How does a record breaking pop icon relate to a medical, art and science museum like Wellcome Collection? The link may (quite rightly) be tenuous, but as the singer’s ninth album is released today, our Web Editor Russell Dornan has trawled the collections in celebration, looking for any connections he could find (no matter how questionable!).

Ever since Britney Spears erupted on the pop scene in the late ’90s, she smashed records and captured the public’s imagination. I still remember her first appearance on TOTP when I was 15 and how my mind was blown. Crowned the Princess of Pop, her debut single “…Baby One More Time” reached number 1 in every country it charted and is still one of the best selling singles of all time.

britney-spears-baby-one-more-time6

Spears’ subsequent work over the last 18 years has provoked controversy, earned her awards and immortalised her in pop culture forever. Today sees the release of Britney Spears’ ninth album. To mark the occasion I had a thorough listen through Britney’s back catalogue, looking for any links to our collections buried in her (very – ahem – sophisticated) lyrics. What follows is hopefully a fun and unexpected way to explore our themes and objects, whether you’re a fan or not.

Britney-Spears-This-Is-Fun_zpse4cbb8f8

Email my heart

Album …Baby One More Time
Year 1999
Listen

Remember when emails and the internet were still culturally novel enough to be cool gimmicks in a pop song?

It’s been hours seems like days, since you went away,
And all I do is check the screen to see if you’re ok.
You don’t answer when I phone, guess you wanna be left alone.

I can see you in my mind, coming on the line
And opening this letter that I’ve sent a hundred times.

I’ve paired these song lyrics with a composite artwork illustrating the search for health information on the internet. And you thought Britney had nothing to do with a medical museum!

B0003323 Internet self help - composite artwork

Internet self help – composite artwork. (Credit: Nanette Hoogslag.)

Dear Diary

Album Oops!…I Did It Again
Year 2000
Listen

As cheesy as the lyrics below are (the song itself is all about Britney telling her diary about a boy she likes), these lines struck a prophetic chord with me.

And it scares me
‘Cause I’ve never felt this way
No one in this world
Knows me better than you do
So diary I’ll confide in you

The lyrics made me think about a diary in our collection. Bobby Baker began her diary drawings in 1997 when she became a patient at a day centre. Originally private, they gradually became a way for her to communicate complex thoughts and emotions that are difficult to articulate to her family, friends and professionals.

For the one below she wrote: “I was desperate to keep my normal life intact but my responsibilities as a working wife and mother sometimes felt like this.” This hits pretty close to the bone in the context of Britney’s experiences too.

B0007880 Diary Drawings: Day 104

Bobby Baker’s Diary Drawings: Day 104 (Credit: Bobby Baker)

When your eyes say it

Album Oops!…I Did It Again
Year 2000
Listen

Even Britney knows how important our eyes are in communicating with each other. (She feels it too.)

But when your eyes say it
That’s when I know that it’s true
I feel it
I feel the love coming through
I know it
I know that you truly care for me
Cause it’s there to see
When your eyes say it

There was a lot to choose from when it came to the theme of eyes. What do our eyes say? They’re arguably the most important and communicative parts of our faces, able to get across a huge range of feelings and emotions, from the dramatic to the subtle. You can read more about facial expressions in our previous post.

V0009230 Eyes expressing good character (according to Lavater). Drawi

Eyes expressing various characters. Drawing, c. 1794.

Breathe on me

Album In The Zone
Year 2003
Listen

At first it seemed that Britney got a bit more risqué with this album. Until I realised this song was possibly about mouth-to-mouth.

We don’t need to touch
Just breathe

Monogamy is the way to go
Just put your lips together and blow

Breathe, breathe

I’m not advocating that this song is the only training you need to perfect your rescue breathing technique, but the lyrics could have been written especially for this image in our collection…

N0017260 Basic life support, simulated cardiac arrest, no respiration

Rescue breathing is initiated using mouth-to-mouth technique.

Toxic

Album In The Zone
Year 2003
Listen

One of Britney’s biggest hits, this song was originally offered to Kylie Minogue, pop fans. The song is about a lover who is likened to a dangerous, yet addictive, drug. So right up our street then…

The taste of your lips
I’m on a ride
You’re toxic I’m slippin’ under
With a taste of a poison paradise
I’m addicted to you
Don’t you know that you’re toxic?
And I love what you do
Don’t you know that you’re toxic?
It’s getting late
To give you up
I took a sip
From my devil’s cup
Slowly, it’s taking over me

An easy link to make, I chose this pretty arsenic bottle. Although potentially highly poisonous, arsenic was used as a component in a range of treatments for many centuries.

Used in a pharmacist’s shop, this blue glass bottle is ridged, so the user would know by touch that its contents were poisonous if given in large doses. Coloured glass was also used to indicate poisons. 

L0057809 Blue ridged glass bottle for arsenic, Europe, 1701-1935

Toxic? Yes. Addictive? Unclear. Arsenic bottle.

Shadow

Album In The Zone
Year 2003
Listen

I’m not sure the lyrics below were meant to be quite as macabre as the collection item they reminded me of.

It’s only your shadow
Never yourself
It’s only your shadow
Nobody else
It’s only your shadow
Filling the room
Arriving too late
And leaving too soon

For these lyrics I chose this pen and ink drawing by Joyce Cutler Shaw. On her website, Shaw explains “The skeleton and its shadows, the most durable and ephemeral traces of the human body, evoke the hidden and mysterious self.”

L0027998 A skeleton and its shadow. Pen and ink drawing by Joyce Cutl

One of the “Skeletons and Shadows” drawings by Joyce Cutler Shaw.

Everytime

Album In The Zone
Year 2003
Listen

A more mature and melancholy song written by Britney, “Everytime” is simple and fragile.

