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Britney Spears, "Circus" (Jive) [2 STARS]

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Faced with the train wreck of a career that is America's doubly cursed dance-pop diva--the two marriages, the two divorces, lost custody of her two children, two trips to the psychiatric ward and a double-wide list of battles with the paparazzi and other public embarrassments--what is the greedy machine behind Britney Spears, Inc. to do?

Since just letting the woman be is not an option when there's a single dime still to be wrung from her sad spectacle, the answer is to pair the troubled performer with the best hired songwriters and hippest streetwise producers money can buy; attempt to craft a slick mainstream simulacrum of urban club music along with a smattering of ballads to please more sentimental fans; defiantly reference her personal anguish and/or play it for laughs, and most of all rely on what has always been her most potent sales tool: S-E-X.

Wait a minute, you might ask: Didn't we just witness all of this a mere 13 months ago with "Blackout," Spears' fifth album and first alleged worldwide comeback?

Indeed we did, and none of it worked--at least not on the level of her post-Mouseketeers, prime "Slave 4 U" superstardom. Released after a four-year absence from the spotlight, "Blackout" has yet to reach platinum status, with a mere 913,000 copies sold--not bad, but not the big-bucks Britney of the past.

Counting on pop fans' short attention spans and nonexistent cultural memories, B.S., Inc. is working the same gambit again, but this time it's trying much harder. Spears' sixth album "Circus" arrives in stores on Tuesday, her 27th birthday, and it's a much more finely crafted and no doubt more expensive piece of pop product. The hype campaign is more focused this time: Instead of the infamous zombie-like performance at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards, we're getting a 90-minute documentary entitled "Britney: For the Record" produced by her record company and airing on MTV on Sunday. And La Brit is gearing up for a massive tour in 2009 with, oddly enough, only one date officially announced so far: March 30th an April 28 date at the Allstate Arena in suburban Rosemont.

So far, everything seems to be working. The first single "Womanizer" is Spears' first No. 1 hit since "...Baby One More Time" a decade ago. And the select media that's been granted access is reporting that she seems relatively sane, sober and content--though at the price of living under the thumb of her father Jamie Spears, who was granted legal control of her finances and personal affairs during her second hospitalization.

"Britney today has about as many legal rights as when she was in the Mickey Mouse Club," Rolling Stone reports in its current cover story. "She is watched over day and night by security guards Jamie hired (and she's paying for); it's also rumored that Britney's phone calls are closely monitored and that she's not allowed to drive her own Mercedes."

Says the woman herself: "I feel like an old person now... I go to bed at, like, 9:30 every night, and I don't go out or anything. I just feel like an old fart."

Needless to say, this is not the life Spears sings about on "Circus." Several tracks reference the swirl of insanity surrounding her: "All eyes on me in the center of the ring," she sings in "Circus," while in "Kill the Lights," she gripes, "All the flashin', tryin' to cash in, hurts my eyes.". But as with "Piece of Me" on "Blackout," these complaints seem tired, trite and disingenuous when much of the rest of the album celebrates the sort of behavior that's always landing her in the gossip columns.

In "Lace and Leather" and "Mannequin," Spears one again proudly boasts of being every man's sexual fantasy ("I like it and I do what I like"). In "Blur," she wakes up in a stupor after a one-night stand ("Hope I didn't but I think I might've/Everything, everything is still a blur"). Produced by her old svengali, that Lolita-lovin' dirty old man Max Martin, "If U Seek Amy" vies to be the crudest come on in a career that's been full of them. (Say the title a few times fast.) And most disturbing of all, given the current relationship with her dad, there are the "Me So Horny"-imitating taboo titillations of "Mmm Papi" ("Grip me tight and don't let go... You will always be there for me/Mmm papa, love you/Mmm papa, love you").

To be sure, the music is slightly more appealing this time around. Vocal quality is never really a consideration with Spears, but at least the treatment of her robotic cooing via auto-tune, pitch correction and vocoder is slightly more subtle and less annoying. Some of the beats and hooks are harder to deny, especially on "Womanizer," the bonus track "Radar" and the shamelessly Madonna-aping "Unusual You." And only the treacly ballads "My Baby" and "Out From Under" are downright abysmal disasters.

