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EDITORIAL The Mixer Timeline

Movies With Matvey Cherry: Bullet Train

THE MIXER | EDITORIAL

Movies With Matvey Cherry

Bullet Train

Illustration by Paco May

In a recent interview for GQ, Brad Pitt, melancholically contemplating the summer of our anxiety and the autumn of his life, told a journalist that Bullet Train, which broke into the world as a rental at full steam, was developed during the pandemic. When there was absolutely nothing to do. Sadness and longing gripped even Los Angeles. From Pitt’s revelations, we learn that tricks and jokes were written in between art modeling sessions and cooking classes through which the actor tried in vain to distract himself from thoughts of suicide. Perhaps this explains, frankly, the grassroots level of cinematic culture and humor which put the most unpretentious viewer at a dead end. It is awkward to follow what is happening on the screen because of the collective attempts to entertain the viewer. I remember, at the height of covid, everyone was talking about how this new life would not leave a stone unturned from the old. Now it is clear that nothing new has happened on the planet, it’s just that everything bad has become even worse.

Of course, director David Leitch, who served a significant part of his career as an understudy for Brad Pitt, hardly inspired anyone with high hopes, but with the beginning of Bullet Train, Leitch made the audience lose their last illusion–there were no such bad pictures in the filmography of the most intelligent Hollywood star yet. Even out of friendship, Pitt shouldn’t have taken part in this medley of old songs.

At first, Antoine Fuqua worked on the film adaptation of Kotaro Isaki’s novel of the same name. He planned to shoot the darkest B movie with a lot of violence and rare inclusions of black humor. However, Leitch, also the writer behind John Wick, resolutely moved in the opposite direction. Therefore, his version looks like a remake of any Guy Ritchie film, but terrible.

The plot of Bullet Train is blatantly primitive. On the Tokyo-Kyoto high-speed train, by coincidence and through the stupidity of the screenwriters, several hired assassins are simultaneously competing with each other for a case with cash. All flags are represented on a visit to the Japanese railways. Here is a desperado from Mexico City who wants to avenge the death of his bride, poisoned right at the wedding. And two British gentlemen, naturally dressed in tweed three-piece suits, incompetently cosplay as Jules and Vincent, but instead of quotes from the Bible, before every bloodshed their discourse is full of references from anime for first graders. As part of the naive advertising of feminism, there are as many as three female characters armed with a cobra, TNT, and walkie-talkies. And, of course, pretending to be a kind old man who has read esoteric literature: Brad Pitt. In the end good triumphs over evil, but not over bad taste.

Honestly, we are ready to look at Brad Pitt under any circumstances, except for the above. A man who once bore the proud name of Tyler Durden, and yesterday responded to Cliff Booth, now agrees to the cartoon nickname Ladybug? Brad, take your smoothie, let’s go home, ’cause you’re smarter than a bullet.

Matvey Cherry

Artist

Paco May

Illustrator


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EDITORIAL The Mixer Timeline

Portrait of Unstoppable Jack Powers

THE MIXER | EDITORIAL

Portrait of Unstoppable

Jack Powers

by Matvey Cherry

Illustration by Paco May

Like a bolt from the blue, Jack Powers has once again burst into the vastness of the Internet with the “Cupid Landing” music video release. 

In May, Jack impressed the New York underground scene with the incredibly catchy song “Finally Perfect.

“I wanted to create something that would be special to my friends and New York downtown. Something that honors who came before us but is also important for the future.”

The actors in the first music video of his 2022 era – the heroes of the gossip columns and friends of Powers: Sophia Lamar, Sean Ford

“I’ve been just so lucky to meet different kinds of people through different types of connections, sometimes just going to a nightclub and meeting someone on a dance floor or being in a creative environment. I like to go out and explore.”

Continuing to talk about important people in his life, Jack switches to modern culture and mentions Lady Gaga.

“I connect to her as a New Yorker. We’re both native New Yorkers and I can hear the vibe of this city in her music.”

Unable to control my emotions, I tell my interlocutor that I hate Gaga. Jack smiles sweetly and says,

“that’s ok.”

“I love Peter Berlin’s self-portraits. I think he was great. And I used to perform at a cabaret in Paris using Queen songs,”

he answers my question about comments on social media that make comparisons with the legends of queer culture. After all, who wasn’t inspired by others at the beginning of their path?

