Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Britney Spears – Work Bitch!

A motivational poster for ONTD posters…


Katherine St Asaph: Britney’s camp has two lines of PR fire. The first is for fans and gossip blogs: Britney’s finally recovered from her tabloid demise (though her conservatorship remains.) The second’s for the industry: Britney’s career has been resuscitated as dying businesses are and is now a micromanaged brand, no big risks on the 10-K. The problem with that is that it’s plainly false; between the last single, written for a C-lister to pad her resume with sonic trends, and this, the more likely truth is that no one has any idea what Britney Spears should be doing in 2013. (And here’s why, maybe: The good-girl-gone-bad narrative is written to end in tragic death: women fainting of consumption, women threshed by celebrity, sexed then wrecked as cautionary tales. But when she doesn’t die? Graceful retirement makes for poor profits; chaste redemption makes for poor pop; saying “screw the narrative” makes you either obscure or Mandy Moore.) “Work Bitch!” is a clusterfuck. Like most clusterfucks, there’s plenty that’s good: the way the intro could segue into Disclosure (no way isn’t studying Settle), or the bridge, a melodic oasis among’s arid loops. There’s plenty that’s questionable, like everything else Will pastiches, or everything else Britney says. Her accent’s flimsy as a Halloween-store costume; for every “look hot” there’s a “big beat,” classic Britneychirp; or “Party in France,” residual Southerner, or “live fancy,” received swag. It’s as clever as the coinage “Britishney” and not a bit more. Then there’s the plentiful crap; whether you agree with Mykki Blanco that Spears’ camp is harmfully ransacking gay culture, it’s no improvement to add bootstrapping rhetoric from a millionaire. (This is about as pleasant to hear while unemployed as the Black Eyed Peas are to hear while hungover.) The result is intermittently pleasing, frantically intermittent and, paradoxically, safe: no dark dance (damn), no deep feelings, no unauthorized memes. So hey, I’ll play along: you want peak Britney? A legacy past “Legendney”? Just a 360? Whatever works, bitch.

Will Adams: Fucking His dastardly plan to turn Britney into a meme-bot is right on schedule. Picking up from last time, she’s still confusing a dodgy British accent with personality. Now she’s getting a word in edgewise, but will’s signature is all over it: “Here comes the smashahh!” about a Secondhand House Mafia beat, that faceplant of a middle eight. Unpleasant and hookless, “Work Bitch!” has no aspirations beyond being a deep cut from a spin class playlist. Britney has never sounded so detached. And no one cares, because the beat is banging and LOL she said “bitch.” 

Alfred Soto: Sounding like RuPaul imitating Julie Andrews, Britney revels in the luxuriance of Bugattis, mansions, parties in France, and terrible English accents, thus earning the exclamation point. The beat is steeped in lukewarm EDM clichés, though.

Patrick St. Michel: It’s pretty funny that Britney Spears demands we “work” to earn millions of dollars while singing over the sort of EDM-by-numbers production that most SoundCloud brosteppers would know to discard. It’s hilarious that she does it in a British accent.

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: “Work Bitch!” continues to shed Britney’s persona, if there ever was one. There are attempts at English end-level-boss accents, her traditional near-wordless vocal wavering, bottle service mantras. She is on the track but never seems to inhabit it, willowing away into an EDM thump, almost as if she was never there. (Harmony Korine on Britney, not far off: “She’s almost more than a person– she’s like an energy.”) You can place yourself in her shoes, achieve her grocery-list ambition, strut into business meetings in a two-piece, and work on your gag reflex when it comes to Jagerbombing it. There is only work and pleasure here. You didn’t come here for either of those, weren’t touched by the song’s unashamedly corporate ultra-sheen? Brit’s energy didn’t pass onto you, so there’s the door. To like this, to relate to this, you gotta work harder, bitch.

Edward Okulicz: Ah, so Britney’s novelty accent is evidently a fig leaf for the fact that she has no remaining exhortative power whatsoever, something that would be quite helpful in a song called “Work Bitch.”

Brad Shoup: What do you want? Another song that tells you to party? Carrying a whiff of formative house, that intro is just the thing to push us into cooler weather. That synth figure, restless as tapping fingers, plays bad cop to Spears’ carrot-dangling authority; it’s as dogged as time. 

