August 28, 2010

Kinderwhore Britney

Pop just released their Fall 2010 issue's covers, which feature a veil-clad, seductively-posed Britney Spears in a flowerbed, shot by Todd Cole with artwork by Takashi Murakami.
They're tacky and gaudy and kitschy and not unlike teen Japanese magazines, and that's the point, and I love it. And she's wearing Rodarte, which sounds so out of context, but makes so much sense visually. Apparently they got Murakami first, and he had this idea of a Japanese schoolgirl vibe, so they then contacted Spears as a result of that. She really is perfect, not only for her young face and blonde hair, but because of her place in pop culture. Using her turned the idea into a real story, and I don't think many other fashion magazines could pull that off.

Unless you've lived in a cave your entire life, and unless you ever wanted to or not, you know The Britney Chronicles pretty well, and one of the most fascinating sides to her product is as a prime example of the ways in which culture builds up celebrities only to tear them down. One commenter on The Fashion Spot compared this to the sacrificing of virgins (and that's before we even get into her virginal-but-sexy image as a teen pop star,) and then linked it to how young, pure, and bride-like she looks in the covers. She's wearing a veil, and bright pink lipstick, and giving that innocent, plastic smile. The cartoons and backpack alone give it all away. It is, in many ways, imitating the way she was sold and perceived when she herself was a teenage girl, but something is different now. Maybe that she's 28 years old.

Many people have noted how much she looks like Courtney Love here, who popularized the Kinderwhore style in the early 90's, dressing in babydoll dresses and Mary-Janes with smeared makeup, messy hair, and baby barrettes. A grown woman following all the requirements of the "female ideal" as dictated by American culture is shocking and disturbing when she ends up bearing a striking resemblance to a little girl. The irony, whether intentional or not, says a lot about how our culture fetishizes young girls, and 20 years later the concept still has its place. Think about how many fashion magazines persist with images of 15 year-old waifs as a point of aspiration for women. And how creepy is it that the American public demands to be so informed on Miley Cyrus's sex life? And yet, it is the public itself that could be to blame for her recent "slutty" behavior -- girls are surrounded with images that tell them their bodies and sexuality are the only factors in their self-worth, so when it comes to trying to establish their identity as a woman, that's what they turn to. It is pretty much written in the How To Grow Up: Teen Girl Pop Star Edition handbook for Cyrus-types to do the same, and Britney Spears is the perfect example.
In 1999, she appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone with a David LaChapelle-lensed spread featuring her in settings such as her childhood bedroom or with props like a hot pink bicycle, wicker basket and all. The teenage aesthetic makes it easy to compare this spread with Pop's, but Spears was 17 when these photos were taken, making the erotic images more Lolita than Kinderwhore in concept. Courtney Love herself once said that it doesn't make sense for actual teenage girls to dress in that little girl style, since they're not too far from the age it satirizes in its message. In fact, concerns questioning the motives behind citing Seiji Matsuyama, whose manga has raised controversy for its depictions of underage characters, as an inspiration for the spread have already come up, but I would say that what Pop did is Kinderwhore-like commentary on that image more than it is playing into it. She's grown up. These covers shock us because, even though this is how we've been used to seeing Britney Spears throughout her entire career, she's finally the one to comment on our culture's disturbing obsession with her.

Maybe I'm reading too much into things that may not even be there, but I tend to overanalyze anyway. This is kind of a rare happening, though. It's not often that fashion magazines offer up a cover that elicits such questions, or could take aspects of society we try to pass off as "the way things are" and shine a light on how creepy it all really is.

Edit: This article includes more analogies between the covers and the notorious Matsuyama work and might be of interest to you if you too are so intrigued by the ideas here. I highly doubt Britney Spears was "bamboozled" into this, though -- like I said, she's older now, and probably knows what she's doing.

Photos: Pop covers, RS cover, RS bedroom.