by Dan Hoy on Dec.14, 2013
This is what the houses look like on the way to my house. Last week I returned home after being displaced for three months due to the September floods in Colorado. Undoing the devastation is both an ongoing and perpetually deferred process.
In the meantime I can confirm that Britney Spears’ new album is better than Avril Lavigne’s and Lady Gaga’s combined.
This is not to say the Gaga album is bad. It’s a mixed bag but so is Madonna’s Like a Prayer, with three transcendent hits (“Like a Prayer,” “Express Yourself,” “Cherish”) obscuring all the sap and filler. There’s nothing here approaching the gradeschool rapture of “Like a Prayer,” but when Gaga’s just being an emotional psychosexual weirdo instead of indulging in art pop self-reflexivity it’s great. That’s really where it’s at for her. Her performance of “You and I” at the 2011 VMAs (for example) is one of the most confident pop performances I’ve ever seen. It’s not as iconic as Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” performance at the first VMAs in 1984 or MJ introducing the moonwalk to this planet at the height of “Billie Jean” during Motown’s 1983 TV special, but it’s just as legit. This is an image artist at the top of her class. Here Gaga split-personifies a spurned lover with the face of a pubescent Ralph Macchio. Everything about this is real:
In summary, I wish she would’ve ditched the art pop angle and just made an entire album with R. Kelly. “Do What U Want (with My Body)” [of work] is no joke. I could listen to them singing about roughing up haters and laying a cut all day long. These are true pros.
Unfortunately the Avril album is mostly garbage. I had high hopes after the haunting cold darkness of “Black Star” that opened her last album (here it is soundtracking an old advert I did for a reading at Flying Object):
Meanwhile Britney Spears continues her transubstantiation into an icon of our iconographic condition with Britney Jean. This is a Madonna of a more literal kind. I refer not to her ho hum record sales or dubious cultural relevance but to the condition of the image itself. This condition is our condition, the condition imposed upon us, but few endure it so completely as Spears. I’ve compared her plight before to the plight of the Kryptonian criminals of Superman lore imprisoned in something called the Phantom Zone, “a featureless state of existence from which they can observe, but cannot interact with, the regular universe” — most strikingly visualized in Superman II as a two-dimensional image-prison tumbling forever through the infinity of black space.
Nobody renders the displaced, resigned horror of enduring what humans have done to humanity better than Spears. What defines her is that she survives at all. Like Lohan and Amanda Bynes and other spoiled image-embodiments offered up as sacrifices to the gods of resentment and abject boredom, she suffers for all of us.
The album opens appropriately enough with “Alien,” the innate polarity of the term drawn straight out of the inhuman void at the center of all human beings. Generally speaking, humans function as aliens on this planet (terraforming and ruining it), to each other (imposing cultural and familial mutations of control), and to themselves (continuously thoughtlessly violating our own value systems). This non-distinction between intimacy and infinite distance, and the irreconcilable damage we all share, is also one of Gaga’s favorite themes (on display in “Gypsy” & “Dope,” two of the more genuine, less art-poppy tracks on Art Pop), but Spears lives this shit while Gaga lives the performance. The latter is cathartic, the former the story of our lives. This is most evident in Britney Jean’s first single “Work Bitch,” in which she calls out the false necessity of our place in this world as units of production while favorably comparing her imaginative powers with the scale and destructive power of speculative financial bubbles.
The problem of interpersonal territoriality is further explored by Spears in “Perfume” where it’s distilled down to its olfactory essence and melodic field of deployment, while “Body Ache” gets at how loving people in the 2nd person makes the necessary pains of embodiment even worse. Other highlights include her straight up luciferian ballad “Brightest Morning Star” and the bombastic apocalypticism of “Til It’s Gone,” in addition to “Passengers,” a triumphant ode to just giving the fuck up. I also like the happy hardcore throwback “Now That I Found You” but wish it used a real banjo instead of a twangy electro-hook so it evoked more of an anachronistic, “Beer, Steers & Queers” vision of life.
Here’s MJ’s making history in 1983 (it’s pure magic):
And the mother of God on Earth not really giving a fuck in 1984: