When the Buzz Drowns Out the Music

Wouldn't you think a woman who went through rehab, suffered public breakdowns and lost custody of her children would avoid – not court – more controversy?

Not if the woman is Britney Spears.  The singer's latest CD contains sleazy photos of a provocatively-dressed Spears cavorting with a priest in a confessional.

Does Britney have to do everything that Madonna does? Catholic imagery appears to be too tempting a target for the Pop Tarts to ignore. There's little doubt that Britney is taking cues from her role model.  In 1989, Madonna used similar symbolism in her “Like a Prayer” video.  She revealed stigmata wounds on her hands and was also shown sensuously kissing a statue of a saint in a church.   Eleven million copies of the album sold worldwide, which is probably why Britney is cruising down the same exploitive road.

Nonetheless, she didn't have to hype it this way. Media anticipation of the Oct. 30 release of the album, Blackout, has been intense.

Marketing consultant Ryan Schinman, president of Platinum Rye Entertainment, told the Associated Press that he'd “be shocked if [it] didn't go platinum.”  He also said that “(the album) is going to sell.  People are curious because they know what a train wreck she's been.” 

Barry Weiss, president and CEO of Zomba Label Group, which is producing the album, told USA Today, “with so much noise out there about her, we are trying to keep the focus on the music as much as possible.” 

Note to Weiss:  If the goal is to keep the focus on the music, it's probably not a good idea to mock the Catholic Church. 

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, doesn't think the controversy will translate into increased sales.  He told the New York Daily News. “This is all the puzzle pieces coming together. This girl is crashing. She's not even allowed to bring up her own kids because she's not responsible enough. Now we see she can't even entertain.”

Kiera McCaffrey, communications director of the Catholic League, told MTV News that Spears' pictures are a “cheap publicity stunt that is a way to get people to talk about [her] album without talking about her music, which is what they should be focusing on.”

Speaking of the music, it may not be that bad.  Rolling Stone gave the album three and a half stars out of five and Entertainment Weekly gave it a B+, calling it “a collection of well-produced, thoroughly enjoyable dance songs.” 

Even before the risqué photos were leaked, “Gimme More,” the first single on Spears' album, peaked at Number 3 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.  The song currently holds the number 13 spot. 

Maybe it's time for Spears to dispense with the tired gimmicks and let her music sing for itself. 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.