Britney Spears, Queen of Punk, Shaved Her Head 10 Years Ago Today
By Jaime Lees
Thu, Feb 16, 2017
Today marks ten years since Britney Spears shocked the world by shaving her own head. The reasons behind this bold event are still unclear, but one fact remains: On February 16, 2007, everything changed. Britney Spears became the ultimate punk.
Spears had been in the public eye for eight years at that point and had already experienced a number of transformations. She came on the scene in pigtails and a Catholic schoolgirl skirt, cooing “… Baby One More Time” and captured the attention of both the teen crowd and legions of Lolita-chasers. Her breakthrough album sold an insane amount, spawned numerous singles and featured Spears posing on the cover in an upskirt photo that was just inches away from being all kinds of illegal. Genius.
She worked that virginal but innocently sexy thing until it got played out and then began her first transformation. She offered the idea that she was not a girl, not yet a woman. This version of Spears was sexually curious and working for ownership of her body and her autonomy. This again put a tent in the pants of her creepier followers, but many of her loyal fans were at that same stage in their lives. Unlike her fans, though, she was actually banging Justin Timberlake, who was then a boy-bander with ramen noodle hair and who was nowhere near to bringing sexy back.
A grown woman version of Spears came next and so did her fans. (Rimshot!) She kissed Madonna on television and released an album of emotional ballads and next level club tunes including the brilliant “Toxic.” This version of Spears was fully developed and man, she was horny for you, sir. By this time she reigned as the modern queen of pop and was an unmissable, incalculable superstar.
Spears had long been portrayed as some kind of feminine ideal. Blonde hair, tan, tight body, flat abs, sweet disposition, slight lisp, excellent at playing dumb — she was the perfect little MTV package. She played a coy nymphet all the way to the bank and became the sex symbol of her generation.
She was also under inconceivable amounts of pressure to maintain this status, her body, her power and keep bringing in all that money. Her image started to crack. It showed, but things were still under control. She married Kevin Federline and birthed a couple of his puppies. She also left her house while looking a hot mess and did other things that a superstar just wasn’t supposed to do. (Or wasn’t supposed to be seen doing, at least.)
She spent the end of 2006 clubbing with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, offering up all kinds of gold for the paparazzi. (Not gonna link it but you know what happened every time she exited a car.) The impression she gave was that she was a bit out of control, but in a “party girl” kind of way. This seemed to just be a phase that lots of LA-based stars go through before they settle down and find yoga. This time in her life was fully documented and she seemed to be acting erratic at best. She was slipping right in front of our eyes and there was literally nowhere to go but down. And most interestingly: she did not seem to give one fuck.
When most people think of punk, they think of sneering 1970s icons like Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols. Or they think of bored black-clad delinquents like the Ramones. Or they think of the undiluted Midwest psychosis of Iggy and the Stooges. Most people do not think of teen pop idols like Britney Spears.
But those exalted punk heroes had nothing to lose. They could go out and blow snot and talk shit and complain about society and capitalism and everything else and it was expected that they would behave like that. That was their job. The “classic” punks never had any measurable success to begin with, so it didn’t really matter if they threw it all away. Johnny Rotten was born poor and ugly, but Britney Spears was born to be a pretty pop princess.
Spears had much, much farther to fall. And fall she did. Why? Nobody really knows for sure. But the shaving of her head was a watershed, no-turning-back kind of event. It could’ve been the result of a postpartum issue. She’d had two babies in one year and her youngest was only about five months old at the time. Many speculate that she was concerned that she’d lose custody of her children because of her rumored drug use, so she shaved her head in a misguided attempt to thwart any tests that could’ve been done on her hair. Other insiders suggested that she’d received a devastating medical diagnosis and was acting out. Maybe her hair extensions were just pulling painfully at her scalp? Or maybe she’d just had enough of it all.
No matter the reason, the result was still the same. The most omnipresent superstar of her generation very publicly attacked herself. For a female pop star, literally the most confrontational thing she could do was to attack her beauty. It was the ultimate anti-establishment move.
And it’s not like she went to some chi-chi Beverly Hills salon to get a well-designed close crop. She wasn’t Sinead O’Connor and being bald was absolutely not part of her known look. She basically buzzed her melon with dog clippers in full view of the cameras while smiling manically. This is the pop culture equivalent of when those monks protest by sitting in the middle of a street and lighting themselves on fire.
The general reaction at that point wasn’t “check out this crazy bitch.” It was “Why won’t anyone help this poor girl?” The head shaving was followed by an attack on a car with an umbrella where Spears appeared to be wild-eyed and totally out of her mind. (Much later, in a blog post on her website, Spears apologized for the umbrella incident and said that it was a result of going overboard in preparation for a role that she did not get. Hmm.) She also spent months wearing wigs and sobbing in the streets and driving from gas station to gas station on the hunt not just for the perfect bag of Cheetos, but something else unknowable. She was eventually pulled out of her own home and strapped to a gurney and taken into the hospital against her will. All of this, absolutely all of it, was photographed and documented ad nauseum.
