You see the problem with all us bitches is that we expect to get Maseratis and look hot in bikinis without having to work. Oh baby baby, the video for Britney’s new single “Work B**ch” she reminds us that she earned her stripes at the height of raunch culture, to be sexy without being sexual is her forte. At first look the video is your typical shock value, hypersexual pop music video- what’s worth talking about? A lot.
BDSM has become the pop princess go-to for instant shock value in the 2010′s. From Gaga’s Alejandro to Rihanna’s S&M, and now Britney wants in on the action. BDSM is a legitimate sexual preference and practice for those who desire it- and I’ll leave it to the BDSM community to address if they love the nod or the possible misrepresentation and appropriation that’s happening here. For me, Britney’s performance took on a different twist the moment that she distanced herself from the practices in the video and implied that she was pressured to do it, and pushed too far.
After releasing the video Britney called in to a Boston radio station saying,”Like, I cut out half the video because I am a mother and because, you know, I have children, and it’s just hard to play sexy mom while you’re being a pop star as well. I just have to be true to myself and feel it out when I do stuff….sometimes I would like to bring it back to the old days when there was, like, one outfit through the whole video, and you’re dancing the whole video, and there’s like not that much sex stuff going on.” So what’s going on here? Is this morning after regret or a ploy for more publicity? Worse yet, did she truly lack agency on the set and end up a non-consenting victim of the pop business patriarchy?
The video’s director, Ben Mor, responded to the buzz,” I promise you 100 percent: All of these artists are in charge of their content. No one is forcing anyone to do anything that they don’t want to do, and they’re very well aware of that. They might change their mind after the fact, but Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, and Britney Spears are all very much in control of their image. Things don’t just happen. Everything is scrutinized.” Only Mor and Spears will ever know what was really happening with creative control, but I must note that the phrase,”they might change their mind after the fact,” sets off all my rape culture alarm bells.
You can see Britney’s discomfort in the video. In the scenes with her dancing with a group of women she seems confident. Dancing with herself against a mirror she seems turned on, enjoying herself. But Britney’s reluctance is visible in her body language as she cracks the whip, while she holds eight women writhing on leashes in the desert, and as she toys with a woman in chains in a club. Where is the controlled confidence of the Dom? This video is like watching straight girls dispassionately kiss at a bar to turn the guys on. Spears is going through the motions and the in-authenticity is cringe-worthy.
Given Spears’ standing and power as a major international brand and an elite pop princess, it seems quite possible that she was the one pushing herself past her comfort zone. Is Britney following her own advice from “Work Bitch” by putting on a sexual performance that she is clearly uncomfortable with (in hindsight or otherwise), to take her career to the next level? She had to work bitch! Unlike Gaga who appears very engaged, and Rihanna who is effusively exclaiming, “I like it, like it, Come ON!”, Britney cracks the whip while her body recoils, ready to run away, much the way I would smash a spider with my shoe just before running out of the room shrieking.
If Spears isn’t whipping women and putting them on leashes and in chains for sexual gratification or kink-empowerment, why is she doing it? Brit looks uncomfortable as a Dom, and never takes on the role of a sub. The lyrics of the song could have a somewhat empowering, albeit very materialistic message when viewed in a vacuum. However when we combine the reluctant dominatrix performance with the footage of women’s bodies suddenly exploding (turning out to be hollow and brittle), it adds an element of antagonism and superiority to the lyrics:
You wanna hot body
You wanna Bugatti
You wanna Maserati
You better work bitch
You wanna Lamborghini
Look hot in a bikini
You better work bitch
You wanna live fancy
Live in a big mansion
Party in France
You better work bitch [4x]
Now get to work bitch
Looking at the work in whole, we end up with a Female Chauvinist Pig moment. FCP’s are women who absorb and reflect society’s disdain for women and see themselves as separate and superior from womanhood at large. Before I saw this video I thought “work” meant economically productive, self-actualizing activity, you know like ‘jobs’. Under the light of the video, the “work” shown is the work of being sexually submissive, subverting any empowerment message to those of us who don’t find that an appealing proposition.