New York Times April 25, 2004

BRITNEY HAS A BAD DREAM FOR OUR SINS

The video for Britney Spears’s nursery-rhyme ballad “Everytime” goes something like this: the star, after escaping from a mob of fans and potato-faced paparazzi and thrashing through a shouting match with her boyfriend (played by Stephen Dorff), sinks into a luxurious hotel bathtub. Before Calgon can take her away, she starts bleeding. Losing consciousness, she slips beneath the surface of the water. Scarlet plumes of blood blossom around her. Next, we see Britney dressed only in a flowy white shirt running down a stark white hallway toward an Elisabeth Kubler-Ross-style bright white light.

The follow-up single to “Toxic,” Ms. Spears’s first No. 1 hit since 2000’s “Oops! I Did It Again,” “Everytime” made it’s debut on MTV’s “TRL: Total Request Live” chart two weeks ago. It’s now in the “TRL” Top 10, thanks to the very same fans Ms. Spears feels such a desperate need to get away from.

The video, directed by the fashion photographer David LaChapelle, was clearly supposed to stir up controversy and add another chapter to the continuing Britney-vs.-Justin Timberlake narrative. (Mr. Dorff may not look exactly like Mr. Timberlake, but the demeanor, and certainly the tumult, are familiar.) While the video plays on the audience’s knowledge of that troubled union, it hardly qualifies as ex-boyfriend bashing. “Everytime” is a teenage temper tantrum, a glossy “you’ll be sorry when I’m dead” melodrama. And even though there has been plenty of buzz about it’s suicide imagery, the video (at least the version released on MTV) only flirts with suicide. While it looks initially as if Britney has slit her wrists, upon closer inspection that sliver of red is just a Kabbalah string (a thin red chord worn on the wrist, and the accessory of choice of Ms. Spears’s friend Madonna.) Actually, we see blood only on the palm of her hand – a kind of superstar stigmata.

A slap at fans and the media, “Everytime” suggests that Ms. Spears, greedily, wants it all: like Garbo, she wants to be alone, provided she can have a stylist. Of course, she hates the press even more than the public, and to put that across, Mr. LaChapelle gleefully screws on his funhouse lens: the paparazzi in “Everytime” are shot with the same degree of calculation as the Jews in “The Passion of Christ,” with hooked or bulbous noses and bulging eyes. They surround her as screaming, chubby fans claw and clutch. With monsters like these around, no wonder the Britney of “Everytime” wants to wash herself clean.

But does she want to die? Blacked-out Britney imagines her body being fussed over by doctors and nurses. Nearby, a mother cradles her newborn. Meanwhile, back at the tub, Mr. Dorff valiantly plunges in – it’s O.K., he’s wearing cheap sneakers – to rescue Britney from her watery grave. Our heroine survives, emerging glamorously from the silky surface of the bath water, sputtering a little but none the worse for wear. Realizing she’s still alive, she smiles. Bad dream!

Even more than with many other celebrities, Ms. Spears’s image relies on attracting our attention: without it, she’s almost shapeless. Some of her songs are jaggedly seductive, and her glittery, plasticky persona is fascinating to plenty of onlookers. But Ms. Spears hasn’t yet proved herself an artist of particular depth, originality or longevity. Now she’s made a video that forces us to envision a pop landscape in which she no longer exists. Could we, the noisy, selfish rabble who won’t leave her alone, bear to go on without her? As much as she may enjoy fantasizing about that question, she probably doesn’t want to know the answer.

Text By Stephanie Zacharek

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