Britney Spears and the dangers of female stardom


Newsletter: FT Weekend

Ouuuff Britney. Days after learning that his father Jamie had filed documents with a Los Angeles court to end the 13-year-old guardianship which saw him and a group of lawyers overseeing his life and finances, Britney Spears was announcing her engagement to Sam Asghari, an actor and personal trainer she first met in 2016. The couple were later described as looking for a lawyer who could oversee their prenuptial, and Spears turned off his Instagram account in order to “take a break”.

For many years, Britney watchers have viewed her Instagram as a portal through which they believe the singer is communicating secret messages about her condition: recently this portal has offered an overabundance of frenzied dancing videos, homilies from Hallmark-card and bathroom selfies that find her semi-nude. As Britney’s part-time conspirator myself when it comes to guardianship, something on the whole doesn’t look quite right.

After 13 years, Spears is slowly shaking off a near-enslavement to legal guardians who have controlled all of his estimated $ 60 million fortune, social and professional commitments and, as it turned out in his appearance before court this summer, her reproductive health. It seems extraordinary that instead of swallowing the surge of oxygen that should accompany her potential freedoms, Spears marked the moment by rushing to a lawyer with another piece of paper that could tie her to another man instead. . Having endured two messy and legally burdened marriages already, wouldn’t it make sense for Spears to enjoy a few extra dates instead?

A modern allegory of the dangers of female celebrity, Britney is the child star of this generation. Like Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor, Spears’ very public journey from sweet naive to tormented pop star spans an entire era of modern show business in which her experiences have been repackaged as an uplifting narrative. Emerging in the eerie twilight before the smartphone or social media, but when stories were already going viral online, Spears was one of the victims of the paparazzi frenzy for featured content at a time when media could function without control. There was no way to correct the narrative on social media, and there were no smartphones with which to capture the daily horrors that vulnerable young women faced. Thinking back to images from when Spears’ career was stratospheric, it is shocking to see the persecution she faced in her daily life: Social media can be dangerous and addicting, but when used to to highlight inhuman treatment, they at least took certain behaviors into account. .

Britney has become the epitome of a toxic industry that commodifies and sexually exploits young women, but we like to think we’ve moved on since it emerged. Look at the toll in Hollywood after the disgrace of Harvey Weinstein. Hear the echo of social justice activists still echoing around #metoo. The new documentary Look away, on sexual exploitation in the music industry during the 70s and 80s, describes a world in which pedophilia is celebrated in classic rock songs and where sexual debauchery is so ingrained in culture that no one thinks to raise an eyebrow when Steve Tyler sleeps with a 16-year-old and then makes him his “judicial ward.” That wouldn’t happen nowadays, we say to ourselves. And then I look at footage from the Met Gala, one of the most public celebrity meetups in the world, and wonder if things have really changed that much after all.

Billie Eilish at the Met Gala in New York City earlier this week © WireImage

Yes, the language has changed. But even for all the bodily positivities and exhortations to personal freedoms, the conversation still revolves around a woman’s body and her sexual motto. Witness Jennifer Lopez, for example, the 52-year-old pneumatic “qween” who captivated the internet this summer with her rekindled romance with Ben Affleck, the actor she first dated almost 20 years ago. . “Watch them kissing through their masks!” And am I the only person who has found it a little depressing to see the wonderful Billie Eilish, for so long the anti-heroine of the pop princess and open sexualization emerge from the surly teenage chrysalis to animate the? Met Gala dressed as a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, with platinum hair and wrapped in fairy tulles. Some women have used their bodies as billboards, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who took the public eye away by wearing a bodycon dress with “Tax the Rich” scrawled across her ass. Most of the others wore next to nothing. Regardless of the prevailing policies and agendas, men always wore suits and sneakers, and women took out their tatas.

Kim Kardashian makes a statement at the Met © Matt Baron / Shutterstock

“Peg the patriarchy,” read a bodice worn by model Cara Delevingne. But the most interesting statement came from Kim Kardashian. The reality TV star and lingerie entrepreneur appeared at the Met Gala, dressed in head-to-toe black. Was this a comment on women’s freedoms as they are currently restricted, from Texas to Afghanistan? Was it a rejection of the inner self? Kardashian has built her career on possessing impossible vital statistics and a body image partly designed by her husband Kanye West, from whom she has now filed for divorce. Was that look his own expression of a kind of emancipation? Or the final recognition of her submission to the body – her figure now so iconic that she has become a personality in itself.

Email Jo at [email protected]

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