Last night, I couldn’t help but experience a conflicting sense of dramatic euphoria, and can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it confusion. If you watched last night’s Video Music Awards (VMAs), you might have felt the same. I mean, Britney Spears following up Beyoncé? Both are huge symbols of my ‘90s childhood. I could probably recite each and every song from every decade that they’ve ever sung, and no, I’m not embarrassed about it in the slightest.
As Kim Kardashian pointed out in her introduction to Britney’s performance (side note: can we talk about why Kim Kardashian was introducing her in the first place…), Britney has been on that VMA stage before. She rocked that stage as a teenage pop star and again as a snake-tamer. After her performance, though, there wasn’t much to do but bring out the tissues and mourn the old popstar that we once knew and loved…It wasn’t that the performance was particularly awful, but more that it was the same old routine with nothing new or exciting.
Where has she gone? Did MTV set her up to fail by making her perform after Queen Bey?
Maybe there’s more to it. At this point with Britney, we expect imperfection, erroneous lip syncing, and corny dance moves stuck in the ‘90s. Only 38% of people we asked, for example, believed that Britney Spears’ performance would be awesome, compared to 62% that thought it would be awful. Beyoncé, on the other hand, is a whole different story.
In my experience, we see Beyoncé as perfect in an imperfect and flawed world. Even while she protests police brutality and male dominance in formation, for example, she owns the sinking car, rocks perfect hair, and her dance moves? Literally out of this world. How does she move like that?
In contrast, we see Britney as imperfect, but in a more perfect world. A white girl that was given incredible opportunities from a young age who set trends for decades, but doesn’t quite bring that Beyoncé-level of perfection. Then again, as a white woman, she is afforded the privilege to make those mistakes, when Beyoncé would surely not receive the same treatment. Beyoncé has to radiate perfection to receive half the respect – a sad reality in this country. This has also been talked about in regards to the TV Show Scandal. When Bey gets on a stage, she owns it. When Britney gets on a stage, unlike back-in-the-day, the stage seems to own her.
Shall we pause and remember 2007 Britney for a second? The one who shaved her head and saturated the headlines in response to her romantic woes? When Beyoncé found out that her husband cheated, on the other hand, she made her husband pay and made an incredible album about it. To be clear, no approach is better or worse at all.
However, sometimes I worry that with so much hype around Beyoncé, and our obsession with her perfection, we kid ourselves into thinking that perfection is possible. I love her just as much as the next liberal arts student, though sometimes we forget that on many levels her perfection is a façade. It’s unattainable. After all, she has made it nearly impossible to shoot an unflattering photo of her.
As you can see, 62% of people that have a favorable view of Beyoncé also believe that kids should be forced to strive for perfection. This is significantly higher than for those who don’t like her or have no strong opinion. There is no doubt that Beyoncé has had an incredible impact on the world. She brings representation of Women of Color to the forefront of the media, and is a strong example of feminism in action. However, does this data imply that there is a flip side? Are we buying too heavily into her perfection?
With Britney, on the other hand, we fully expect imperfection, but we love her (or maybe it’s just me) anyways. We see her shave her head and think, “Yeah, I may have done the same in that situation.” We see her forget the words and think, “After all this time how could she do that?” We see her forget her choreography and think, “Really, Britney?” In other words, our relationship with her mirrors realistic relationships in other areas of our lives. With Beyoncé, I’m not always quite sure. Then again, as I’ve said, Beyoncé doesn’t have that privilege to be able to mess up constantly.
So even though Britney didn’t slay last night like she has in the past, that’s okay. She isn’t perfect. In a world where we hear about and witness “so-called” perfection at every turn with Beyoncé, I find it refreshing to see another icon from my childhood who isn’t quite perfect, just like the rest of us.