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January 18, 2001

The Passing of the Push Up Bra
MTV should have known a former Mousketeer could never be the next Material Girl

By Mike Haney

A couple of weeks ago, every music news site carried the same not-so-shocking story: Madonna likes Britney; and oh, m' god, Britney likes Madonna. They each even wore a shirt bearing the other's name on national TV.

MTV has made Britney the benchmark for sex symbol status today.
Incidentally, this major news event was preceded by the debut of two MTV "documentaries" about the history and current state of sex in music. "When Sex Goes Pop" and "The History of Sex" saw MTV sinking to new lows in redefining news as anything that happens in and around their 1515 Times Square studios. The shows could have been called "The World Leading Up To Britney" and "When Will Britney's Virginity Go Pop?"

MTV has made Britney the benchmark for sex symbol status today. While the station promotes the likes of "Latin" star Christina Aguilera, naturally busty Jessica Simpson and jailbait Mandy Moore, those ladies are all just living in the big busty shadow of the MTV-Britney alliance.


Oops, They Did it Again
MTV doesn't want a club, they want a leader. One act that neatly sums up a genre, that they can nurse to super stardom through a sickening inundation of video premiers, documentaries and news coverage. MTV has always created and sustained stars, and for 15 years, they made Madonna their resident in-house sexpert.

MTV needed a new sex girl, but another grown-up wouldn't work. They already had raging twenty-something sluts Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey, but neither quite fit the bill.
And while MTV may still publicly feign respect for the 40-year-old mother of two, they have in recent years been quietly moving her to the channel for aging stars, sister network VH1.

You can't blame them. MTV serves a different master now than they did in the mid 1980s (12-year-old girls in love with Carson Daly), and Madonna was old enough to be their mother. They needed a new sex girl, but another grown-up wouldn't work. They already had raging twenty-something sluts Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey, but neither quite fit the bill. They needed someone younger. Someone who could do what Madonna never did: bring sex not just into your home, but into your junior high.

And then, from the swamps of Louisiana, came Britney. Cute as a homecoming queen, well choreographed and armed with an intact hymen and a bevy of catchy tunes, Britney was the obvious choice. But the plan is inherently flawed, and it will backfire.

Because Britney has slipped into the role of MTV sex queen by courting the one group of record buyers Madonna never had to — the one group in America still not allowed to be sexualized — Britney will never be able to ensure longevity the way her predecessor did, by continually pushing the perverse envelope; and MTV will be forced to cast her aside before she can legally drink.

The Great Madonna Mythos
MTV was given a gift in Madonna. She slinked onto the stumbling station's VMA stage in 1984 and seductively seized the reigns of resident pop culture sex queen. All they had to do was keep her there. And in the emerging visual music culture they helping to create, Madonna gave them plenty to work with.

Madonna's greatest accomplishment in her 15-year career is not the millions of albums she has sold, the awards she has won, or her ever-improving British accent. (Side note: the rumor mill reported last week that Madonna has now employed a man at $60,000 a year to do nothing but follow her around and help her sound more British). It is the fact that every Madonna album review since 1988 has fawned over her apparent ability to constantly "reinvent herself."

The reality is Madonna never really became anything new from album to album. Not in the way that, say, the Beatles did from Revolver to Sgt. Pepper to Abbey Road.
The reality is Madonna never really became anything new from album to album. Not in the way that, say, the Beatles did from Revolver to Sgt. Pepper to Abbey Road. She simply employed every stylistic tool in the arsenal to make herself appear to be Something New every two years, from countless haircuts and hair colors to an Elton John-like wardrobe journey, from the mid-80s Marilyn mole to the mid-90s gap in the teeth. But from the first time she bared her naval in the "Borderline" video (no, Britney didn't invent that), she has never been anything more than continually repackaged sex.