Matvey: You started your career in Paris.

Jack: I actually started my career in London.

Matvey: Hmmm…

Jack: Yea, I grew up in New York City and when everybody ran up to college I just decided to go to London. I definitely went through a very interesting and transformative period there. I met a lot of amazing underground artists there and they inspired me to dress and find a completely new way of expression.

Do you understand? He’s a Londoner-dandy, he’s a Parisian-libertine, he’s a New Yorker-glam rocker.

“I traveled to Paris for a fashion week, in London a lot of fashion enthusiasts do it. Then a friend told me that I could get a promo show there. It was a spontaneous decision, I remember I did my makeup on the Eurostar, then was sneaking in at the parties, lived in a hostel, and after a lot of auditions, I sort of convinced a manager at the cabaret to hire me.”

Matvey: How did you start to write your own songs? 

Jack: I felt that I have a lot to say, I wanted to tell stories and express myself.

Matvey: Don’t you feel that it is harder to perform and promote your own songs when there are a lot of people doing covers and lip-sync numbers at every club? The audience already knows these songs and can support them but you have to make them get into your art and make them interested in it.

Jack: Perhaps. The audience can be confused when they hear something new, but is it bad? I kinda like it. I would like to do covers though, I have a few ideas.

Matvey: Lady Gaga?

Jack: Maybe

Matvey: Queen?

Jack: Maybe.

Matvey: Tell us!

Jack: Oh well, just stay tuned!

Jack says he doesn’t plan anything, never dreams, and lives one day at a time. I don’t believe him.

Matvey: I thought that because you spoke about Lady Gaga and Freddie Mercury, extremely ambitious people, you have a certain plan… 

Jack: Well, no. I live in the moment. It’s not about me trying to get something, it’s about me trying to give something. Love… But what is love?

Matvey: What’s your version? In my version, it’s not about happiness, something bloody and what leaves huge wounds on you.

Jack: I think love is something that holds stars in the sky. But I don’t know.

We ended our conversation with small impromptu rapid fire questions:

Matvey: What’s the happiest song?

Jack: Madonna – Holiday.

Matvey: What’s the saddest song?

Jack: Some piano music, classical music, not necessarily because they’re sad but because of the emotion they hold.

Matvey Cherry

Artist

Paco May

Illustrator


If you enjoy Paco’s work, plese consider donating:

Matvey will accept tips through Sidewalkkilla (please mention “For Matvey” in notes):


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EDITORIAL The Mixer Timeline

Movies With Matvey Cherry: Elvis

THE MIXER | EDITORIAL

Movies With Matvey Cherry

Elvis

Illustration by Paco May

According to Baz Luhrmann, Elvis was killed not by pills, not by Colonel Parker (his fraudulent manager), not by time, but by his eternal antagonist – love. Love for all of us.

Therefore, the Elvis movie is unlike, for example, the biopic about Morrison by Stone. It is not about drugs, not about a painful relationship with a mother or the shadow of a twin brother who died at birth, not about the injuries inflicted by the entertainment industry, which sell so well. This film is only about music and an integral part of it – the show.

Austin Butler, who plays the king of rock ‘n’ roll, at first only poses with his mouth slightly open (and resembles Justin Bieber), symbolizing either confusion or lust. It seems that the actor does not know how to play at all, but this is only at first. When the director gives him a guitar, and B.B. King a couple of philosophical tips, then it becomes clear that he is the anointed of the Muses. Priscilla is also good, looking like a dead bird. Tom Hanks is grandiose, though unrecognizable in makeup.

Luhrmann is clearly at his best. The author’s courage is hardly restrained by the facts of Elvis’ biography. In the end, Baz, of course, puts documentary footage from Elvis’ final performance in Vegas. “Unchained Melody” plays, Presley’s face already resembles a mask, but not his voice, not the passion that thunders inside of him. The earthly captivity is over, the king is ready for the Lisa Marie jet to take off towards eternity, just like a superhero.

I don’t know if it’s possible to die of love, but if so, it reconciles us with the fact that time goes by so slowly. Time can do so much.

