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Britney Spears - 'If You Seek Amy'

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Fraser McAlpine | 14:48 UK time, Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Britney SpearsForgive me for taking the obvious, rather tabloidy approach to this review, but: oops! She did it again. Dame Britney, of course, has been courting controversy with this song and its suggestive lyrics (and if you want to know more about that, it's already been very well documented here and here by Fraser). My job, however, is to strip away the controversy around this song and work out whether it is actually any good.

Except you can't, not really. Because the whole point of this song is to be cheeky, titillating and blatant. I can't imagine the impression was ever for anyone to not guess the 'hidden' meaning in the lyrics (though a few notable commentators were convinced that the song was about Amy Winehouse at first) - essentially, Britney and Max Martin are playing a little game with us. Kind of "I know what I'm saying, and you know what I'm saying - d'you wanna make something of it?"

It's quite a juvenile sentiment, and therefore the melody is appropriately juvenile too - from the playground-style taunting of "na na na na na na na na" at the beginning, which basically underneath the majority of the song mixed with a thumping bit of synth, to the couldn't-be-bothered-to-think-of-any-lyrics-to-go-here build to the chorus of "ha ha hee hee ha ha ho".

That's just part of it, though - structurally the song is very interesting, because the verses, despite the chanting undercurrent, are rather soft and pleading. Britney's vocals sound as unnatural as ever, but once the chorus hits, it's like being hit by a double decker bus loaded with sass, as Brit thumbs her nose at her critics with a "love me, hate me, say what you want about me" refrain.

Once the middle eight hits, however, things get very subdued again - it's a nice counterpart to the brash, narcissistic chorus, maybe even a suggestion that through the numerous tabloid reports we've devoured over the years we've seen many different Britneys, all of whom are probably equally real - just like here, there's the domineering, aggressive Britney and the quieter, more vulnerable Britney.

Which leads nicely onto the video (there are clean versions out there, if you look hard enough), with its risqué sequences of Britney dressed in not-very-much and clearly up to sordid shenanigans in a house with lots of similarly-attired friends - until the point two thirds in where she slips on a twinset, bouffants her hair like she's about to timetravel back to the 1950s, and walks outside to greet the paparazzi with her picture-perfect husband and kids.

At once it's a wry dig at the way people have questioned Britney's lifestyle, as well as also suggesting that those who race to criticise her are probably not so squeaky-clean themselves. The fact that it's bookended with mock news reports based on real 'outraged parent' items from US news channels is the cherry on the cake.

So what we have here is essentially something far cleverer than the initial cheap innuendo would have us believe. Either that or I've read far too much into it and it's exactly that - a cheap innuendo with one heck of an earworm of a melody built around it. And even if that's true, what's wrong with that?

Four starsDownload: Out now
CD Released: May 4th
www.britneyspears.com
BBC Music page

(Steve Perkins)

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