Most observers regard the onslaught of teenage pop sensations like Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, 'N SYNC and Christina Aguilera as proof positive of the cyclical nature of rock music. And like the big teen idol boom of the early '60s, all this smiling and dancing must mean that a renaissance of new artists like the Beatles, Stones and Dylan is just around the corner. Right?
Given the current climate -- one where normally sane pundits hail the talents of these prepubescent Gorgons -- it seems doubtful that a new generation of rock avatars will ever crop up again. It even leaves us wondering whether artists like the Kinks, the Who or Hendrix would have had a chance of making it if this current batch of teen idols had been generating elephant dollars during the Kennedy administration.
That started us thinking: What would've happened if Britney Spears had been born some 35 years earlier, found herself as a member of the original Mickey Mouse Club and an up-and-coming pop star in the London of the early '60s?
After the Beatles lose their gig with singer Tony Sheridan, Britney's people (okay, her mom) contact them about backing her at a few supermarket openings. It takes two belly-button piercings and a rumored boob job before the band is noticed and signed to EMI. During the difficult 12-hour session that results in . . . Britney . . . With the Beatles, Spears accidentally spills hot tea on her lap. Her squeals of "Oops!" delight the boys so much that they continue spilling hot tea on her until they get a satisfactory take of "Twist and Shout."
While a desire to feature her trademark "Oops!" in every song is credited with jump-starting Britneymania, some find follow-ups like "Love Me Oops!" and "She Loves You, Oops! Oops! Oops!" completely irritating. London Times music critics blast the band for being as "annoying as Schubert."
The group's first television special gives Britney an excuse to return to her first love -- dancing! The Britney Stomp becomes a national craze, which leads to other British bands frantically playing catch-up. The Jagger Jerk, the Kinda Kink Twist, the Freddie, and the Herman Hitch Hike are all resounding flops. Despite their massive success, Britney and the Beatles part ways on the set of their first motion picture, A Hard Dance Step, when Britney's grueling pace causes Paul's grandfather to keel over and die during one of the elaborately choreographed dance sequences.
A friend of the folk singer since posing with him on the cover of his second album, The Cradlerobbin' Bob Dylan, Britney joins her friend Bob onstage for a controversial appearance at the Newport Folk Festival. Most historians will eventually claim that Dylan was booed for going electric, but the furor actually came with the band's renditions of "Like, I Look So Hot on the Cover of Rolling Stone" and "Britney Spears' 115th Dream" -- which, like the 114 preceding it, involves doing something icky with Justin Timberlake.
Radio stations organize Britney bonfires when the young singer is quoted out of context in a teen magazine. Apparently her comment that "I owe all my wonderful success to my faith in God" angers fundamentalist Christian groups who believe it's blasphemous to blame the Lord for such hits as "Soda Pop" and "Paperback Reader."
Britney's big mouth also causes Brian Wilson to go into seclusion and scrap the Beach Boys' forthcoming Pet Sounds album when she hears an early acetate and declares, "How do you expect anyone to dance to this slop?"
Britney replaces Signe Anderson in Jefferson Airplane and brings with her two songs from her latest project, Britney Grape. Unfortunately, numbers like "Dear Diary" and "Oops! I Dropped Acid Again" make the Airplane the laughingstock of Haight-Ashbury.
The Smothers Brothers are impressed enough with the group's Materialistic Pillow album to invite them on their controversial variety show. Seeking to win favor with the counterculture, Britney performs "When Your Eyes Say It" with a lump of coal in her navel and the words "Black Power" scrawled on top. It's an empty gesture, since she's filmed from the waist up. Jimi Hendrix appreciates the sentiment and writes "Belly Button Coal Shed" for her.1968:
The Airplane disapproves of Britney's very public relationship with Eric Clapton of Cream. Disraeli Spears is Cream's swan song, and Britney's dominating influence over Clapton is cited in the rock press as the reason for the power trio's breakup. It's hard to dispute since "Mother's Lament" is inexcusably stretched to 12 minutes just because Britney declares, "Oh! My! God! That's my mom's favorite song!"
Twelve people are killed at Altamont Speedway when the Airplane hosts a free concert and hires Nazi sympathizers as security guards. "They looked so clean-cut and blond," was all Spears could offer in her defense.
San Francisco law enforcement authorities blame Britney's questionable crowd control techniques for increasing the body count. When angry knife-wielding goons rush the stage, the last thing they want to hear is, "What do you guys do for fun? I like to shop, watch movies, and go out to eat."
Spears' credibility plummets after appearing in a series of B-movie musicals like The Trouble With Boys, Bikini Beach Bitch and How to Charge a Million.
Things get worse when, for the first time in seven years, Britney fails to win a Grammy for "Best White Performance by a Vocalist or Group." She is incensed when the honor goes to The Fifth Dimension.
Stung by her racially confusing Grammy loss, Spears realigns herself with the Black Power movement -- even composing the score for the blaxploitation classic Shaft. "Shaft is a bad mutha . . . ," she sings. "He even parks in handicapped spaces."
