Many alarmists would have you believe that teen pop culture is caught in an ever deepening downward spiral into harlotry. To hear them talk, it won’t be long before we’re unable to tell the difference between someone paid to show her lady parts in a gentleman’s club, and someone paid to entertain our children. I would ask those people to re-watch the early work of Britney Spears. I defy you to find any teen star who engages in such brazen displays of sexuality today. DO IT YOU CAN’T!
Check out this video of the 19-year-old Selena Gomez doing a montage of Britney classics, taken at a recent concert:
Selena is lovely and talented, to be sure, but she comes off more like a little girl prancing around in a pretty fairy outfit than the disconcerting Teen In Heat (TM) Britney embodied so well. Remember when she stripped down to a sparkly thong and weird see-thru pants at the 2000 VMAs? She was 19 then, the same age Selena is now. Check out the way she writhes and touches herself, the way she simulates an orgy with her backup dancers, and the way the camera zooms right in on her ass. She’s of age here, but you still sort of feel like you’re somehow going to go to jail just for watching it.
Not even Miley Cyrus’ “controversial” little pole shimmy holds a candle to even the tamest of Britney’s early shenanigans. Here it is, in case you need a refresher. (Maybe watch it with the sound turned off.)
Meanwhile, the inimitable Ms. Spears has become a zombie-like, Prozac-ed, decidedly less spunky version of her former self. Who’s going to corrupt the youth now? Are you happy, parents?
I’m not saying there’s not still a ton of stuff floating around out there that encourages kids to grow up too fast, but teen-geared pop music is hardly the worst of it. People also underestimate young Britney’s agency in her early career. She was the one who pushed to make the video for “…Baby One More Time” so sexy (Jive wanted to make it a cartoon), and she had more control over her image than people tend to think. I’m not saying her expressions of sexuality weren’t problematic in a lot of ways, but unlike our current squeaky clean Disney alums, she acknowledged that teen girls can, in fact, be just as horny as boys, even before they lose their virginity. Especially before they lose their virginity. (Amirite, ladies? Your favorite pillow will never forgive you for the things you did to it.)
I agree that the virgin/whore dichotomy is gross, but if you think about it less in terms of societal narratives and more in terms of what real teens are actually doing when they’re having alone time in their rooms, Britney’s school girl had a certain kind of honesty to her. I’ll take that over the Jonas Brothers’ purity rings any day.