Matvey Cherry

Artist

Paco May

Illustrator


If you enjoy Paco’s work, plese consider donating:

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EDITORIAL The Mixer Timeline

Movies With Matvey Cherry: Fantastic Beasts 3

THE MIXER | EDITORIAL

Movies With Matvey Cherry

Fantastic Beasts:

The Secrets of Dumbledor

Illustration by Paco May


What I saw in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledor deeply offended my intellectual dignity. How can anyone older than ten like the ridiculous clowning of Mikkelsen and Law filmed with the chroma key? It is absolutely unclear to me. However, there was not a single child in the cinema!

Respected, serious actors talk about good and evil and the responsibility of the wizard to the universe while stroking some platypuses and grasshoppers. 

Mikkelsen plays Hitler of the magical world. He’s in Berlin, while around him is the appropriation of all cultures at once. Jude Law is a mix of Churchill and Miss Marple. Eddie Redmayne is again playing Oliver Twist but he’s over forty. A long time ago, let’s be honest, he got out of the age of The Danish Girl. The cozy British five o’clock is mercilessly exploited, all the good heroes are with freckles. All the bad ones come from The Night Porter, including Alexander Kuznetsov in the role of a stereotypical gauleiter with only a single line in this movie. 

In short, it’s time to let a lot of Hollywood screenwriters go. All this is unbearable. I think Johnny Depp should be glad that he has been canceled

In most films like Fantastic Beasts, the world is constantly being saved from villains, yet it should be from idiots. First of all, they bring the villains to power. Secondly, they provide an insatiable demand for shitty cinema.

Matvey Cherry

Artist

Paco May

Illustrator


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EDITORIAL The Mixer Timeline

Filmography Portrait of Keanu Reeves

THE MIXER | EDITORIAL

Filmography Portrait

of Keanu Reeves

by Matvey Cherry

Illustration by Paco May

— along with Pitt and Depp —

belongs to the last generation of real stars,

but seems more accessible,

closer to a coming-of-age story.


Pitt smiled too widely, Depp was unattainably cool. And Keanu, with the gait of a provincial bumpkin who had stumbled into the cinema from the Canadian frosts, from the hockey arena without taking off his skates, turned out to be very important as an alter ego and a secret best friend. Everything about him appealed to empathy: complex ethnic provenance, fatherlessness, and clubfoot. But the main thing that was felt instantly was his kindness, before the memes about him, before the photos from the subway or the city square; Keanu crushed by existence, but not dropping humanism from his hands. Katherine Bigelow was not mistaken in choosing Keanu. He looks more like a sea deity, though clean-shaven. He is the only one on earth who can wear a denim jacket with jeans. He has a very deep voice as if he has just woken up from the oblivion of Elysium and doesn’t choose words after the fall, as befits the first of people or, maybe, the last. No one knows for sure at all. Up on the crest of a wave, Keanu drifted with the flow. He hung out between roles – the son of my mother’s friend, a neighbor’s boy, one of your teenage friends, someone who reality bites from time to time.

In 1991, Keanu worked with Gus Van Sant, who had already become a singer of the youth, the main Peter Pan of independent cinematography. But My Own Private Idaho became mine much later, to be honest. Scott Favor is probably the best of people and therefore hesitantly wanders from words to deeds, trying to talk about the Quietest, but already felt. It’s good to be someone who can try. It’s bad to be Mike Waters, whose on-screen fate was almost repeated frame by frame by River Phoenix, who, contrary to his last name, never resurrected in the parking lot in front of a nightclub. The myth of the Phoenix is comparable to the legend of James Dean; he became immortal, leaving Keanu and Joaquin on the banks of the River Styx, crying out — let us also be swallowed up by these waters, we agree even to oblivion.

Life is about long send-offs and short meetings. On October 31, 1993, for the first time, Keanu was orphaned. Exactly then, on the eve of All Saints’ Day, when the dead rise from their graves to remind us: we were like you and you will become like us. But Keanu has already become. It was already too late for him to read Rilke, who advised young poets to live only with questions. And what if the answer is received?

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he struggles with hell (in his head, not in medieval Transylvania); Bertolucci brings up a Buddha. Everywhere his face bears the seal of mourning — for dreams that lead nowhere. He is becoming more and more like an evil god from the Indian pantheon. In these years, it would be just right for him to play the transgression of Anakin Skywalker. On the other side of the permissible, because death is unacceptable in general.

