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Britney Spears Proves She’s Still the Ultimate Sex Icon of the Millennial Generation

Britney Spears Proves She’s Still the Ultimate Sex Icon of the Millennial Generation: RCA

RCA

In the early 2000s, Britney Spears was the object of prepubescent affection. Young girls bopped around to her music while boys drooled looking at her posters. Those girls would eventually mature into women who wanted to dress like her; those boys into men who wished to bed her. For the TRL generation, Spears was the full package, largely because of her arrival at a time when sex in pop music was at a lull. In the months leading up to her schoolgirl debut, gooey love songs like Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine” and Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” drowned out sexual awakenings on the Billboard Top 100 chart. With “…Baby One More Time,” however, the hot babysitter finally came over. And she quickly switched off mom’s Lite FM.

Grade schoolers and high schoolers were in awe. For the next few years, as we millennials entered puberty, we became addicted to Spears’s contagious energy and celebrated her every step of the way. She was our It girl seductress, tempting us with a python. We didn’t even blink when MTV put her on stage in dominatrix garb next to Michael Jackson, even though our parents winced.

Then 2007 hit. That year, Spears had one of the most public celebrity meltdowns the world has ever witnessed. People forgot about her heretofore well-constructed image and cared more about the clubs she stumbled out of and with whom. Consumed in the gossip, we failed to draw the connection that, at the same time, we too were blacking out, spending our nights sipping vodka-cranberries, making out in college dorm rooms, partying with the wrong people and probably puking way too much—often with remixes of Spears’s own music playing in the background. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Spears released Blackout that year and today, its track listing reads like the titles of poems posted on your college roommate’s Tumblr: “Why Should I Be Sad.” “Freakshow.” “Piece of Me.” But like any teen, we were too consumed by our own problems to care about some rich girl’s. “Poor you,” we muttered when she cried on national television.

Does Spears have all the sex appeal she once had? Not really. But does that mean she isn’t sexy? Of course not.

In retrospect, Blackout is arguably one of Spears’s best musical efforts to date, and its musicality, as pages out of Spears’s rebellion-ridden diary, paved the way for future pop artists to tackle low-brown depravity over four chords. Without “Gimme More,” Kesha would have never brushed her teeth with Jack, Katy would have never celebrated the sins of last Friday night and Miley would have never danced with molly.

But the cultural significance of Spears’s hate-me-or-love-me 20-something rebellion album was overshadowed by the circus of events in her personal life and an unforgettable (but please, can we forget?) performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Millennials, who subconsciously became Britney fans the first time we saw her “… Baby One More Time” music video, felt more comfortable watching YouTube videos of her glory days, when our sex-pop icon seemed more like us and less like them—them being the sex icons of our parents, from Marilyn Monroe to Elizabeth Taylor to Farrah Fawcett.

We accepted that Spears could never be our sexual spirit animal again, at least not with the weight gains, Autotune and forthcoming motherhood. We tried alternatives, though they didn’t feel the same. Miley felt contrived. Gaga belonged to the gays. Rihanna’s sexuality never was much of a journey. And while Beyoncé made the music we wanted to have sex to, her lyrics rarely felt tangible. She was untouchable, after all, and we respected that. We adored her for that. Without Spears, relatable sex appeal as inhabited by an international pop star had vanished.

Fast forward to 2016, three albums, two tours, a Las Vegas residency and who knows how many perfumes later, Spears has finally come back for us. With Glory, her ninth album, which arrives today, there’s buzz about a career redemption, advanced by a much anticipated return to the MTV Video Music Awards stage on Sunday. In a few words, the strength of Spears’s latest record is that it resurfaces the provocative, sexual and unbroken side of an icon.

Since Spears’s debut, sex has only become more and more explicit in her music, much like it has in our own lives. If Spears had a song titled “Slumber Party” in 1999, as she does today, fans wouldn’t wonder what she is implying as she coos about pillow fights, sheets on the floor and sleepless nights. The same is true for the reverse; in today’s politically correct society, could we really imagine a pop star getting away with lyrics like “hit me baby one more time” when talking about a crush?

But on Glory’s standout track, Spears leaves little to the imagination as she describes making dirty videos and disturbing the neighbors with her sexcapades. On another, “Clumsy,” she sings about roughing it up and “banging all over this bedroom,” followed by a familiar word—“Oops!”—only this time she isn’t talking about breaking a young guy’s heart. It seems Spears, now 34, has matured enough to sing (and yes, she does sing on this album) about sex so matter-of-factly, it doesn’t sound like a coming-of-age gimmick, unlike her wannabe successors. That’s why Glory succeeds. It is a sonic reflection of the millennial sex life. It’s having the same conversations as her original fans, now in their mid-20s to late-30s, are having every day. Grown up, Spears is finally able to do the one thing she’s always been best at; that is, singing about sex. Post-breakdown, post-partum and post-getting her shit together, we are more inclined to listen again.

Does Spears have all the sex appeal she once had? Not really. But does that mean she isn’t sexy? Of course not. While Spears may not be the subject of every teenager’s wet dream nowadays, she still has the confidence to push boundaries and expectations to grab our attention, despite our derisions. A barely there outfit can be sexy, but Spears’s breed of confidence—that which comes with survival—is sexier. And that’s exactly the type of sex appeal that millennials, who’ve been dealt unfair hands in the life’s more important things—politics, economics and the environment—desire.

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