Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Britney Spears – Till the World Ends

So we’ve got the odd theory or two about this one…


Jonathan Bogart: Lightning flickers across an ominous gray sky, shorting out the image. Everything pixelates, down to microscopic levels. The earth yawns and shudders. Civilizations totter, collapse, and rise again. Heavenly choirs soundtrack epic orgies. The Demon Bitch Goddess Mother Saint lives again, with digital blood running through coaxial veins. Song of the year? Song of the millennium.

Anthony Easton: This is the first time Britney has bored me.

Martin Skidmore: A model of contemporary pop: Dr Luke & Max Martin, check; co-writer Ke$ha-style chorus with lots of whoa whoa whoa and other repetition, check; pumping dancey beats, check; catchy shouty parts, check. Britney is kind of anonymous on this, but it’s highly effective formula stuff.

Chuck Eddy: There is a beauty to the wordless “oh-oh-oh-oh” vowel parts. Not a beauty I especially care about, but it’s there. The rest of it mostly suggests that skipping “the next level” might be time-effective.

Asher Steinberg: Usually I go to Britney for psychosexual drama, not songs about the vital urgency of dancing until really late hours and/or distant future millennia. One expects that sort of thing from, I don’t know, every other major pop star, but not Britney. Not that she doesn’t infuse this generic concept of dancing for all eternity with her personal sensibility; I particularly like how, as is seemingly the case on every recent Britney single, she exclaims that she’s never felt this way before. Either she has no memory or every impersonal erotic encounter she has is just so damn fresh and new to her, which must be nice. But anyway, this song isn’t really about Britney, but the computerized cascade of genderless voices going “oh oh oh oh oh,” to whom, or rather to which, she cedes the track. Virtually every electropop record these days contains a similar moment of transcendence, baked into which I tend to detect a sense of the unattainable; the notes ascend and ascend, but never reach a point of resolution. You can read them as sexual longings, or something more metaphysical; either way they always contain a fusion of ecstasy and sadness, the promise of some great unattainable thing and the knowledge that it will never be attained. I used to find these passages extremely affecting, but now that every damn song in the world has them, even songs that could double as commercial jingles for cheap beer (see “Yeah 3X”), I feel a little manipulated, like every pop producer in the world has figured that out by playing a certain type of progression of notes on the hot synth of the moment, he can make me feel sad about certain events that transpired in 6th grade. Well, pop is the art of manipulating the listener, so that’s not a critique, but you do have to ask yourself: (a) is this particular song’s transcendent moment genuinely earned by the performer, or just ginned up by the maestro behind the knobs, and (b), as electropoppy transcendent moments go, is this especially good? And I think this song fails on both points.

Al Shipley: The clipped vocal stutter hook is only slightly more enjoyable than simply cliched or annoying because the rhythm of it is a little weird and counterintuitive. But there’s quite a lot of very drab and straightforward stuff happening in the rest of the song to flatten any strange or intriguing effect that one bit might have.

Edward Okulicz: No doubt this is her most uplifting, euphoric chorus since “Stronger”, but hiving it off til the end of the song behind a complete superfluity of “whoa oh oh oh” bits is not a wise use of resources. It must be admitted that said boring “whoa oh oh oh” bits are better than the part with the same melody where there are words; the clumsy repetition there shows the words don’t fit the weird rhythm no matter how much you force them. Sonically, this is exactly what Britney needs to be doing, though.

Jer Fairall: Anonymity suits Britney. Embarrassed and embarrassing whenever she makes attempts at humour (“Hold It Against Me”), transgressive sexuality (“3”) or, gulp, introspection (“I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”), this is far better off for how much she is allowed to blend in with the wallpaper. As such, it’s a tight, energetic club track, whooshing and squelching in all the right places with only the characteristic stiffness of its singer keeping it from being anything other than serviceable.

Ian Mathers: I haven’t been paying attention to Britney’s music for a while, so this was kind of a shock. It’s not as if she was in a power trio or anything before, but has her music been this rave-y and pleasingly, artificially glossy for very long? “Till the World Ends” sounds machine tooled to within an inch of its life, but in the greatest possible sense; the verses are supple, the wordless refrain and subsequent sort-of chorus are effortlessly driving, and it’s easy to imagine how outright euphoric it would be in the right setting. And let’s face it, that minute pause between “I notice that you got it/You notice that I want it/You know that I can take it” and “To the next level baby” is Blind Date Murderer-level genius.

Alfred Soto: Since succumbing to the allure of celebrity excess, Britney is less a human being than a nerve ending, responding to sensual pleasure with signals sent to a central processor that responds with gurgles, sighs, and coos. I’m a sucker for apocalyptic dance songs about dancing, and this one hooked me from the electronic stuttering applied to key verbs to the oh-oh-ohs straight out of mid eighties Italo disco. May she never grow up.

