Tuesday, August 19, 2008

25 Days

As What Tami Said gets closer to its blogiversary on Sept. 13, I will re-run posts from the early days of the site. This one originally appeared on Nov. 1, 2007, during the height of Britney Spears meltdown watch.

The Britney Factory

While we're all enjoying the sweet schadenfreude of Britney Spears' spectacular flameout, we should remember to reserve some judgment and disgust for the music industry, and for ourselves--all of us inhalers of celebrity gossip. We're part of the machine that creates and destroys the Britneys and the Lindsays.


Take an attractive young girl with talent, or maybe just a certain "it factor." Slim her body down; pump her breasts up. Make her blonde. (This works for black girls, too. See Beyonce.) Find some songs dripping with sexual innuendo, better yet, blatant come ons. Polish her voice in the studio and find a hot video director. Oil your product up and have her crawl on the floor, grind, thrust and booty bounce. Make sure she's ready for the haters with some vague talking points about girl power and embracing female sexuality, maybe something about a naughty alter ego. Get her on magazine covers, secure a makeup endorsement deal, start a line of perfumes. We're guaranteed to eat it up. We'll snatch up the magazines, and obsessively scour TMZ.com for photos of our pop starlet on vacation with her bad boy companion. We'll read the exclusive Vanity Fair interview and discuss our star's personal life obsessively at the water cooler, in chat rooms and on message boards. We'll confuse pretty and semi-talented with role model material.

We'll clamor for more and more and more, until our constant gaze begins to reveal cracks in the manufactured picture. We'll notice that the star seems vacant and tipsy a lot. We’ll complain that her skirts are too short, her choices in men abysmal, and that heavy makeup and fake eyelashes look trashy in the light of dawn. We'll notice that girls who skip too much school in order to tour and make records aren't always so smart and articulate. We'll see that the slavish attention of the public and media has made our star a little entitled and bratty. We’ll find that girls who are taught to sell their sexuality sometimes believe that’s all they have to offer. We’ll start to call her a bitch, a whore and a bad mother.

That’s the machine—make them and break them.

I don’t mean to suggest that the Britneys of the world have no hand in their own downfall. After all, girls become women and women are responsible for the choices they make. But I can’t help thinking, if Britney has killed any chances of a successful career and a fulfilling life, didn’t the recording industry and the public put the gun in her hand.

You hope that young girls entering the entertainment industry are armed with self-esteem, strong family support, wise counsel and a clear idea of how much (or little) fame is worth to them. You hope that when they are asked to trade their dignity for dollars, they'll be able to say no or that someone with their best interests in mind will say it for them. Britney is what happens when a young star and her parents are willing to give away too much in exchange for fame. But what happens when a girl resists pop tartification, and her family supports her in standing by her principles?

Have you heard of Keke Palmer? She’s the sweet-faced girl from the Disney Channel and Akeelah and the Bee. Keke is also a singer. She signed a record deal with Atlantic Records in 2006, when she was 12 years old. That’s when the machine cranked up. Atlantic tried to persuade Keke to record a host of inappropriate material, including “A Freak Like Me,” the 1995 hit by Adina Howard that featured the lyrics:

cause I will be a freak until the day until the dawnand we can pump, pump all through the night till the early morncome on and I will take you around the 'hood on a gangsta lean'cause we can pump, pump any time of day it's all good for me

When Keke refused to record what the company called “urban music,” Atlantic responded by pulling marketing support for her album, “So Uncool,” that was released in September. (Read the whole sordid saga at What About Our Daughters.)

Keke stood up for herself, and as a result, may see her hopes of a recording career dashed. I hope not. Maybe she’ll go the Lily Allen route and work the social media to get her record heard. But where is the outrage? If the Britneys of the world so offend us, where is the anger at Atlantic Records for trying to manufacture more stars like her? An article about Britney’s woes, or even a record review like the one that ran Wednesday on Salon.com, brings out commenters eager to weigh in on what’s wrong with the star as a singer, mother, daughter and woman. But the Web is eerily silent on Keke Palmer, except for a few mentions in the black blogosphere.

Will you buy Keke’s album? Will you talk about her tomorrow at the water cooler, in chat rooms and on message boards, even though there are no sexy songs or scandalous behavior to titter at? Are you part of the Britney factory?

Hear more of Keke’s music at kekepalmer.com.


Symphony said...

Good article. I'm over listening to people whine about nothing good in music, movies, tv, etc. They produce what we support. End of story.

Anonymous said...

Good over view of how the "industry" works. It is up to us, the general public, to stop buying, watching and supporting this garbage view of other women.

Even the Olympics had these bizaar skimpy uniforms for the runners, volley ball players and gymnasts, and it was disturbing to see the Olympics pornify young girls too.

Stop the machine women. Stop supporing these exploiting industries, stop buying the woman hating rap stars, stop falling for the vulgar! STOP!

ac said...

Wow - I missed this controversy first time around. I saw Keke's album hinted at on the Akeelah and the Bee DVD but then never heard anymore. That's a new kind of disgusting that a record company would attempt to - eewwww I even hate the phrase - "urbanify" a young lady as young as Keke. I'm glad said young lady has some esteem, values and guidance to stand up to such nonsense.
I'll look for her album tomorrow, I might even purchase more than one copy just for good measure.

Somebodies Friend said...

Good article.

it is twisted how the "industry" sets these girls up to fall. But just as sad is the fact that the "stars" are taking Americas young female population down with them. A lot of the time the girls themselves are too young to even relize what they are doing.

A lot of the time it is the parents fault, they are hoping to strike it rich and taking their children down in the process.

What a shame!

NOLA radfem said...

So true. I find that the media and the public does this with political figures too - build people up so we can then beginning destroying them. It's like sport.

I have a link to another young artist who refused the path offered by Disney. She is a young woman - just turned 18 - from Cajun country in Louisiana. She specializes in Cajun and Zydeco, but with some pop influence too. She did two Disney movies and found they were extremely difficult to work for. She was offered a contract with them, basically to be their next "big" teen star. Then, Rounder Records (who specializes in folk music), offered her a deal. "We can't compete with Disney," they said, "but we will give you full artistic freedom." And this teenager went with Rounder.


Her career is really taking off - at least down here!


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