not scare away the young girls, with the prerequisite Beatle haircut (or Prince Valiant do, depending on the year), a youthful face, big doe eyes, and a toothy grin. But he had something that other teen idols of the time didn’t have: a cheeky mischievous sparkle behind those eyes and a rebellious spirit.

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Nostalgia and Pastiche in Music: Being Derivative Isn’t Always Bad

manufactured

“Now everyone has to be derived from somebody or something. Nothing new is born without parents. Poets stand on the shoulders of earlier poets and musicians, from the long-hair classicists to the long-hair popists, are also links in a chain of influence”

This is one of the best responses I’ve read about the concept of “manufactured” music being inferior to “real music” (what is real music and who decides, I wonder).

A lot of bands are criticized for being manufactured now, but the Monkees got much of the same critique when they came out. I’ve never understood who it was that decided that in order for music to be good and valued it had to completely break from the norms of what went before, so it’s nice to see a music critic in that era say the same thing.

I believe that nostalgia is just as powerful as something totally new. The Monkees obviously borrowed a lot from the Beatles and other successful British Invasion bands, but they also had an undefinable something that made them seem new and fresh, and stand out. That X-Factor, if you will.

A lot of great bands used nostalgia and derivative imagery and sounds in the development of their music and did it with 100% full intent and purpose.

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Why New Wave Isn’t Considered Classic Rock

New Wave Band Duran Duran“Classic rock” and classic rock radio is an extension of what was known as AOR radio formatting in the late 70s/early 80s [AOR= album oriented rock].

AOR program directors back then were almost always white men who thought their listeners wanted a radio rotation with a similar demographic, and generally played music by mostly white male artists in the rock n roll vein. They would also seemingly play “Stairway to Heaven” on the hour for no real reason. And were obsessed with the band Boston.

MTV was founded by people who previously worked at top AOR radio stations which is why it was a rock oriented TV station AT FIRST, though once they realized that hardly any classic rock bands had music videos, they were forced to play videos by unknown British art bands who wore makeup and weird outfits to fill the 24 hours in a day.

Which is why new wave/new romantic/synthpop took over in the 80s and things got interesting again.

By 1983 MTV was basically forced into playing music by black artists, mainly because of Michael Jackson and CBS Records. Until then they didn’t play any black music unless it was jazz or rock oriented.

Classic rock radio has gotten slightly better, I occasionally will hear new wave stuff like Blondie, The Pretenders, and Elvis Costello, sometimes the Clash. Never anything with synthesizers unless it’s in the prog-rock vein or maybe “Owner of a Lonely Heart”

Current classic rock radio stations mirror these narrow-minded attitudes of only grouping certain bands in the classic rock genre, leaving out all bands who are synth based, glam rock, funk based, or dance oriented, and that’s fine and dandy.

I think a lot of why these bands [the New York Dolls, Roxy Music, Slade, Sweet, Adam Ant, Duran Duran, Gary Numan, Ultravox, Japan, Spandau Ballet, Simple Minds, and T Rex] aren’t allowed in the classic rock radio world is because the male program directions were not comfortable with the makeup and the femme qualities of many of these musicians, but maybe that’s just me.

[BOWIE DIGRESSION]

We have to remember that even someone like Bowie didn’t become a mega-star in the US until his 1983 album Let’s Dance [his only real ‘hit’ in America in the 70s was “Fame”, which was a disco track basically]. His 70s output was still considered fairly fringe in America. Now obviously, classic rock radio plays Bowie a lot, but I think at a certain point in the 80s, he became so big they kind of had to. But Bowie was not considered classic rock in the 70s in America AT ALL.

Classic Rockers and Hip Hoppers: A love/hate relationship?

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Debbie Harry, Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Flash, Chris Stein, and an unidentified woman. 1981 NYC

Debbie Harry, Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Flash, Chris Stein, and an unidentified woman. 1981 NYC

I saw two things online today that reminded me of the old tired question: Can you appreciate both classic rock and hip hop?

Of course, we all know by now that you can be a fan of both genres of music. But a stereotype still persists amongst young people especially that you are either in one camp or another. Or that classic rockers and hip hop players feel the same way.