This is faint praise for minor pop pleasures, though pleasures they undeniably are. The only obstacle to enjoying them is that they require listeners to be like the men who benefit equally from Spears' downward spirals and upward swings with little human regard or compassion. But why let a little thing like empathy ruin a night at the circus?

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25 Comments

Dear Mr. DeRogatis,

Thanks for your article about the latest Circus incarnation of Ms. Spears. I was looking at all the Google News articles on the subject and yours looked the most adult take on the situation.

Still a young adult, Britney does have a lot of sharks to blame for her current situation, BUT have you ever seen the photos of her at age maybe 6 years old riding on the back of a convertible in a parade in her hometown? She came to Savannah about 10 years ago, just before she hit it big to perform at my daughter's middle school ( a classmate won Nick Takes Over Your School). The kids were disappointed the performance of the day wasn't by 'N Synch. My daughter complained that she couldn't sing on key, but loved the rest of the day. My impression of Spears that day was that she was bipolar. A look at me personality while posing as an innocent, "Why is Everyone Looking At Me?" kind of kid. She loves an an audience, any audience and I have to ask is her mother crazy? A school teacher, she should have know better than to indulge her child's narcissism years ago and give her some boundaries. Christina A. springs to mind as a young lady that got what she needed from her mom, a single one btw, when she needed it, not years later when she was in crisis.

Yes, what I've seen of Britney's latest act is pretty mesmerizing and I'm sure there are big bucks that will be made. She's sort of like OJ, if he really didn't do it. Still a slimeball. Obviously there are a whole bunch of Americans that lack the judgement to seek out talented whole brain performers, if the latest presidential election is anything to go by.

Happy Holidays and thanks again for your writing.

P.M.
Savannah, GA

If PM is implying that P.E. Obama is synonymous with Britney Spears, and that John McCain is actually IN his right mind, they mey want to go to join Britney's Circus as well because reality clearly isn't something they're ready to deal with.

ewww ur bitter!!!!!!
Circus is a great album. That's why you suck!!!!

Bash, bash, bash. She's an entertainer for cryin' out loud. She's sold over 80 million records worldwide and has an enormous fan base. She is on the upswing right now at age 27. What's wrong with being in your late 20's and worth 9 figures--except she can't go anywhere without security.

All you're doing is bashing, obviously after watching the programming last night which showed her true side. Think what you will but the majority (who COUNTS) wants her to succeed and do well. All the people like you are just pathetic, bitter, backwards thinking idiots.

I HATE YOU JIM DEROGATIS! 'Circus' is pure ear candy!!

I agree with the last two posts - get real! The girl has obviously been doing something right if she's arguably one of the most successful female artists of all time! Anyone who has anything negative to say about her and her life is ignorant and blatantly moronic. I would LOVE to see you assholes walk a day in her shoes without tripping over and falling flat on your face. You wouldn't even know where to BEGIN. I praise her for sticking it out as long as she did. Anyone who has to put up with the idiotic bashing of today's hypersensitive society is a saint. When will it ever be good enough for you jerks?

For YOUR record- get on a diet Jimmy Boy. Analyse your own life before attacking someone else's.

I saw the “Britney: for the record” last night and throughout the whole 1.5 she practically had nothing to say
I can not understand the mentality of this woman is she really naïve or is she dumb or is she simply in a different world?
How on earth is she talking so simple knowing that the whole world has practically seen her pus** (in her womanizer video which is supposed to be about a firm woman standing up against a womanizer, she is acting like she is a ho wanting attention and practically harassing the guy not to mention her sauna scene which is utterly unnecessary and totally unrelated to the video and what on earth is she hiding? The whole world has already seen her pus**, no need to hide now... and those childish lyrics and music is utterly sad)
And then her performance last year which she addresses as an “ok” performance and is totally in denial of the mess it had caused, how high she was how drunk and how utterly sedated. And then the time she almost killed herself and her kids, the time when she used to walk on the streets talking nonsense with the pap*&8 behind her following her every psychotic move
Now I understand that she is lonely and sad and she will probably never recover but her audacity and the level of denial in her empty head makes you wonder if only the whole world thought like Britney, you know living in lala land where anything you do has no consequence…….

