RetroPop: Britney Spears and Virginia Woolf

Britney Spears and Virginia Woolf

Hey there, lovers of current pop music and amazing female writers from the past! Welcome to another edition of RetroPop. This is the space where I normally compare and contrast currently charting female-performed radio tunes with classic texts written by amazing women… but today I thought I’d do something a little bit different and scandalous. Because I’m simply spoiling for a scandale! Don’t worry, it’s a totally PG-rated scandale.

Last week I came across this list on Buzzfeed of several old “uncut” Britney Spears music videos. Some are full takes from which the editors drew snippets here or there, some are outtakes, some are just rough cuts, and all are mind-blowing, to me at least, as with them Britney’s veil of precision and perfection (in her professional life…) has been lifted.

Peeks behind the scenes don’t usually make me feel anxious. I mean, I’ve watched the special features on Human Planet! But in this case the real-ness revealed in the uncut videos definitely evokes some heebie jeebies of discomfort. I suppose it’s because my memory of them is that they’re flawless, and thus they exist in this nostalgic place in my mind, like Platonic forms of Britney videos or something. It was jarring to me to see these uncut versions and know that the little music videos of sleekness and confidence burned into my memory have “behind the scenes” to them.

It’s like that time one of my supply teachers in grade school had a few buttons missing on her blouse and everyone could see her bra but was too afraid to say anything about it. It wasn’t a horrible thing, it was just bizarre to see an authority figure in a vulnerable circumstance, betraying that she had flaws. (Incidentally, once someone finally worked up the confidence to tell her, she handled it very well and laughed about it. Way to go, supply teacher whose name I don’t remember!)

But once the flaws have been revealed, both with the supply teacher and with Britney as depicted in video form, things are never quite the same again. So just be aware of that before you click these. You can never go back!

The sense of weirdsies I felt reminded me of the first time I heard the voice of my most favourite author, Virginia Woolf, in a  recording she did for the BBC narrating one of her essays.

I recently went to a Virginia Woolf book talk/lecture kinda thing at the Brooklyn Library, led by Woolf scholar Anne Fernald. She mentioned this recording of Woolf and noted that when it came to nearly unbelievable voices, Julia Child had nothing on Woolf. Goodness gracious, was she correct!

It was such a completely off-putting experience to hear the real Woolf after having read so, so many of her books and essays and letters imagining a very different voice in my mind. And then it was even MORE off-putting because I felt guilty for having a negative reaction to the voice of this writer who’s been so important to my personal and creative development. Was it the idea of her I loved, and when I was confronted with the real thing, I just didn’t know what to do? And should I be ashamed of that?

But, then again, isn’t that spectator letdown inevitable when our favorite artists and celebrities get caught on tape? What say you?

Previously: Criminal Intent with Sia and David Guetta’s “Titanium” and Anne Sexton’s Romantic Murder, (Completely Non-Violent, Totally Symbolic) Mariah Carey Cage Match

by Brianna Goldberg
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6 Comments Have Been Posted

Are you kidding me? How can

Are you kidding me? How can it make Britney seem less perfect to you to watch her flawlessly execute the routines, never missing a beat? I'm not a big fan of her but I've followed her career from the start in a passing sort of way and always thought she was a good entertainer but not much of a singer. Now, I still think that, but I'd have to revise it and say she's a pretty bloody impressive entertainer! I thought seeing this made her seem MORE flawless and perfect, seeing her in real time doing the entire video, because I always assumed they would stop and start etc, and that most of the finished product's glitter was from editing, all smoke and mirrors. I think these videos reveal just how professional she is. As for Virginia, I know exactly how you feel! I guess it was another time though...

love the voice

How can you not love that voice? The cadence, the pronunciation!
I wish there were whole audiobooks of Virginia reading her work.

Agreed! Her diction is

Agreed! Her diction is fantastic, I think my love for her has increased after hearing that recording. I might have actually gotten through 'The Waves' if there was an audiobook recording of her reading it.

Ha! Awesome. Glad you liked

Ha! Awesome. Glad you liked this recording. And I freely admit my freak-out-ed-ness at VW's voice might have more to do with my own needs relating to the idea of VW than the objectively melodic qualities of her voice in that recording. Ah, the emotional investments we put in our favorite authors!

Virginia Woolf's voices

Though I, too, started reading Woolf [I think it was The Common Reader] long before I heard her voice, it did not bother me as it did you, because I think writers have many voices in their works, as well as their actual throats. I was familiar with British voices from movies and Masterpiece Theatre, and, to me, hers fits in. I have, however, often been shocked when hearing poets read, because the reading or speaking voice may be nothing like, even opposed to, the signature voice I hear in their text when I read it at home. As a poet myself I read my works over and over while composing, revising, yet they still surprise me when I read them aloud to others. A different reader, not the author, can also read a poem out loud and bring out different tonalities. It's a bit like different musicians playing the same piece -- they may find elements in it that are not emphasized by the original composer.


I don't get what it is about the uncut Britney videos that freak you out... Is it the lack of cutting back and forth between different types of outfits and backgrounds? Or the few seconds Britney doesn't dance or lip sync in the end of the first video? Or what, exactly?

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