The big news today is that Lou Reed, the moody L’enfant terrible of the Velvet Underground wrote a fawning review of Kanye West’s new album Yeezus, describing it as “Majestic and inspiring” and “nothing short of spectacular.” A lot of people were surprised because well, Lou Reed typically doesn’t like anything. And a lot of performers from the classic rock era are unfairly critical of anything in hip hop. At least once a week I see someone reblog that quote from the late George Harrison saying “all rap is crap.”

On the flip side, yesterday Snoop Lion (formerly Snoop Dogg, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tha Doggfather, Calvin Broadaus) was asked his favorite heavy metal/rock bands in a reddit AMA and answered, “beatles rolling stones ramones tha list goes on.”

The fact that Snoop Lion openly admits to liking rock n roll based music is no real surprise, as anyone that knows about the formation and history of hip hop and rapping knows that MCs have long-since shown their appreciation of rock music by sampling bands like Led Zeppelin, Mountain, and the Turtles.

The misconception that rappers don’t show appreciation for rock music is getting really tired. If anything, it’s been the old timers who clearly didn’t understand rap or hip hop culture when it first arrived, and never bothered to dig deeper to learn what it’s all about.

I should add that some people in the rock genre were accepting and appreciative of hip hop in the early days, most notably the new wave and punk musicians in NYC in the late 70s (the first rap song to top the charts was Blondie’s Rapture in 1981), like the Talking Heads and Blondie. In the UK, Malcolm McLaren (always one to cash in on the new hot thing) made some classic electro-hip hop songs in the early 80s. Adam and the Ants’ “Ant Rap” hit in the top 5 on the UK charts in the fall of 1981.

But while a few of these musicians embraced hip hop, most did not. Hip hop culture was founded on the inclusion of all types of music; funk, soul, jazz, Afro, Latin, disco, rock n roll, etc. Hip hop’s ability to be inspired by the best of all musical cultures and constantly change to include these elements in their art is perhaps why hip hop has been the dominant music on the pop charts since the early 1990s, whereas rock has remained fairly stagnant for years.

The basic gist? Hip hop has always had love for rock n roll.

DJ Kool Herc, the pioneer for hip hop in the US in the mid 1970s played songs by James Brown and funk artists, but also dropped lost rock gems like “The Mexican” by Babe Ruth; songs that never even charted in America. The band Mountain has been sampled nearly 200 times in hip hop. You can hear the drum break of “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin on songs by the Beastie Boys, Ice-T, Eminem, and nearly 80 other tracks. Hip hop producers and rappers were also fond of “The Big Beat” by Billy Squier, Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust’, “Voodoo Chile” by Jimi Hendrix, Steely Dan, Hall & Oates, Van Halen, and Aerosmith.

Recently hip hop has shown genius ways of incorporating rock. MIA’s anthem “Paper Planes” brought freshness to “Straight to Hell” by the Clash for a new generation (The Clash were another rock oriented band that was early to hype hip hop). Kanye West always samples obscure rock tracks, including King Crimson’s “21st Century Schzoid Man”
on his song “Power.”

Adam Ant tells a story about visiting NYC in 1981 and seeing breakdancers doing routines to songs by synth pioneer Gary Numan. Afrika Bambaataa, the famous DJ and creator of many of hip hop’s enduring traditions, was a huge fan of Numan, as well as Yellow Magic Orchestra and would spin these white new wave artists at his DJ and breakdancing battles. He didn’t care that they were “rock” based acts. Those records sounded flawless. The kids didn’t care either, whether music was black or white, r&b based or rock based, or made by an awkward German band of robots named Kraftwerk.

Kraftwerk, incidentally, became a huge influence on hip hop culture because of Afrika Bambaata, who sampled them on his first big hit “Planet Rock.”

The most famous instance of rock inspiring rap was when Run D.M.C, were freestyling verses over the song “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith, not knowing who Aerosmith was, but knowing it was a dope song. They ended up remaking the song with Aerosmith, which had an enormous impact on how rap was viewed in the pop realm and also brought Aerosmith back into favor ability after many years out of the spotlight.

Hip hop has always embraced and been inspired by rock music. And yes, a fair amount of rock acts have shown appreciation for hip hop. It’s OK to only like classic rock. It’s OK to only like hip hop. But to act like these two genres can’t coexist peacefully in your life or my life is an extremely outdated and wrong assumption, and I’m really tired of hearing it.

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