Britney Spears Defies Pop Music Rule Book: Don’t Hold It Against Her

The new Britney Spears’ single, “Hold It Against Me,” hit the Web this morning and, sorry haters, it’s a home run. The Max Martin/ Dr. Luke concoction combines the electro-house craze currently fueling Top 40 radio with a sing-songy chorus that nods to Britney’s bubblegum past. (Strip away the grimy electronic pulses, and that refrain could fit snuggly into the kind of midtempo ballad Spears used to drop with every other single.)

As far as 2011 mainstream pop music goes, it doesn’t get much shrewder than “Hold It Against Me.” When MTV News staffers listened to “Hold It Against Me” today, we spent almost an hour brainstorming ideas around the song and considering Spears’ place in contemporary pop culture. During discussions of hair-shaving and conservatorship, it hit me: What’s most noteworthy about Britney’s career of late is what an anomaly it is.

Britney Spears single-handedly disproves the theory that pop music prioritizes style over substance. Without flashy music videos, a primping glam squad and tricky studio wizardry, naysayers argue, pop stars would not be able to maintain their luster.

Based on those criteria, though, shouldn’t Britney’s success have fizzled out years ago? By 2007, America’s pop music sweetheart-turned-sexpot was a mother of two who had replaced her personal trainer with a bottomless frappuccino. If, according to her critics, Britney’s major selling points were her six-pack abs and sex appeal, she’d have dropped off our radar by then.

Furthermore, fans haven’t been able to latch on to Britney’s public persona — they way the respond to, say, Katy Perry — because for all intents and purposes, Brit has none. Spears hasn’t given a proper TV interview since MTV’s “Britney Spears: For the Record” documentary in 2008, and even that was a highly produced affair, with Britney’s handlers getting final approval over the content.

When Britney pops up in public (to run her decidedly unglamorous errands), she’s often wearing Uggs-inspired (F’uggs?) boots and a weave that looks like its seen better hair days. Aspirational style icon, she is not.

In the end, though, it’s not about Britney’s looks or personality. It’s about delivering irresistible pop singles, which Britney makes look as easy as one, two, three (Peter, Paul and Mary).

To put it simply, “Hold It Against Me” rules. Silly pickup lines make up the bulk of the lyrics, the unrelenting beat is fist-pump-able, and Britney’s vocals are warm and, well, human. (Not to mention her endearing pronunciation of the word “hazy.”) And how awesome is that metallic chug-of-a-breakdown that finds Ms. Spears snarling “pop it like a hood” over a hip-hop shuffle? Whoa.

Britney’s shooting the music video for “Against Me” in a few weeks, but the end result is moot. To me, she hasn’t been a true music video artist since “TRL” was on the air. If the clip is awesome, I’ll cheer for her, but if it’s less-than-epic, I won’t hold it against her. The song is great regardless and, these days, that’s all we care about when it comes to image-proof Britney Spears.

What’s your theory on Britney’s staying power? (And why aren’t you following me on Twitter @jambajim?) Tell us in the comments!