Katherine St Asaph: The publicity apparatus for Britney Spears’ Femme Fatale — as just about everyone has pointed out — has lacked one crucial component: Britney Spears. You see, Brit’s not herself tonight; speculate how you will, but here’s your list of symptoms. The music could obviously be anyone’s, but that’s standard. Her choreography? Long gone in person, and on recording, edited only to make you wince least. Her lyrics are cobbled together from whatever slang was cluttering Max Martin’s cortex that day, making her evoke Ke$ha and Gwen Stefani and fucking Train — everyone but herself. Her voice could be anyone; she doesn’t even pronounce “baby” like she used to, no matter how much she spits out the word. So this is our endpoint, the stabilized final iteration of Britney, post-fall and post-recovery. And it turns out she’s just like us: infinitely polishable with the right (Pro) Tools, yet infinitely vulnerable, all minor chords. That last is the key, because you can relate: how the night is where we pin all our hopes and, as it goes on, fears, until that moment when the world ends and we wake up and the party’s gone.

Jonathan Bradley: A masterful exercise in dynamics, which is a terribly dry description of a song whose euphoria climaxes so naturally. The wobbly synths and Britney’s not-quite unnoticeable tracing of Ke$ha’s guidelines mark time well enough, but they’re just there to delay, in almost tantric fashion, the arrival of the blissful chorus. After the hook’s first appearance, with the song two thirds finished, the tune catapults into a state of untethered, freeform loveliness, a state of bliss teetering forever on the cusp of the apocalypse.

Kat Stevens: It worries me that the bits of this song I like are the bits that sound like that Ke$ha Dawson unicorn thing.

Zach Lyon: Maybe I think higher of this than I should, but it’s been so long since I’ve enjoyed a Britney single. This is worth celebrating.

8 Responses to “Britney Spears – Till the World Ends”

  1. Goddammit. I left out one epithet from that string. Virgin. Goes before Mother, obv.

  2. You know, I kind of think I was way too literal on the ostensible subject of the song, and that up to the hook this is fairly prototypical Britney and not just some generic venture into the land of happy dance anthems. But I really feel that the hook has very little to do with her. Anyway, I like it, I think much more pop should sound like this, but among songs that do sound like it, particularly those containing “the sound of a crowd euphorically braying meaningless monosyllables” bits, I don’t think there’s anything very distinguished or memorable about this one, or this bit. Whereas I’m actually really into Chris Brown’s ‘Beautiful People,’ a far more impersonal song than this. There, I guess, CB’s absence from the song (there are maybe ten seconds where you can even tell it’s him through the autotune) works because, really, who would want him to be overly present?

  3. No, I think you were spot-on; it’s something I noticed as well.

  4. I like the part from 3:06 to 3:35, where this sounds exactly like the commercials for Jersey Shore clubs that used to run on cable in the summers when I was growing up.

  5. Well thanks. I think your comment on her infinite vulnerability/the night being where we pin all our hopes and fears is very eloquent, and partly what I was attempting to get at. Though I guess my complaint is that some of the infinite vulnerability has been crowdsourced. I guess to most people that’s not a problem, as on all critical accounts Britney’s just a barely audible ghost in the finely honed machine of “her” music, but to me Britney from ‘Gimme More’ on is practically an auteur; even something as unfortunate as ‘Three’ is very much hers.

  6. Very surprised at the high score. First Britney song that bored me too.

  7. Metal Mike Saunders via email on the new album:

    oh yeah –bought the new britney album yesterday. whoa and wow, tracks 4 through 12 KILL nonstop, it’s just as good as advertised. and totally-different from BLACKOUT or (different still from) CIRCUS (which i actually like even more than BLACKOUT), but the SAME genre, ha! hat trick, baby, hat trick! ARTISTIC 3-CARD-MONTE PRIZE WINNER HERE! the buzz and advance press (including Max Martin and Dr Luke themselves in the new Rolling Stone, talking aggro and making good points about the album) did not lie.

    the britney album tracks 1 and 2, oh yeah…those are the two hit singles everyone knows sooo i didn’t even really notice those when it started playing (from the living room while i was around and about back and forth).

    i guess that leaves “Track 3” as the only “why didn’t that one tune (only) sound great on first listen?” i do believe we got a 5-star 9.5 and 3.90 GPA “BEST OF CAREER” winner here. even if nothing is even a pimple on the 1999-2000 teenage genius of “Lucky” or “I Won’t Be There” or or or, any of them. yep, totally different ten years down the line. now that sir is a true artist’s catalog!

  8. More Metal Mike on Britney (with more to come, probably):