Pieces of Her


“Piece of Me”.

Some scholars claim that the figure of the star is central to the understanding of popular music videos.[1] We do not have to agree with this general assertion to acknowledge that Britney Spears’ music videos are an eloquent example of this. Moreover, Britney’s videos often reflect on her status as celebrity, providing counter-images — something quite singular in contemporary celebrity culture.

It would be fascinating to analyse these counter-images, and the counter-narratives they create, in detail. Concentrating on “Lucky” (2000), “Everytime” (2004), and especially “Piece of Me” (2008), in which Britney deals with tabloid stories and photos in festive fashion, it could be argued that these are not simply images and narratives of opposition or retaliation. They are not a counterattack. As “Piece of Me” exemplifies, they often duplicate previous representations with the intent of substituting them. They are a counterpoint.

A way of fleshing out how Britney’s videos rewrite the visual record of her history as a celebrity is to compare them with Madonna’s videos. Madonna’s career is commonly a template for young pop singers. Both Madonna’s and Britney’s videographies present several radical changes in look, but Madonna often uses recognisable figures and masks — Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, a Geisha — even when expressing something intimate. In contrast, Britney’s videos normally reflect her personal history more directly: for instance, her progression from girlhood to womanhood and the stages in between — as “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” (2001) suggests. Her videos depict a search for identity open enough to incorporate the realisation of responsibility — motherhood in “Someday (I Will Understand)” (2005) — as well as the indecision following emancipation — the alternative roles as housewife, waitress, and office colleague in “Womanizer” (2008). These counter-images shape and alter the public perception of her and of her life.


[1] See, e.g., Heidi Peeters, “The Semiotics of Music Videos: It Must Be Written in the Stars”, Image & Narrative 4, no. 2 (2004), http://www.imageandnarrative.be/inarchive/issue08/heidipeeters.htm.

Dreaming On


Dream On, “The First Episode”.

This sequence is exemplary of Dream On (1990-96), a series built on the memory of television. In “The First Episode” (1.01), Martin Tupper’s ex-wife tells him that they need to talk and that it is about them. Tupper, who grew up in front of a television set, thinks that he knows where the conversation is heading. So a black-and-white clip matches the shots/reverse-shots of the chat between them and shows a woman confessing, “I’m in love with you. I don’t hide it very well, do I, darling? I want what you want. I want to come back. I want to be your wife.” After this fantasy, the woman explains that she is still waiting for him to sign the divorce papers. He tries to change the subject, but she is vehement in her insistence. So we are shown a boxer throwing a brutal punch.