your like awsome and i watched your show and like cryed so just to tell t=you you are very strong to keep on going threw all of this and i want to be a singer just like you but my family cant really aford it ..hopefully i will get my time to shine please help me reach rhat one dream and prove to me that they can come true
love you peace

P.M. & Mike......thank you for injecting some reality into the TRUTH majority of America think & feel regarding Britney. This crap might have flown 10 years ago....but now, here she is spewing the same bile!"I am so alone, nobody hears me" Does she think if you buy the t.v. time America will have to listen to her? I don't feel bad for her I feel pity for her. At the price of fame and her"people" selling her soul (way to go Lynn and the rest of her people). She has nothing and nobody! 27 years old? she should start acting like a woman and not this victim. America is not buying it! If anything, her daddy is cleaning up her mess. The last time my parents cleaned up a mess I made I was a little child. Seriously, she needs to disappear for awhile and really get healthy. Stop trying to fool the world. Lord knows you don't need to work right now to pay your bills, take a break. Don't video tape it, don't try to sell the rights to it!, don't flash your stuff, shave your head, or any other childish attempt for attention... just get your *$#%! together.It can't be fun to be known as a washed up joke at 27!

She's doing okay as a performer. So maybe she is not at the heights of success as her early days, but she is definitely still a compelling performer.

Whether she should be performing right now is another matter. Britney Inc is just wringing every last penny out of a very fragile person. It is really sad. Britney is surrounded by minders who are there to keep her from having some control over her life and to keep us from seeing just how troubled she is. She needs much longer to recover, but those around her consider her earning potential as the number one priority. I'd rather see her take as long as she needs and then come storming back - physically, vocally and mentally strong.

Britney is a package. Not just her vocals, but her dancing, her sex appeal, her whole personna, but sadly we are looking for the cracks in her mental state because it is so widely publicized. Sadly she is not well, and, however talented, whether she should be performing in live shows is debatable.

Her performance on the UK X factor on Saturday was mimed as was her performance at the German award show earlier in the week. Not the end of the world, because lots of great singers do that, but the rest of her behavior on these shows shows she is not sufficiently recovered to be on the road. Clearly she is doped up on some medication which makes her seem vague and her entourage keep everyone at arm's length to protect the image. Read details on: http://celebrity.aol.co.uk/2008/12/01/bizarre-behaviour-from-britney/

She is both an enabler and a victim of the paps and media attention, and she seems to need to be the center of attention to give her the self esteem most of us find within ourselves. She is a worthy person; I just don't think she knows that herself. She has been incredibly successful, and always will be popular, but now it is like watching a train wreck in slow motion and everyone is waiting for the next meltdown because she far from healed. Shame on us, and shame on Britney's advisors for using her.

I want to see Britney happy and successful and however much money she has, I think we are judging her for not being happy or well balanced, rather than her vocal ability.

It is amazing how we are judging someone that we do not know. If everyones laundry was put in the spotlight we all would have something to hide or beashamed. I am not someone who listens to her music alot. I am a mother who just sees a 26 year old finding out that life is not easy even if you have millions. I am glad that she can come back from her problems. I think we all deserve to have more chances in life to be better. I was 27 divorced with 2 children and had to learn that life was not easy either. I was just not in the public arena. So my dirt was not aired for the world to see. From a mother to the public that wished to condemn her, shame on you. We all have things that we wish our children would not do or say. We just have to understand that even though she has money and fame, she is still a young adult learning her way. Hine sight is 20/20.

I love Circus, love Britney and love Obama. Why do people that hate Britney spend so-o-o-o much time and effort giving out about her. I am a divorced 47 year old mum of two and I think Britney needs to sing and dance the way other people need to breathe. I do think it is her decision to come back to working and doing what she is good at. She will have another No. 1 album and more successful singles with Circus, it is fantastic, as another guy said it's pure ear-candy. Americans are way too hard on famous people . We Irish allow Bono and his band, and Enya, and Sinead o'connor, to walk around like normal people in this country. Why can you guys not do the same? As for your media....................CRUEL
-from an Irish Science graduate and BRITNEY fan.

so what can i say...hmmmm? ok you play/ed in some indy rock bandz!!!(your a pretty good drummer) what were you cd salez??? not even close to anything brit. did...am i right???....how many Grammy nominations did you get???....where are you on the billboard chartz??? .....why dont you just stick to your building your military models(they are great...no i really like them) and watching your R. Kelly child pornography tapez...dont be so hard on britney and let do her thing.

