While few would argue the omnipresence of Britney Spears in many gay young men’s bedrooms, dance clubs and gyms, her status as a gay icon is certainly up for debate.
On the one hand, she embodies so many of the qualities that have come to define a gay icon. She’s an over-the-top dance music diva whose brazen sexuality and come hither cooing have beguiled the public’s imagination since her late-‘90s debut. Veering further and further into camp, she’s got the costumes, elaborate Vegas show and even the cheesy feature film under her belt. Beyond the theatrics, like Marilyn and Judy before her, she’s got the tragic elements of her story as well.
At the same time, she hasn’t exactly been the outspoken defender of the gay community like, say, Lady Gaga. In fact, she hasn’t very eloquently spoken on the subject at all. After patronizingly calling her gay fans “adorable” on-air at 99.7 NOW FM, she went on to give a fascinating interview to Pride Source in which she failed to see why that could be seen as belittling and further described gay men as “somewhat girls.”
OK. So she’s not going to be anyone’s first pick to speak at a rally any time soon. But, bless her heart, she means well. Right? Maybe she’s sort of like Donna Summer, who, despite her own complicated relationship with the gay community, stakes claim to a part of our culture.
Explore some of the ways Britney made her mark, and share your thoughts, AFTER THE JUMP …
Britney’s proper pop debut (after her start as a Mouseketeer) dropped in 1999. “… Baby One More Time” introduced the schoolgirl uniform-clad pop starlet to the American public, while the singer spouted the importance of her Christian upbringing and abstinence. It was perhaps the most literal play on the Madonna/whore dichotomy in the history of pop music since, well, Madonna.
The year 2003 was a big one for Brit. Her kiss with Madge at the MTV Video Music Awards (above) grabbed headlines. However, it was the shift in her music away from the bubblegum sound she popularized toward the more confident dance music characterizing her album In the Zone that left a bigger impact on the pop landscape.
The pantyless partying and stints in rehab began plaguing Britney in 2007. She lost custody of her children to her ex-husband, Kevin Federline. She would eventually be committed to a psych ward and her father granted conservatorship over her. The head-shaving and umbrella bashing were low points, for sure, but few moments were as troubling to watch than her performance of “Gimme More” at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards, above.
YouTube personality Chris Crocker may not warrant an entire entry in the gay history books, but he certainly merits a footnote. The young teen skyrocketed to viral video stardom when his sobbing “Leave Britney Alone!” video was published in defense of the troubled pop star. Crocker would go on to be a fascinating study in the machinations of the online infamy machine (leading to his eventual turn in porn and his own documentary Me At The Zoo), but, at the time, he was just a gay teen in a small town to whom Britney Spears meant a whole lot.
Britney’s albums Circus and Femme Fatale were some of her strongest work to date. The latter was her first to spawn three top-ten singles (“Hold It Against Me,” “I Wanna Go,” “Till The World Ends”). While her most recent album, 2013’s Britney Jean, was pretty uneven, it did feature “Work Bitch,” which Britney told The Advocate was inspired by her gay friends: “For me, the saying 'work, bitch' has been a term of endearment among my gay friends. Plus, it's what we say in clubs and in the dancing world all the time. My choreographers are gay and they inspire me so much. Plus I just love my gay fans, so it's something I really wanted to use.”
What do you think? Does Britney qualify as an icon?