- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2007

LOS ANGELES (AP) - On her new CD, “Blackout,” Britney Spears acknowledges that 2007 hasn’t been a charmed year.

“I’m Mrs. Bad Media Karma, another day another drama,” the 25-year-old pop princess croons to a thumping dance groove on the song “Piece of Me.”

“Another day, another debacle” might have been a more apropos lyric. In just a year’s time, Miss Spears has become the ultimate case study for the “When Celebs Go Bad” file.

She’s been an out-of-control party girl, landed in rehab, lost temporary custody of her two young sons, given a horrendous live performance on the MTV Video Music Awards, and gotten herself arrested.

But despite her litany of woes, “Blackout,” released yesterday, may be the one positive note in an otherwise dreadful year. So far, it’s earned her a Top 10 single (with “Gimme More”) and some of the best reviews she’s had in ages.

Could “Blackout” be the break Britney needs? Industry insiders, fans and some critics are saying “yes.”

“One of the problems for Britney right now is the public is more focused on her personal life than her music. This record is an opportunity to change that,” says Rolling Stone Executive Editor Joe Levy, who called the album “state of the art.”

“A lot of people are tired of hearing about the negative stuff going on in her personal life and they’ll gravitate to the new sound she’s putting out,” says Nate “Danja” Hills, who produced five songs on dance-focused “Blackout.”

“This is a rebirth. It’s a new musical chapter for her,” he says.

Miss Spears’ musical past is already the stuff of legend. She was 16 when she put out her first album, “. . . Baby One More Time,” in 1999. Fueled by the title track, which had the teen crooning the refrain “hit me baby one more time,” the album sold more than 14 million copies in the United States and made her an international superstar.

She’s released three multiplatinum studio albums since then, had best-selling tours, several hit singles and starred in a movie (the less-than-successful 2002 flick “Crossroads”).

But Miss Spears, who turns 26 in December, hasn’t released an album of original material since 2003’s “In the Zone.” Since then, she’s been relegated to the tabloid realm of celebrity, in danger of rivaling Michael Jackson in freak-show status.

“Gimme” was the top-selling digital song on the week of its release, and Miss Spears losing custody of her two toddlers a week later didn’t slow sales.

Fans remain loyal despite the drama, says Jerry Del Colliano, a music industry professor at the University of Southern California.

“Look at her single sales,” he says. “She couldn’t have been through a darker time. She embarrassed herself on television, she was ridiculed by bloggers and still she was No. 1.”

However, “Gimme” topped out at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart and, after seven weeks, has dropped to No. 13.

Still, marketing consultant Ryan Schinman, president of Platinum Rye Entertainment, said: “I’d be shocked if this didn’t go platinum.”

“It certainly doesn’t help that she can’t promote this properly, but she doesn’t need that much promotion,” he adds. “People are curious because they know what a train wreck she’s been.”

It may help Miss Spears that her club-friendly sound appeals to an older audience rather than the teens and tweens she originally courted, says Geoff Mayfield, Billboard’s senior analyst and director of charts: “If kids were still a huge part of her album base, the nefarious publicity would be more troublesome.”

“Blackout” features 12 thumping dance tracks crafted by top pop and hip-hop producers including Bloodshy & Avant (who produced Miss Spears’ 2004 Grammy-winning hit, “Toxic”) and Danja, the beatmaster behind Miss Spears’ single “Gimme More.”

Jive Records, Miss Spears’ label since her debut, has remained mostly mum about the pop star. Jive officials declined to discuss why the album’s release date was changed (it was originally set for Nov. 13), how many more albums are in Miss Spears’ contract, or the marketing challenges involved with promoting the troubled singer.

“As Britney’s label, it’s not our place to comment on her personal issues, but we do care about her and support her,” label spokesman Allan Mayer said in a recent statement. “Britney’s a grown woman who makes her own choices, and we respect that. But she faces challenges that most of us can’t really imagine.”

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