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Justin and Britney

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The romantic pairing of certified Teen Idols Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake was a media dream made flesh, so to speak. How sweet, how fitting that these magnetic fresh faces on the cusp of adulthood would cling to one another for shelter and understanding against the gale force winds of celebrity, pop royalty sharing the fairytale magic of Love’s First Kiss (or something, um, similar). Only the dwarfs were missing.

Best of all, the relationship was real, uncontrived, even the Disney angle genuine: Britney and Justin originally met in the early- ’90s as preteen cast members of The New Mickey Mouse Club, fellow laborers in a juvenile showbiz factory that also employed Christina Aguilera, Felicity’s Keri Russell, and Justin’s future ‘N Sync-mate JC Chasez.

But there was to be no happily ever after: they broke up after four years in the spring of 2002, fleeing the dream castle on separate but parallel paths. Justin and Britney — their first names are usually enough — are no longer together but they aren’t far apart either: they still share the Jive record label, a similar urban-pop musical style, many of the same rabid fans, and neither is getting any uglier. Both are also seemingly all over the place, leapfrogging each other in the media spotlight.

Timberlake, 22, rocked large arenas all over North America this summer on tour with Aguilera on the strength of his smash 2002 solo album, Justified, which has sold seven million copies worldwide and yielded hits “Like I Love You,” “Rock Your Body” and “Cry Me a River.” Continuing his sabbatical from ‘N Sync, Justin is now gearing up for a fall European tour by playing five intimate club and theater shows in the U.S., and he has his own television special airing on NBC on November 25.

Spears, 21, has a new single, “Me Against the Music,” featuring her MTV Video Music Awards lip-lock partner Madonna, out in advance of her fourth album, In the Zone, due November 18. Britney was the steaming topless October 2 cover model for Rolling Stone, and oops, she did it again as the November cover for both Esquire (more steam) and Cosmo Girl (clothed and girlish) magazines.

“Justin and Britney” or “Britney and Justin”

While the former lovers both seem ubiquitous, things aren’t as equal as they may appear to the casual observer. Based upon the verdict handed down by the popular culture judges at Saturday Night Live, Justin is now on top: he hosted AND performed as musical guest on last Saturday’s show, proving himself a confident and likeable performer, a talented mimic, a fine comedic actor, and a genuine musical talent. Of course, Britney had already proved most of these things with two dual hosting/musical guesting performances on the show in 2000 and 2002, but this week poor Britney will be musical guest ONLY for the episode Halle Berry will host. Oh the indignity!

Yes, the perception is that Timberlake is on top of the world, a star ascendant, while Spears, a superstar for five years who has already sold over 50 million albums, teeters precariously on spiked heels, her pierced navel and demure pelvic tattoo on display, as she and her team wait nervously for response to the album that could make or break her career.

Britney, the former virginity-until-marriage advocate, was recently vilified for her newly sexualized image in a speech by Kendal Ehrlich, the wife of the governor of Maryland, who playfully added she’d “like to shoot” the neo-strumpet for leading impressionable teens down the road to crotch-grabbing, Madonna-kissing perdition, before she recanted and apologized. I would guess the governor’s wife has never been exposed to the Secretary of Skank, Aguilera.

At least Britney is wildly successful, not a single mother, and in control of her own destiny; and the fact that she was very reluctant to admit a physical relationship with Justin, with whom she was “in love,” would seem to indicate where her natural values lie. I fear that this attack on the relatively tame Spears means that she is no longer a girl, not yet a woman, but rather a symbol, and that is very sad for her.

Double Standard?

I also see the old familiar double standard at work here: Spears is berated regularly for dressing in a sexy manner, she was ridiculed for “trying to look grown up” when she strode onto a Milan runway last October in a $23,000 rainbow-spangled gown by Donatella Versace. Yet Timberlake is applauded for forsaking his boyish squeaky clean, color-coordinated ‘N Sync image in favor of an earthier, stripped-down, young adult, bachelor-on-the-prowl vibe by the very same press that rebukes Spears for updating her image.

