“Toxic” & “Womanizer”: The Anti-Male Anthems of Britney Spears

Though Britney Spears is typically pegged as the embodiment of a conventional Southern girl, all femininity and belief in the heterosexual dynamic of the twentieth century (compounded by her publicized love of Julia Roberts movies), the Princess of Pop hasn’t always expressed a warm and fuzzy feeling toward men.

And when taking into account the rockiness of her love life after losing Justin Timberlake for the sake of a cheap dalliance with then sought after choreographer Wade Robson, it’s a small wonder the pop star doesn’t have an entire arsenal of themed albums centered on vitriol for men. More than just the fact that Timberlake did not adeptly handle Spears’ attempt at hiding her indiscretion with another from him by very publicly smearing her in both interviews and songs (“Cry Me A River” being the most overt example), it was the loss of her best friend that wounded the most. And since this was compounded by the traditional outlook she was told to conform to her entire life, it’s only natural that Spears would look back and say, “The most painful thing I’ve ever experienced was that breakup. We were together so long, and I had this vision. You think you’re going to spend the rest of your life together. Where I come from, the woman is the homemaker, and that’s how I was brought up—you cook for your kids. But now I realize I need my single time. You have to do your own thing.”

And do her “own thing” she did, with the subsequent years of the mid-00s serving as a roller coaster of emotions (and drug cocktails). Ones that even included a heartfelt apology to Timberlake on “Everytime,” off her fourth album, 2003’s In the Zone. With a year to ruminate on Timberlake’s public grieving process, “Everytime” was a reflection of her remorse and empathy for his reaction. In response to the “Cry Me A River” video (released in 2002 and directed by Francis Lawrence, the same man who worked with Brit on “I’m A Slave 4 U” a year before), Spears had formerly stated, “After I think I was in shock, to be honest. I didn’t know what to say, what to do. That was the last thing I ever thought somebody might do. I was really shocked shitless. But you live and you learn.” And the lessons apprehended are all detailed on “Everytime,” with, “I may have made it rain/Please forgive me/My weakness caused you pain/And this song’s my sorry/At night I pray/That soon your face will fade away”–that rain part being more than just a way to rhyme something with pain, but also an allusion to Justin’s “river” of tears.

If the heartache Spears suffered over this loss is manifest most on “Everytime,” then “Toxic” is its foil, with Bloodshy & Avant’s frenetic beat accenting Spears’ fear of irrevocably falling down a rabbit hole of fuckboy enjoyment. As she bemoans, “Oh the taste of your lips I’m on a ride/You’re toxic I’m slippin’ under/With a taste of a poison paradise/I’m addicted to you/Don’t you know that you’re toxic?,” Spears acknowledges the agony and the ecstasy (mostly the former) of succumbing to a relationship, especially when she already knows none of them ever seem to end in anything other than shambles.

With the iconic (at least in terms of glamorizing flight attendantry more than View From the Top) Joseph Kahn-directed video, Spears took a contrasting in storyline approach. Rather than playing the victim she comes across as in lyrical form, Spears portrays a secret agent out for cold-blooded vengeance against her ex-boyfriend, and oh how she gets it.

Concluding with the fuck it sentiment of “Intoxicate me now/With your lovin’ now/I think I’m ready now,” Spears sustains a tongue-in-cheek attitude about the inevitability of losing control of one’s emotions–and therefore the upper hand–to a dangerous man. Because, to be honest, they’re all dangerous when they’ve got your heart and your pussy by a string (that sounds vaguely like a tampon reference, I know).

This levity, however, is no longer as palpable four years later, on 2008’s “Womanizer.” Recently healed from an internationally reported on mental breakdown, the video for “Womanizer” incidentally served as a sequel concept to “Toxic.” Directed once again by Kahn, the premise centers on Spears’ successful attempts to corroborate that the man she’s with is a philanderer. The word “womanizer” of course being more common in the vocabulary of the south (just watch Hope Floats for proof), Spears also wields her geographical background by acting as the “little wife” type while she cooks breakfast for her significant other. As he dashes off to the office, we soon see Spears in his workplace dressed in a black wig, black framed glasses, a black pencil skirt and a zebra patterned blouse. Copying photos of her backside to hand to him, it’s clear that he’s allured. Her next incarnations as a red-haired waitress and blonde-haired chauffeur (chauffeuse?) also allow her to confirm that this man is easily susceptible to “other women’s” charms.

If “Everytime” alluded to Timberlake, then “Womanizer” is undeniably a “tribute” to Kevin Federline. Calling the everyman out for his two-timing, lying, cheating, bullshitting ways, Spears speaks for all females who have been burned enough times when she says, “Lollipop/Must mistake me, you’re the sucker/To think that I would be a victim, not another/Say it, play it, how you wanna/But no way I’m ever gonna fall for you/Never you, baby.” Because if anyone knows a skirt chaser (to use another Southern turn of phrase) by now, it’s the legendary Miss Britney Spears.

So even when you get the impression that she’s just a teddy bear for men on songs like “Born To Make You Happy” and “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know,” never forget her true bottom line:

Frank

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