Thanks to the 1990s rock scene, surreal music videos became the norm. Bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Nine Inch Nails created a trend where bands tried to outdo themselves with bizarre imagery. Enter Britney Spears. As the Nirvana revolution waned, Spears reinvented the music video as something more glamorous and risque, paving the way for future video vanguards like Lady Gaga. Let’s look at a few of her best clips.
“Toxic” was probably the most gargantuan music video production since Michael Jackson’s heyday in the 1980s and early 1990s. The clip managed to tell a cohesive and fun story starring Spears as a secret agent. The “Toxic” video feels like a big, dumb Hollywood action movie distilled into four minutes; the clip boasts all of the fun and production values of a James Bond knock-off without any of the bad writing or cheesy one-liners. The video also includes a brief homage to the scene where Marilyn Monroe walks over a manhole in the classic movie The Seven Year Itch. This was appropriate, as “Toxic” was the moment when Britney Spears became an International icon comparable to Monroe. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, and Britney proves that in the video’s memorable scene where she’s covered in diamonds.
‘If U Seek Amy’
“If U Seek Amy” is by far Britney’s most controversial song, but it’s not provocative in a social or political way. It merely features some profane wordplay that raised many eyebrows in 2009. The video for “ If U Seek Amy” embodies the track’s playful energy, depicting Spears as a woman with an R-rated lifestyle who is able to portray herself as a 1950-style homemaker for the cameras. The video also opens with a hilarious faux news clip that pokes fun at the pearl-clutching that the song inspired. While “If U Seek Amy” might not be the most sophisticated Britney Spears video, but Britney seem to have a lot of fun making it. After years of being the butt of the joke due to her well-publicized personal struggles, here was a video where Britney Spears was very much in on the joke. In its own bizarre way, the clip is very empowering.
“Criminal” was new territory for Britney, musically and visually. The song sees Britney dabbling in folktronica for the first time, while its video is less of a music video and more of a dramatic film. Previous Britney Spears ballads like “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” and “Everytime” had garnered music videos, those videos had largely focused on the media’s reaction to Spears’ personal life. “Criminal” was the first video for a Britney ballad that focused on telling a completely fictional story. It depicts Spears and her then boyfriend as an outlaw duo who go on a crime spree through England, before being cornered by the police. The video is strikingly cinematic, leading to a final shootout with some brilliant cinematography that rivals the best work of acclaimed action directors like Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan. It’s a shame that “Criminal” didn’t become a major radio hit; if it did, it might have encouraged Britney to make more music videos like this one.