The Curious Case Of The Britney Spears Comeback, In Bigger Than The Sound

It doesn't appear that Brit is going anywhere anytime soon.

On The Record: Britney Spears Cannot Be Stopped, No Matter How Hard You Try

I'm beginning to think I was wrong about this Britney Spears character. See, last month, I wrote a column that basically asked "Can Britney Ever Be Britney Again?" (Short answer: No, if only because no one can be Britney Spears again.) And while I'm still sticking by that assumption — after all, the deck is clearly stacked against her, in ways that are not at all her fault (the state of the industry, the splintering of the media, etc.) — it would appear that I was way off base about one thing: It does not appear that Britney is going anywhere anytime soon.

This is because Britney Spears is indestructible. She is made of Teflon and adamantium and cannot be stopped. Ever. She is impervious to trends or time or taste (which sort of makes her like the Highlander) and will be here long after you and I are gone.

This started to become apparent to me when I read the comments on my initial column, the majority of which came from fans who were either mildly upset ("BETTER THAN EVER!! EVERYBODY'S TALKIN' ALL THE STUFFS ABOUT BRITNEY. WHY DON'T THEY JUST LET HER LIVE?") or angered to the point of death wishes and homophobia ("This is f---ing retarded!! Britney Spears is a living legend! She will be better than ever. STFU, stupid f----t. I bet you like Christina, loser. I hope you die.").

And then, Britney kicked her comeback into full gear. First, she announced that she had a new album on the way and she'd be promoting it with the "all access" (snicker) documentary "Britney Spears: For the Record." And to top it all off, there was the debut of her uncensored "Womanizer" video, which featured her in all manners of undress and was apparently deemed "too hot for '20/20' " (John Stossel's mustache was outraged!). And suddenly, the Brit-sanity was off the charts.

It seemed possible that Spears' entire fanbase could spontaneously combust at any moment (perhaps this is the cause of the latest round of California wildfires). After all, according to their logic, Britney was back, returned from the hereafter to silence all her critics and reclaim the pop throne. She had beaten her demons and emerged stronger and sexier, and there wasn't a mean-spirited blog or jealous music critic (or an increasingly disinterested record-buying populace) who could stop her.

And with logic like that, who needs logic? It's gotten to the point where Britney fans won't even listen to suggestions that the Spears of 2008 is slightly less globe-uniting than the Spears of 2000. To them, nothing has changed. There were no upskirt shots or messy divorces, no shaved heads or stints in rehabilitation facilities. In their minds, no one has left the Britney Camp, and there is no chance her new album might underwhelm, both critically and financially. To be a die-hard Britney Spears fan in 2008 is akin to being a Republican or a Democrat: There is a defensiveness in it, an anger. There is no other alternative to consider, because the alternative is completely wrong.

And this is why Britney Spears will never leave us. Somehow, she has become vital, she has become iconic, and — most of all — she has become infallible. Just take a look at fan reactions to "Womanizer," a song that kind of sounds like what would happen if you threw Mike Jones and an air-raid siren into a blender ... and not in a good way. (I will get between 50 and 100 angry e-mails/comments about that statement, I guarantee it.) To them, the song is brilliant, a clarion call to the "haterz" out there and the best thing she's ever done. In the eyes of her fans, Britney can never do wrong, which pretty much guarantees that she'll live forever, in one form or another. And to that end, just by coming back, she's already written the next chapter in her career. She's a success, and the results — album sales, airplay for singles, tour receipts — are inconsequential.

Of course, none of that is wrong in any way. Who am I to say what people should or shouldn't like? After all, I wrote a paean to Phish last week. But Brit fans should probably realize that none of it means that Britney will ever be the kind of superstar she was for the first half of this decade. The fact remains that there are fewer record-buying individuals left on the planet — and even fewer Britney Spears fans. She will always have her loyal armies, she will always have those inexhaustible supporters, but the rest are gone for good.

Which is why, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, I still believe that my initial assessment of her comeback was correct. Britney will sell a few records out of the gate (probably debuting at #1), her singles will splash big (probably on "Gossip Girl") then inevitably fade, her tour will launch with much fanfare and some bit of trivial controversy, and then everyone will move on. This is just the way things happen these days. A comeback is a relative term ... so is a career.

And to that point, I'll freely admit to having underestimated Britney. She inspires in ways I do not understand, she survives in ways I cannot comprehend, and she endures. She has outlasted almost every one of her contemporaries, she has become a measuring stick and a cautionary tale and an icon. Will she be the next Madonna? Probably not. The next Cher? All crazy, somewhat diluted, grammatically adventurous signs point to "Yes."