Ello, good morning to music. 1/11/11 will go down as the day that music blazed forward by going back to basics, from Jay-Z and Yeezy to little Ms. Britney, the titans have returned – you can hold it against them, but you can’t hold them back: they’re about to go H.A.M. on this mother culture.
I want it more than ever now,
I realized that they ain’t listening,
Like a princess supposed to get it
That’s why I’m dusting off my fitted…
“Hold It Against Me” debuted, and with it, Britney Spears came back like a ray of light. Spears brought electronic dance music to the pop consciousness with reckless abandon – pop culturally-speaking. EDM grabbbed stranglehold of the underground in 2010 and Britney was right there to grab it back for the mainstream. In this moment, Spears defines her legacy by defying her career thus far; music culture in this moment, is being defined by defying the sound we’ve just heard, in stride towards something pronounced. 2010 saw “hints of this” and “allusions to that” when it came to pop + electronic music – from Justin Bieber to Far East Movement, we were all “almost there.” Ke$ha came closest to the core as the year waned, and then in walked Britney to blow the fuse.
HIAM is a perfect marriage between Pop and EDM; like Madonna’s Ray of Light solidified her iconic status – successfully spearheading a risky European/Electronic sound, and injecting it into the mainstream with her last ounce of perceived fading pop relevance – so HIAM ushers in a new sound, and sonic identity with Brit as the Dubstep Donatella and new mother matriarch. “If I said I need your body now, would you hold it against me;” simply: no, I’d oblige – because pop got too vague and cynical. Yes: the hook is a punchline, in this world of instant “I Love The 90s” pop referential nostalgia; but it’s also a simple plea to touch – you love The 90s, I need the 90s. We need literal, we need to stop scoffing when we see what we assume to be there, and look at what actually is – a face. “You feel like paradise, and I need a vacation tonight… so if I said I want your body now, would you hold it against me;” no, I’d oblige because I need a vacation from the digital tundra – and we need a vacation tonight from the night that was pop 2010.
Spears embodies the soul of EDM with this track, as much as the track reflects her own song style thus far – it’s an instant grower. Whereas before, Britney would’ve stumbled across the pulse just in time for it to go Pop, here she pushed ahead and pulled the pulse from right below the brink. HIAM is the snapshop of Britney and Britney-Era popsters – namely: us. It begins like a classic Britney track: generic lyrics over a sterile beat… slowly the beat builds and bass drops before an increasingly deliberate tone… then comes the slow expansion – wider aerials, slightly delayed reverb… over the monotone: echoes of a naive nymphette, beneath: the increasing gravity of dense bass – it’s not catchy, it’s contagious; it’s the human reconditioned on record. Then as the lone voice, like a glimpse of the past, calls over empty escalations “If I said I want your body, would you hold it against me…” for a moment we fade back, for that split second we’re stans again – sitting in front of Carson Daly with bated breath, mouth agape, eyes wide with anticipation of his next words… “and the winner is – Lucky!” Snap: back to life, back to reality; clap: dubstep bridge; knock, drop: it’s Britney, snitch – in an equation: the HIAM dubstep bridge >>>>> however you thought you wanted the rest of the song to sound. Dubstep is the gateway, the moat between the bubblegum pop past, and the electronic future of music – Britney Jean blacked out at the bridge – in life as much as on this track – but lo and behold the rayed light at the end of the tunnel: EDM. She followed up Blackout with Circus to stable herself, and now she’s staking claim in the electronic domain – welcome home. Finally, the track explodes like a corona crowning the dome of Ms. Britney Jean Spears atop her newly claimed Pop throne.
HIAM saw Britney pull a Madonna, but more importantly, HIAM saw Britney pull a Madonna off – bonafide for the first time in her pop life. Ray of Light and HIAM both came after the post-pseudo-fallout/blackout periods of Bedtime Stories and Circus sterile stability, then the artistic hibernation, and so now the influx of enlightened eastern spirituality on one hand, and European sonic bombast on the other. Both took electronic risks: diving headfirst into European synth, and abandoning the comfortably generic pop sound they helped create. Here, Britney drove by the cross in the roads and went straight to reinvention. Pop fans don’t like this sound, but they hear it; and that’s what Britney has been able to do all along. When she drops a track, people listen. Until now, she’s dropped track-after-track of what we know and accept – until Blackout when the world went deaf, and her generational voice went mute. Here was her moment to define a career, would she be that baby one more time… and time… and time again, or could she make good on her ringmaster claim – after the drought she didn’t just grab the rein, she made it.
Britney Spears is a sign and voice of the times, and with HIAM she is the sign and voice of our Bush-Era selves: Gen (wh)Y Stop? Spears has said that she is not a speaker or thinker necessarily, that she doesn’t convey well through words, so she dances to express herself and release. Music is her catharsis, it is a part of her; you feel her music, it is not about the lyrics – it’s about the vibe, the beat, the intangible feel; and for over a decade her albums have told us the same thing… in six different ways: “Oops I did it baby one more time,” “I’m a slave when you hold me against the music,” “Sometimes I’m stronger as a girl, not yet a woman,” “I’m a slave for u when toxic boys seek Amy,” and so on… But it’s the beats that create the scene – and they did: bubblegum to hip-pop to urban contemporary to dark club bangers to pop and now she is at the helm shifting to EDM. She is the soundpiece for her producers, the words are the same, the lyrics are the same, it’s the same Britney on the surface; but she is a chameleon at the whim of culture. She reflected what we believe we want to be; but then, that shattered. Now, she’s reflecting where she knows we need to be. The lyrics are the same, she is still hung up on babies and boys at the club… but she lives in the beat, where now she’s hung up with Rusko and Co. in the booth. The sound is her self as much as it is our scene, and that’s iconic. She’s the visceral arm of the Pop monarchy: let GaGa have your soul, let Madonna have your money, let Hov have your imperially-stated mind, let Kanye have your neck – Britney just wants your body on the dancefloor. Watch the throne though, because this year Britney’s not alone; make no mistake: this year Spears & Co. are going, going, so far gon’ H.A.M. on your mother culture, stay fly together like the mightiest – heads up, duck Drake.
Alongside Britney sit a milieu of modern monarchs this year – diamonds up, grills down. Jay-Z and Kanye West set the tone for 2011 Boss beats with H.A.M. 2010 saw newbies splash about in the kiddie pool of pop culture… now the old men are back to conquer the sea – and no, they won’t reign quietly. H.A.M. is a magnanimous cacophony of the most urban-tinged antiquated styles… it blends baroque with heavy off-kilter bass, hymnal harmonies with drum machines, classical with hip-hop undercurrents… it sounds like Johann Sebastien Roc meets Amadeus West – but it’s beautiful. This reign is not a comeback, it’s a conquest… they went to slay the dragon, and now return to hear “you back” like they left; knock, drop – cheers: they’ve been doing it for years.
So here we are on the brink of brilliance; 2011 brings back the Golden Era: watch the throne hold it down H.A.M.
Watch this space: and the throne