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Britney Spears – Perfume


I don’t know about you, but I always tend to flinch when I see a pop star on the publicity trail describe their new album as “my most personal record yet” because it’s often code for “my label doesn’t hear a single.” But sure enough, that’s exactly what Britney Spears promised ahead of her eighth release, Britney Jean. This came as worrying news from an artist who had already wrung more drama out of her private life than just about any other. What on earth was left to share? Her home phone number?

As it turns out, Britney was telling the truth, at least when it came to the album’s second single, Perfume – this time, she was going to let us know just what an absolute frigging nightmare she would be if she was your girlfriend. It was a risky move, creating the possibility that it would make girls hate her and boys run a mile. But in the end, only Britney herself got hurt (thereby creating the opportunity to get even more personal at a later date), as record buyers stayed away in platinum quantities.

Perfume is a co-write with Sia Furler – whether it’s a co-write in the Madonna sense of the word we don’t know – but it seems to me that the two sat down in the studio for a little chat about boys, Britney explained her insecurities and Sia thought “oh my god you are effing crazy” and came up with this amazing song about the neediest person in the world ever: “So I wait for you to call / And I try to act natural /Have you been thinking ’bout her or about me? / And while I wait I put on my perfume / Yeah, I want it all over you / I’m gonna mark my territory / I’ll never tell, tell on myself / But I hope she smells my perfume.” It’s more frightening than Every Breath You Take.

Not only is Perfume the best Britney ballad, it’s also the best ever Britney vocal performance – she’s almost unrecognisable at the beginning in that she’s actually singing, and in a rich, deep tone at that. I love Britney and think she’s a brilliant pop star, but she’s often relied too much on that strangely metallic voice that comes across a bit like a spider filled with helium. She’s a woman on this record, albeit one who’s almost certainly about to get dumped.

By rights this should have been a huge hit – Britney being one of the few remaining people who could still chart a ballad – but after lead single Work Bitch under-performed, it seems a collective decision was taken that the Britney Jean campaign was a bomb, and next to no effort was made to promote it. We’ve talked before about the brutality of pop, and right now Britney is on the rough end of things – I know there are lots of hard jobs in the world, but times like these show that being a pop star is pretty stressful. It’s not exactly a job for life and you don’t tend to get quarterly appraisals from your supervisor to let you know how you’re doing. Your boss is a fickle public, and we can fire you whenever we want – and nowadays the only appeal process available to you involves drafting in talents more popular than you currently happen to be and making a big noisy record (*cough* Bang Bang *cough*) that will give you a temporary lift back up the charts. That’s exactly what Britney’s doing now with Iggy Azalea and Pretty Girls, which I think we’re all agreed is quite good but not as good as it should have been.

Does Britney have another big comeback in her? I’m really not sure. The big bucks Vegas deal makes sense, but with her and Mariah Carey out there, it’s almost like they’ve retreated to a hollowed-out volcano, Bond-villain style, making plans for world domination that will never come to pass.

Then again, this is Britney, bitch. Better not count her out just yet.

Perfume_coverEntered chart: did not chart

Who could sing this today and have a hit? I want Hayden Panettiere to do this on Nashville.

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