And everytime I see you in my dreams
I see your face, it’s haunting me

Our current exhibition, ‘States of Mind‘, explores the edges of consciousness. The lines above vividly brought to mind one of the pieces in the show used to explore sleep paralysis.

V0016638 A perturbed young woman fast asleep

A perturbed young woman fast asleep with a devil sitting on her chest.

Touch of my hand

Album In The Zone
Year 2003
Listen

I’m not sure this song needs much of an introduction.

I love myself
It’s not a sin
I can’t control what’s happenin’
‘Cause I just discovered
Imagination’s taking over
Another day without a lover
The more I come to understand
The touch of my hand

We have quite a lot of masturbation-related material, mainly in the form of anti-masturbation objects, but I’ve chosen the one below instead. We’ve written previously about the contemporary rumours of doctors in the 19th century treating women for hysteria with vibrators. I won’t repeat that here, but you can read it here.

L0033885 Advertisment for "Sanofix" electric hand vibrator.

Photograph of the a young woman using a ‘Sanofix’ Electric Vibrator.

Mannequin

Album Circus
Year 2008
Listen

I had never looked in our collections for anything relating to mannequins, so when I remembered this song I was excited about what I’d find. I wasn’t disappointed.

You can cry your eyes out of your head,
Baby, baby,
I don’t care, I don’t care,
You can cry-cry-cry again-gain-gain,
My face like a mannequin

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mannequin that isn’t in some way sinister. Even this one used as a teaching tool manages to have something very disconcerting about it.

V0015256 Nurses being lectured on bandaging using a mannequin on a ho

Nurses being lectured on bandaging using a mannequin on a hospital ward.

Perfume

Album Britney Jean
Year 2013
Listen

Britney has a hugely successful range of perfumes. She endorsed her first one back in 2004: Elizabeth Arden’s “Curious”. (Incurably curious?) It became Elizabeth Arden’s top selling fragrance worldwide. By 2013 her fragrances had grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide and a bottle was sold every 15 seconds. No wonder her last album featured a song about it.

And while I wait I put on my perfume, yeah I want it all over you
I gotta mark my territory

From the 1700s onwards Paris was at the centre of the perfume and cologne business. At a time when most people did little to hide their ‘natural odours’, some who could afford it used eau de cologne as part of their personal hygiene routines.

L0057441 Glass bottle for eau de cologne, Paris, France, 1780-1850

Glass bottle for eau de cologne, Paris.

 Liar

Album Glory
Year 2016

A blues-tinged song from Britney’s new album, the lyrics below reminded me of a project relating to our ‘States of Mind’ exhibition. Called Sleep Stories, we asked our audience to share with us their stories relating to sleep (such as sleep talking, sleep paralysis, etc.). These were then embroidered and pieced together to form a quilt.

I hear you all night talk in your sleep
Saying all kind of things but none of them read
Keeping secrets under your sheets

The quilt below was created using our audience’s stories, but it was also visitors that did all the work over ten weeks. We are developing a digital version of the quilt that will allow you to zoom up close to the individual pieces and find out more about the stories behind them.

Small-quilt

The quilt we created with our visitors and online audiences.

So there we have it. I hope this jaunt through our collections via a selection of random Britney Spears lyrics was enjoyable. It made me aware of just how much anatomy/psychology features in songs: hearts, veins, minds, dreams, eyes, hands, bodies, breathing and more. But maybe that’s a future post…

In the meantime, remember you can wrap your ears around Glory from today!

Britney-Spears-gifs-britney-spears what u waiting for

Russell is the Web Editor for Wellcome Collection and an unashamed fan of Godney.

3 thoughts on “Oops!…I wrote a Britney blog post

  1. Reblogged this on Wunderkammer and commented:

    Ever since Britney Jean Spears erupted on the pop scene in the late ’90s, she smashed records and captured the public’s imagination. I still vividly remember her debut on TOTP when I was 15 and how my mind was blown. Crowned the Princess of Pop, her debut single “…Baby One More Time” reached number 1 in every country it charted and is still one of the best selling singles of all time.

    britney-spears-baby-one-more-time6

    Spears’ subsequent singles and albums were also hugely successful, earning awards and immortalising her in pop culture for ever. People seemed fascinated by Spears, even (or perhaps especially) if they weren’t fans of her or her music.

    Being one of the most successful and high profile musicians on earth comes with a price. Along with the regular problems many of us deal with at one time or another (the loss of loved ones, relationship breakdowns, being a working parent), Spears had the world watching her every move, waiting for her to fail. In early 2007 Spears shaved her head in an LA hair salon, marking the beginning of a very public breakdown, graphically played out on the pages of tabloids and celebrity websites all over the globe.

    brit whatver

    Issy Beech recently wrote for Vice: “Everywhere you looked, you’d see Britney robbed of her privacy. Mocked, chased, insulted, embarrassed, harassed, and defamed. A violating upskirt photograph of her crotch made worldwide news for weeks. She was 26. And a mother of two. The world watched, and fed off her instability. They egged the madness on.”

    Brit Sad

    Later that year, Spears released her fifth album “Blackout”. Despite what she was going through at the time, it was yet another success and is arguably her best body of work to date. Subsequent albums brought more success and broke more records (Spears is currently tied with Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson for the number of number of albums debuting at number one). And all while Spears was on the road to recovery,  regaining control of her life and estate bit by bit.

    britney-gif-like that slave

    Although her recent work has been commercially successful on the whole, its quality, spirit and impact have never quite matched her former glory. In part this may be due to the material as well as newcomers snapping at her heels, grasping for her crown. Last week’s release of Britney Spears’ ninth album, however (pleasingly titled “Glory”), is a return to form and the beginning of a new chapter.

    Below is the post I wrote for Wellcome Collection’s blog.

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