The apotheosis of this transformation, of course, is The Devil’s Advocate, a mockery of America, which in 1997 didn’t yet need either justification or repentance. This was the America of our childhood which we said goodbye to forever. It bristled with skyscrapers as if it boasted a healthy, reinforced concrete erection. In this America, only the dollar deserved beatification.

The Devil’s Advocate today looks like an extremely naturalistic caricature, a repulsive, truly terrible sight about the temptations of this world, about the relationship with conscience, about the madness of capitalism that divorced ethics from aesthetics. The mourning is over, it’s time to fight. With everything in general, just in case.

1999 was, according to Brian Raftery, the best year in the history of cinema. The twentieth century gave mankind a scattering of masterpieces at parting. The Matrix is among them. All this cinema, all that jazz that we watched and listened to for almost a hundred years, was not what it seemed. Keanu guessed it first again. No matter how naive all these metaphors of the crisis of faith from 2022 were, The Matrix, of course, helped viewers who were trembling on the eve of the millennium to leap into a sad and dark future. Another thing is that The Matrix needed neither a reboot nor a revolution, much less a resurrection.

In the new Matrix, the screenwriters still persuaded him to lie down on the couch – Freud and Marx are still the most alive. But is Keanu alive? Does he really need it? Isn’t this a projection instead of a man of flesh and blood? Did he swallow the blue pill by mistake?

Matvey Cherry

Artist

Paco May

Illustrator


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Oscars Portrait of Adam Driver

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Oscars Portrait

of Adam Driver

by Matvey Cherry

Illustration by Paco May

is likely to be nominated

for the Oscar.


He really did a lot last year to impress us (and it’s not just a Burberry ad). A similar effect could have been assumed ten years ago when he masturbated in front of Lena Dunham. After this, he gave Lena twenty bucks for watching, plus cab money. By then Adam had become a crush for many.

Driver is a creep, he has perfect milky skin with just a scattering of moles, and not a single hair on his sternum (which he once broke while riding a bike). Dunham came up with the idea that Driver would be a sociopath with comic potential. He either smiles or yells like an out-of-tune musical instrument. Very tall, blatantly unsexy, and yet you want to cuddle him.

Adam Driver takes time very seriously, so he has a perfect filmography. There are no questions. He mixes Jarmusch’s Patterson with The Dead Don’t Die or the BlacKkKlansman. In The Marriage Story, he is unbearable, but this is the director’s fault. In Star Wars, too. Driver in a helmet and with a blaster looks like Santa Claus hired for an hour to entertain children. In Annette, he’s amazing. Driver finally plays a really bad person. Rage suits him. He masterfully shows how a murderer is born out of the abyss of selfishness. He understands everything and still kills. Self-love is colder than someone else’s death. House of Gucci, thank Ridley Scott. Cashmere – from the word Cash. Unfortunately, it’s not a TV series and he won’t be able to wear a white sweater for several weeks, which by today’s standards is almost an eternity.

Among the Brooklyn guys, it turned out that there are true demons found. They can not only jerk off to Scorsese, mutter Cassavetes and sourly regurgitate Allen, but also at the last breath, on the edge of a knife, on the front line, be a genius of the screen, a star of the time. Adam with the seal of Cain. I am grateful to him for this.

Matvey Cherry

Artist

Paco May

Illustrator


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EDITORIAL The Mixer Timeline

Birthday Portrait of Timothée Chalamet

THE MIXER | EDITORIAL

Birthday Portrait of

Timothée Chalamet

by Matvey Cherry

Illustration by Paco May

That a brown-eyed squishy boy

with a sharp, fragile chin

like a porcelain espresso cup

would very soon come at night

to every teenager that languishes from lust,


I guessed almost immediately after watching Hot Summer Nights (2017). The trivial pop drama feels like the classic Aerosmith and Bon Jovi music videos and smells like bubblegum and One by Calvin Klein. Timothée plays Daniel, a clumsy, insecure kid who has just lost his beloved father. Grief blurs his eyes, so that he goes through life like a blind newborn kitten. From scene to scene, his initiation (defloration) lasts, and every viewer of it feels like an old pedophile-fetishist.