David Moore: is such a dork, we all knew that, but more importantly Britney Spears is such a dork. I think that is wonderful, that we have such a huge dork in the fifteenth year of her unabated music career still blowing up planets and laughing with a little snort at the end (fun fact: Britney Spears is about as far along in her career now as Madonna was when Britney Spears debuted). But mostly I think this song is wonderful, this bluntest instrument in an era of very blunt instruments, bashing everything up not because it’s better (though it is) or because it’s dorkier (because it isn’t) but because these dorks are the biggest dorks, a distinction they have both earned, damn it.  

W.B. Swygart: Pitching down the middle here: on the one hand, awful song, wretched lyrics; on the other, as perfect a sonic distillation of the shining fists of capitalism as there’s been in a very long time; on the imaginary third hand, I do like posting this video as often as possible.

Jessica Doyle: This graph, in song form. (Credit to Katherine.) Britney Spears doesn’t quite humanize it, but that’s appropriate for the era, too.

Jer Fairall: A sinister enough groove, but Brit, her voice still a rigid, charmless, expressionless thing, sounds like the world’s least convincing dominatrix barking the obnoxious titular command overtop of it.

Jonathan Bogart: Runway pop that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense without the engine roar of high fashion and immaculately angled bodies. Britney’s gift for personalizing the remoteness of glamour and celebrity — her insistence on being a person where most other pop stars are satisfied with being an imago — is what rescues the deep schlock of the beats, but I’d like to hear her playfulness met with music equally playful.

Scott Mildenhall: For someone who must have been one of, if not the first major popstar to employ gloomwobble in their music, there’s a weird felicitousness in this sounding like the dying throes of “E” “D” so-called “M.” It is a complete and utter mess. Who exactly is she addressing? Is she trying to motivate them or belittle them? What is that accent? Who is this intended to satisfy? If Britney has any designs on remaining a relevant popstar, she’d be wise to note that ATRL is not the world.

Anthony Easton: I have been loving and writing about Britney since my undergrad days, and she has made work that I wanted to write about for that long. Sometimes it’s difficult to write kind things, but I have never been bored. More importantly, even though her voice has always been processed or shredded, or placed small inside giant songs, I always was interested in how that voice worked in the larger context of whatever production she was working on. There was always an interesting balance between aesthetic choices that maintained her brand and ones that pushed it forward or deconstructed a scandal-tinged tabloid biography. If I was feeling generous, I could make the argument that this kind of does the same thing, and there are places where I can see that history emerge: the intro bit, how she sings “ring the alarm,” how she rhymes “hot body” with Bugatti and Maserati, her view of the Protestant work ethic, the last few seconds. But the last few seconds seem complacent, not completely bonzo. Maybe it is a question of diminishing returns, for both the audience and the performer. Maybe this sounds a little bored and self-satisfied because after a decade of hard work, she has little elsewhere to go.

Reader average: [6.07] (26 votes)

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26 Responses to “Britney Spears – Work Bitch!”

  1. “whether you agree with Mykki Blanco that Spears’ camp is harmfully ransacking gay culture, it’s no improvement to add bootstrapping rhetoric from a millionaire.”

    Mykki Blanco knows exactly what is up here. Katherine, even more so.

  2. Oh, we knew Katherine was going to shine on this one.

    It just occurred to me: can I visit the alternate universe where CL gets this and Britney gets “The Baddest Female”? Britney might have had fun with “but bad being good, y’know?” and CL could probably pull off an ode to the debris of capitalism better than she did the cultural-appropriations fest.

  3. Blanco’s objections aside, if Britney can’t dish “bootstrapping rhetoric,” I don’t know who can.

  4. No one can, legitimately — it’s a false premise — but good point.

  5. Uh I think this song says a lot less about macroeconomic income inequality worsification and a lot more about pumpin’ it on the exercise bike or motivating yourself to leave the house once every two days.

  6. Bingo.

  7. What I like about is that he has the sense to reduce whatever thing he’s doing to its minimal (not minimalist) essence — the issue is just that he does lots of terrible, terrible things. But I love him all the same.

  8. Anyway RuPaul “Peanut Butter” –> Britney “Work Bitch” –> Disclosure “When a Fire Starts to Burn” opener Exercise Mix 2013 forever

  9. I dunno, I think “You want to live fancy? Live in a big mansion? Party in France? You better work” is basically the same sentiment as “You’re poor? Well, it’s your own fault for not working hard enough,” the same way that The Secret is the same sentiment as “A horrific natural disaster happened to you? You just didn’t manifest the right things enough.”

