If I remember sales figures correctly from some time back (and can extrapolate reasonably since then), the top three female singers in the US according to cumulative album sales are probably Mariah Carey, Madonna and Britney Spears - in that order.
Mariah, for some reason, I've never warmed up to although I hugely enjoyed her loopy turn in Glitter and the subsequent burn down that preceded it because of the comical way in which it became a circus. Madonna these days vacillates so much between nutty and creepy that I can't be bothered to engage. That leaves Britney Spears, who has been such a train wreck lately that its hard not to root for her.
Plus she tends to produce something special every now and then. I confess I now find the song that started it all Hit Me Baby One More Time a bit annoying. But I loved the high-school rave vibe of Crazy and I still believe that Toxic was the best new millennium James Bond song that never made it into an installment of the franchise.
Take her new single - Womanizer - off the upcoming Circus album. Its got a smart Brit-pop hook that deftly exploits highly processed vocals and a strident industrial-techno-pop vibe. And the soft core girl gone wild imagery in the vid! Mind Rush could do a Ph.D. analyzing it. But more importantly, Britney seems to be trying really hard.
Through a series of new media initiatives, she's reaching out to her audience by reaching past the media. She's now got a blog-style web site - BritneySpears.com, a social network for her album called Circus VIP (built on the Ning platform), a YouTube channel called BritneyTV and a presence on Twitter by the name of therealbritney. (For those of you who are not familiar with twitter, this video is a great introduction to the service)
In other words, she's trying and you know the effort is genuine - if only just tied to her new release - because non-trivial sums of money are involved. It takes a substantial team of new media savvy people to track, develop, generate and tweak the updates on all sites simultaneously. They all need to get paid, it comes from Britney's royalties for the music, she makes $1.60 off a typical $15.99 CD - do the math and you'll get my point. And its paying off - Womanizer is Britney's second number one Hot 100 single.
Can Britney stay relevant on this promising new career course? Only time will tell. But apart from the usual "Pick your men wisely" advice (which really is nonsense because your choices are too ingrained to just intellectualize around), I would like to suggest this hatke course.
Reach out to India. Its easy and will pay big. How so? Let me explain.
All Britney has to do is visit India on a media junket. Visit a few temples even (this but basically in the desh). Bonus points for wearing a tilak. Easy, yes?
We all know how desi people love firangs fussing over India. In return, Britney will instantly be elevated to goddess status. People will start loving her music. Her new album will be greeted with puja and tika when it drops on December 2. Sawan Kumar Tak and Subhash Ghai will get into a cat fight over who should cast her first in a film. Bappi Lahiri will announce an album with her. Asif Zardari will plan his first official trip to India. Britney will now have access to a market of billions.
And let me also tell you that celebrities die slowly back home. If you don't believe me just get a hold of ten random desis at a party and ask them who their favorite rock star is. And if you don't hear "Michael Jackson" eight times out of ten, I'll be a monkey's uncle. The point is: embrace India and it will continue to embrace you long after your creative well has dried up.
Now, just how serious is Britney about this celebrity rehabilitation?
Britney's new web site
Britney on Facebook
Britney on myspace
Britney's CircusVIP site
therealbritney on Twitter
Britney's YouTube Channel
Hey, Remember when Britney shaved her head?