The best part of Britney Spears' recent single "3," in my opinion, comes at the end of the very typically Britney-esque bridge, wherein three quarters of the way through a song extolling the joys of three-way sex, Brit claims with mock naivete the way only she can that "what we do is innocent" and assures her lover that if he prefers some 1-on-1 lovin' she's more than willing to oblige. "Let's just do it you and me," she says sweetly.
Except she's not done: a few bars later she adds, "...or three," eagerly diving back into her thrilling sexual discovery after popping out for a moment to placate the puritanical parental censors who so amusingly threw such a hissy fit over the "pun"-ch line of recent single "If U Seek Amy" that its radio incarnation ("If You See Amy;" I mean, give me a break.) was stripped of its joke and any remnant of sense. Then, almost as an afterthought in the moment before the final chorus, she adds gamely, "...or four...on the floor."
Say what you will about the ups and downs of Spears' music career since she took over creative control of her fourth album, In the Zone, and then...well, you know what happened afterward; one rare constant in Spears' pop career since that time has been her almost gleeful gameness for sexual exploration, at least in her music. See "Breathe on Me" and "Touch of My Hand" from In the Zone; "Freakshow" and "Get Naked (I Got a Plan)" from Blackout- incidentally the only two tracks on the album on which Spears has a writing credit; "If U Seek Amy," "Lace and Leather" and bonus track "Phonography" from Circus; the carnal, explorative rather than exploitative sexuality of The Circus Starring Britney Spears tour; and, of course, "3". I have a theory about how and from whence this came about for the pop star who once famously declared her intention to remain a virgin until marriage, and his name is Justin Timberlake, who Spears was famously dating until not long before the release of In the Zone.
Regardless, I find Britney's joyful treatment of sex and sexuality refreshing; neither as overt and purposely provocative as Madonna, nor as desperately sleazy and overblown as Christina Aguilera's Stripped or Nelly Furtado's Loose, it actually strikes me as an especially healthy outlook on sex and sexual exploration (not being a subscriber to the "abstinence only" way of thinking).
It happens that it is at that same moment in the somewhat maligned music video that there is an incredibly brief but notable moment of magic of a kind all but absent in Britney's post-Federline life and career. As the crescendo in the background music of the bridge reaches its peak and vanishes for several beats before the final, mega-produced chorus crashes back to carry "3" to the finish line, the largely dead expression the blond starlet has worn since her tumultuous hiatus suddenly flickers to life in an almost infinitesimal smirk, a split second where her eyes connect and spark with the knowing mixture of innocence and sexuality that made Britney an icon unlike any other beyond her music.
I love that moment, because it's the first time since the Fall of Spears that I have seen an indication that there's still a trace of the old Brit in there behind the dead eyes, beneath the anti-depressants, below the sadness, beyond the conservatorship. It may never again show itself the way it once did, but by golly if it isn't reassuring to see, even for a moment, that there's still a crazy, overprotected, outrageous, freakshow slave 4 u in there somewhere.
Follow the playful, explorative sexual safari of Britney Spears over the more recent half of her career with this specially selected ten-song chronological playlist. If you find this song sequence to be anywhere beyond "mildly risque," I'd advise you to avoid the repertoires of Madonna, Janet Jackson, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, Christina Aguilera, Rihanna, Robyn, and Pink, all of which surpass that of Britney Spears in terms of sexual content. Of course, that basically means your exposure to mainstream female pop music is pretty much going to be limited to Beyonce Knowles and old Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston classics, so I don't envy you.