Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Britney Stumbles Around the Stage, I Smile Heartily

I admit it. In certain circumstances, I am a gleeful practitioner of the art of schadenfreude (defined by dictionary.com as "satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else's misfortune").

In my defense, I never enjoy the misfortune of innocent people. On the contrary, I am empathetic to the point of illness when I hear about bad things happening to people that don't deserve it. But I have a very acute sense of justice. I cannot abide unfairness, and it bugs me that too often there are no reprecussions for those in society who do bad things (see, e.g., Bush, George W.).

So, on the odd occasion that somebody deserving gets some comeuppance, for better or worse, you can be sure that I am going to be in the front row, cheering as if I was watching Derek Jeter single in the winning run in Game 7 of the World Series. Justice, as I see it anyway, is meted out so infrequently, you have to savor it when it happens.

I have written on several occasions about my die-hard aversion to boy bands, and how their ascension buried the last great era of rock music, the post-Nirvana run of bands in the early-to-mid-1990s. And the female pop singers of the boy band era were no less odious to me than the boy bands themselves.

So it was with schadenfreude-induced glee that I watched as Britney Spears opened the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards (you can watch the show, in its entirety, on MTV.com) by sleepwalking through a badly lip-synced performance of her new single "Gimme More" (to watch it, click here). This was supposed to be Britney's big comeback appearance after a year dominated by talk of her divorce from a white-trash loser, alleged child abuse and indifference, stints in rehab, and spectacular meltdown that included her personally shaving off every bit of hair on her head.

Dressed in a black sequined bra and panty set and knee-high boots with spiked heels (very subtle), and with long blonde hair that, based on the ubiquitous photos of her post-shave, had to be extensions or a wig, Britney wandered around unsteadily for the length of the song like she was out for a walk and accidentally stumbled onto the stage during someone else's performance. She had trouble lip-syncing to the backing track, showed no emotion on her face, barely moved when she attempted to dance, and usually found herself out of step with the backing performers (and there were a lot of them, which could only lead one to believe that somebody thought this might happen and wanted to provide cover for the clueless singer).

It was such a disaster, Ashlee Simpson had to suddenly feel better about herself. "At least when I was exposed as a fraud, I danced." (If you don't get the reference, click here.)

It's bad enough that performers like Britney have become famous even though they can't sing, how pathetic is it that at this point in her existence, she can't even match her fake vocals to the music blaring around her?

Thanks to my schadenfreude, her performance was one of the most entertaining four minutes I've spent in a while. Why was I enjoying the on-view-for-all career crash and burn of a woman with obvious mental deficiencies? Because it is disgusting to me that this woman achieved any kind of success in the music business in the first place, and it is only right -- there is that pesky sense of justice again -- that she be exposed (and I'm not talking about her revealing outfit).

Britney has sold millions of records and has earned hundreds of millions of dollars, even though she has no discernible talent (other than dancing, but you wouldn't know it from watching her VMA debacle). She can't sing, and her vanity project, "Crossroads," proved she can't act. Where artists like Madonna learned and grew over time, going from the image-first singer of "Like a Virgin" to an accomplished singer and performer, Britney has coasted on her willingness to dance while displaying her formerly desired body in slutty clothing (and not much of it).

I think one of the reasons I especially have it out for Britney is that she doesn't seem to be in on the joke. History is filled with bubble gum pop stars with limited talent, but Britney has always held herself out like she mattered. Like she knew something we didn't. When she did her car-wreck reality show about her car-wreck marriage, her underlying thought was, "People will find me and my life interesting." Nobody did, so nobody watched. It's her lack of talent combined with her attitude that makes her my public enemy number one of crappy pop singers.

It sounds naive, I know, but it just seems wrong that Britney is rewarded with millions of dollars while talented musicians and singers struggle to get or maintain a record deal and scrape by in the music business. I mean, there is no shortage of places to go and watch decently attractive women dressed in very little, from the Internet to strip clubs to late night cable television. (I'm not complaining.) Do we really need to give a career to a woman whose only claim to fame seems to be her willingness to act that way on the MTV stage?

I'm ranting, I know. And I'm naive, old-fashioned, and yes, maybe even idealistic. Hell, expecting the American public to have standards in its pop culture entertainment may even brand me as delusional. I accept all of those charges. But nobody can take away from me the image of Britney Spears turning in a performance that humiliated her in front of millions of viewers, possibly committing career suicide in the process. It was, yes, I'm going to say it, justice. For once, a purveyor of crap got what she deserved.

I know I can't win the war, but I will enjoy winning this one battle. In fact, the next time a Pussycat Dolls CD goes platinum or Joey Fatone gets a raise to bumble his way through "The Singing Bee," maybe I'll just fire up my computer and watch Britney's deer-in-the-headlights look as she lumbers her way through her VMA performance. And I'll think to myself, "Your day may come, Fatone, oh yes, your day may come." Because if it could happen to Britney, it could happen to any of the no-talents who have lucked into a career. When it does, I'll be waiting, filled to capacity with my schadenfreude. And proud of it.