[review] Britney’s “Femme Fatale.” Trite, but so, so good. Paradoxically her best album ever.

Let’s have it out. I like Britney’s music. From Hit Me Baby One More Time to her really, really risqué single Three. However, with Femme Fatale, I have fallen in love. Joining Green Day’s American Idiot and Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory, Femme Fatale is one of the albums that I would recommend everyone to listen to in full. It’s that ridiculous. So ridiculously good. So ridiculously good that despite two midterms, I am pumping out this love letter blog post.

I will discuss each song (in order) on the album, and then offer an overall analysis of the whole album based on my observations. Please keep in mind that I am not a music critic, and I do have a special predilection for electronica.

Till the World Ends: the best thing about this song is the strong, uptempo, and danceable beat—which makes this a perfect dance anthem. However, it really can’t be an singable anthem because there’s not much of a hook (unless “ooo-ooo-oooooo-ooo” counts). Interestingly, this song was co-written by Ke$ha; I am so glad this didn’t make it into a Ke$ha album, because Ke$ha’s raw and bitchy vocals would have ruined the slick coyness that this song requires.  A note on the generic dance  music video: Britney is in fantastic shape.

Hold It Against Me: though this was the lead single, I did not really like it at first. The low, repeated notes that Britney somewhat monotonously sings in the beginning of the verses, with the backing of a heavy, grime-inspired bass gave a lot of gravity to the song. After the bridge, the bass picks up a lot in pitch and frequency, and it starts feeling more like a crazy dance song—this building resolution reminded me of the resolution of Darude’s Sandstorm. The lyrics are composed of clichéd pick-up lines like “they’re playing my favorite song” and “please forgive me if I’m coming on too strong.” In fact, “Hold It Against Me” is also another cliche. Though some may dismiss this song as “bad writing” and “pop music going down the drain”, the whole song screams of loneliness in the spotlight: “if we could escape the crowd somehow,” “I need a vacation tonight.” Cliche is a guise to deflect the scrutiny of the spotlight. So depending on how you choose to read the lyrics, it’s not that vapid.

The music video was stupefying. This doesn’t mean it was good (too much product placement), but it definitely was thought provoking. Between the old music videos of Britney playing in the background, the white wedding dress,  Britney doppelgangers fighting each other, Britney shooting paint out of her fingers via IVs, and the question mark appearing in the end, this music video has a lot to say, a lot to symbolize and to insinuate. But what exactly is it saying? Even after thinking about it, I still have no idea, which hearkens to the question mark we see at the end of the video. Who is Britney? What images do we have of her, after all these years? Do we really know who this person is? What is this concept of fame? The questions roll on, and the video brings them up, but ultimately leaves the answering to the audience. So I leave you to ponder the themes of Hold It Against Me yourself. An amazing amount of artistry and detail went into this music video, so it’s worth watching at least once.

Inside Out: this is a mid-tempo electronic ballad. Musically, this song is probably the least distinctive in the whole album; you could replace the electronica with more R&B sounds and have it sound mostly the same. Spears doesn’t do much R&B, because she does not have the full voice for it, which results in the song falling flat with her nasally tone. The lyrics are somewhat inspired this time around; the beginning goes, “Sitting in the mirror getting pretty, gotta look my best if we’re gonna break up.” This sucks you in—you’re curious to know what the whole story behind that line.

I Wanna Go: faintly dirty lyrics, but this song definitely has an addicting hook. “I-I-I-I-wanna go all the way / taking out my freak tonight.” Song of comparison? Till The World Ends. In fact, a lot of critics called this the best song on her album—it has the hook and the uptempo club beat. Yet, a lot of critics have described her vocals as autotuned until anyone could sing it. To those critics, I have two points (1) the electronica style that Britney is channeling right now commonly features heavy autotune (2) autotuned (mostly) means the same pitch. Not the same delivery. Have you heard Bonnie McKee’s demo for Hold It Against Me? Though Bonnie and Britney were both autotuned like heck, there is no question which version is better: Britney’s.

How I Roll: Britney’s clapping song, which actually sounds quite happy and cute. Yet, when Britney slyly sings, “Because I got nine lives like a kitty cat”, she pauses for a slight second in front of “kitty cat”, and you sort of anticipate her singing “pussy cat” instead. Of course, the dirtiness is confirmed when she sings blithely, “You can be my f— tonight.” Classy. I had to listen to this song several times to make sure it was the f-bomb because the song sounds so cute.

(Drop Dead) Beautiful: this has arguably got some of the worst lyrics in the whole album. Britney sings, “your body looks so sick, I think I caught the flu.” I didn’t notice these cheesy lyrics at first because Britney can pretty much make everything sound sexy using her breathy voice—showing that again, Britney rocks delivery. The other horrible set of lyrics occurs when Sabi, the guest female rapper, raps, “But, I ain’t sweatin’ you / Steam me like a pot full of vegetables.” What?!

The chorus is mostly Britney repeating: “Beautiful. Drop Dead. Beautiful. Drop Dead.” This repetition, coupled with a synthesizer, makes for a good thumping in the club, though I’m skeptical about it being a singable hook.

Seal It With a Kiss: Again, cliche in the song title. The bass grates in your ear with its exaggerated vibrations, balanced by Britney’s rather ethereal, floating in this song. It’s a good song, but to me, there is nothing particularly unique or novel. If this song got rid of the grating bass, it could have probably been packaged in Circus, which has a more sugared pop flavor.

