In medieval times, a slew of handmaidens and ladies of the court would wait upon a queen. It only seems fitting that, following this tradition, the Queen of Pop herself, Ms. Britney Spears (sorry, Madonna), saw her younger female pop compatriots drop their own albums leading up to the release of her latest studio effort, Britney Jean.
After all, there would be no Miley, Katy, or Gaga as we know them were it not for Britney. There wouldn't be a Bangerz, PRISM or Artpop if there was no …Baby One More Time, Britney's debut studio album. For those pop stars, the album gave them their sound and their moves. It gave those albums an audience, too, because it set the standard for how our generation treated sex and sexuality.
While it's easy to gawk at the hypersexualized lyrics or risqué Catholic schoolgirl outfit from Spears' first music video, there is so much more to …Baby One More Time. Sex is complicated, and Spears' extreme, bar nothing approach to the topic taught us to take charge of our sexuality rather than fear it.
The pop star ushered in an era where sex wasn't a topic, but the topic of choice in pop music. Getting over the fact that Britney's cousin Chad Spears played her love interest in the "…Baby One More Time" music video (yes, that's a thing), all pop fans can see that, before Gaga was singing to "Do What U Want" or Miley was twerking on stage with her tongue out, Britney had to be up front about sex, both in her music video visuals and in her lyrics.
The video was named the most iconic video ever by MTV's afternoon staple Total Request Live, and it received the attention to match just when we were at an impressionable age. This was a big, bold song for a teenage songstress — in fact, it was originally meant for TLC.
Timing, of course, was everything. When Britney came along in the late 1990s, millennials were just starting to hit puberty and beginning to grasp the concept of the birds and the bees. On the one hand, you had your sex ed classes and the awkward discussions that accompanied them. On the other hand, you had a girl just a tad older than yourself — remember, Britney was only 16 when the album was released — not just discussing her sexuality but grabbing it by the horns and taking charge. Sitting with your friends in the school cafeteria, trying to figure out what she meant by "hit me baby" was all the education we needed. From her frankness, we got a taste for more.
In some ways, Spears' attitude toward sexuality has been a liberating mentality for how our generation deals with the subject. We are, perhaps, more open than any previous generation, and we have more ways than ever to express our sexuality. We party, flirt, sext, hook up whenever and wherever is convenient. While previous generations may have dealt with a bottled-up sense of sexuality, we have to deal with the opposite. Spears conveyed an ideal image of what it meant to be in charge of your sexuality.
Since that video, we've seen the perils of hypersexualization in Spears' life and in our own. Between the pressures of social media and the unending examination of hook-up culture, our openness became a burden. Ironically enough, just as our generation struggled with how to handle the open playing field of 21st century sexuality, so too did Spears — except her battles played out in the tabloids for our consumption.
More than a decade and a half later, though, Spears still evokes a sense of powerful sexuality throughout her music that serves as a model for how our generation deals with sex. As empowering as this model is, we've seen enough now of our own lives and hers to see its drawbacks. Britney put all of the cards on the table with ...Baby One More Time, and we're still figuring out how to play our hand.