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Nicholson '12.5: Please, 'gimme gimme more'

Britney Spears' video for her Billboard smash hit "Hold it Against Me" dropped last Thursday, and I had absolutely no idea. Normally, such events would fly under my own aesthetic radar. Things changed, however, when CNN told me Katy Perry was outraged. Things changed when I heard the blonde pop star made $500,000 on product placement alone. Things changed when I found myself watching the Jonas Akerlund-directed music video.

At first, I noticed the video has gotten over 16 million hits. Wow, the woman is definitely still popular. Then the video began. Britney stands, gesticulating wildly with her arms, wearing nothing but a white bra and silver panties. She's surrounded by thoroughly oiled male models. A house/trance beat rises steadily. All pretty much par for the course, so far.

Then came the outrageous part. No, it isn't the mother of two in an endlessly long wedding dress or another girl on girl make-out scene. I found myself truly shocked when staring face to face with a seemingly non-sequitur shot of Britney Spears' new perfume, entitled "Radiance." I suddenly began to realize what the hubbub is all about.

Then came a close-up, single frame shot of a pot of Makeup-Forever eye shadow, which our pop heroine applies to already made-up eyes. Next came a shot of a dating website called "Plenty of Fish" on a brand new, sparkling Sony television. Then came the pause button. Did I pull up the wrong YouTube video?

Alas, no such luck for me or American pop culture. My 1990s-nurtured brain flashes back to the doomed remake of the classic comic book "Josie and the Pussycats." Obviously, being the only one in the universe to see this cinematic classic, I will elaborate — put succinctly, Josie and her pussycat pals find themselves in shock after discovering their record label was putting subliminal messages into their records to sell sodas, clothing, cat ears etc. Horrified, the girls disband, only to discover that — naturally enough — their screaming fans still adore them without being brainwashed.

The film takes place in a kind of semi-apocalyptic future in which corporations run rampant and are single-handedly behind all aspects of the art world. The still-underdeveloped adolescent side of my brain cannot help but wonder — is Britney's video a sign of the impending artistic doomsday? The pop princess, in her defense, is not the first to fall prey to the influences — and large capital — of corporate sponsors. After all, Run DMC has been wearing Adidas since the '80s, and Lady Gaga's video for her smash hit "Bad Romance" was named advertisement of the year by Pulitzer Prize winner Dan Neil. And yet, since the '80s, the power of the corporation in our pop aesthetic seems to be growing at a grotesque pace.

While I understand that the music industry is in trouble and that many are struggling to find new sources of revenue, turning our American icons into the 21st century version of the Avon lady seems like the wrong course to take. The problem with the video is not necessarily the content, but the way it is presented. I am fully behind Britney's Pepsi-Cola ad days, Alec Baldwin's Hulu commercial and Taylor Swift as the new face of Covergirl Cosmetics.

What I am not behind, however, is artists using music videos, which present themselves as a kind of artistic expression — the culmination of the artist's identity — as a forum for selling vodka to their fans. Call me a romantic, but I think the artists owe it to us to keep their music videos out of the realms of consumption and advertisement. I want my music videos to be optimistic. I don't want to feel my pop stars must compromise themselves to make ends meet. I don't want my culture to exist only under the close scrutiny and subsequent funding of big businesses. I don't want my nephew to be brainwashed into wanting to buy Makeup-Forever.

When Andy Warhol painted his Campbell's soup cans in 1962, he did not receive $500,000. He was trying to elevate the mundane to the world of high culture, high art. Our self-proclaimed pop artists seem to have inverted this formula. Instead of lifting low culture to the greatest heights, they bring themselves — and their public along with them — down into the abyss of corporate smut. The scariest part, of course, is that youth culture hasn't batted an eyelash. We have greeted this change with apathy, not outrage.

Of course, Britney has never proclaimed herself to be a member of the avant-garde or an experimental artist. Nevertheless, for an entire generation of young people, she is a cultural icon. Young girls, despite their mothers' apprehension, look up to Britney. And, aware of this position of power, the pop queen doesn't challenge her public to think or even dance — she inspires them to buy. I am not suggesting that Britney repent, or that the formula change. I ask, simply, for more — more accountability, more transcendence, more art.

Lorraine Nicholson '12.5 is a literary arts concentrator from Los Angeles, Calif.



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