Unless you live under a pretty literal rock (and I’m not judging if you do), that song should sound familiar to you. There’s a little shock of contrast when you first figure out what it is that makes you giggle, but after that, I think, the shock is that the performance makes so much sense: it’s much more cohesive than the version we all know so well. It follows stylistically from the moderate creepiness of the lyrics:
I must confess that my loneliness
Is killing me now
Don’t you know I still believe
That you will be here
And give me a sign
Hit me baby one more time
I can’t embed the original, but it’s here. The Britney version has a lot of cognitive dissonance going on–the whole thing is sort of incoherent, the lyrics and the music and the imagery of the video all adding up to a semiotic mishmash, like the people calling the shots on her career were just sort of throwing stuff at the wall of their seventeen-year-old gravy train’s image to see what would stick: innocent schoolgirl? brazen bad girl? cheerleader? jock? shy? confident? Watch how there are always two of her: first there’s hallway-dancing bitch-goddess Britney, shimmying and bumping, at the same time as there’s locker-room wallflower Britney, pouting, making puppy eyes. Then there’s confident popular-girl Britney all dancing around having lots of friends and fun at the same time as there’s lonely, vulnerable, sitting-all-alone-in-the-back-seat-of-her-convertible Britney. Then there’s earnest, crushing-on-a-jock-who-doesn’t-notice-her Britney in the bleachers and star-cheerleader Britney taking center court. Each pair of Britneys is dressed alike. Each segment cuts back and forth between its two Britneys, tugging the tone of the whole endeavor back and forth in the process, which is a pretty big factor in undermining the coherence of the video.
There are a few ways to read this:
1) The solo Britneys are the real Britneys; the unabashed, extroverted dancing Britneys are fantasy Britneys dreamed up by a girl who wishes she were bold enough to go get her man back. This would be sort of in keeping with the daydreaming-in-class retroactive* framing device. Nevertheless, why would she bother daydreaming many versions of her shy self?
2) Each Britney is one of the infinite varieties of Britney, a facet of her composite personality. The problem with this reading is that they aren’t different enough from each other: all the sad Britneys are the same, and the first and third dancing Britneys are the same, too.
3) The idea is to make Britney all things to all people.
I find the last reading the most convincing. In this reading, the costume changes serve as little more than window-dressing, props that tailor the sales pitch to different demographics of teenagers, and the persistent Britney duality a further nuance of customized marketing. Are you an outgoing prep? A misunderstood jock? So is Britney!
That makes sense to me as far as this video as product launch goes. I’m not sure how it connects to the long and glorious tradition of Britney dualism, but that’s a topic for another post. And believe you me, I will write that post.
*The framing device is retroactive because you don’t see it as a framing device on the front end. The bell rings, and out she goes to start the hallway-dancing. It’s only at the end of the video that it’s made clear that the bell never rang at all, and have to reevaluate the whole thing in light of that twist.