The Musical Talmud: "Hold It Against Me" by Britney Spears

The Musical Talmud: “Hold It Against Me” by Britney Spears

Hold exactly *what* against you, Britney?

Not long after sparking controversy and hard-core textual analysis with her provocative song “If You Seek Amy”, Britney Spears is once again slinging double entendres in her lyrics with her latest single, “Hold It Against Me”:

Consider the key phrase of the chorus:

If I said I want your body now
Would you hold it against me?

On one hand, she’s wondering if her love interest would think negatively of her come-on. On the other hand, she’s amplifying her come-on with another plea for close physical contact.

Which is it? Is it both? Or is it…something else altogether?

Look at those "come hither" eyes.

In the first verse, she’s setting up the scene: Britney is addressing her (presumably male) love interest in some sort of dance club:

Hey over there
Please forgive me
If I’m coming on too strong
Hate to stare
But you’re winning
And they’re playing my favorite song

When she says “Please forgive me/If I’m coming on too strong,” she’s showing awareness that the strong come-on that’s to follow may be considered inappropriate by many observers: not just the love interest of the song, but also the society that both consumes her music and criticizes her for its suggestive content. She similarly addressed her broader audience in “If You Seek Amy,” so it’s no surprise to see employ this device again.

With that in mind, let’s see what she has to say to him/us:

So come here
‘Little closer
Wanna whisper in your ear
Make it clear
Little question
Wanna know just how you feel

Why is she “whispering” in his/our collective ear? In the context of coming onto a guy in a dance hall, it’s pretty straightforward: she’s whispering so as not to be overheard by meddling strangers and because whispering is considered a more sultry way to come onto someone.

But the song itself is anything but a subtle, surreptitious whisper. It’s a blasting dance anthem that’s destined to blare across speakers in dance halls, delis, and diners all over the world. So when Britney addresses her larger audience with this “whisper,” she’s playfully setting up the multiple meanings of “hold it against me.”

But before she does so, she ends the chorus with a plea for clarity from her love interest/audience: “Wanna know just how you feel.” Which is not surprising, given our collective love/hate relationship with Britney. On one hand, we love her catchy, dance-friendly music, and love to read about her mishaps in the news, while on the other hand, we decry her “slutty” public image, her poor parenting, and her perceived lack of “real” musical talent. It’s no wonder she wants to know just how we feel about her.

So how does she go about finding this out?

If I said my heart was beating loud
If we could escape the crowd somehow
If I said I want your body now
Would you hold it against me

First, by declaring the extent of the anxiety and urgency she’s feeling. Her heart is beating loud; she cares a lot about the matter at hand (scoring with this guy/winning the approval of the audience). Second, by asking guy/listener to ignore the judging, condemning crowd, break away, and consider Britney solely on a person-to-person basis.

So now that it’s just the guy and Britney, or the listener and Britney, what do we make of the key phrase of the chorus?

If I said I want your body now
Would you hold it against me?

For old time's sake.

Interpretation 1: Will You Take My Come-On Negatively?

A literal reading of the song and this phrase goes like this: Britney makes a strong come-on to a guy at a club, and she’s wondering if he will react negatively to her come-on and allow that to inform an ongoing negative opinion of her, in which case, no sex for Britney.

Interpretation 2: Double Entendre–See What I Did There?

But what if she’s not anticipating a negative response? What if she’s simply amplifying her strong come-on with an even stronger plea for close physical contact? If so, it’s a clever double entendre–not just for reversing the phrase “hold it against me,” but also for exploiting the ambiguity of the pronoun “it” to make the come-on even racier. (Don’t see it? Use your imagination. Hold it against her? Hold what against her? Not just his body. A little more specific. Yeah, I went there.)

Interpretation 3: Don’t Judge Me! I’m Just Trying To Sell Records!

Now, let’s shift gears to the more abstract reading of this song: Britney isn’t coming onto a guy at a club; she’s pleading for acceptance from her audience. In this case, when she says “I want your body now,” she’s referring to another type of interpersonal transaction: giving money to another entity in exchange for musical entertainment. Britney just wants our business. She’s provocative and “slutty” because she needs to maintain a high level of public exposure to sell records, and we shouldn’t hold that against her.

That being said, she does want a “vacation” (i.e., a break from work) in the sense that she wants to break free from the stresses and pressures of the music business and tabloid press and allow her audience to enjoy her music for what it is: entertaining pop music.

