Tags

, , , , , ,

Title: ‘Lucky’
Where to find it: ‘Oops!…I Did It Again’ (2000, Jive)
Performed by: Britney Spears
Words by: Max Martin, Remi Yacoub, and Alexander Kronlund

Since I last wrote here on Music in Notes, my 2016 didn’t exactly go to plan. Neither did America’s, but you already know that story. For a multitude of reasons, I’m not the on-the-ground, loud protest marching type, so the way I’m going to approach the next 3 and three-quarter years is to spread as much love and understanding as possible. I felt I was already doing that through TGTF, though using music as a tool to spread feelings and emotions to help others during these trying times is now more important than ever.

Last year, one great thing that happened to me (or rather I made happen, I suppose), I finally got a car that had SiriusXM. I had thought I’d use it primarily to tap into the ‘underground’ world of music not being played on mainstream radio. However, because I’ve been scanning various channels of music past, I’ve been revisiting the songs of my schooldays and realising that they now mean something entirely different to me than they once did when I discovered and fell in love with them. One of these is Jason Mraz’s ‘The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)’, a song that I’ve always enjoyed for the happy way it sounds, but had no idea until recently that it could have come from a much darker place. But that analysis, and others, are for another time.

Back to this one. Britney Spears has been much maligned in the media because of her various shenanigans, including shaving her hair off in a temporary bout of insanity and marrying and then divorcing one of her backup dancers, Kevin Federline. Given the bad publicity she’s gotten and her less savoury musical entries such as ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’ and ‘Toxic’, it’s easy to forget she was once a squeaky clean Mouseketeer and once had Justin Timberlake on her arm. There’s a part of me that blames society for him somehow coming out on top and smelling like roses, and every time… Britney Spears might have been an easy target, and the song that Max Martin, Remi Yacoub, and Alexander Kronlund wrote for her is remarkably prescient for what would come to be in the pop princess’ future. It’s impossible to know whether Britney herself wanted this life for herself she had been pushed in a certain direction by her record label. I did wonder how much of her music actually reflected Britney herself. Of all her songs, ‘Lucky’ has struck me as the most honest, whether it was done on purpose and with this intention with her songwriters or not.

It may seem strange that I’ve picked a really old song of hers right before SXSW. But I’ve looked at it with fresh eyes recently, and it seems to be a good cautionary tale ahead for some artists I will see in Austin before they go stratospheric. I find, too, that it’s a reasonably good reflection of how things don’t always appear what they seem. I am often approached here in DC by music fans who think running a music Web site like TGTF, being able to cover music festivals around the world, interviewing bands, etc. is a fun job that they’d like to have. And I’m not saying it isn’t. I wouldn’t trade the experiences offered to me for anything in the world. But what most people don’t see or know is how much I am doing behind the scenes, how much of my own free time and social life I choose to sacrifice for what I believe is an important enterprise in keeping music alive and well. They also don’t see the other parts of my life I’ve struggled with that I’ve chosen to keep private, some of which has loomed larger in recent weeks thanks to a commander-in-chief who has purposely stoked the fires of racial injustice. Anyway, enough about me, and on to the analysis!

First, the words:

Spoken intro by Spears
This is a story about a girl named Lucky…

Verse 1
Early morning, she wakes up
Knock, knock, knock on the door
It’s time for makeup, perfect smile
It’s you they’re all waiting for
They go…
“Isn’t she lovely, this Hollywood girl?”
And they say…

Chorus
“She’s so lucky, she’s a star”
But she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart, thinking,
“If there’s nothing missing in my life,
Then why do these tears come at night?”

Verse 2
Lost in an image, in a dream
But there’s no one there to wake her up
And the world is spinning, and she keeps on winning
But tell me what happens when it stops?
They go…
“Isn’t she lovely, this Hollywood girl?”
And they say…

Chorus
“She’s so lucky, she’s a star”
But she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart, thinking,
“If there’s nothing missing in my life,
Then why do these tears come at night?”

Spoken bridge
“Best actress, and the winner is…Lucky!”
“I’m Roger Johnson for Pop News standing outside the arena waiting for Lucky”
“Oh my god…here she comes!”