Mary Huhn feted the lad earlier this week in the NY Post, crowing, “he exploited an already-publicized break-up with Britney Spears by talking about their sex life on Hot 97 (the top hip-hop station in the New York market), then released a scathing video for ‘Cry Me a River’ in which he all but outed Spears as a cheater who ruined the relationship.” Gee, what a gentleman, but this is meant as praise. Huhn then added that Timberlake “traded up” from Britney to Janet Jackson (who appeared on his album), Alyssa Milano and Cameron Diaz – maybe she meant “traded up in age.” Forty years of feminism has wrought this kind of thinking?

Ultimately, though, the diverging perceptions of Justin and Britney – their first names are usually enough – come down to the legitimate matter of music. With similar young lifetimes of performance experience, vocal training, and the pick of crack arrangers, producers, and songwriters, natural talent and taste are the only real variables left, and for now at least, Justin appears to possess the stronger musical hand.

There might even be something approaching a “Justin Timberlake” sound emerging from the haze. His best songs are built upon organic funky grooves, from which Timberlake and collaborators like the Neptunes, Timbaland, and Brian McKnight then construct songs – a firm musical foundation not dissimilar to that of one of Timberlake’s idols, Michael Jackson, whose falsetto Timberlake’s resembles.

Britney, thus far, appears to be much more of a studio creation, her early hits primarily the work of Swedish pop mastermind Max Martin, her new album collaborations with such diverse producer/writers as Moby, the Matrix, R. Kelly, and Tricky. Her voice remains small, affected, and indistinct. Of her new music, only the jittery electronic confection “Me Against the Music” is currently available from the label for review. Hmmm. Ironic that Britney is the musical guest this week on SNL and not the host – she’s better as host. I mean that in a nice way.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    I was getting a little worried. It’s been days since we’ve had any Brit/Justin news on Blogcritics. Whew . . . I thought something was seriously wrong with the world. Thank you, Eric, for setting it all right again.

  • http://www.makeyougohmm.com/ TDavid

    Bring back the kissing, Madonna and Britney! The look on Justin’s face was priceless.

  • Eric Olsen

    The pleasure is all mine although it took about 10 hours to write, which is absurd.

  • http://www.makeyougohmm.com/ TDavid

    10 hours to write 2 sentence and cut and paste text 3rd party text? WTF?! You must have been heavily distracted. LOL

  • http://fando.blogs.com Natalie Davis

    Nice piece, Eric.

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Nat!

    Sometimes, TDavid, I am not sure if you are kidding or not. I assume you clicked over to the actual article on MSNBC.com, which is what took 10 hours, still way too long, but a bit more meaty than what is here.

  • http://www.makeyougohmm.com/ TDavid

    Eric, if I use “LOL” or generously incorporate smilies :)) in a post then I am definitely kidding! :)

    And no, I’m guilty as charged, for not reading the link :( I misunderstood your comment and was teasing you about what is here on this page taking 10 hours. My bad for not clicking through.

    Odd as this might seem, I pass over links sometimes when reading even though it is fairly obvious :( Sorry about that.

    If you ever want to make sure of my intentions, just ask as you did above and I’ll be happy to clarify. You should know, though, that I only tease those that I like ;)

  • Eric Olsen

    Okay, well I appreciate it. Let me know what you think about the whole thing if you get a chance.

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    nice article eric.

    hmmm. i guess that justin tune that hooked me a while back may have to find its way into my collection (Senorita)

  • http://www.makeyougohmm.com/ TDavid

    The article is well written, but honestly Britney and Justin are not all that interesting people to me. About the most compelling moment for both these two, I already commented on in #2. I don’t care for Justin’s music — or Nsync at all (sorry NSync fans)

    Britney’s voice sounds way over-modulated on her recordings (to the ones I’ve heard anyway) and I actually find more interest in her purported multiple boob jobs then in her music. That is a sad and probably sexist thing to admit, I realize, but it’s the truth. She’s good to look at!

    I could be wrong on both of these two musically as I haven’t explored much of their music.

    However, I do think it is cool that you are a contributor at MSNBC. How did you get into that gig? Drop me a line and tell me about it when you get a few if you don’t want to share out here, that is.

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    I think Justin might actually have some knowledge of music. His homage to Led Zeppelin via selected riffs from “The Ocean” on SNL (during his “Cry Me A River”) was actually kind of inspired and clever. I can’t say I’d want to listen to the guy’s recorded output, but his live presentation was considerably more heartfelt and honest than the overly glossy stuff I’ve heard in the mall and on TV.

