“Baby One More Time”: love alienates but saying it emancipates

“Baby One More Time” is the hit that launched Britney Spears’ career. Released in 1998, it swept the planet and broke all records, to the point of becoming an emblematic song of pop culture of the 2000s. For the music magazine Rolling Stones, “Baby One More Time” is “one of those pop manifestos that announce a new sound, a new era, a new century”. Timeless, this song has become a staple of parties, both for its music and for its lyrics: it is easy to sing for non-English speakers (the lyrics are easy to understand and memorize) and it evokes a subject to which almost everyone everyone may be interested. When “I will survive” by Gloria Gaynor will delight all those who have already experienced a painful breakup, “Baby One More Time” will inspire the broken hearts of all persuasions, who have known one day or another an unrequited love or are waiting for him to enter a life they consider too lonely.

The teenage pop anthem

The song “Baby One More Time” was composed by the Swedish Max Martin, to whom we owe many pop hits such as “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Pery (2008). It was recorded in Stockholm by Britney Spears, then 16 years old. We too often forget that Sweden is the third exporter of music in the world, and well beyond Abba and The Rasmus (“In the Shadow”? Really, don’t you remember? The credits of “On n’est not lying”? If we meet I’ll sing it to you). “Baby One More Time” is the hit from the first album of the singer who grew up in the southern United States and embodies, during her debut, the respectable, conservative and religious young woman, while representing the seductive teenager. This paradox nourished, from the start, the idea that Britney Spears is one of the purest representatives of the way in which musical capitalism exploits women’s bodies, playing with the desire… of men. The lyrics of the song could feed this idea of ​​an interstellar feminist void: they tell of the disarray of a teenager hoping for the return of her lover – “Hit me baby one more time” (“come back to me again”, and not ” strike me again” as one could too hastily translate it).

Britney says she’s super lonely but she has 54 friends who follow her every move

My loneliness is killing me / I must confess I still believe / When I’m not with you I lose my mind / Give me a sign, hit me baby one more time! »

The narrator does not take half measures: after apologizing for causing her boyfriend to leave without explanation – while it looks like ghosting could not be more classic – Britney is ready to do anything to win him back (“Show me how you want it to be / Tell me baby cause I need to know that now, oh because”) – and for a quite ordinary reason: “ My loneliness is killing me / I must confess I still believe / When I’m not with you I lose my mind / Give me a sign, hit me baby one more time! “. In short, Britney lives very badly post-breakup celibacy, she is not ashamed to say it (“this loneliness is killing me”), she loses her head far from her ex and begs him to give her a sign, to come back to her , she will do whatever he wants.

A song that plays with the codes of passionate love

An elitist review of this song would say it’s atrociously superficial: a teenage girl raving about a lost love and indulging in begging him without restraint. Putting her dignity aside, obviously not having listened to the advice of her friends (“let him hang around, act like you don’t care”), she kneels in front of a chimera. Love, an illusory remedy for loneliness, fueled by all fairy tales – from Snow White has titanicreleased the same year as the song – but above all a tool for the enslavement of women.

In her clip, Britney re-enchants PE lessons.

In recent years, mainstream feminist productions have highlighted the key role of amorous passion in alienating women. In his bestseller reinvent love, Mona Chollet returns to the way in which cultural productions make pairing up for love an existential culmination of women’s lives. In his podcast The heart on the table, Victoire Tuaillon describes the subordinate roles that the feeling of love makes women take on, in the service of men. We could therefore conclude that “Baby One More Time” participates in this ideological climate of women’s submission to a destructive feeling of love, since this song has bludgeoned the adolescence of an entire generation – in particular those of the teenagers of the 2000s – with a story of youthful sentimental disarray.

For Jennifer Padjemi, the “teen pop” in which “Baby One More Time” fits is an emancipating musical genre, even though it is part of an extremely predatory capitalist framework.

However, the two authors, like Britney Spears in the song, “confess I still believe”: their speech does not consist in saying that love should be thrown into oblivion. On the contrary, they rehabilitate the feeling of love in its complexity, including in particular friendship, sorority, the collective and each attempt to give it back letters of nobility freed from what patriarchy promotes. Specialist in pop culture, freelance journalist Jennifer Padjemi argues in the excellent episode of Sensitive Affairs devoted to Britney Spears, that the “teen pop” in which “Baby One More Time” is part is an emancipatory musical genre. and this, even though it is part of an extremely predatory capitalist framework.

