Gimme More (Dir. Jake Safarty)
Written: Danja, Jim Beanz, Keri Hilson, Marcella Araica; Produced: Danja, Jim Beanz, Keri Hilson
DANGER DANGER DANGER DANGER
It’s Britney, bitch.
Three words that will embed themselves into our cultural lexicon, a phrase that will become a soundbite, a sample, a meme. But here in 2007, it is at once less and more. Less: the latest single from an artist turned trainwreck whose star is on the wane, whose status as a celebrity and as a person seems increasingly precarious. More: an introduction. An assertion that she needs no introduction. An attack. A defense. A reminder of just who we’re dealing with. A reminder that we already know. A negation located so specifically in one moment in time that it will be hard to remember by the time Britney’s twirling merrily for her kids in a video about the Smurfs. It will be hard to explain to those who weren’t watching how it could have been that once this snappy catchphrase meant: I’m not dead yet.
All of that, and an invitation. Welcome to the darkest club you’ve ever seen, where the lights never shine in one place long enough for you to assign faces to any of the stumbling, grinding, sweaty bodies and none of the neon-colored drinks have names you recognize. Welcome to a dance floor in a funhouse, where the walls seem to be closing in on you and it’s getting harder to tell what is real and what is a distortion in a warped mirror, where the distinction between reality and distortion is rapidly losing meaning. Welcome to a party that could be the best night of your life or the worst or the last. Welcome to Britney’s world, a world in which she is in charge but only sporadically visible, where the tenuous wall between public and private has crumbled, where the air is so thick with sex you can almost forget the danger of being alone in a dark crowd and having lost sight of the way out.
Welcome to Blackout.
Some things feel familiar, or should: it’s Britney, she’s dancing, moving her body close to a body, immersed in sensuality, edging towards sex. It should feel familiar but sometimes if you push far enough into an extreme, if you lean hard enough into more, it becomes a new beast entirely. Blackout is a beast: dirtier, sexier, sleazier, yes, but also harder, scarier, with a new edge of something difficult to look at, impossible to contain. In the center there’s bodies and dancing and fucking and breath; at the edges lurks the inescapable awareness that anything could happen, and that’s a promise and a threat.
Between the cavernous pulsing beat and the pin-drop stalactites of sound, Britney says, I see you — again, I see you, again — and I just wanna dance with you. Promise and threat, coquettish reassurance with an undeniable hint of the sinister, and then she giggles — a giggle, not a laugh, contained, girlish even, except there’s that darkness, a giggle like a cackle, the world’s cutest supervillain, a flirt and a witch, she could get you off in your pants in the corner and she could knife you in an alleyway and be out of the state by morning without so much as smudging her mascara.
Every time they turn the lights down, just wanna go that extra mile for you: in the dark, the deepest desires, those monsters, can come out to play. In a public display of affection/feels like no one else in the room but you, a contradiction that speaks to the magic trick of a blackout: you can pretend the people you don’t see aren’t there. You can pretend the world is just what you want it to be. In the dark you can pretend you aren’t seen; you can pretend not to know that even up against the wall, you’re the center of attention. You can get down like there’s no one around, create a bubble of intimacy and decide to call it privacy, disregard the thoughts of those watching because you’ve decided they don’t exist.
You can pretend but you can’t forget. Britney can’t forget that cameras are flashing, because cameras are always flashing, bulbs in her face like a permanent strobe light. She can’t un-know that they keep watching, because they do, they have, they will. An invasion of eyes, a life unwillingly turned into a performance, the private sphere become entertainment, and they keep watching. She is at the center and they are closing in, watching, wanting, feels like the crowd is saying gimme, gimme, more.
Gimme more is the core of Britney’s trajectory and the cry of the devouring mob, transmuted through endless repetition back into Britney’s voice — who is calling for more, who is demanding what? Two hungers colliding in a maelstrom of desperation, two appetites pushing each other to monstrous proportions. I just can’t control myself — knowingly imbued with the blatant falseness of cheap pornography, a performance of performative sexuality. Do you want more? —Well I’ll give you more — whether you want it or not. I will be the nightmare you made me, and you will not escape.
DANGER DANGER DANGER DANGER: a producer moniker morphed into a siren, sounding the alarm as the song dissolves into sonic eddies of whirring, swirling, stuttering, cooing, noises mingling with melody lines that multiply and vanish, human voices made to sound electronic and synthetic sounds masquerading as human. Blackout is a missive from a world in collapse, a world where boundaries have blurred until they disappeared and stability is a faraway dream, and at the end of this dizzy opening Danja appears, at once a manifestation of menace and our ferryman across the River Styx, reminding us who will be our guide through this underworld: the legendary Ms. Britney Spears.
In the video, behind a haze of foggy lenses and blurred effects, in a disorienting mess of blended grays and flashing colors, body parts and motion, Britney dances in fishnets and a black wig, enough of a costume to make a character. She looks at the camera, once flashing an incongruously beatific grin, but she’s in a bar, the patrons are looking. Once again we watch her being watched, but here the spectator is also Britney, at first surprised and then captivated by this woman who is herself and not her self. They keep watching, but she is watching too; she is situating herself as the person she performs for. It’s Britney, bitch, and she likes what she sees.
Blackout is still one of my favourite pop records, and also remains as disorienting and problematic and catchy as it ever was. I long ago ran out of things to say about it, and never felt much up to the task in the first place. This - like the rest of Britney Week so far - is terrific.
God 2007 was fucked up. I actually don’t think things are as bad in the celebrity/tabloid/gossip realm — even though bad things are more amplified than ever online, there’s a kind of protective skin to it all as (1) more “average people” are also getting sucked into deep, dark popularity cascades and (2) celebrities have more of their private selves peeking through outside of tabloid apparatus (if they so choose), mitigating the tabloid narratives slightly but categorically. (It’s the difference between Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, a point I won’t go into right now.) People were waiting for Britney to die, and they were getting off on it, which isn’t to say they were rooting for it. But they were all but rooting for it.