The Case for Britney Spears, Instagram Poet Laureate
Britney Spears shares her moisturizing routine and a story about a personal trainer who made her cry, but it’s a lot more than just an Instagram post.
Here’s the thing: I could google how the poet laureate is chosen, but instead, I’ll give Instagram a quick scroll and acknowledge what in my heart of hearts I know to be true: Britney Spears is the voice we as a society need right now.
In a recent grid post on her personal page, the—singer? Guru? Icon? Life coach?—captioned a video of herself dancing to Paula Cole’s “Feelin’ Love” with an original Beat poem that can best be summarized as “lotion good; paparazzi bad; mean-ass gym girlie made me cry extra bad; let’s dance, bitches.” Taken on its face as a prose update, sure, it feels like perhaps it could use a few edits for clarity, but the flow can’t be denied.
This isn’t Instagram. This is poetry.
“Woke up this morning and my skin is so dry!!!” her caption begins. It reads like a text I might send to one of my friends while I brush my teeth, the ones in the tier where they receive updates throughout the day on my snacks and what streaming TV I have on in the background, and, hey, does my earlobe look weird, or is this just what earlobes look like? The same friends who might get a two-minute voice note describing the weird dream I had last night, and I know they’ll listen to the whole thing.
But after mentioning visiting vague “exotic locations,” coating her body in lotion, and commenting on the weather, Spears’s monologue takes a turn: “I want to get out more.” Given her history—a 13-year conservatorship, childhood fame, public scrutiny for decades—this simple phrase, considered, becomes just a little devastating. Spears’s post goes on to detail the saga of getting pap-snapped recently when her car broke down on a drive with husband Sam Asghari. “I looked like an idiot!!!” she writes, lamenting her “facial expression, the way I was leaning over, the pooch in my stomach!!!” It was a “helpless situation,” and she is not pleased with the resulting photos. “It didn’t look like my body,” she writes of that and another recent pap incident. She then drifts back to a personal trainer she met with two months ago. “The first thing she did to me was literally…and I’m not even lying…pinch the skin on my stomach and legs and [tell] me I need to get my younger body back…Why the hell did she do that??? It made me cry.”
Spears, 41, has lived a lot of life, both in mundane and extraordinary ways, and ways that are mundanely extraordinary. (She’s given birth to two children, for example, something that a lot of people do, but is not acknowledged for the extremely metal act that it is until someone goes through it themself: mundanely extraordinary.) World tours, courtroom dramas, marriages and divorces, multiplatinum albums, Vegas residencies, extremely memorable moments with Teletubbies—Spears has a lot to unpack, and her no-comments-taken approach (literally; she has the comments turned off on her grid posts) is reminiscent of some favorite contemporary poets like Kate Baer and Janet McNally, who confront aging and motherhood and the ordinary, extraordinary, everyday snapshots of living in a female-shaped body. Take, for example, McNally’s “The Wicked One Goes to the Makeup Counter”:
Isn’t this just what Spears, not longing for “my younger body,” but proud of her now body, the one she says she shapes herself through 45 minutes of exercise three times a week, the one in which she says she spent four hours dancing on video to make the post and show “what my body looks like at the moment,” is saying?
Or take three-time New York Times best-selling poet Baer’s poem “Idea,” which begins with “I will enjoy this life. I will open it / like a peach in season, suck the juice / from every finger, run my tongue over / my chin.” What is Spears doing, if not telling the story of something that happened to her, a few somethings, in fact, and enjoying the hell out of herself in the accompanying video, rubbing her hands over her stomach, displaying the navel we’ve seen nine kajillion times over the nine kajillion years Spears has been in the spotlight, hitching up her butter yellow crop top and flashing her wedding ring, all while holding eye contact with her phone’s camera, and therefore, us.
“My life, I will not waste it. I will enjoy this life,” Baer concludes in “Idea.” “Bitch, I’m just getting started,” Spears ends her caption. Break it up into verses, and it’s a poem about a woman who’s been told what she should be, and is choosing to live as herself instead. Britney’s memoir may be delayed, but she’s been sharing her story with us all along, one mean-ass-personal-trainer subtweet at a time.
Or as Steve Zeitlin, author of The Poetry of Everyday Life: Storytelling and the Art of Awareness, said in a 2017 podcast interview with the Poetry Foundation, “Sometimes when you meet somebody who’s truly poetic, it seems like almost everything they say is extraordinarily poetic.”
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