Former MTV VJ Dave Holmes on ‘Framing Britney Spears’

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Twenty years in the past, MTV was on the heart of the pop music monoculture, and its flagship present was “Complete Request Dwell,” a day by day countdown broadcast reside from the studio in Instances Sq.. Hundreds of thousands of youngsters watched day-after-day after college, calling in votes for his or her favourite movies. A whole lot, typically hundreds of youngsters confirmed up outdoors the MTV studio day-after-day to stare up and scream at it, hoping for an opportunity to come back upstairs and scream in it. I do know as a result of I used to be a number of that present for a number of years, and I’ve the tinnitus to show it.

The celebs of that period had been boy bands, rappers and nü-metal noisemakers who churned out multiplatinum albums one after one other. However the first and solely true queen of “TRL,” and the monoculture, was Britney Spears, who hit the scene in 1999 at age 17 with “… Child One Extra Time” and just about reigned till “TRL” resulted in 2008. There have been different younger feminine pop stars who vied for the crown — Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore, Jessica Simpson, to call a number of — however Britney was the one everybody had an opinion about. Youngsters liked her, mother and father sniffed, the tabloids stalked her. Her label, and MTV, raked within the cash. No person may take their eyes off her.

Final summer season, I obtained a name from director Samantha Stark a couple of New York Instances documentary she was placing collectively about Spears, and since I’d seen the daybreak of Britney’s profession up shut from my spot at MTV, I agreed to be interviewed. Stark’s wonderful, heartbreaking “Framing Britney Spears” aired on FX final weekend and is streaming now on Hulu. Let me let you know this: If the pandemic has you feeling lonely, I might actually advocate that you simply take part in a documentary about Britney Spears when you can. Since its premiere, I’ve gotten texts from roughly each particular person I’ve ever met. Then, as now, all people is watching.

This time round, I’m inspired by what they’re seeing.

The story of Britney Spears after the “TRL” years will get salacious and unhappy in methods everyone knows about, and whereas it’s by no means exploitative, “Framing Britney Spears” does present us these moments. You’ll see the tearful interviews, the failed marriage and the shaved head and its aftermath, a controversial conservatorship wherein her father and varied attorneys exert full management over her life and profession.

However what jumped out at a variety of us was one thing else: the extraordinary misogyny that Spears and different younger feminine pop stars and celebrities needed to face. You possibly can’t miss it. Like frosted suggestions in a highschool yearbook image, it seems to be completely insane now. I don’t know whether or not the world is kinder at this time however it positive was unashamed of how merciless it was then, and to observe the way in which we spoke to and about Britney — and, via her, to and about ladies all over the world — is painful from at this time’s perspective.

Within the “… Child One Extra Time” days, I keep in mind an excessive amount of public hypothesis as as to if teenage Britney was a virgin. Reporters would simply ask her about it, level clean. I don’t suppose I did however I’m reluctant to return and examine for positive. I wouldn’t have requested such a factor, not me, except I did, as a result of as “Framing Britney Spears” reveals, that’s the type of factor one would do with no second thought in 1999. I can not think about having that type of dialog with a teen pop star, or actually anyone, however I can not stand that I can not rule it out. The one factor I do know for positive is that it wouldn’t have give you Justin Timberlake.

Britney Spears all the time needed to stroll a tightrope in a heavy wind: She needed to be lovely for the boys however not lovely sufficient to intimidate the women, but additionally attractive for the lads however not attractive sufficient to anger the ladies. The boy bands of the day, like Timberlake’s ’N Sync and Backstreet Boys, solely needed to keep on the planet’s good graces by not showing homosexual. Britney needed to be every thing to everybody, all by herself. And she or he was a youngster.

I suppose we are able to take consolation in the truth that she was used to it by then. At age 10 she appeared on “Star Search,” the place Ed McMahon asks her whether or not she has a boyfriend after which presents himself up as an possibility. And hear, this can be a cute query to ask a baby, low-effort tv gold. However this can be a very particular type of query, a query that if it doesn’t converse on to intercourse, at the least invitations her to guage herself by way of her enchantment to boys. It’s not a lot that it feels gross now, although it does; it’s that we didn’t discover how gross it felt then.

I’m heartened by how startling and repulsive all this blatant sexism is to the youthful generations watching, and posting about, the doc. Social media has allowed new voices to bypass the cis-white-male gatekeepers and start to guide the dialog, and we’re higher for it; younger folks simply aren’t having this mess. They gained’t stand for any guff on Billie Eilish’s saggy tracksuits or Lizzo’s dimension or whether or not Taylor Swift appears likable sufficient. It’s a nonstarter. I like how unhealthy we glance to them in “Discovering Britney Spears.” It means there’s been progress.

It additionally ought to be famous that it was largely these identical millennial ladies and younger homosexual males who began the #FreeBritney marketing campaign via social media and DIY protests that finally drew information organizations to cowl the story, and fellow pop stars like Cher and Miley Cyrus to the trigger. There isn’t any “Framing Britney Spears” with out them.

Fans hold signs protesting Britney Spears' conservatorship in downtown L.A.

Followers protest Britney Spears’ conservatorship outdoors the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown L.A. on Sept. 18, 2020.

(Laura Newberry)

The one-millionth one who texted me whereas watching the documentary — balloons and confetti dropped from the ceiling, he was offered with an outsized novelty examine — is an effective pal I’ve solely come to know in the previous few years. He requested a query: “Do you keep in mind an MTV Information particular from round this time, one thing about intercourse in pop music?”

I didn’t, however 4 seconds after I obtained his follow-up textual content — “as a result of I feel I’m in it” — I discovered it on YouTube. It was a particular that explored the query of whether or not the pop stars of the period had been too sexual, and as you have got already guessed, it explored about half of these stars, focusing completely on the women.

In a single section, younger folks on the road are requested for his or her emotions on Britney Spears’ attractive picture. Some discover it empowering, some suppose it’s a distraction from a scarcity of expertise, and one 20-year-old heterosexual male — the Y2K model of my pal, simply as he thought — deems it “implausible.”

However what none of those folks know is that MTV would present Britney this tape. On digicam. On this particular, you watch her watch strangers critique her clothes and her physique. She places a very good face on it, as a result of that’s her job, however you may inform it hurts, as a result of what you recognize now’s that she’s a human being. I despatched my pal the hyperlink, and he watched, and he cringed.

“It breaks my coronary heart a little bit that Britney needed to see that,” he texted. Mine too.

Dave Holmes is an editor-at-large for Esquire and was a VJ on MTV from 1998 to 2002.

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