In 1984, she humped the stage at the VMAs in a wedding dress cooing "Like a Virgin." A few years later, she seduced a black Jesus while gospel choirs belted "Like a Prayer." On her Blond Ambition tour, she donned exaggerated breasts and masturbated on stage. And while she stumbled a little when her movie Truth or Dare turned out to be the biggest dick-tease ever, she came screaming back with her book Sex and the accompanying album, Erotica. They were the orgasm to her years of public foreplay and she has spent the time since trying to fill her own stiletto shoes without letting on that she may actually be growing up and settling down.

Her most recent video for what may be her least creative song ever, "Music," is a testament to the pathetic reality that she is running out of steam. Having exhausted every possible fashion style, she has now gone with a decidedly unsexy Western look, (adding a fur coat to the cowboy hat, lest we think she's simply been shopping at Shania's garage sale). And since her cleavage and bared naval, while attractive in a MILF kind of way, don't carry the same naughty punch they once did, she attempts to fill the dirty quota by taking her homegirls to a strip club to stuff bills into women's g-strings. But in an age where casual lesbianism has become a requisite sitcom topic, even this fails to push her audience's boner-meter anywhere near its previous heights.

Still, no one can deny that at her peak, she pushed the boundaries of how publicly perverse a superstar can become and still be loved by the masses. Madonna may finally be over, but Britney won't even get the chance to begin.


She's Not Like a Virgin, She is  a Virgin
By the time her second album was topping the charts, Madonna had spent years living in rat-infested apartments, had admittedly slept with most of the East Village, and had even earned extra money as a nude model.

Spears ripped off layers of clothes, got sensual with other chicks and rubbed seductively against a stripper pole (which has now become a permanent part of her touring stage set, by the way.)
Britney spent years as a Mousketeer, is dating the hottest guy from the hottest boy band, but swears she's saving herself for marriage, and publicly decries the nipple-slip pictures of herself that adorn every celebrity porn site on the Internet.

Still, she reassures us in her latest singles, she is not that innocent, and is in fact stronger than she used to be. Her recent VMA and AMA performances were no doubt intended to evidence those statements, as she ripped off layers of clothes, got sensual with other chicks and rubbed seductively against a stripper pole (which has now become a permanent part of her touring stage set, by the way.)

But with the great porno president packing his bags and the born again ex-frat boy moving in, the country's moral meter is changing. Britney will never be able to top or even match Madonna's best sexual shenanigans and stay in the spotlight as long as her biggest record buyers remain pre-pubescent girls and their allowance-wielding, repressed baby-boomer parents.


The Times They Are a Changin'
Music sex stars of our youth, like Madonna and Motley Crue, were able to blur the lines between what sexual images can be public and what should remain private simply because they never overtly marketed to minors. The country at that time still understood — or at least still believed — that some things are meant for children and some things are meant for adults. Even most of us kids understood that. We may have idolized those stars and their excesses, but most of us didn't try to adopt their lifestyles while we were still playing junior varsity sports. We wanted to be jock-strapped Tommy Lee when we grew up, but we were happy to be heavily-clothed New Kids and Tiffany clones for a while.

Madonna is handing Britney her reigns (or the whip, as it were) and the outlook is not good.
But in the decade since those debauched artists filled MTV's programming, the youth have in America have changed. Films like Kids and incidents like Columbine have shattered the notion that youth inherently equals innocence, and 12-18 year-olds are among advertisers' most heavily targeted consumer groups.

It is in this new climate that Madonna is handing Britney her reigns (or the whip, as it were) and the outlook is not good. From even her comparatively mild antics thus far, Britney has endured complaints that she is encouraging her young fans to be more sexual than their years allow. While Madonna heard many of the same criticisms from the moralists of her time, she was also supported by a chorus of adult women who saw in her a role model, someone who allowed them to take pride in their sexuality and let go of the sexual double-standard they had been fighting since the 1960s.

Britney will not enjoy that same protection as MTV tries to keep her in their spotlight by prodding her to keep proving how innocent she is not. Twelve-year-olds aren't thinking about empowerment, and women with the experience and the intelligence to fight for sexual independence don't watch MTV anymore.



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