An euphoric and emancipatory clip

Just listen to the song and especially watch the clip, a masterpiece of pop culture which has largely contributed to its worldwide success (856 million views on the YouTube version). We find Britney Spears in high school, ostensibly bored in class before the bell rings and she finally rushes into the hallways, the gym and the courtyard to perform, with boys and girls, ultra euphoric choreographies . She declaims her wounded love, prays for the return of the loved one, but her message is totally contradicted by what is happening on the screen: the young girl is not a tormented teenager in the grip of loneliness. atrocious but the leader of her high school, followed by both girls and boys, and who turns everything upside down, to the point that even the boring teacher from the beginning of the clip starts dancing. “My loneliness is killing me” is pronounced in the middle of about fifty comrades and she barely manages to play the sadness. We clearly do not have to do with a tearful teenager, alienated by a feeling of love dictated by the patriarchy.

Her message is totally contradicted by what happens on screen: the young girl is not a tormented teenager in the grip of an atrocious loneliness but the leader of her high school, followed by girls and boys alike.

The music itself is anything but the lament of a broken heart. The first three notes of the song express power very clearly, remember? (if we meet I’ll sing them to you). We are very far from pathetic laments à la Benjamin Biolay or Vianney (“I am one more pitcher/pierced”). Nothing to do with the attitude of Françoise Hardy who, forty years earlier, sang “all the boys and girls” while looking at the camera with a melancholy air (“yes but I go alone because nobody loves me”).

Françoise Hardy, she is Really alone.

It could be risky to attribute an emancipatory discourse to a performer who, at first glance, is not Louise Michel. As we have said, Spears is a devout working-class woman from the conservative South of the United States, she made reactionary speeches early in her career, blindly supporting the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – “I think that we should have confidence in all the decisions that our president takes” she asserts for example. But otherwise, she is far from being passive in her career: she gets involved in the creation of the song as well as the clip, and not at all to calm them down: she works, before the recording of the song, to have a more gravelly voice and it is her who decides on the main characteristics of the clip: a high school, high school students dressed as high school students (no clothing used for the filming of the clip would have cost more than 17 dollars) while her conquering gestures and almost dominant is of its own doing.

Britney Spears, victim of capitalism and patriarchy

Capable at 16 of transforming a pleading song into a bravado and euphoric pop anthem, Britney Spears unfortunately could not resist the very real loneliness in which her family and professional environment placed her throughout the rest of her career. A huge money machine for companies and her family, a gossip factory and a scandal for the tabloid press, she suffered a humiliating media outburst that made her pass for a superficial and hysterical woman, far from the energy given by her songs. Permanently harassed by the paparazzi (a photo of her selling for exorbitant prices) subjected to intrusive and inquisitive questions at each interview (on her separation from Justin Timberlake, on her motherhood, on her physical appearance), she ends up by shaving his head in front of the cameras to challenge the system that oppresses him. In vain.

Macronist teacher when she understands that the students no longer wear their SNU uniform

After yet another episode of media harassment, Spears is placed under the guardianship of her father and his production from 2008 to 2021. Concretely, she has been deprived of control over her money, the choice of her lawyer, and subjected to an agenda of touring and recording imposed on him. His production absolutely forced him to keep an IUD in order to prevent him from having a child and interrupt his activities.

Both a victim of patriarchy and capitalism, of her family and her producers, Britney Spears has therefore become one of the symbols of individual emancipation against heterosexist norms.

These thirteen stolen years, because of which she described herself, in court in June 2021, as “depressed” and “traumatized”, have been denounced by her fans, through the hashtag #freebritney on social networks and several rallies at UNITED STATES. Their mobilization made it possible to highlight this affair, told here by Fabrice Drouelle or in the shocking documentary produced by the New York Times, Framing Britney, and to denounce the delusional guardianship regime that exists in the United States. But also the continual sexism of the media in the face of a young artist deemed necessarily frivolous and mentally fragile. These experiences have contributed to the evolution of the pop icon: In addition to the loss of her religious faith, she has taken up new fights at the antipodes of her youthful positions: support for the rights of trans people, gay marriage, committed against school bullying and homophobia… The one her family and early producers wanted to develop as a respectable American icon has become a symbol of LGBT struggles. This also explains the prominent place occupied by “Baby One More Time” in the hearts of many gays and lesbians around the world.

Both a victim of patriarchy and capitalism, of her family and her producers, Britney Spears has therefore become one of the symbols of individual emancipation against heterosexist norms. But it is primarily her status as an artist that makes her an icon whose first big hit, “Baby One More Time” is a hymn that plays with the codes of sacrificial passion to better exalt our universal appetite for life. ‘love.

Nicolas Framont

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