Ten years ago Britney Spears came out with the first single from her fourth album In the Zone entitled “Me Against the Music,” and alongside her in the video was a cheeky, pantsuited dame named Madonna. The two were a bizarre pair, swanning about a deserted warehouse like some sexified update of Grey Gardens. There was also somehow a bigger problem: The song was downright songless, a frenetic, speedtalking mess without a hook. It was Britney’s worst single up to that point and, with the possible exception of “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” or “Hollywood,” Madonna’s too. Radio ignored it immediately, and Britney moved right along to her second single “Toxic,” which was the hard-hitting triumph we all remember it as.
I’m hoping Britney is as fast on her feet with a turnaround this time, because she’s back with the first single off her next album quaintly titled “Work B**ch,” and somehow the song is worse than “Me Against the Music,” the video is worse than “Me Against the Music,” and Madonna and her pimp cane aren’t here to shoulder any of the blame. Everything about “Work B**ch” is enigmatically lame: the dated drag queen slang in the title, the song’s breathy exaltation of boring luxury (“You want a Lamborghini?… You want a Maserati?” — as if glamor hasn’t been updated since Paula Abdul’s list of turnoffs in “The Way That You Love Me”), and that gurgling, hookless melody.
Now there’s the video, which is mostly a dated spectacle amounting to a cross between a Bulgari ad and a Guess-sponsored remake of Mya’s “Case of the Ex” video. Britney and a flock of dancers take to the desert, bare their midriffs, and undulate. Sort of. Britney’s fans are touting that she’s pulling off major choreography here, but she actually does very little dancing. She looks fantastic, but she’s not moving much. In fact, when she’s not limply wagging a whip or riding crop, she’s mostly leaning against walls and squatting. The sassier moments don’t work well either, as when Britney stares at us and purrs, “You wanna live fancy…” Not to incite violence, but let’s leave the possessed staring to Gaga, all right? She’ll at least pair it with a nun’s habit.
I have no doubt that Britney will rebound with her next single, especially since this video manages to be, more than anything, forgettable. It’s time for another great Britney track, since at the moment her career feels like the pop version of Bristol Palin’s run on Dancing with the Stars: a gaffe-laden spectacle propped up by breathless “fans” who’ve agreed in screamy solidarity to vaunt her no matter what. You have to root for Britney’s music to be good, otherwise we’re just stuck listening to Britney’s fans, the Tea Partiers of pop, become more defiant in their gleefully baseless, proudly condescending idolatry. I’d rather us all have something to dance than argue about, since that crowd is not willing to debate.