In the same year, Call Me By Your Name was released. Not a film, but THE FILM. Outwardly, all decency is observed, but in fact it’s not a movie, but an ode to unclouded joy and the recognition of a voyeur. Luca Guadagnino can’t take his eyes off Chalamet, like the rest of the world that has learned to call this little prince, the child of vice, by his name. He is not your Anglo-Saxon Timothy, he’s Timothée. Only French pronunciation, accent on the last syllable! Like any idol, he needs a mysterious overseas fleur. And, of course, Call Me By Your Name is not about peaches. It doesn’t matter who exactly poured out the juice, who tasted the forbidden fruit. It’s obvious that Timothée’s cheeks are silkier than any gifts of nature. However, Guadagnino, as an experienced aesthete, didn’t fail to place an exotic fruit in a suitable interior — there are lutes, antiquity, brocade, and velvet — the arrangement is composed according to all the laws of the magnificent eloquence of classical painting. Surprisingly, Chalamet didn’t become a gay icon after this film, which is more a Power Point presentation of pre-Raphaelite art. Same-sex love is idealized there, all the sharpness of the dish is muted by sweet dressing. Guadagnino’s film tries to be a manifest, but it’s not. It’s far from the transgressive antics of Alain Guiraudie or the feverish visions of Derek Jarman. Homosexuality of Call Me By Your Name is a candy-bouquet, with Mozart and Brahms, quotes from Rousseau and curtsies to Bronzino. Those gays have descended from the pages of Architectural Digest magazine. Nevertheless, Elio’s tears at the train station or at Christmas in front of a crackling fireplace are real. Finally, Chalamet made us believe that his lips are not only to lick foamy milk or steal kisses. He can bite them until they bleed, having fainted from the blow below the belt.

In the films of Wes Anderson and Denis Villeneuve, Chalamet is again in the image of an irresistible boy. No matter what outfit he is wearing, whether the mantle of an intergalactic aristocrat or a sweater from Haider Ackermann, he is allowed to do everything — to make fun of May 68th or to decide the future of the planet Arrakis.

Matvey Cherry

Artist

Paco May

Illustrator


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EDITORIAL The Mixer Timeline

Movies With Matvey Cherry: The Hand Of God

THE MIXER | EDITORIAL

Movies With Matvey Cherry:

The Hand of God

Illustration by Paco May

The outstanding director

didn’t betray his style and has,

skillfully and with pleasure,

created a masterpiece again.


He uses references to the classics of Italian neorealism by Fellini, but without turning his film into an imitation of the genius of the past. A chaotic jumble of moments from youth are remembered by the author, passed through the filter of his adult outlook, ironic but touching . Memory acts like a magnifying glass, turning a half-forgotten reality into something grotesque. Every person is obliged to turn around one day, as Orpheus and Lot’s wife did.

The risk is great, because either the past will disappear forever, or the memory carrier will turn into a pillar of salt. A personality is born out of a million insignificant details which leave scars for various reasons. The main character has silence in his cassette player until the end of the movie, because music can’t replace those who are not with us. This is how teen dramas become adult traumas. The Baroness, like the goddess of fate of the Park, lets Fabietto into her super pussy before cutting the umbilical cord that connected the boy with the past. She gives him the most important lesson: look at this life and think about your own. Think about what you like in this life. In this life there is already everything that is needed, everything that death will take away.

Matvey Cherry

Artist

Paco May

Illustrator


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Movies With Matvey Cherry: The Velvet Underground

THE MIXER | EDITORIAL

Movies With Matvey Cherry:

The Velvet Underground

Illustration by Paco May

Shots flash by in a confused rhythm:

Winston cigarettes,

a black-and-white Mickey Mouse cartoon,

newspapers, late night shows,

Elizabeth Taylor.


Guess what? American mainstream culture of the 60s. But as soon as we get under its skin, the sensuously hypnotic sound of Venus In Furs is bumping. This cyclical melody rhymes with the noise of New York, where everything is not the same as everywhere else. 

