By Brittany Spanos
Britney Spears' new song “Work Bitch” debuted recently, and she also announced her upcoming two year residency in Las Vegas.
The single, helmed by an EDM heavyweight, is in the vein of her will.i.am collaboration “Scream & Shout,” but not what we once expected from the pop star. Since Blackout, she's been pulling away from the coy, sugary pop that once defined her.
She's also reinforced her status as a gay icon. Move over Cher.
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Before the single premiered, there was speculation that it sampled drag superstar RuPaul's most memorable single “Supermodel (You Better Work).”
Though it doesn't, Britney does repeat the iconic parenthetical of Ru's song throughout her track. And it wouldn't have been much of a stretch for her to appropriate a little bit of drag history and culture into her song. She has a history of playing gay clubs and has become a well-known figure to emulate in drag. Even the VMA kiss with Madonna helped bind some ties for Brit and the LGBT community.
In terms of mainstream visibility; Britney Spears is the ultimate twink, the ultimate leather daddy, and the ultimate pervert. She may well be the ultimate gay icon.
Like icons that came before her (Cher, Judy Garland, Madonna), Britney is a recognizable persona whose voice, dance moves, and outfits are so distinct that she has become an easy and much-abused Halloween costume idea.
But what exactly does it mean to be a “gay icon”? There's no exact formula and writers continue to examine the phenomenon. Writer Trevor Martin compares the iconography of powerful women in gay culture to the stereotypes of heterosexual males hanging up pictures of their favorite sports stars on bedroom walls. He cites a professor who proclaims that gay men choose women because they too are marginalized. In the end, Martin specifies the difference between someone having a strong following from gay men and being “a bona fide gay patron saint.” It's clear Britney has become the latter, and embraces it.
With Ru rumors swirling, Britney put out a song that will most likely be a staple at gay dance clubs across the country. It's catchy with a gritty, blaring beat and aggressive tone.
Beyond that specific subset of the culture, Brit has created an anthem. Unlike the in-your-face message of empowerment songs like “Roar” and “Born This Way,” “Work Bitch” has a simple yet aggro message of working hard to get what you want. The message feels even more believable from a post-meltdown Britney, who again managed to get on top.
It seems that Brit Brit is taking cues from another gay icon and pop legend who is preparing to release new music this year–Cher. In 1998, the same year Sonny Bono passed, Cher released Believe. The album, which utilized aspects of europop and dance music, ushered in Auto-Tune, and became the type of club-ready disc Britney would later emulate.
There's inspiration and lightness to the album, and it serves as a huge departure from her folk-pop roots. Similarly Cher's single this year, “Woman's World,” is a gigantic, beat-laden single. Like Britney, she produced a record perfect for the glitzy Vegas stage on which she often performs.
As Spears navigates her next era, she's already made and set the bar for the “adulthood” transition teen pop stars often struggle with. It's now, believe it or not, about solidifying her status as a legend. But a gay icon? She's already there.
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