Britney Spears has changed her tune, but not so as you’d notice. Her jab at the public is as sugarcoated as the pie she pretends to bake for the video. And the paparazzi should think twice about eating something offered by a woman on whose lawn they’re camping.
Her song titled IF YOU SEEK AMY sparked controversy. Its lyrics that say, “all of the boys and all of the girls are begging to if you seek Amy”, but sound like she’s saying they’re all “begging to F-U-C-K me”. It’s not the controversy that’s new for Spears (because, seriously – when isn’t she surrounded by controversy?) but the purpose of the alter ego Amy she has created for herself.
This mysterious character known as Amy only hits the listener on the four-hundredth time the radio plays it, and only after the listener can get over the Swear Word! And Controversy! Children’s Innocence! Amy is eclipsed by the controversy, making her literally hard to find, as well as figuratively in the story of the song. This shouldn’t be a shock given its title, but all the focus seemed to go on the obscenity in the title and not the title itself.
The first verse and refrain (“Have you seen Amy tonight?”) seem to be depictions of celebrity life, something Spears confronts all the time. She is familiar with everyone always looking for her and wanting to know trivialities about her like how she takes her drinks. (“Do you know just what she likes?”)
However, the second verse and subsequent refrain suggest that Spears is the one looking for Amy. She sings, “I’ve seen her once or twice but boy she knows my face”, which seems an odd thing to say by someone supposedly looking for a celebrity. She follows this line with, “But it’s hard to see with all the people standing in the way”, fusing the notion of Spears being Amy from the first verse with Spears looking for Amy in the second. Spears is metaphorically looking for herself in the crowd of people literally looking for her. It’s almost Shakespearean.
The video furthers the idea of a double life – one of Britney Spears on the morning after of what looked to be a sex party, and one of Britney Spears as a fifties housewife with 2.3 children and a husband baring a strong resemblance to Mattel’s infamous Ken doll. The two roles mirror her contrasting public personae over the years: the good girl versus the whore. The video, like the song, argues either the viewer or Spears herself or both cannot see her for who she is. Which fits, because seeking implies that the object in question has not been found. Maybe it is missing, maybe it has disappeared.
The first time Spears delved into the fascinating world of singing about yourself through an alter ego, she was eighteen and singing about “a girl named Lucky” back in the days when she was still being marketed as the sweet, virginal, girl-next-door, and before she became, “Mrs ‘Oh my God, that Britney’s shameless’”. Though Amy and Lucky were born in different eras, they both suggest a deep-seated dissatisfaction with the fast-paced, highly-scrutinized, celebrity way of life. And that can hardly come as a surprise; Britney Spears is forever being criticized in the media for being slutty, or a bad mother, or without integrity, or crazy or stupid-or-blond-or-Southern-or-Sagittarius.
Britney is hardly the only female singer under scrutiny, but she does seem to get the worst of it: Lady Gaga is actually respected (or feared) for her costumes and demeanor; Taylor Swift looks sweet and virginal, and got a lot of sympathy during the Kanye West fiasco; Madonna has been around long enough to garner some street cred from putting up with years in show-business. But Britney Spears? She doesn’t even write her own music! (Not entirely true.) She lip-synchs during her intensely aerobic shows! (She sings the songs she’s not dancing to.) She’s such a ho! (Where to begin?) These are reasons to condemn her!
So she comes out with “If You Seek Amy”, which people barely noticed as being semi-autobiographical. All she gets is people lobbying to get the song removed from the radio, and the video taken off the air, and more comments about her sluttiness having reached a new level.
And then there’s the chorus itself. At first glance it seems clever, how the lyrics seem to form a swear word. At second glance it seems kind of stupid, because the “seek Amy” interpretation doesn’t make sense, and it would be far more clever if both versions worked in the song. After these two stages of realization (and millionth listen), comes the inevitable thought that this was an intentional move. It could not have escaped the attention of Ms Spears and her team that these double lyrics only fit in the song one way, so why do it this way?
Because after years of being ridiculed and mocked and judged, maybe Britney Spears is mocking right back. She knows the lyrics don’t make sense – and she doesn’t care. The fact that it made it onto her CD is proof enough of that. She’s Britney, bitches! She can say it outright, how hot she is, how desired she is, how ALL of the boys and ALL of the girls are BEGGING for it. Her lyrics don’t even have to make sense and she can still sell a million copies.
