Britney Spears: The Origin Of The Super-Pop Species

With her new album sitting at #1, Bigger Than the Sound looks at Britney's unprecedented career.

By the time you read this, Britney Spears will have scored her sixth #1 debut with Femme Fatale, her latest installment of supersonic, stealth-fighter pop, a collection of songs equipped with laser-guided, heat-seeking hit missiles. In fact, Femme Fatale is more like an F-22 Raptor than an album.

Maybe I shouldn't be amazed that Brit finds herself atop the charts once again, but don't we live in austere times? Aren't Odd Future the only thing that matters these days?

I'm only sort of kidding. Because, frankly, each and every time Britney lands another #1, it's kind of like we've traveled through a wormhole and ended up in 1999, a time when the industry was still flush with cash and Lou Pearlman still lumbered the land. This was only 12 years ago, but it may as well have been 12 million.

These days, we still have plenty of pure pop stars, though none of them are quite like Britney. Lady Gaga is into performance art. Katy Perry is the California Gurl. Pink is the punky older cousin with a ton of tattoos. As is often the case with evolution, they have each developed specialized traits in order to survive. Britney is, in a lot of ways, the origin of the species (for simplicity's sake, I'm just ignoring Madonna, who basically did everything before any of this generation's stars were even teething). She was — and, I suppose, still is — the music industry's first attempt to promote a star that is everything to everyone. And each and every time she surfaces with a new album in tow, it signals the return of pop's Mesozoic era. For all intents and purposes, she may spend her time between albums trapped in amber, waiting to have her DNA extracted by some scientist.

This is by no means meant to come across as a slight against Spears. I fully understand why her fans love her the way they do, not to mention the fact that Femme Fatale is a heck of a pop record, a starry shadowbox of the coolest sounds you're likely to hear all year. It's more me simply marveling at the way she operates — in the cockpit of a high-powered fighter, making glossy, big-budget videos, putting on full-scale pop spectacles. There truly, honestly isn't anyone else like her.

We should take this opportunity to appreciate what Britney Spears — and her album — represent. She is the last super-pop star left standing. There was a time when everyone did things this way; now it's her and her alone. Spears is still everything to everyone, in a time when all we hear about are "niche markets" and "splintered genres," and for that alone, the success of Femme Fatale is noteworthy. Can she continue to survive among her more specialized peers? She's certainly earned the right to, though one gets the feeling she's probably not too worried about that fact. The thing about being the first is that there isn't really anything — or anyone — to compete against. So let others sweat the small stuff; Britney's only concerned with being Britney. Now and forever.

What do you think is the secret to Britney's success? Let us know in the comments!