The Big Hurt: Britney vs. bulls#!t

Damage control ain't what it used to be
By DAVID THORPE  |  January 5, 2010


At the end of a grim year and a disappointing decade, the music press has become a particularly peaty slog. It's been list after list after godawful list; they're fun for a while, but the novelty wears thin after you trudge through about the 50th one — or instantly, should you stumble into the horror of Billboard's society-damning list of the decade's top sellers.

But, thank heavens, I've found an interesting one. Britney Spears's official site made headlines galore with its bizarre list of the "TOP 75 BULLS#!T Britney Spears stories" of 2009. (Censorship theirs — no, I haven't gone soft.) "We ranked the ones we believe were the most ridiculous," reads the post's intro, "either because they were factually inaccurate, because they reported the patently absurd, or because we believe they are simply offensive to the sensibilities."

It's not just the volume of negative or allegedly inaccurate Britney material that catches the eye here — it's also the presentation. Each entry offers the full text of the article in question. We get no denials, no corrections, no context, just a huge, stark wall of Britney bashing. Stories range from mundane dating gossip to wild tales of Russian death threats to the familiar whispers of mental breakdowns and whacked-out behavior. Some are clearly tabloid horseshit; some are, given her history, not so hard to believe.

It's a transparent PR maneuver, of course. They're reprinting a load of negative press under an ambiguous blanket denial, and though they're calling the stories "BULLS#!T," they are, as you'll note from the intro, not necessarily questioning the truth of all of them. Some are inaccurate, we're told, some are absurd, and some are offensive — we're left to sort out which is which. It's a fine way to tease up Britney's notorious image without endorsing it, and to throw us a cheap flashback to all the crazy-Britney thrills of 2007.

So there you have it: a winking train-wreck self-mythologizing as the keystone of Britney's comeback. She went way, way too far off the deep end for anyone to forget it — that bald, grimacing, wild-eyed photo is one of the most indelible pop images of the decade, and her disastrous VMA performance dominated the news. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

As a test of this hypothesis, I'd like to put a little experiment into print: what if I wrote an absurd, wildly inaccurate piece of Britney reportage that doesn't imply she's psychotic and promiscuous? Would it make next year's BULLS#!T, beating out all the mental breakdowns and lip-synch scandals? Or would her people simply sweep it under the rug? Let's find out . . .


Despite being one of the world's most successful recording artists, Britney Spears has announced that she'll put her singing career aside to accept a new job as a professor at Bryn Mawr, one of the nation's most prestigious women's colleges.

"I've made my living in music, but academe is my first love," Spears announced in a press conference on the steps of her Louisiana home. Spears, who completed a doctorate in classics at Brown University between world tours, will be the youngest instructor in Bryn Mawr's classical-studies faculty. A Bryn Mawr spokesperson told the Phoenix that Spears will teach undergraduate courses in Greek and Latin literature, plus a graduate seminar on Roman funerary culture.

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