“Oh Britney, Britney,” writes a music fan from Hawaii, taking advantage of the Amazon.com forum on which consumers rate their purchases, “how were we supposed to know that something wasn‘t right here?” Like many of the 950 and counting who have turned Britney Spears’ . . . Baby One More Time feedback page into a veritable referendum on the singer‘s lasting significance, this fan has begun to suspect that something’s amiss in Spears‘ career.

Is it her lack of musical talent that people find distressing? Well, sure, that’s part of it. At the moment, competition in the diva-lite field is particularly intense, with Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore and Jessica Simpson among the bodacious blond teens competing for Billboard dominance. (As Michelle from Connecticut writes of Spears‘ debut, “Please do not waste your money on this CD. Buy Christina Aguilera’s CD. Her voice is naturally beautiful and her songs have meaning and truth.”) But the bigger story is that, after one year of Britney in the limelight, certain sad truths about Spears‘ career have come to light, and the meaning of her cultural ubiquity has begun to shift. As a concerned Hawaiian supporter puts it, “Child stars grow up. Child prodigies become adults.”

Spears’ new video, “From the Bottom of My Broken Heart,” puts her on the fast track to adulthood. The clip finds her leaving her old boyfriend behind and taking a bus to somewhere . . . But where? Who‘s in bed with Britney now? While a TV tabloid recently reported that an old bayou beau in Louisiana has mother Spears’ approval, fantasizing fans want to believe Britney‘s dallying with that braided moppet from N’Sync or a member of the Backstreet Boys. But the only verifiable fact we have to work with is that Spears has started running with a darker L.A. crowd.

One piece of evidence is that her new video is directed by Gregory Dark, a triple-threat writer, director and producer known not only for his work on videos by bands like Orgy and the Melvins, but for a 15-year-plus career as a groundbreaking pornographer. A former film-school student at both Stanford and NYU, Dark is renowned for crafting the most decadent XXX on the market. As Hustler writes, “Dark‘s movies are more like nightmares. Twisted and fevered . . . Every treat has a gooey center, but beware the few that slip past containing the occasional jagged piece of glass.” The titles of his movies alone — White Bunbusters, Fallen Angels, The Devil in Miss Jones 3: A New Beginning — hint at a possible chronology for Spears’ career in days to come. Will this Cinderella sully the slipper? Will we all eat glass?

Spears already has a history of questionable decisions. Some have accused her first hit single, “Baby One More Time,” of bringing back beating as a fashionable topic for popular song. Last spring, when she posed for a photo spread in Rolling Stone, celebrity portraitist David LaChapelle dressed the singer up as a Catholic schoolgirl and asked her to lick lollipops on a playground. At odds with the Catholic kilt, she posed on the cover in her underwear and was condemned by the American Family Association. At Dodger Stadium‘s Wango Tango event this past summer, Britney spiced up her 20-minute set by wearing shiny black leather pants and what can only be described as an elastic breast hammock. This brought to mind the questions surrounding her contemporaneous “knee” surgery and the unusual swelling that accompanied it. Say, around chest level.

This is all classic Hollywood Babylon stuff, yet Britney’s handlers have fervently denied the sordid facts. One wonders why, since these “scandals” are in part responsible for her appeal. Really, we should give Spears credit not only as a teen strumpet but as a businesswoman a la Madonna. On a loftier level, her career reads as a pop interpretation of one of the 20th century‘s greatest literary works. Upon re-reading Lolita, you’ll be prepared to make a convincing case that the allusive sexual ephemera surrounding Spears make her the fleshy actualization of Nabokov‘s text.

Or is Spears just fluffing the world for a future in the baser professions? Maybe her career trajectory is destined to lead her in the opposite direction to that of Traci Lords, another former Dark protege. Eventually uncovered as a real-life Lolita, Lords made her bones in Dark’s most acclaimed production, New Wave Hookers, a film lauded for combining avant-garde film technique, punk music and nubile underage girls. Dark provided just the springboard Lords needed to become a pop-cultural presence, going on to star in a John Waters film and even scoring a record deal. There‘s no question Spears would be a major presence on Lords’ former circuit, especially now that porn is rapidly being mainstreamed. How long until a skinflick gains the imprimatur of the men that run Main Street USA? Let us not forget Spears‘ seediest former calling, as a Disney Mouseketeer.

Now that Spears’ album has Soundscanned a startling 11 million copies, it‘s time to admit that the new teen pop isn’t heavily coded XXX made for and marketed to teenagers. In fact, it‘s explicitly made and marketed as such. “From the Bottom of My Broken Heart” contains no avant-garde film techniques, but Britney’s lips glisten so . . . Speaking frankly, this light in our lives hurts us, from the fire in our loins to the bottom of our broken hearts.

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