‘Blackout’ isn’t Britney Spears’ ‘masterpiece’ because it contains catchy pop music. It’s because the people behind it recognised (in a way that Britney herself doesn’t really seem to) what the point of Britney is these days. She doesn’t sing live and on record her voice is auto-tuned to the point of distraction. She can no longer dance spectacularly. She is so devoid of personality that her fans go into spasms of delight when she says something as banal as ‘my songs are fucking amazing’. She rarely contributes to the music she fronts. As a pop star she fails on pretty much every level – except (and it’s a big one) her iconic persona. Her name and image conjure up a wealth of associations and by the time ‘Blackout’ came along she seemed like a spectacle detached from a human being. And ‘Blackout’ played with this magnificently. It doesn’t try and paper over Britney’s weaknesses but instead magnifies them – indeed, her voice is the most robotic it has ever sounded. The entire album is built around her persona, her history, her status as a celebrity and in referencing everything surrounding the music, the music itself becomes something far more. Britney is dead-eyed at the centre of things and the album works because of this. It simply wouldn’t work with anyone else ‘singing’ the songs – only Britney could have made that album.
Which leads us neatly onto ‘Femme Fatale’, the second album since ‘Blackout’ which demonstrates quite neatly that Britney/the people around Britney really don’t get ‘it’ at all. The charts are littered with Britney soundalikes, and most of them tick at least one of the boxes mentioned above. The best ones also seem to be in on their own joke in a way that Britney is not. The thing Britney has that they don’t is that detached persona, and when this is played with the results are invariably great, and uniquely Britney – the best parts (and, in retrospect, pretty much the only interesting parts) of ‘Circus’ continued this (‘Circus’, ‘Kill The Lights’). When this is stripped away and she’s just given catchy pop songs to sing, we’re left wondering what the point of Britney is and why we’re not listening to one of these other singers. After a couple of listens, ‘Femme Fatale’ seems to have precisely zero moments which understand the point of Britney in 2011. It’s just a bunch of anonymous pop songs that could be performed by 20 other women in the charts. Which makes it a chewing gum album – enjoyable but ultimately pointless and unsatisfying.