Interpretation 4: Go F Yourself

As we saw with “If You Seek Amy,” Britney’s no stranger to insulting her audience in the subtext of her lyrics. If we assume she’s doing the same in this song, then it’s possible that she’s playing off those in her audience whose sexual attraction to her crosses into the perverse. If you don’t follow me, go back to the interpretation of the pronoun “it” that I describe in Interpretation 2. Some guys would in fact like to hold “it” against her, but the closet they can get is to…well, I’ll let you fill in the blanks.

At this point, I’d like to proceed mostly with Interpretation 3 (Earnest Plea For Audience Acceptance) as it’s the most interesting–and plausible–one. We can keep Interpretation 2 (Dirty Double Entendre) in mind, if for no other reason than to see how well my pronoun interpretation holds up, but from here on out, the analysis will focus on Britney’s relationship with her audience.

With that in mind, let’s dive into Verse 2:

Hey you might think
That I’m crazy
But you know I’m just your type
I might be ‘little hazy
But you just cannot deny

Ah, quality journalism.

Although we criticize Britney for her tabloid exploits and breakdowns (“You might think that I’m crazy”), she knows that we actually like this about her. Her bad reputation is entertainment on its own as well as fuel for her “bad girl” image that appeals to “deviant” sexuality that many harbor in secret (“But you know I’m just your type”).

Britney then refers to herself as “hazy,” which, if we define as “unclear, confused, or uncertain,” is strong evidence for our interpretation that Britney is addressing the audience more than she’s coming onto a guy on the dance floor. “Crazy” is trait that a guy could conceivably apply to a girl in a club from casual observation, but “hazy” on the other hand is not such a trait. Instead, it’s a judgment that society has passed on Britney for her unpredictable actions and missteps in her personal life. Britney’s painfully aware of this, but she also knows that we “just cannot deny” the attraction we feel to her, or at least her music:

There’s a spark in between us
When we’re dancing on the floor

Britney knows she has a problematic public image and perceived lack of musical ability, but she also knows that her music still moves people on the dance floor. It’s a hard point to argue against, and she’s using that to her advantage.

To me, all of this adds up strongly in favor of Interpretation 3 (Earnest Plea For Audience Acceptance). But lest we lose sight of Interpretation 2 (Dirty Double Entendre),  let’s revisit that clever misuse of the pronoun “it”:

I want more
Wanna see it
So I’m asking you tonight

Gimme something good
Don’t wanna wait I want it now (na-na-now)
Pop it like a hood
And show me how you work it out

In case you thought the “it” referred simply to the body and not a, um, specific part of the body, I submit this as strong evidence of the latter.

“Pop it like a hood” indeed.


If we go with my interpretation of this song as Britney’s earnest appeal to fans for acceptance, then it seems like she’s apologizing for the middle-finger attitude of the video and lyrics to “If You Seek Amy.” If not apologizing, then maybe she’s just trying to balance out the tone of that piece with something more fan-friendly.

“Please forgive me,” she asks at the beginning of the song. She admits to being “crazy” and “hazy.”

Perhaps this is the dawn of a more apologetic, mature, and thoughtful Britney Spears. Or perhaps the music video will come out and show that it’s unambiguously about some guy’s penis. Until then, I’m sticking with my interpretation.

Britney, I accept your apology, and no, I won’t hold it against you.

4 Comments on “The Musical Talmud: “Hold It Against Me” by Britney Spears”

  1. Sara #

    I’m trying to decide if Britney is even aware of the old Bellamy Brothers song “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me?” I assumed the song was simply based on the cheesy pickup line (almost always used more for humorous effect than strategic), but Wikipedia reminds me that it’s an old Groucho Marx line.


    • Anthony Abatte #

      I just saw your post after I added the link to that video! Very cool that someone else thought about this.


  2. Anthony Abatte #

    Great insight Lee. “If you see Amy” was a clever song to me because it got my attention. Also, I felt compelled to share it with others to see if they noticed the things I heard in it. From a marketing perspective, these songs are great for Britney. Most will react that way and share it with someone to see if they notice anything in the lyrics.

    I’m only surprised that no one has mentioned the influence from the original Bellamy Brothers song “If I said you had a beautiful body”


  3. Oddtwang #

    The “would you hold it against me” line also appears in Python, doesn’t it? In the Hungarian Dictionary sketch, alongside “My hovercraft is full of eels.”


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