Spears pursues the direction further with a trilogy of seminal R&B albums that includes Hot Buttered Britney, Soul Sister #1, and Black Coffee, White Cream. Her cultural ruse is uncovered during the infamous Stax-Watt concert where a stadium full of African Americans nearly riots once they realize Britney is not black like them, but actually a little white girl from Kentucky. 1972:
Spears tries to reestablish herself by assembling rock's first supergroup, Blind Faith No More. The lineup includes Steve Winwood, Rik Grech and Ginger Baker. The band is later forced to include Italian crooner/Godfather star Al Martino after Britney awakens one morning to find the severed head of her dog, Cain, in her bed.
Controversy is sparked when Blind Faith No More's eponymous debut hits stores bearing a cover with a nude Britney holding a shiny penis-looking thing. There's a widespread outcry for its removal from store shelves by parents, retailers and the Phallic Object Defamation League.
Spears drops off the public radar after this debacle, going into an 18-month seclusion at her mansion in Twickenham. Her only public appearance during this time comes when she travels to the White House to meet with President Richard Nixon and accept an honorary badge as a government drug-buster. After meeting the president, Spears tells the Washington Post that she thinks Nixon is "such a hottie!"
David Bowie, fresh from resuscitating the careers of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Mott the Hoople and Lulu, offers to produce Britney's next album The Rise and Fall of Britney Spears and Those Melons of Hers, but she is put off by his orange hair and Zandra Rhodes leisure wear. She tells a confidante (okay, her mother), "Oh, mom, if I did that, it'd be so tacky."
With her career flagging, Britney takes her act to Las Vegas. Her glitzy renditions of "Satisfaction" and "The Beat Goes On" win favor with booze-guzzling gamblers like Fred Silverman, president of programming for NBC. Silverman believes all Spears needs is a splashy comeback special to remind the world how potent the Britney magic still is.
Unfortunately, Britney '74 is not the resounding success she needs. While Spears' fetching white karate outfit and no-apologies opening number "What U See (Is What U Get)" make her case quite eloquently, most critics complain they could've done without the shameless plugs for Peacock network series Manimal and Supertrain.
Infatuated with the burgeoning punk rock movement in New York ("Well, like, the leather and everything, ohmigod!"), Britney combs her hair into severe bangs and joins a group playing every Sunday night at CBGB, the Ramones. Britney quits in a huff a year later when she realizes their song "Chinese Rock" is not about costume jewelry.
Richard Hell later claims he got the inspiration for "Blank Generation" after being forced to talk to Spears for an hour when she corners him at Max's Kansas City.
Britney hits her low point with the release Drum Machine Music -- an eight-sided LP of nothing but cheesy backing beats. Even a laudatory 79,000-word essay by Lester Bangs on the pages of Creem magazine can't save the avant-garde project from commercial doom.
When the Sex Pistols' American visa is denied, Spears and her new backing combo, the I'm So Attractives, take their place performing on Saturday Night Live. Although record executives tell Spears to perform her single "Radio Sweathog," she brings the song to a dead halt after a few bars, saying, "I'm sorry, there's no reason for me to do this here," then counts off a fiery rendition of "E-Mail My Heart." This completely baffles show producers and the audience, as e-mail will not be invented for another 13 years.
Later that year, things turn ugly on the road when Britney gets into a bar fight with members of Stephen Stills' road crew. A drunk Spears goes on to call Christina Aguilera "a blind, ignorant little bitch" -- which further baffles the public, as it will be another three years before Aguilera is even born.
Jumping on the popular reggae bandwagon, Britney forms Burning Spears and records the album . . . Baby, One More Spliff, Mon. Most observers condemn the move as a blatant and offensive rip-off of Jamaican culture -- and that she looks thoroughly ridiculous in dreadlocks.
Though her flirtation with the genre is short, she manages to reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts with the hit "Oops! I Shot the Sheriff."
Britney joins New Wave phenoms the Knack for a duet of "Good Girls Don't." When her management team (okay, her mother) objects to the line about Britney sitting on Doug Fieger's face, she's forever banned from dueting with any male singers -- except for the out-of-the-closet Elton John.
A session with Neil Diamond to record "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" is canceled when he refuses to omit an offending verse about Britney sitting on his face. Understandably, the line is cut when Diamond records the song with his second choice, Barbra Streisand.
Still sensitive to criticism that they do everything two months after the Beatles, the Rolling Stones wait a full 17 years before tossing Mick Jagger and hiring Britney to front the band.
Though things start out promisingly enough with the recording of Britney's Newest Hitmakers, Spears quickly runs afoul of the rest of the Stones with her increasingly difficult behavior.
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She pisses off Keith Richards by insisting the band play a detuned, butchered version of "Satisfaction" -- making the song sound even worse than Devo's cover. Perhaps more damning, Ronnie Wood complains that her stupid grin is clashing with his!
Britney later enrages Bill "I Always Pulled the Most Birds" Wyman by refusing to sleep with him. Spears even manages to anger the normally unflappable Charlie Watts, who speaks for the first time in 11 years, urging his fellow bandmates to "get rid of that stupid git."
But before they can fire her, tragedy strikes when Spears is killed onstage during a Stones concert at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. Her death comes after a 70-foot inflatable penis collapses on her prematurely, causing her to suffocate. A coroner's report rules the official cause of death as "Penile Asphyxiation." Spears is 35 years old.