Can Britney Spears Ever Be 'Britney Spears' Again? In Bigger Than The Sound

The pop star might have swept the VMAs, but was it enough for a real comeback?

On The Record: Welcome Back Britney! (Maybe)

On Sunday, minutes after Tom Brady's ACL exploded, taking the dreams of thousands of Pats fans and millions of fantasy GMs with it, I received about a bajillion text messages from my friends, most of whom were drunk, in various degrees of grieving and looking to shatter the record for "most electronic messages that wantonly abused the F-word" (875, set last year when the Giants upset the Pats in Super Bowl XLII). And while I'd love to spend this week's Bigger Than the Sound discussing both the karmic aspects of Brady's injury and my friends' butchering of the English language, I've come to the sad realization that I am not Brandon Funston nor William Safire (though I did write a column like him last year).

Also — believe it or not — there are actually people out there who think fantasy football is dumb and a waste of time, so rather than bore them or embarrass my pals or encroach on B-Fun's turf, I've decided to stick to what I know best: writing about Britney Spears.

See, nestled in all those desperate, drunken Brady texts was a single message from a friend of mine — a guy who doesn't care about football at all but really loves the Video Music Awards ... like, he's never missed a single one, has viewing parties at his house and can tell you who won the Video Vanguard award in 1987 (he's weird). After he read my "VMA Predictions" column from last week — in which I went an "impressive" three-for-eight but did nail Britney winning Video of the Year — he sent me a message that simply read, "Are you prepared for a world with Britney in it again?"

It was an unsettling sentiment to consider, but come on — it was Britney we were talking about. She shaved her head and beat up cars with umbrellas, had two kids and ran over members of the paparazzi. She now existed in the same realm as the Tom Cruises and Michael Jacksons of the world: someone we followed with a morbid curiosity, never quite sure what she'd do next, but quite certain that it would never be good. There's no way she'd ever reclaim her throne, even if she did win Video of the Year. It was, for all intents and purposes, over for her — right?

Not so fast. As you probably know by now, Brit Brit walked away with three Moonmen on Sunday night, and she looked great while doing so. She was gracious, charming and avoided any margarita-fueled meltdowns. She was, the logic went, back. Or at least on her way to getting there. We were apparently willing to forget the previous two years of her life and once again anoint her the Princess of Pop. And I prepared to exist in a world with Britney Spears at its epicenter.

But then I got to thinking: Can Britney Spears ever really be Britney Spears again? Can anyone?

Well, no. The halcyon days of "Britney Spears: Superstar" are gone forever, and they will probably never come back. We will never again be amazed by her scintillating onstage exploits (The stripping! The kissing! The python-ing!) or her naughty Rolling Stone covers, never again debate the merits of her videos or her music (though it is somewhat ironic to me that "Piece of Me," which won Video Of The Year, is perhaps Brit's least interesting video) or her influence on a generation of young girls. She will never again be considered the next Madonna or draw the ire of the American Family Association or open terrible Cajun/Italian restaurants in New York City. Of course, this has less to do with Britney as it does with the era in which we live, because at this point, I'm not even sure anyone can agree on what a "superstar" is anymore.

Does a superstar sell millions of records? Well, Lil Wayne did, but you'd be hard-pressed to argue that he's any higher than fourth in the rap hierarchy (I'd put him behind Jay, Kanye and probably even Diddy), and by that logic, you could probably argue that the two biggest superstars in rock are Chris Daughtry or Chad Kroeger. Does a superstar stop traffic wherever he or she goes? Well, that happens every time Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson leave their house, and I don't know if I'd consider either of them to be stars of the highest order. Does a superstar even have to do anything these days? Yes? Well, Paris Hilton and Heidi Montag would beg to differ.

If anything, when Britney roamed the Earth, things were easier. There were just a handful of world-uniting, mega-selling superstars on the planet, and most of them happened to be in boy bands (or dating a member of one). It was easy for everyone to believe that she'd carry the music industry for the next three decades because, well, there really was no one else who could do it. These days, there are just too many so-called superstars ... all of whom we're supposed to be interested in, yet none of whom are particularly, you know, interesting. Is Rihanna a star? Unquestionably. Is she interesting? I don't think so. The Jonas Brothers? Tokio Hotel? Taylor Swift? The only interesting thing about them is their outfits (or hair, or both). Miley Cyrus? Well, she's interesting, but only for reasons that are illegal, so let's just move on.

None of that is exactly breaking news, but I think it's all reinforced by what we saw this past weekend at the VMAs. Britney's appearance was a media hailstorm from the minute it was announced, with "What will she do?!?!?" hyperbole gushing forth by the bucket load. And we couldn't wait, because no matter what happened, we were sure it wasn't going to be good. But when the show went live, we got Britney in a skit with that dude from "Superbad," we got Britney calmly welcoming us to the 2008 Video Music Awards, and we got Britney graciously accepting her three awards. And that was it.

To me, Britney seemed more like a proud soccer mom accepting an award at a PTA luncheon than she did a superstar. But apparently I am in the minority with that opinion. Because now, Britney is back ... and possibly better than ever. But that's how slim the pickings are these days, how far the definition of "superstar" has been stretched. If a mother of two whose last album sold less than 850,000 copies can be considered a superstar just because she looked pretty and displayed good manners, well, then perhaps the idea of a superstar should just be abandoned altogether.

But maybe I'm wrong. As a society, we love nothing more than a good comeback, and if anything, Britney seems poised for one now. Will she ever attain the heights of her glory days? Who knows. Am I slightly terrified that she will? Most definitely. But at the moment, I have more pressing matters to attend to. Namely, trying to scoop Matt Cassel off the waiver wires.

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