    Britney? Well . . . Britney appears to enjoy dancing.

  • http://www.temptationwaits.com visualsimplicity

    Ooh a post about Britney and Justin. My faves, well at least 1/2th my fave.

    Only the musical guest? Tsk tsk, but I’ll have you know that Britney’s episode of SNL actually received 10% more viewers than Justin’s. Yup yup.

  • Eric Olsen

    I think the story reflects pretty well how I feel about each musically: Justin has some talent, Britney not much, although I find them both likeable and appealing personalities. I wish Britney would not feel compelled to push the sexy side as much as she does, though it isn’t unusual for a young attractive woman to emphasize that side of herself for a time. I hope she grows out of it.

    As far as writing: I’ve been a professional writer for 25 years, have written 2+ books, have written on music and pop culture for Playboy, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Alternative Press, Option, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Akron Beacon Journal, Fox television, NPR radio, and on and on. My most excellent friend Jan Herman, now here on Blogcritics, brought me in to MSNBC.com.

    The blogging was supposed to be a temporary thing, but seems to evolved into a permanent situation which I enjoy but would like to make some money at.

  • http://mcfrank.blogspot.com Chris Arabia

    I’d nominate this piece for a Pulitzer but I don’t know their number.

    “Britney Spears looks like the Hamburgler.”

    I wish I had said it. Attractive though I find her, there is an element of truth to it.

    I think she’d be more sexy if she downplayed the “look at me jiggle my goods” angle. Can’t she spring for some dresses? Her vocal range is sufficient for Pepsi ads and little else. Her super skank pal Christina has the voice.

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Chris – a Pulitzer it is not, but it turned out okay. Yes, Christina is unfortunately blessed with a much more impressive voice, making her skankification all the more bewildering.

  • http://www.svmatch.com/lastusers/9/ angel

    you know britney and justin are ment to bie together know britney is married and pragnant and justin is ingeged to cameron 32 I mean she is freaking ould and they gonna get married this is sum big bullshit they where mead for ieschader

  • http://www.svmatch.com/profileusers/7/ angel

    I think that justin is a tottaly hottie
    and britney is beutiful and they both where in mickey mouse club and they are still are secretlie meeting in hotels and calling but cameron is jelous and was mad at justin so I dont know baybe theres hope for them

    xxx
    justin and britney where ment together

  • http://becksangel17@optonline.net Veronice

    I heard that Justin was telling his friends that Cameron and him broke up. They say he’s the happiest he’s been in a long time, and apparently Brit and Kev are fighting a lot right now. I agree that Britney and Justin are meant to be together. He’s hot and she’s beautiful, but ever since their break-up, they’ve let themselves go. They looked so much better when they were together. They need to straighten themselves out. I’ve heard about the secret meetings in hotel rooms as well. I also heard that Cam told Justin to stop calling Britney, because she saw no need for it. He said he was supporting her. Apparently, they talk on a daily basis according to Britney. And, once, when Brit and Kev ran into Cam and Justin outside the Ivy in L.A., Cam didn’t let Justin and Britney say hello or talk to each other, she grabbed Justin and left.

  • Jive T

    “I think that justin is a tottaly hottie”
    ” they are still are secretlie meeting”
    “but cameron is jelous”

    HUH?

  • ezgi

    all i can say is dat justin n britney r ment to b n i widh they cud get bak 2geva n staylike that that baby of britneys was ment to be justins she made a BIG mistake marying to kevin

  • Eric Olsen

    my guess is that Justin isn’t all that interested at this point

  • Baxter

    I would have to respectfully disagree Mr. Olsen. I do believe that they are indeed destined to get bak 2geva.

  • louie

    well britney and justin now are just friends and they all each other for uyour information + britney rocks keepon the good work

  • donna

    well justinn is better then britney justin is i dont no the better in the world

  • donna

    i can say that justin is a tottaly hottie butt britney no they are just friend’s if i can i will wrot 10 hour for justin he is the hottest man that i never see i love him(l)

  • guille

    britney justin son lo mas

  • chiara

    britne is soo hot and beatiful..and justin too i love together

  • rebe

    well justin now says that they havent talk in over 10 years! too bad! i love them both together they were soo happy!