Todd Haynes‘ filmography, imbued with a nostalgic melancholy for decades long gone, is proof of his unconditional and devoted love for the exalted and magnetic musical aesthetics of the 20th century. Stories about famous people and significant events abound. The Velvet Underground documentary in fact doesn’t fit into any genre and is perceived rather as a mosaic portrait captured on camera, assembled from video chronicles, archival photographs, interviews and fragments of experimental cinema of those times. At the emotional level, Todd Haynes’ film works with the audience in exactly the same way as the American underground cinema of the last century, in the spirit of Jonas Mekas or Andy Warhol (both, of course, are in the film). Andy was an artist and a producer, a conceptualist with a mission, a celebrated figure of the world of nightlife and fashion journalism. He knew the price of pain, appreciated scars and declared his love for everyone. His red carpets lead to eternity, where he will stay forever. The music of The Velvet Underground mixes an experimental search for how to sound elegant and brutal at the same time. Lou Reed knew what proud despair meant. Later in his life he recorded “Sad Song” for his great Berlin album. It mentions the unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots and narrates a story of the suicide of a beloved girl, also providing some incredibly euphoric overtures replete with cascades of arpeggios and a chorus of people endlessly, very lightly repeating “sad song, sad, sad song”. That’s how sadness may have looked when viewed through the lens of the countercultural festivities of the 60s.

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EDITORIAL The Mixer Timeline

#FreeBritney Bitch!

Paco May

Illustrator

THE MIXER | EDITORIAL

#FreeBritney BITCH!

An MTV news segment from 1999 encapsulates that time for me. It was a report from a shoot of MTV’s TRL “1999 Class Photo”. John Norris introduces the segment and passes off hosting duties to Brian McFayden, a newer VJ who looks like the 6th member of NSYNC as he sits with the boyband at the table. They are all ogling Jennifer Lopez, who is seated behind them and clearly aware. Fred Durst is floating around, as is Tyrese. But the segment changes tone when McFayden gets a few seconds with Britney Spears before the shoot starts, as if to say, “OK, here she is.” She tells him she expects craziness from David LaChappelle, the photographer. When the segment transitions to the photo shoot, it does so with a close up of Britney walking, looking at the camera and beaming as the iconic 3-note opening of …Baby One More Time plays. She then takes her rightful seat in the front of the class of 1999.

I was a TRL kid. I didn’t watch any of the teen soap operas or the adult cartoons marketed at kids that were the height of pop culture at the time. Pokémon passed me by. I was all MTV. My obsession was borne out of a seismic shift in music culture and marketing; the messy, “dangerous” MTV of the 80’s and 90’s was making way for something glossier and with more dance moves just as I was hitting puberty. Teen pop replaced alt-rock as the dominant money maker, and MTV evolved to meet the moment, focusing on a younger, brighter aesthetic throughout. The VJs no longer looked like music journalists, but pop stars. Unplugged was replaced with Making the Video.

This new crew of teenage stars was sold to us through their relatability. MTV made sure we not only idolized them, but also got to know them; these were our classmates. A whole new set of documentary-style shows debuted that allowed fans to feel closer to our idols. With each promotional cycle, we didn’t just get a new song and visual, we watched them Making the Video. We weren’t meant to interpret their updated image, we heard the “truth” from them in the supposedly candid and raw Diary series (“You think you know…but you have no idea”). The teen pop marketing tropes of sharing favorite colors, embarrassing stories, and backstage jokes was as old as the genre, but MTV expanded it into primetime programming.

Britney Spears was the most popular girl in the MTV class of 1999. She was as good for them as they were for her, as shown through the multitude of Britney-specific programming they would air when she had a new album to promote. She didn’t just get the standard Diary and Making the Video episodes, she got full days of programming where they would all air in a marathon, culminating in live events where she’d perform and give an interview. There was even a First Listen special for her Oops…I Did It Again album where she sat in a room filled with fans to listen to 30-second clips of each song on the album and tell us stories about how the album was “edgier” and “more personal.”

While watching the New York Times’ Framing Britney Spears (available to stream on Hulu), it was jarring to view this era of her career documented from a distance, without the personal connection fostered by MTV, and with an updated cultural understanding of misogyny and patriarchy. Each of the tests and expectations placed upon Britney felt normal to me, because they were all part of the narrative in her most recent Diary episode. Her breasts, her relationships, and her sexiness were all on the table and she was made to answer for them apologetically or defensively depending on the high school narrative of the moment. It’s particularly unsettling to watch the way Britney’s breakup with Justin Timberlake was framed universally in the media:

“What did she do to him?”

