This time last year, the most contagious pop trend was working with Pitbull, and what a bandwagon trend that was. As much as we're glad the Pitbull days are over, we're not too hot for this new thing, either. And this new thing, somewhat strangely, is serving as a judge for a televised singing competition. Thanks, Paula Abdul. But Abdul's work on American Idol, then The X Factor, wasn't necessarily a bad thing. If it weren't for Abdul, Christina Aguilera may not have had the opportunity to reboot her career as a judge on The Voice.
We also wouldn't have "Moves Like Jagger" playing on the radio all the time, nor being treated to Cee Lo Green acting all creepy and petting his cat as if he were Dr. Evil. Adam Levine would still be the frontman for Maroon 5, not the entertainment personality he's become. And Blake Shelton would still be, well, Blake Shelton.
Abdul, and subsequently Aguilera, have also inspired Kelly Clarkson, Lionel Richie, Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland and Robin Thicke to serve as mentors, not judges, in a new ABC singing show, called Duets, premiering this summer.
Believe it or not, Abdul, America's first pop-star-turned-judge, opened the doors for Aguilera and all of the others -- whether Abdul or Simon Cowell are willing to admit it or not. Without Abdul's tenure on American Idol and her subsequent departure from the show to move to The X Factor -- only to stop working as a judge after a single season -- we also wouldn't have as much respect as we do now for Britney Spears. Let us explain:
We never thought we'd say this about post-"Toxic" Britney, but we're actually genuinely proud of her for demanding $5 million more than Simon Cowell and company initially offered her to work as a judge for The X Factor's upcoming season -- serving as Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger's fill-in -- bringing her sum for the show to $15 million.
In addition to the money, for which she will sign a contract sometime this week, according to reports, she's also said to be asking for a one-year exit clause -- a nail in the coffin for the already-dying X Factor. If Spears doesn't like the gig after one season -- or, more likely, The X Factor doesn't end up competing with Idol or The Voice's ratings -- she's out. A job well done for Brit, who finally made a smart business decision to not go down with an already sinking ship without first getting her money's worth.
Business risk: Once Spears takes the job, exit clause or not, she could risk going from credible pop star to a judge trapped reliving -- and retelling contestants about -- her early "...Baby One More Time" glory days. The questions of retirement dates could begin rolling in, as would doubts of her right to the inheritance of the Queen of Pop throne -- soon to be vacated by Madonna, whose retirement is looking more imminent.
Rather than roll over for a steady paycheck by a two-, three- or five-year contract, Spears proved she's not yet ready to give up on her craft, and that she's ready to learn a thing or two from her biggest and longest rival, Christina Aguilera. But Spears' cunning decisions should not end at The X Factor. The star, who has largely been absent from the charts since she released her most undersexualized single yet, "Criminal," last September, should use this as an opportunity to change the public's perception of her.
A smart woman who has made some not-so-smart career choices, Spears is not the girl dancing along the lockers anymore. If she wants to transition from aging pop star to a pop tour-de-force once again, Spears needs to drop the safe, wholesome image she used for the Femme Fatale album campaign and adopt a style that's more Madonna'd: highly sexualized but age-aware. We encourage her to steal a few plays from Aguilera's book (just don't steal all of Xtina's offensive strategy, okay?).
Britney Spears during her sexier days, performing "I'm A Slave 4 U" at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards.
Spears needs to be sexy again -- like white-python-sexy again -- because, although her primary audience, the teenagers who bought her records in the late '90s, is growing up, her fans still expect her to meet a certain sexy quota per album. For Femme Fatale, Spears missed it. She didn't sell them sex; she sold them dub pop, a subpar knockoff of dubstep but for pop music, mixed with an asexual, Stepford Wives image that lacked provocation. Instead of the schoolgirl uniform, she should try for a pantsuit and a new "It's Britney, bitch"-style tagline.
Britney Spears should aim below the belt again.
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