Britney Spears’ ‘Hold It Against Me’ Video Premieres

New video is both a big-budget spectacle and oddly organic.

It’s not a stretch to call “Hold It Against Me” the most anticipated video of [artist id="501686"]Britney Spears’[/artist] 11-year career; after all, how many of her clips were preceded by a two-week teaser-thon that drove tens of millions of video streams and fans to the brink?

It’s too soon to tell where the video will settle into Ms. Spears’ pantheon of visually innovative music videos: pop-culture touchstone like ” … Baby One More Time” (the schoolgirl outfit) or “Oops! … I Did It Again” (the red-leather catsuit), the darkly foreboding “Everytime” or über-sexy “I’m a Slave 4 U.” Either way, it manages to outgun all those clips — and pretty much everything Brit’s done since her 2007 Blackout album — in terms of sheer spectacle, while, at the same time managing to display an amazing amount of restraint.

Because while it covers similar themes of many of her videos — the constant spotlight under which Brit lives her life (see “Piece of Me,” “Circus,” “Womanizer,” etc.) “HIAM” feels less heavy-handed. Sure, there are cameras, TV screens and microphones surrounding Spears at all times, but they’re merely set pieces. We get the idea without having said idea shoved down our throats.

And much of the credit for that is due to director Jonas Åkerlund, who bathes Britney in a shimmering light, wraps her in a towering gown and eventually covers the entire set in DayGlo liquid spilling out of Spears’ fingertips. Sure, there are also plenty of dance moves and special effects, too, but because of Åkerlund’s deft, downright organic touches, “HIAM” also feels oddly elemental. The dress (from which she births her dancers), the fluid that flows from her fingertips, the softness of her hair and makeup — it all envelops the video’s harsh, technological framework. There is a warmth to it, a heart that beats beneath the shiny veneer. And for a futuristic space-odyssey dance fantasy, that’s saying something.

There are also the personal touches too: Check the monitors playing Britney’s older clips, but most of them are doused in liquid and cast aside. And when coupled with perhaps the video’s most organic moment — at clip’s end, when Spears, covered in amniotic fluids, curls up in the fetal position — you get the feeling that “HIAM” also seems to contain messages of rebirth, re-emerging and beginning anew.

Yes, Britney also looks plenty hot, and the dance moves are sure to displace a hip or two, but at the end of the day, what puts “HIAM” on the pedestal of Spears’ all-time best clips are the human touches. It looks great and it’s certainly the biggest-budget thing she’s released in a long time, but it’s also restrained and controlled — still under the spotlight, but reborn and ready for the fight. There’s genuine art to it, which makes it both beautiful to look at and powerful. She’s not wearing a schoolgirl outfit or leaping out of airplanes, but she doesn’t need to; not anymore. So while it’s too early to know whether “HIAM” will be your Britney favorite just yet, give it a few years — you might be surprised by how well it sticks.

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