These things were normal to all of us in the sex-obsessed late 90’s. In the documentary, critic Wesley Morris helpfully contextualizes Britney’s rise in the time of Monica Lewinsky, another young woman who was ceremoniously torn apart by the culture. We were in a moment of 2nd wave (white) feminism controlling the conversation and an extreme panic among adults about the sexualization of “our young girls.” This was also the time of Sex and the City and The Vagina Monologues, which were met with equal adoration and ridicule, with women demanding that they be less frivolous or less self-serious. The greater culture, however, hated women as much as always. The general perception of Sex and the City was that the ladies were stupid and slutty and of The Vagina Monologues, that they were weird and unsexy. Progress was being made in women’s autonomy, especially in the way they were telling their stories, but it was met with a resounding “that’s girl stuff” mockery from the culture at large.

The respectability politics of sex in the 90’s was fraught for any woman who reached a certain level of fame because she could only get there by violating them. Young women across the entertainment spectrum were expected to strip down and pout to promote their new projects and those images were then widely disseminated so we could both shame the women and remark with awe at how they were “not little girls anymore.” It was a deeply gross rite of passage for any young performer and it spared no one, including Melissa Joan Hart and both the daughters from 7th Heaven. Even Michelle Branch had a Maxim cover. 

It should be no surprise then, that Britney Spears received the same treatment. It was normal then, which made it all the more confusing to me that adults decided to place the entire morality of a generation on Britney Spears’ shoulders when she was merely doing what was expected at that time. Her Rolling Stone photoshoot from 1999 is problematic to my 2021 eyes, but back then I remember being genuinely confused as to why this bra and hot pants was somehow different. Maybe she sold sex too well for them, or was too popular, too magnetic.

What they missed was that her fans were responding to her power, not her chest. Britney’s sexiness was athletic and suggestive, not pornographic. When she performed at award shows, she would often remix her songs to have more breaks, more industrial metallic clangs or cymbal smashes during which she would throw her hips or flip her hair, as if the sheer force of her movements was forcing the song to stutter. It’s worth noting that during most of these “controversial” performances, Britney was wearing some version of a crop top, pants, and sneakers. Even her famously scandalous school girl outfit reads more cheerleader than seductress.

It was gutting now to watch Britney from a distance and not as a peer in my MTV high school. The chorus of bad faith that followed her was cruel and targeted, and we all laughed it off, we all participated. This is exemplified in a scene in Love Actually that I came across completely by accident after viewing the documentary. Bill Nighy’s old rock star is asked who his best shag was, to which he replies:

“Britney Spears….no just kidding…..she was rubbish.”

Cue laughter. Britney was 22 then.

While the elements of her current conservatorship discussed in the documentary are illuminating and shocking, what stays in my brain is the way the media and culture treated young women at the turn of the millennium. It really can’t be examined enough. Britney was the one we chose to take down and obsess over – her generation’s Diana or Marilyn – but she was far from the only one. For more than a decade, we watched girl after girl get blonder, skinnier, and more dead behind the eyes as she ran from a mob of men chasing her with flashbulbs. And we loved it. We didn’t even think it was strange to love it. We thought they were out of touch when they complained about it. “That’s your problem?,” we all eye-rolled. We gleefully shared their mugshots and pictures taken up their dresses without their consent. And we blamed them for it. We called them “crazy” when it affected them.

A key moment not featured in the documentary also comes from the famous Diane Sawyer interview. She asks Britney if regrets any of her sexy photo shoots, to which Britney says she has no regrets. Sawyer then pulls out an 8×10 glossy image of Britney from a recent magazine and insists, “Not even this one?” Watching Britney’s face as she was forced to concede that she had gone too far filled me with a mix of rage and sadness I am only beginning to understand as I look back on that time. It makes me happy that the culture has evolved to give us Billie Eilish, a young woman who refuses to conform to the impossible, almost cartoonish beauty ideals of today, who talks about her mental health struggles, and still sweeps the Grammys.

I’m also happy that we’re reevaluating Britney. At her peak, music journalism was full of men who wanted nothing more than to make her the avatar for bad music, bad culture, sissy stuff, fake stuff, lame stuff, uncool stuff. Now, pop critics can’t escape the influence of Britney’s music and performances, which were increasingly adventurous, weird, and forward-thinking. They also can’t escape her power. Every girl in my high school was trying to serve Britney. Low rise jeans were Britney, lip gloss was Britney, those shirts that said ROCK STAR in rhinestones were Britney. She’s too much of a force to ignore or to trivialize. She was lightning in a bottle and everyone who came of age during her reign knows that no one else could do what she did with a hair flip and a purr into a headset microphone.

Paco May

Illustrator


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