“F-U-C-K me” might just as well be saying “F-U-C-K you”. Britney Spears can’t find herself in a crowd, but she can sure find photos of herself accidentally flashing the paparazzi on Google. The double interpretation in the chorus is her insult to the seekers. As though the “seek Amy” was an afterthought, a way to say, ‘No, of COURSE that’s not what I meant; I was just trying to be cute with the “F-U-C-K me” thing.’ Such a statement would be accompanied by a horribly sweet smile and a giggle that one might hear before meeting one’s bloody and untimely end. “Ha-ha, hee-hee, ha-ha-ho!”
Lucky “cry, cry, cries” but Amy is stronger. Amy is wiser. Amy is pissed off that if you seek Amy in the club, or smoking outside, or in her home while she’s playing with her kids, Britney Spears gets fucked. That’s what’s really obscene here: her message that says, “if you seek Amy” = “F-U-C-K me”. You might as well. You already have.
[How about it, readers? Is Britney Spears making meta-commentary on the virgin/slut dichotomy? Or is she cashing in on her bad reputation? Sound off in the comments! – Ed.]
this is the frist britney spears song i have willingly listened to more than once. it’s pretty damn catchy. and i dig that she’s extending the middle finger to pretty much everyone. and she’s literally laughing about it.
it appears britney has grown up…or at least is trying to.
good for her.
I’m surprised how many times I flip back and forth between knowing exactly what she’s saying (“if you seek Amy”) and other times hear something completely different (“F-U-C-K me”). Despite my knowing of the actual lyrics, I can sometimes hear the “dirty” version. Maybe there’s something there … hmm.
But, yes, damn catchy.
Except that the song was written by Max Martin, pop-music extraordinaire who produced California Gurls, Teenage Dream, etc. He also produced …Baby One More Time, Stronger, and Lucky for Britney (although …Baby One More Time was first offered to the Backstreet Boys and TLC before Spears got it). I think any analysis of this song is primarily an analysis of his work, with Spears as his ‘canvas’, so to speak, rather than an actual window into her life. For one, it’s interesting how this song references his earlier work with her, like the schoolgirl outfits or the “Baby baby” in this song that is identical to the “Baby baby” of …Baby One More Time, Britney’s first mega-hit. Most of all an analysis of If U Seek Amy ought to look back onto Lucky, which is similar to If U Seek Amy, if it were produced 10 years ago. Lucky is sort of sadly ironic in that the professional media produced something that explicitly and intentionally disparages their own role in Britney’s life. Take a look at the scenes in which Britney plays the role of an actress on a set, surrounded by irritating make-up and hair artists, and then realize that there was a professional crew on the actual set, producing something that portrayed them as bad guys. This is even sadder when you realize Lucky came out a decade ago, before Britney’s life truly went to hell from the very factors she recognizes in that song. It just goes to show you that the explicit content of the song, even when it appears as subtle as the overlooked implications of If U Seek Amy, may have little or nothing to do with the singer’s actual goals or life. This is even true when the song is blatantly about being dissatisfied with a fake celebrity lifestyle! Instead the song’s purpose is to appear to be a genuine emotional experience, regardless of whether or not it is, and Hollywood is willing to demonize its own influence in order to do this.
I feel like Max Martin has much fallen off of late. There are some interesting things going on in the lyrics to “If You Seek Amy,” as this article points out, but musically it leaves me cold. It takes one workmanlike, superficially “exotic” melody, and squashes it under layer after layer of production. The tempo change going into the bridge demonstrates ambition, at least, but overall the song is straight up boring. (This could still play into the post’s argument, I suppose. She doesn’t even have to make interesting music at this point — people will still show up just for the train wreck.)
“Lucky,” on the other hand, I would rate as one of Britney’s most interesting songs in strictly musical terms. It doesn’t have the colorful harmony of “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” or the Bollywood samples of “Toxic,” but it actually draws power from its own limitations. It’s so pedestrian and constrained most of the time — the verse uses three pitches! three! — that the moments where it does moves into a more lyrical style, like the “isn’t she lovely/ this Hollywood girl,” and “why do these tears come at night” parts, are breathtaking. Spears is not a great singer (as we all know), but again this becomes a virtue. The song’s beauty is such a fragile thing anyway… put someone who can actually hit those notes on it (a Christina Aguilera, say), and it would collapse. Especially at the end of the chorus, we need to hear her struggling for it to work at all.
just an interesting side note for the sake of saying:
turbonegro had a song called “If You See Kay” ages ago that used the same pseudo-swear