First off, the bad news: The editing is horrendously fast-paced, and undoubtedly the video’s greatest flaw. Much as with his videos for Lady Gaga‘s “Paparazzi” and “Telephone,” director Jonas Akerlund has fallen head-over-heels with the quick cut technique, as though attempting to increase the amount of frames per second more and more with each new clip. “Hold It Against Me” races from scene to scene at a dizzying pace. It’s frustrating, distracting and occasionally nauseating as a result.
Which leads into the other problematic Akerlund trademark: The product placement.Too much. Way too much. From PlentyOfFish.com to Sony to Britney’s latest fragrance, Radiance (I have less of an issue with that last one), the clip is completely mired in clunky, obvious references to the products funding the production.
And while I realize that brand marketing continues to evolve with the digital revolution, there’s simply got to be a more subtle way to go about it without completely shattering the illusion of the world created within a music video. Sadly, these jump cuts entirely disrupt the flow of the video.
If I said my heart was beating loud…
The dancing: No, it’s not what it once was. And to be fair, there’s some justification for anger from the fans here. After all, the video’s choreographer, Brian Friedman (who I adore and admire completely) spent weeks raving to MTV about Britney’s energy and the challenging choreography–all the while suggesting a complete return to form.
In reality, the moves are only slightly above “3”-level difficulty and basically on par with the “Circus” routine–still nowhere near the almighty Oops… to In The Zone era. There does seem to be more of a passion or fire in her eyes at certain points, although she still remains hopelessly stiff and cold in others.
All that being said: What did you expect, really? She technically hasn’t danced–as in really, really danced, since 2004’s knee injury on the set of “Outrageous.” From “Do Somethin'” on, the energy has remained at a frustrating halfway point. By 2007’s Blackout, it was painfully clear that we were never going to see the fire of “I’m A Slave 4 U” again.
But that doesn’t mean that Britney’s any less of a pop star. For some reason, there’s this expectation that Britney Spears must always equate with heavy dancing. Lest we forget, there isn’t even a dance sequence within the video for “Toxic,” which is generally treasured as one of Britney’s finest video moments.
Do I wish she danced again? Yes, of course. Do I know why she’s not dancing like she used to? No, I don’t. But is that going to stop me from liking her? Not even slightly. I’ve accepted that the “I’m A Slave 4 U” Britney is a thing of the past–10 years, to be exact. Time has passed, and Britney’s artistry has changed. Accept the new, or cling to the past and remain bitter–the choice is yours.
If we could escape the crowd somehow…
But onto the plot, which is where the video’s director truly shines: Much as with Lady Gaga’s “Telephone,” Akerlund has turned what was initially a song about getting hay-zay in the club into an incredibly rich mini-epic with a far more intriguing plot-line.
Pop often gets a bad rap for being superficial, but I think there are plenty of intricate themes being explored in this clip. There’s so much going on–the paint splattering, the videos playing, microphone wreaths and epic battles–that there’s plenty of room for interpretation. Here’s mine:
A legend crash-lands on Earth. If you’d like to play along, it’s the alien pop star from “Oops!…I Did It Again.”
She’s immediately put to work, which explains the meta aesthetic–it’s a video within a video. She is the pop product, and this is the production. To a certain extent, the many product placements featured toward the beginning of the video serve to bolster this idea, bombarding the viewer with this constant notion of consumption.
We find Britney quickly rising in the Matrix-live television room, lifted on high in that gorgeous white dress surrounded by her greatest achievements. This is the representation of her meteoric rise to fame, as well as the public’s perception of the superstar. She is the supreme pop princess, gorgeous and angelic.
But as the video progresses, she begins to crack. She goes a little “cray-zay.” Trapped in the middle of the microphone wreath that surrounds her (perhaps symbolic of the media scrutiny that’s followed every inch of Britney’s career), she starts to unleash the tiger–teeth bared and fingers clenched.
Back to the white dress, and the dancers suddenly come flying out from under her dress, blind and scurrying. The wheels come unhinged, and–after a particularly ghoulish Joker-esque smile–she truly loses it. The paint begins to fly from her own fingers, coating everything she’s ever done.
To me, it’s the representation of Britney’s well-publicized breakdown–the tarnishing of her career in the eyes of the public as her handlers run awry while left to her own devices.
As she unravels publicly, we start to witness the internal duel–a fight between two Britney Spears. It’s representative of the inner demons she encountered during the breakdown, but–at the risk of jumping to conclusions, I think it might even touch on something far more personal.
Though it’s never been officially confirmed, there’s been more than enough speculation (not to mention the textbook behavior displayed during the Blackout breakdown era) to suggest that Britney is in fact bipolar. This duel might just be the perfect representation of her struggle to overcome her own darkness.
(I understand that I may be entirely off base with this, so please…don’t hold it against me.)
And then comes the fall. She hits the ground, splattered and broken–as do the dueling personalities. This is rock bottom (January 2008?)–the point of (seemingly) no return.
And yet, all is not lost. Writhing on the ground, she slowly regains her footing along with the two dueling Britneys, who seemingly come to a ceasefire in their own battle. We’re immediately led to the final dance sequence–ending with a triumphant Britney standing victoriously with her head held high. She’s back.
It’s the rise, the breakdown, and the comeback. It’s beautiful, it’s tragic–it’s the life of Britney Jean Spears.
If I said I want your body now…
In all honesty, I don’t see anything boring or generic about this video. It’s completely open to interpretation (down to that ominous question mark at the very end of the clip!), and much more entertaining, visually appetizing, personal and thought-provoking than most of what Britney’s produced in the past five years. In fact, it’s one of her best videos yet.
For fans and haters alike yearning to see a return to a 21-year-old Britney, prepare to be disappointed–that Britney doesn’t exist anymore. There’s much more to her artistry than a bared midriff and fierce choreography at this point in her career. She’s not always going to be sexy, and she’s not always going to be a dancer–she’s an entertainer, and the ultimate definition of a pop star.
This is next level. This is the future. This is Adultney.
But that’s just speaking from a rational standpoint. As for a review in stan terms?
BOW THE FUCK DOWN, SHEEPS. GODNEY HAS RETURNED.