britney spears + lessons of badass blogging
I’m a woman. I tend to apologize too much. Women tend to do that. We throw around “I’m sorry” like we do “please” and “thank you”; it’s a reflexive response, a form of courtesy, and other women know that. (Whereas a man will think that if you apologize for something, you really did fuck up in some way.)
Many women – not all – want to apologize just for taking up space. We think if we speak up, sprawl out, jump into the conversation, if we act eager and animated and passionate, we’ll come off as…obnoxious.
But in truth, it’s the reverse behavior – acting aloof, quiet, guarded — being in-your-head instead of in-the-moment – that people find much more difficult to connect with. When you’re onstage, people want you to be animated and eager and passionate. It wakes them up. It engages them. It takes them out of their heads and puts them right smack in the moment, and it’s in the here and now that we feel the most alive.
Having a blog, or an online presence in general, is all about the taking up of space, the claiming of it: with your voice, your opinions, your personality, your name, your passion, your interests, as well as any controversy that follows in your wake. And yes, if you’re doing your job even remotely right, someone, somewhere, is bound to criticize you. You will get criticized.
We need to expand, not contract. And we need to stop being so fucking apologetic. We need to just be. As gloriously as possible.
Play to your strengths.
This is one of the points I make again and again in my blog, because it can’t be emphasized enough. And by ‘strength’, I mean: whatever energizes you, comes easily to you, and makes you feel great about yourself. Why waste your time building up your weaknesses when you could focus, instead, on building up your strengths – which is your chance at becoming truly outstanding at something, as well as absolutely loving your life?
Britney knows she’s not the most powerful vocalist. “I would love to have a voice like Whitney, or Christina Aguilera,” she said once in an interview. “But I’m a performer.”
Britney’s strength has always been her onstage charisma, her dancing, her bold, in-your-face, aggressive sexuality. We don’t mind (so much) listening to her, but we love to watch her, and she knows it. All the training and effort in the world won’t turn her voice into a match for Aguilera’s – but who would you rather watch in a music video? (And if you said Aguilera, then, uh, you are the exception that proves the rule that proves my point. Yeah…)
If you hate to write (for example), but you light up in front of a camera, then clearly you shouldn’t be blogging. You should be video-blogging. It worked for Gary Vee.
Explore your edges.
Just when I was bored with Britney, and no longer paying attention to her, she partnered up with a musical artist named Rusko and introduced a little dubstep into her pop songs. Dubstep is a form of electronic music that takes its influence from a variety of sources. It is heavy on the bass, and heavy on the sub-bass, and tends toward the dark and ambient. Dubstep is edgy. By aligning herself with one of the best artists in the genre, Britney can reinvent her sound while still keeping it very, you know, Britney.
If you’re familiar with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey Myth, then you’re familiar with the themes of change, identity and transformation. The whole idea of the ‘hero’ (or ‘heroine’) is about someone living in the Ordinary World who receives a “call to adventure” that forces her to venture beyond her comfort zone and into the “Special World”. There, she must explore new territory, and acquire new skills and knowledge. She must then take that knowledge back to her Ordinary World and share with the others, in effect synthesizing the Ordinary and Special Worlds and becoming master of both.
I know it’s kind of a leap to go from Britney and dubstep to Joseph Campbell, but you get my point. Be the hero. Go out from your ‘center’ to the edges of your obsessions, let yourself be influenced by what you find there, and bring that influence back into your writing, your blogging, your creative work, your use of social media. …hell, your life. That’s when the center can get really, really interesting.
(Also to point out, this is a great example of how Britney effectively navigates her weaknesses. Instead of training hard and putting in lots of effort to become a sort-of-good vocalist, she chooses a genre of music that doesn’t make operatic demands on her and works around and plays up the breathy tone of her voice. She even transforms that weakness into a creative strength by choosing to partner with artists like Moby and Rusko. It’s not just about what you can do; it’s about what you can do when you team up with others.)
Bring your life into your work.
The edge that separates your life from your creative work is fuzzy at the best of times. As a performer – as someone who doesn’t write her own songs, or at least not the vast majority of them – Britney is in a better position to distinguish her life from her work, but do we really want that from her?