Bridge
Isn’t she lucky, this Hollywood girl?
She is so lucky, but why does she cry?
If there’s nothing missing in her life
Why do tears come at night?

Chorus 2x
“She’s so lucky, she’s a star”
But she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart, thinking,
“If there’s nothing missing in my life,
Then why do these tears come at night?”

“She’s so lucky, she’s a star”
But she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart, thinking,
“If there’s nothing missing in my life,
Then why do these tears come at night?”

Now, the analysis:

This song is the epitome of the phrase, “it’s lonely at the top.” And it is. Something else I’ve become all too accustomed to as a music editor is watching the trajectory of a pop band go up…and then come crashing down. You can’t stay on top forever, and that was true in Britney’s case. When this song came out in 2000, I was in school and did wonder what it must have been like living in her ivory tower, waving down at her adoring fans. I think it’s only natural for the rest of us to envy such power, fame, and fortune. It seems like you would have the world in the palm of your hand and have everything you want.

But what I have also seen from the side of an artist’s success is the dark side of fame. The inability to connect with the fans like they used to because there are just too many fans and the possibility of someone getting injured is too great. I miss being able to talk to some of my megastar friends in this business because they don’t come out of their tour bus after shows for that very reason. Coming home to a life that feels alien and a partner who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be out on the road for weeks at a time, in a situation that isn’t ‘normal life’ at all. Depression, alcoholism, and escapism aren’t uncommon for these people we put on a pedestal who are, of course, really as normal as you and me. It has been repeated to me many times that being a touring musician messes with your head and your relationships. And nearly 99% of the time, you can’t assure you’ll always be on top and the checks will keep coming in. Doesn’t sound so great, anymore, does it?

Verse 1 of ‘Lucky’ is a veiled crack in the façade. In order for our pop princess Lucky to be presentable to her fans, she’s being woken up to get hair and makeup done. I must have been a little girl when my mother pointed out that tv presenters spend hours in a chair doing hair and makeup, and she warned me just how bad makeup was for your skin. Yet we live in a society where if you’re a woman, you have to wear it. Where I’m going with this: Lucky is being made up to be a consumable product. The celebrity you see there on the red carpet or out on stage probably looks entirely different and practically unrecognisable without all that makeup. Katy Perry proved this in her documentary Part of Me, where she actually looks like the rest of us without all that junk on her face.

Verse 2 does a good job putting into words the crazy a beloved entertainer feels in her ivory tower. Nothing seems real and “the world is spinning.” “She keeps on winning / But tell me what happens when it stops?” Indeed, what is she going to do when the fans stop showing up outside her hotel and she can’t sell records? Britney was lucky, as she began her pop career when record labels still believed in artists and doled out reasonable record deals. These days, if your debut *single* flops, you’re cut from the label. For any musical artist, you put your all your eggs in one basket that you and your talent(s) will lead to success and keep you up in rock royalty in the heavens, looking down on all the other acts that didn’t make it that far or high. It can be and is often a sobering reality check when you don’t make it or if even you do, you get knocked off your throne and fall from grace.

The most heartbreaking part of ‘Lucky’ has been engineered in the bridge. While the lyrics are taken from the repeated chorus to emphasise the point of the whole song, the note progression in Britney’s vocals is raised. Notice how the words “Isn’t she lucky?” are sung, as if we’re being mocked for questioning – or indeed, if Lucky is – on what a great life she must have. By changing the key slightly, an unexpected anthemic moment is achieved, set apart from the melody and chorus. It’s a warning klaxon. This is now a big deal. This isn’t just Grammy parties and music videos on tv. This is someone’s life. Britney was singing about her life that had become her prison, that her reality was far from what all of us ever saw. And people listening to this song completely missed it. Britney Spears will always be an American pop music icon. That will never change. But I sincerely hope she’s happy. Because we all deserve that.

Lastly, the song, in its official music video. Notice how another version of Britney is high above the red carpet Britney, sweeping her arms around and throwing glitter. Hmm…

Advertisements