  10. I guess you have be a Britney fan to get the facetiousness of this song. Britney doesn’t care about looking hot in a bikini or Bugattis. It’s evident when she celebrates with KFC after she is done with a bikini photo shoot. Or when she is seen driving around in her boyfriends Nissan Altima. It’s actually pretty brilliant. I guess next time she needs to spell it out for ya’ll.

  11. I mean, maybe, sort of, on paper (though not really — “work it” has a pretty long history of not translating into “literal work” even when literal work is invoked, and here “work” is not literally invoked, it’s more like The-Dream’s “Fancy” about how you gotta live fancy to be fancy, and that one’s told explicitly from the perspective of characters who are not yet materially fancy but still live fancy), I just don’t see how it’s possible to believe that in earnest (or “believe” anything “in earnest” esp. when on the exercise bike or motivating yourself to leave the house once every two days) when you’re actually listening to this dumbass and wonderful song is all.

  12. I mean if the video portrays Britney as a cruel factory manager then maybe she goes out onto the floor and…uh, no, that would still be awesome, actually. It would be like the end of the John Waters “Simpsons” episode (“Homer Phobia”) where the steel mill turns into a dance club, which also treads an uncomfortable line re: appropriation (and in that case straight up homophobia) and is also really really funny.

  13. But the point of the song is kind of translating “work it” into meaning literal work? As for how it’s possible to believe it in earnest, I suspect that depends entirely on your job stability.

  14. Haha, this is the song that’s doing the most to get me through my “severe underemployment” period motivationwise (as much as songs speak to any of that).

  15. Second on the being underemployed/enjoying this song thing. BUT ONE I’m also a white male with a college degree, so caveats. BUT TWO a search on Twitter for #workbitch brings up a combination of proposed Bugatti sponsorships, people going to the gym, people going after some undefined goal, and a guy who says Britney wrote a “Libertatian anthem”. It’s a huckster’s anthem, it’s a hustler’s anthem.

  16. None of y’all need my blessing, but it is totally fine to take “Work, Bitch” as a motivator, says she who will have spent most of 2013 using K-pop as a grief tonic.

    I’m still with Katherine, though. This song kind of reminds me of the Instagram feeds that got passed around in the wake of the Times report on Harvard Business School and the “Section X” bros spending endlessly. The trappings described aren’t the ones accumulated by people who work (who are generally too damn busy and stressed to do much with the Bugatti except on the occasional weekend); they’re the privileges enjoyed by the spoiled brats of the people who work.

    (Also, I’m not sure that Britney has ever been much of a fan of the underdog, even when — perhaps especially when — she herself has been the underdog.)

  17. (…people who work and actually hit the proverbial jackpot, I mean. Investment bankers and the like. I keep rereading my comment and it sounds even worse than the phenomenon I’m trying to comment on. go me.

    (anyway, we seem to be divided between those who are taking the Bugatti, etc., metaphorically, and thus treating this as just a general exhortation from a helpful Britney, and those who are reminded by the metaphor of the worsening odds that hard work will actually get you financial stability, let alone luxuries.)

  18. I read somewhere that to root for the underdog is un-American.

  19. I think any argument that this is too jarring for the unemployed misses the clear indication that one is to “work LIKE it’s your profession” 2. the strange history of (late) capitalism being recapitulated as “working hard”/”working it”/being a working girl that’s present in drag culture, Showgirls, and other queer cultural touchstones. That’s not to say it’s a good thing, just that is has a strong precedent.

  20. “But the point of the song is kind of translating “work it” into meaning literal work?”

    It’s the inverse of this.

  21. Rev OTM, it’s not 100% subversive but the Protestant work ethic of the literal reading is undercut in several pretty obvious ways –

    1) Translating capitalist work into club work
    2) This song is made FOR people doing the exact opposite of working hard ie partying in clubs and getting wasted
    3) This song is made BY someone who, as a gossip blog I forget said, probably recorded it in 10 minutes via iPhone in a fast food restaurant booth
    4) The silly accent is part just silly accent but also makes me think of Britney speaking in the voice of everyone who’s drummed this exact message into her for her entire career, and the silliness of it mocks them and what they promised her
    5) The element of the song that’s actual serious is less capitalist work and more GYM work because it’s made for the gym and the club in equal measure. I can attest that it’s an incredible workout song, I’ve started doing squats pretty much involuntarily when it comes on

  22. lex is right


  24. NB who says “motherfucka”?


  26. “Marxism” clearly a portmanteau of “Max Martin” — everything is connected.