Much rides, then, on the reception of the new album, which all those involved seem to be positioning as a more adult affair. "I'd describe it as trance-y," Spears says, "kind of a vibe record — something you could listen to that's not so song-structured." Though Spears cites Gwen Stefani as a major influence, a closer template would be Madonna's Erotica, with Spears' vocal style having evolved into what might be best described as "slowly approaching orgasm." The techno and hip-hop beats are provided by Moby, Red-Zone and R Kelly.
There's also a track by the Matrix, "Shadow," that sounds like a mid-Nineties Aerosmith ballad, but the Kelly track, "Outrageous," typifies the formula: beat-heavy, melodic, with Spears whisper-singing things such as "my sex drive" and "my shopping spree." Here are some other sample lyrics:
"Oh, it's so hot, and I need some air/And, boy, don't stop, 'cause I'm halfway there...."
"Would you undo my zipper, please?...
"I see your body rise, rise...."
"I find myself flirting with the verge of obscene."
"Of course, I'm not doing '... Baby One More Time' and those big, massive hits anymore," Spears says. "I think this record is where I'm at right now in my life. It's sensual, it's sexual." She laughs. "I'm probably writing about that subconsciously because I don't have that right now."
Weeks before the kiss, Spears and I meet at the Chateau Marmont, in West Hollywood. It's a gorgeous summer morning, and Spears pulls up in a white convertible. Though the hotel is one of Los Angeles' most exclusive and secluded, she has a protective entourage in tow, including a California publicist, a girlfriend, her personal assistant and an enormous bodyguard.
Spears is wearing a white blouse with pink trim and no bra, jeans and white coral-looking earrings, and she's sipping a can of Mountain Dew. She looks as if she's barely slept. It's refreshing, in a way: For once, Spears appears more like a living, breathing twenty-one-year-old than a plastic sculpture, with pimples and loosely barretted hair and no makeup save for some black eyeliner that appears slept in. We sit at a wicker table in a lush, hidden patio area, where she immediately orders coffee. I mention that she looks tired. She smiles and says a girlfriend from out of town was visiting and that they stayed up late talking.
Aside from her appearance, one of the first things I notice about Spears is that she has a verbal tic, at least when she's being interviewed: She says "honest" or "honestly" far more often than most people — at least sixteen times during our hour-long chat. Which naturally leads one to wonder if the lady doth protest too much. For instance, at one point in the conversation, she tells me, straight-faced, "I think every photo shoot I've done has been tasteful. I'll never be a vamp-vixen-sex-goddess." When I mention the Star cocaine allegations, she stares at me blankly and says she's never heard about them -even though when the story first appeared, she publicly responded.
Though she mostly smiles, Spears is also extremely guarded, cutting off unwelcome questions with abrupt answers and occasionally becoming testy. When I ask about her restaurant, she says, "I don't know what the hell that was. I don't know why we ever did that, to be honest with you. It was just something a business manager wanted to do, or something like that." I start to ask a follow-up, and she snaps, "It's a restaurant. I really don't give a shit." Then she clears her throat and asks peevishly, "Can we talk about my music instead of my restaurant?"
This seems fair enough. To make up for the prodding, an enormous Softball is tossed her way: Talk about one of your favorite songs on the new album.
"I like the Moby song," Spears says.
What's that one called?
There is a long pause. "Um." Pause. "Morning'? 'Morning,' I think it's called. No, 'All Morning.' Yeah. [Actually, the song is, at present, titled "Early Mornin'."] It's about going out at night and feeling like shit the next day."
This past year, you seemed to get more press than ever, but you didn't have any new music out. Do you worry at all about the music becoming secondary, and you just sort of becoming famous for being famous?
Well, I think you're always remembered by what you first came out with. That's always dead set in everyone's brain. I think when I first came out, it was my music, and I think, hopefully, that'll never happen, because I'll always come out showing my-showing myself. And showing my music.
What about the interview with W magazine, where you talked about losing your virginity to Justin Timberlake. And do you think you should have to talk about that?
Well, he asked me the question. I think it's a stupid question to ask.
So it wasn't a calculated thing, where you went into the interview planning to reveal this part of your personal life?
No! I wasn't thinking that at all. Actually, I was appalled he even asked the question.
Did you consider saying, "Fuck off, it's none of your business"?
Well, I mean, yeah. I felt like saying that. But, um, I didn't. I just told him the truth, and, I mean [pause], oooh! [Laughs] You know? Oooh. Big deal.
Spears divides her time between New York and Los Angeles, with the occasional mom's-cooking R&R in her hometown of Kentwood, Louisiana, though, she says, after more than a few days back she gets stir-crazy. She spent much of the past year in New York, working on the new album and living in a downtown apartment. If she has downtime, she likes to shop: She read a psychotherapy book that discussed how a single outfit can change a person's mood. "I can be in the dumps of dumpsters and go put on a pair of new shoes, and then it's OK," she says. "Even if it is just for the time being, for that moment, it's what I need."
She also says she likes to be alone. She had the day off before our interview, and she says she spent much of it cleaning her house. "I dusted," she says. "I vacuumed that stuff on the carpet, to make it smell good. I just like doing normal things like that." She says she never expected to have such a "gypsy" lifestyle, because she cherishes routine.
She says that, really, her break only lasted for about three weeks before she went back to work on her new album. "I'd been on the road for a while promoting the last album," she says, "and I needed to completely let go of that — that whole pace, and the energy of those songs. I needed to — what's the word?"
Shed myself of it. And try something from a fresh, new start.
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