I just watched Britney Spears' Performance at the VMAs, and I am extremely disappointed. The performance was as bad as all of the vultures, rubberneckers, and cynical whores that populate the pop-culture literati could have imagined it would be.
Let me get this out of the way: I like Britney Spears. Part of it has to do with her prime directly coinciding with when I was going through puberty. But most of it has to do with an admiration that I've fostered for her post-puberty.
Put it this way: Britney lacks a good singing voice or musical ability, which many put out as a damning criticism of her and all who enjoy her. Britney rose to fame partly because of her looks, but mostly because of her understanding of how to work every ounce of talent she had and her relentless drive to succeed. At 16, she was doing 1,000 sit-ups every day to get the kind of stomach she could put a python around on MTV.
In the music world, we hail talent above all else, and look down on those who self-promote and use their drive to carry their success past the boundaries of talent; in almost every other walk of life, that is reversed. In school, Britney would be the girl who got into Harvard with average SAT scores because she studied relentlessly, was student body president, and headed up every club she could, while "indie sensations" would be the slacker genius who ended up at state college because he "didn't believe in the college system." In the sports world, Britney would be Steve Nash: all those sit-ups are like Nash taking extra jumpers, and Nash's ability to see Amare through three defenders would be like Britney's ability to know just how to execute a chair dance that drive every red-blooded American male insane. Meanwhile, critical darling Ryan Adams would be Vin Baker.
That's why I was so disappointed by Britney at the VMAs: she could have nailed it, and I thought that she was going to. The little bad-girl smile she gave right at the beginning, "It's Britney, Bitch!", zoom-out to a surprisingly fit Britney in a bikini and boots; she was ready to show America just why she got so famous in the first place. Trouble is, she forgot too. Zero energy. No sexy smiles. No working the crowd like the next coming of Madonna. Just lazily sexual choreography that hid her face and reinforced her new image as a depressed whore, as opposed to being the perky, hyper-sexual, yet virginal being that she was when she was on top of the world. Although we increasingly demand our pop musicians to prove their musical talent in order to gain our admiration (which I believe was started by American Idol.), there will always be room for a young Michael Jackson or Madonna: someone who becomes a huge star simply because they have the ability to convince the world that they are a huge star, and the drive to make that dream a reality.
Oh, and if you have any questions about whether to get Kanye West or 50 Cent's album tomorrow, you're an idiot. Kanye is a musical genius who raps about his conflicted relationship with himself and the world around him, often offering key insights into his psyche and, by proxy, our own, while pushing the boundaries of what hip-hop can be and what a recording star can and should be; 50 is a talentless, derivative, morally and intellectually vapid rapper concerned with perpetuating his own image. And of the two, 50 is the one who believes he's a role model.
Also, if you actually like music, go to Wildcat Wire, which is on the blogroll here; it's run by my buddy, who knows music the way I know sports, if not better, and also knows more about movies than any sane human being ought to. And his views on music and movies are always about 180 degrees different from mine, which is fun if you like reading things that are wrong.