Dude,

You're just bitter!!!!!!!!!
Circus is awesome....Don't hate cuz Brit can still kick ass and you can only sit here and write crap!

Well I am sure your life is perfect too and you are making a ton of money as an internet columnist. Get off your high horse...Britney is the s--- and she is finally getting her life together. I don't understand why some people just can't be happy for her.

Circus is going to be great, just wait and see.

And if you could give someone else a second chance,
Why not Britney?

The people attacking Jim are pathetic. So the guy writes a negative review, so what? He's a music critic! Believe it or not, most critics fall on Jim's side. And this whole argument that about letting her be happy, no one is here to tell B.S. that she can't be happy. The critic's job is to critique the album and in this case, the album is not very good.

I can't beleive all the Britney fans are being duped by this. This is a marketing ploy. This is the same album as the last one, and I am tired of the cold SEX stuff. I am glad she is getting her life in order but the music is still the same cookie cutter garbage I heard before. If you like it that says alot about you. But thats your choice, as for me I want real music.

Jose, actually, the album is fairing quite well with critics. Check out metacritic (which compiles all the reviews) It is getting 66/100, which equals 'generally favorable reviews' Not falling on one side or the other of the debate, but get your facts correct before you say something. In this case, most critics are NOT falling on Jim's side.

She's not actually complaining about the swirl of insanity surrounding her in the title track, Circus. She's a "put on a show kind of girl" and she's relishing in that. Granted, she does an inordinate amount of complaining in her life outside her music, but don't compare Piece of Me lyrical content to Circus. It's just inaccurate.

Jim,
Your anger and bitterness is transparent. You echo the irrational, biased schadenfreude of millions of sad people when it comes to Britney. There is nothing even remotely objective or fair about your article. For THAT, YOU should be ashamed. It is your job to bring some level of integrity to your work as a journalist.

For one, we don't need you to regurgitate vague innuendo about Britney's emotional state from 2007. Why is it necessary to do anything except contrast where she is today with where she was a year ago? But you just can't let go of 2007, and want to rub it in Britney's face just one more time. You insist that Britney isn't the sum of all 27 of her years, but that the essence of her is in just one year- last year. That's sick.

When, in life, is it ever acceptable to judge a person professionally, (as you are supposed to be doing) solely on the basis of tabloid stories and events which are not personally known or explained? Would you do that to a MAN? Would you judge Nirvana's work on the basis of Cobain's bi-polar illness? Would you judge Elvis' work on the basis of his drug addiction? So what gives you the right to do it to Britney? Oh, wait. I remember why. Because she's a "former teenage pop star", so we can sneer at her and degrade her performances, even though we don't analyze the contribution of other pop stars to their products as closely.

Circus has some excellent work on it. First of all, watch the video. It is EPIC. Second, her ballads, most notably Unusual You and Out from Under, are the best ballads she's ever released.

It is sick and disgusting that she has become a target for sad people like you with a banner that says, "I'm a SCAPEGOAT. Whatever you hate about yourself, project it on to me! I am defenseless and nobody takes me seriously, so by all means, USE ME to feel better about yourself."


To anonymous: Excellent comment. There's something about Britney that brings out a lot of bitterness and hate in individuals. I don't have anything against the review - music critics are tough. But I think it's extremely unfair for people to use Britney's actions last year against her over and over again. Clearly, she was mentally unstable...why can't we just let her heal? If you don't like her, don't seek out stories about her and then bash her in the comments. I had to type in Britney Spears and go to the news section to find this review. But that's cause I'm interested in her. I don't seek out information on any other star if I'm not interested. Why all these people are spending so much time and energy on someone they perceive as a "joke" is beyond me.

Dude,

You're just bitter!!!!!!!!!
Circus is awesome....Don't hate cuz Brit can still kick ass and you can only sit here and write crap!

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on December 1, 2008 8:21 AM.

Rivers Cuomo, "Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo" (Geffen) [3 STARS] was the previous entry in this blog.

Britney's back (well, sort of) is the next entry in this blog.

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