Big Fat Bass (feat. will.i.am): according to many music critics, very dirrrrrrty (read: whole song is one huge phallic reference). Considering the previous songs, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Odd samplings of keyboard in here gives a good spin to an otherwise bland europop; will.i.am’s rap is sort of stale, and whooshes by without much ado. Britney also raps in this song, albeit monotonously. Depending on your experience with techno, monotonous speaking is pretty commonso I am not sure what exactly the reception to this song would be if it was released as single. This is the longest song on the album at 4min45secs, and it certainly feels that long—too long, in fact, because Britney repeats the hooks into oblivion.

Trouble For Me: the opening may deter some people who are not used to straight up synthesizer, but then Britney comes to the rescue, crooning “Blackjack whiskey straight every day changes your life”, a marked contrast: mechanized sound v. human. Britney and the synthesizer come together on the chorus, which is very clever, because the whole song is about two people who are a ‘disaster’ together, though they may avoid each other, they eventually come together, or so it is implied. Possibly one of the best choruses in the album, even I start to unconsciously sing along sometimes.

Trip To Your Heart: song of comparison is Seal It With a Kiss. This song is sugary, with bell-sounds in the chorus, and even the synthesized sounds sound fuzzy (think Cascada’s Evacuate the Dancefloor) and bright, accompanied by Britney’s insubstantially rounded, wafting voice.

Gasoline: This song and Criminal are my two favorite songs in the whole album. The song opens with a sound reminiscent of guitar plucking, and then the verses are underwritten this same plucked guitar theme; I wouldn’t be surprised if Pink had sung this. You just have to listen to it. There’s something about Britney’s voice layered with the plucked guitar that makes me melt. Think September’s La La La (Never Give It Up). The lyrics are a bit corny: “My heart only runs on supreme. So hot, give me your gasoline.” What?! Is this dirty euphemism as well?!

Criminal: Britney’s voice shines on this midtempo ballad, possibly the least autotuned out of all the tracks. The melancholy flute sampling in the beginning, which plays the main theme, is unforgettable, because it’s so bold and out there. How do I know? Because I can actually sing the chorus from memory. I usually have two problems remembering music (1) what are the actual words?! did Britney say the f-word or ‘luck’? (2) what is the melody again?! So for me to be able to remember “Mama I’m in love with a criminal, and this type of love isn’t rational, it’s physical…” is pretty big.

——

Trends in Femme Fatale?

  1. Heavy electronica, club-dance influenced songs: the inspiration behind Femme Fatale is club techno and dance music, such as trance and dubstep. The album has heavy basses, often repeated lines, and floating vocals–while still pop, because of the concentration on lower register electronica, this album loses most of the sugar. What results is a dark, mature and edgy sound, reminiscent of her 2007 album Blackout.
  2. Clichéd lyrics: this triteness speaks to a general disunity of the album (titled with a cliche!). Britney was the least engaged with the making of this album. It may be hard to believe, but Britney has co-written and produced some of her biggest songs.
  3. All songs are good overall: of course, some are more addictive given Britney’s style, but lesser artists could have released every single track off this album as their debut single, and depending on how they handled the vocals and instrumentations, they could have all been Hot 100 hits. Easy. For Britney to have this caliber of music in her album, is staggering.

Some people may say that the more-than-generous autotune, the cliches abound in the half-thought-out lyrics, and the overall disunity of theme, make Femme Fatale a less superior album than other comparable albums, namely Blackout. Yet, the quality of music, as I pointed out before, is staggering in this album. Also, the disunity of the album brings me back to the Hold It Against Me music video and the questions it raises on how we know Britney. Is she just a pop sensation produced by smart producers? Or is she an ‘artist’? Do I dare to break out the other a word? Is Spears an avant-garde?

She is.

To me, avant-garde means to push the boundaries. Though electronica has been around for quite a while, Britney is the one that has pushed it far into the mainstream. That’s why so many critics have called this album ‘a breath of fresh air’. The pop circuit has been circulating with things that continue the trend: Katy Perry, Ke$ha, and things that call on the past trends: Lady Gaga. Even though they are addicting songs: California Gurls, Your Love Is My Drug, Born This Way, they die away after the initial glow.

Despite the different themes in Femme Fatale, the thing that sticks all these disparate elements is the queen of pop herself. This is Britney’s album. This is not Dr. Luke & co’s album. This is Britney’s. Britney is the binding force, and that’s amazing that this one person can pull together all of this and come out with something so complete and disjunct. Disjunct is exactly the image that Britney is—she’s this complex and odd mixture of the tabloids, pop music, random husbands, someone so enmeshed in celebrity, someone who we think we know, someone still so close and so distant. In Femme Fatale, she doesn’t pander to the audience, she stands over us, exhorting us to dance till the world ends.

Corny, corny, I know. However, the first reaction when I listened to the whole album, was that she carved an album for Ibiza. Amidst all the ecstasy-high people with scary throbbing veins because they take cocaine on the side, drinking vodka shots until oblivion, partying until five in the morning, Britney’s voice would be their support.

I want to go to Ibiza. Steam some vegetables too.

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2 thoughts on “[review] Britney’s “Femme Fatale.” Trite, but so, so good. Paradoxically her best album ever.

  1. Pingback: [music] summer 2011 playlist. irresistible poppp « the innocent lam

  2. Pingback: [kpop] you probably knew this was coming. I like NU-EST’s “Face” | the innocent lam

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