Michael Jackson aside, no one in recent pop culture history has had a more public downfall. Spears was put under a conservatorship that is seemingly never-ending, and celebrity gossip blogs opine that she’s under close surveillance and is possibly medicated against her will. (Suck it, Sid Vicious! You wish, Courtney Love!)
Her current show in Las Vegas is rumored to present a zombie version of her former glory, with Spears performing tight, robotic movements without emotion, like the animatronic puppet band at a Chuck-E-Cheese crossed with a tired stripper who can barely contain her contempt for her audience. The majority of the show is known to be lip synched, too. Still, thousands of people go to see it and hand over tons of money for the privilege. Suckers. It’s the Great Pop Swindle. Ever get the feeling that you’ve been cheated? Get that dollar, girl.
And Britney’s no victim. The gossip blogs have it wrong.
Props to those who live and work outside the system, but a smart punk messes things up from the inside. A successful punk finds a way to bend the world to their will. Britney Spears played you. She presented a mirage and you fell for it. Then you gave her your money and she took that money and possibly spent it on drugs. That’s punk as fuck.
And even though you should know better by now, you’ve accepted this mirage for a second time. She sprays on her tan and glues in her hair extensions and you swallow the whole thing all over again. You ignore that 5150 that you see in her eyes so that you can continue your own fantasies. She spends her nights taking all of your money in Vegas and she spends her days painting and relaxing and hosting the most lovable celebrity social media account this side of Chrissy Teigen. You follow that account. And you love it. A movie about her life premieres this weekend on Lifetime. You’ll watch it and you’ll love that, too.
Pazz & Jop 2016
44th Annual Village Voice Critics’ Poll
“Pazz & Jop is an annual poll of musical releases compiled by American newspaper The Village Voice. The poll is tabulated from the submitted year-end top ten lists of hundreds of music critics. Pazz & Jop was introduced by The Village Voice in 1974 as an album-only poll, but was expanded to include votes for singles in 1979.”
You Don’t Actually Like the Red Hot Chili Peppers
By Jaime Lees
Wed, Jan 18, 2017
Friends, you are being fooled by your own brains. You don’t actually like the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You think you do, because you know the songs. Your mind has tricked you into thinking that you like these terrible songs because they were around during a formative time in your life. But just because something is familiar doesn’t make it good.
This is the result of a psychological phenomenon called the “mere exposure effect.” It proposes that when you are familiar with something, you will receive it more favorably. It’s a loophole in your cognitive process that is exploited hundreds of times per day. (It’s a huge factor in how you view your connections on social media and it’s also at least part of how a television personality recently won a presidential election.) This is entry-level thought tinkering and it’s used by every advertiser that you’ve ever come in contact with and, yes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The Peppers have an advantage here because they likely got into your head during your years as a budding music fan (your early-to-mid teens) and they’ve just lived in there like a nasty-ass tapeworm ever since. Their inescapable ’90s trilogy of caca (Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik; One Hot Minute; Californication) weaseled its way into your consciousness when you were still young and vulnerable. As an adolescent, you were impressed by the band’s hedonist bro-funk — imagining that one day you, too, could score an ultra-romantic drug problem or grab your painted taint in the desert. You weren’t even turned off by album covers that looked like shit tribal tattoos or a band logo that gives some the urge to call for medical help. You looked to Dave Navarro and saw a compact hero, not just a preening, gothic prawn. You laid eyes on Chad Smith and didn’t even think about Will Ferrell. Yes, those were the days.
But there is no way that you (mid-to-late 30s Midwestern dude, am I right?) should still like this crap music. But maybe it reminds you of a time when your shorts were cargo and your obligations were nonexistent. Maybe you were listening to “Under the Bridge” the first time you fingerbanged a comely young lass. Whatever, that’s cool. You were a kid. But if you have to book a babysitter to go to the RHCP show, you should be too grown for cocks in socks. If you gotta ask off work for the next day because you’re going to have a hangover after three $14 beers, you’re too old for words like “scar tissue that I wish you saw.” If you have a 401k and you’re still down to sing along to “Lick my knob, I gotta put it in your grand-ma” (or whatever the hell those lyrics are) then you are living a sham version of adulthood.
If, as an adult, you heard this music for the first time, you’d be like “Get outta here with this obnoxious kiddie bullshit.” You, as a grown person, would be irritated immediately and you would think it was a shame that uber-talented Flea is stuck in this gig and forced to act like a cartoonish performing circus ape. With the advantage of some years, you would listen to the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers for the first time and think that it was made exclusively for pot smokers with Adderall prescriptions. Which, to be fair, might explain the band’s enduring popularity — it’s an accurate description of your entire confused generation.
