The Song That Might Have Saved Britney From A Breakdown

After the scandal and heartache surrounding her breakup with Justin Timberlake amid the not false rumors that Britney Spears cheated on him, the pop princess was suffering from the first signs of a fall. For once, it seemed, everything did not go her way–she wasn’t immune to consequences or humiliation. And so, in December of 2004 when Spears secretly attempted to play an early version of what she hoped would be her first single, “Mona Lisa,” from an album that was to be called Original Doll, it appeared that she was finally attempting to express her emotional state.

Many a fan made album cover has been created in honor of Original Doll
Many a fan made album cover has been created in honor of Original Doll
Calling Los Angeles-based radio station KIIS-FM the day she wanted to play the song, Spears was already showing some early signs of acting like a prisoner by seeming to “break out” into the world unnoticed in order to play a track that everyone at her then record company, Jive, claimed to have no knowledge of. With the lyrics, “Everyone’s watching as she starts fall,” Spears was, for the first time, addressing her waning persona as America’s sweetheart and her subsequent transformation into America’s tabloid fodder.
The Original Doll cover imagined as a Lindsay Lohan album
The Original Doll cover imagined as a Lindsay Lohan album
The song also shows signs of emulating Justin Timberlake’s solo work, particularly “Cry Me A River.” Whether this was something record executives wanted her to avoid for a reason or they simply didn’t want her to have any sort of musical input of her own is left to one’s own discretion. As though prophesying her fate, Britney sings, “Don’t have a breakdown” in “Mona Lisa,” perhaps anticipating that Jive would never allow it to be officially released. The fact that Britney was at her career peak during the prime of rigid pop star manufacturement was unfortunate for her. Indeed, it seemed that Christina Aguilera was the only one allowed to have some creative license by the time her second album, Stripped, rolled around. But for Britney, the army of business executives and companies with a vested interest in her career did not allow her much freedom to break from the mold that was established for her.
Fake single cover for "Mona Lisa"
Fake single cover for “Mona Lisa”
The chorus of “Mona Lisa” puts the final nail in Britney’s coffin with, “It’s kind of incredible/She’s so unpredictable/Now ladies doesn’t that make you cry?/Now fellas it’s time to say goodbye/’Cause she’s gone/’Cause she’s gone/’Cause she’s gone.” Yes, eerily, Britney was trying to warn everyone of what would happen to her if things didn’t change by making this song. And it’s true, she’s been long gone mentally for quite some time now. But maybe–just maybe–if Original Doll had been released instead of In the Zone in the fall of 2003, she would have felt more listened to, more self-assured in her ability to take control of her own career. Alas, we’ll never know for sure, or if the breakdown was inevitable no matter what. But at least we have “Me Against the Music” and shaved head memes as compensation.

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