Britney Spears is pop music’s patron saint of fun—endless, goofy, bubbly fun. But one element that is often overlooked when it comes to this particular legacy is her song titles. Specifically the quirky, if not downright weird, grammar they possess.
Consider her career-starting “…Baby One More Time.” Beginning a song title with an ellipsis is a mysterious and surprising move on its own—but soon she unleashed “Oops!… I Did It Again.” An exclamation point followed by an ellipsis; an even bolder use of punctuation. So bold I’d dare say I haven’t seen it before or since. It belongs to Spears.
Let us not forget a little bop entitled, “I’m a Slave 4 U,” which proved the weirder the grammar, the wilder the music video. Spears returned to the “U” once again with “If U Seek Amy,” a title that phonetically spelled out “f-u-c-k me.” This song was so provocative that parents protested it, calling for it to be banned on radio stations.
And finally, there’s Spears’s enduring love of parenthesis: “(You Drive Me) Crazy”; “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”; “What U See (Is What U Get)”; “(I Got That) Boom Boom”; “Get Naked (I Got a Plan)”; “(Drop Dead) Beautiful.”
Generally speaking, pop songs do welcome playful titles. Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty,” and Kesha’s “TiK ToK” come to mind. But these tend to be the exception to the artist’s norm. Of course, Prince did wild things with his song titles, but he was a sex alien in a category unto himself. But one look through Beyoncé’s, Lady Gaga’s, or Taylor Swift’s singles proves the majority of their song titles are three words or less and feature no punctuation.
The idea that Spears is fun isn’t exactly controversial. This is the same woman who, in the middle of “Oops!.. I Did It Again,” inserted dialogue in which an astronaut gifts her Rose’s diamond necklace from Titanic. In the “Lucky” music video, she sits on a giant star and sprinkles glitter everywhere. Not to mention her Instagram, which features — with no rhyme or reason — impromptu dance routines, personal fashion shows, random workouts, and inspirational quotes.
It’s no surprise that Spears’s uber-popular Las Vegas residency cemented her comeback, spawned Las Vegas’ Britney Day (November 5th), and resulted in her receiving the key to the city. It was the perfect marriage.
Even during Spears’s darkest period, she would reportedly send paparazzi on wild goose chases and even dedicated part of her website to weekly “paparazzie” awards, poking fun at the people monetizing her pain.
That infamous exclamation point followed by an ellipsis is just one example of Spears’s willingness to harmlessly break convention for no discernible reason beyond her own amusement. I think about that decision at least twice a week. Its arbitrariness delights me. While her music has rarely prompted deep analysis nor been overtly political, I’d argue it is to the extent that fun is important and necessary. Sometimes art that seeks only to deliver joy and asks little of its listener can be subversive in itself!..Thank U 4 Reading.
Feature photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage via Getty Images.