Plenty of music that you listened to as a kid still holds up, but not the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You’re not from California. You’re not wild. You’re not energetic to the point of pogoing. You’re not even a young, aspiring douche anymore. You’re a grown human and you should know better.
So if you’re going to the Chili Peppers’ show tonight, think of your shame during this moment, when every chump in the place does a subconscious body dip. And then hurry home and transfer double the money that you spent on the concert tickets into your kid’s college fund. You owe them that much at least, you foolishly nostalgic baby-man.
President Obama’s Greatest Musical Moments
By Jaime Lees
Tue, Jan 10, 2017
When Barack Hussein Obama was elected President of the United States, it seemed like anything was possible. The fabled American Dream was alive and thriving. We voted for hope and change and we got them both balanced on the shoulders of a man who seemed capable of expertly executing the job.
Now, with only days left on the clock until our country comes under the power of a known psychopath, we mourn what we’re losing and look to the future with appropriate horror. It seems entirely possible that President Obama might go down in history as not just the first African-American president but also the last great American president. Ever. He wasn’t perfect, of course. Like all politicians, he could be hugely disappointing and his public silence and inaction on some matters felt brutal. But it seems safe to say that very (very) soon we will look back on President Obama’s time in office as a golden era.
Not only was he an accomplished, charismatic and dignified leader, he was personable in a style that we’ve never before experienced. And one of the most effective and consistent ways that he connected with the American people was through music.
President Obama used music to showcase his personality and his compassion. He was never shy about expressing how deeply a song or a musician moved him. We knew his opinions on popular artists and it made him more relatable. We also knew that our president sometimes felt compelled to sing or to do a little shimmy. We even knew what he listened to on Spotify. And we loved it all.
Below is a collection of President Obama’s greatest musical moments. Thanks for the great work and the excellent music, Mr. President. We’d love another spin.
This should’ve been our first indication that President Obama was going to be bumping. Here he is as a candidate, dancing his way onto The Ellen DeGeneres Show, as is the tradition:
Here’s Chi-town’s own Barry O joining Mick Jagger, Buddy Guy and BB King at the White House for a few lines of “Sweet Home Chicago”:
Check out President Panty Dropper singing Al Green. That little bite of the lip! He really puts the “O” in Oval Office. It was kind of nice to have a President that was attractive and virile. (There’s no chance of that with the next guy.):
The White House hosted a tribute to Ray Charles, giving our main man another opportunity to showcase his pipes:
Many were charmed when Obama spontaneously sang “Purple Rain” to a kid dressed as Prince last Halloween:
He and Michelle also did an endearing little dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”:
President Obama invited Kendrick Lamar to perform at the White House on the 4th of July. Yeah, let that one sink in for a minute:
He awarded Bruce Springsteen the Presidential Medal of Freedom saying, in part, “I am the President; he is the Boss”:
He also awarded Bob Dylan the Presidential Medal of Freedom and then later gave us a peek into how the whole experience went down with Mr. Freewheelin’:
Let’s take a minute to appreciate that we had a black President who frequently celebrated music made by black artists while he was living in the Whitest of Houses. About damn time, right? Over the years President Obama has served as host for a wide range of African-American artists including Alicia Keys, Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé, Common, Janelle Monáe, Jay-Z, Jill Scott, John Legend, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Usher and the Roots. Here’s Obama singing “Jingle Bells” with Chance the Rapper at the most recent Christmas tree lighting ceremony. (Chance’s dad was Obama’s state director back in his Illinois days.):
In this clip the Obamas dance as a pre-Lemonade Beyonce sings the timeless 1941 classic “At Last,” made famous by Etta James in 1960:
Barack and Michelle danced a lot, actually. Dancing is where their passions meet, as it combines Barack’s passion for music with Michelle’s passion for getting active. In this video they’re trying the tango, but President Obama was known for dancing all across the world, from Alaska to Kenya:
And here they are having an impromptu boogie to “Uptown Funk” with R2D2 and a stormtrooper. They always seemed to have fun:
President Obama somehow even managed to make Jimmy Fallon’s moronic show tolerable for a few short minutes when he showed up to slow-jam the news:
Here’s a recent video from Usher of the President dancing to “Hotline Bling.” #Lit:
The President was also down with the kids, happily hosting his own festival called South By South Lawn on the grounds of the White House:
And here’s our boyfriend trying not to sing along with Aretha Franklin during Carole King’s Kennedy Center Honors ceremony. Was that a tear? And yes, even the President must stand when Aretha takes off her fur:
We saved the best for last. In this video, President Obama paused to sing “Amazing Grace” while presenting the eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney after Pinckney and his fellow church members were executed in a racially motivated mass shooting in North Carolina. The universally moving song was adopted by southern gospel culture decades ago and it was the perfect expression of President Obama’s humanity and a grieving nation:
Until next time, Obama.
link: Riverfront Times