We don’t want your work to be untouched by your life.
We want soul, dammit.
Soul is where your originality is. It’s where your true self is. Your soul is you, your voice, your brand, your signature style, your emotional sweetspot, your values, your ruling passion, your pleasure principle, your message, your thing. It’s not about improving yourself. It is about stripping down to who and what you already are, and then turning up the lights, the colors and the volume. This takes balls and a surprising amount of work and practice – hey, if it was easy, then everybody would be walking around as their most authentic, creative, finely honed selves – but it’s what makes you irreplaceable. No one can outsource your soul. No one can automate it. No one can download it from Amazon (at least, not yet).
Britney ships. A lot.
For those of you who might be unfamiliar with it, ‘shipping’ is a word that Seth Godin appropriated to mean producing creative work and getting it out into the world. As Eric Maisel points out, the creative process has two different stages that come with their own brands of anxiety: making the thing, and then showing (or shipping) the thing. You’ve got to do both, or you’re not in the game. And the more projects you ship, the more likely you are to hit at least one of them out of the park.
Then again, there is a balance. Many writers, for example, ship their manuscripts too quickly, too early, to agents and editors or the public in general (thank you, rise of self-publishing). You need to give your work time to bake, to innovate, to refine and improve itself. Churning out projects of mediocre quality will disappoint your fans (or fail to win you any in the first place) and hurt your career.
But Seth’s point, I think, is that shipping is a skill in and of itself. It involves the art of starting something – and then the art of carrying it through — and then the art of finishing. You have to practice each and every one of these arts in order to get better at all of them. And you do that by doing them over and over again. You start projects. You finish them. You ship. You don’t let yourself get paralyzed with fear and insecurity. You don’t give in to the Resistance. You understand that some things will fly, and some things won’t fly, and that’s just how the world works. No drama.
What shipping does require is a serious work ethic, and a commitment to your art. Not a pretend or half-assed commitment. The real deal.
Britney is possibly the most controversial pop star in the history of pop stars. She’s also wildly, wildly popular. She can’t get out of the public eye if she tries (and she has tried).
My point is not that you might desire that level of fame — although if you do, I’m sorry, and may the gods help you – but to point up the relationship between interesting and controversial. Interestingness is not always nice, or easy, and doesn’t always come in smooth well-rounded packages. It engages you, gets under your skin, and provokes you. Because interestingness comes with a clearly defined point of view, its own strong sense of self, not everybody is going to agree with you or the ideas that you embody.
For those of us raised to be nice, this can be problematic.
But seriously? Get over it. Nice — which is different from kindness – is what other people want you to be when they don’t want you to follow your own agenda. Nice accommodates. It succumbs. It pleases. It eats away at your soul and compromises your sense of identity.
It’s more invigorating – and also, I think, much more honest – to develop a strong point of view, to live it, to be it. Just make it as informed as you possibly can. A true, authentic, and deeply educated point of view is a gift to the world.
Surround yourself with good, cool people.
In the book CONNECTED: The Surprising Power of Human Networks, the authors make the point that no man or woman is an island. We are so deeply wired into each other that we are not only influenced by our friends, but also our friends’ friends, and our friends’ friends’ friends. How you eat, if you smoke, how much money you make, how happy you are today – the habits and beliefs that shape your daily reality – are all subject to the influence of people you don’t even know. So if you want to change some aspect of your life, you probably need to change some aspect of your community. It’s important to surround yourself with people you not only like, but want to be like. It’s not about being a snob, but about taking care of yourself and honoring who you really are.
Even a brief look at Britney’s personal history and the rise and fall and rise and fall and rise of her career will demonstrate how her success depends greatly upon the people she chooses to bring into her life.
Rebellion, so long as it’s genuine, is your opportunity to define yourself and what you stand for against what you are decidedly not. It’s an opportunity to refine your point-of-view and present something refreshing and original to the world that it maybe didn’t even know it needed. Because if something pisses you off enough to speak up against it, chances are it’s pissing off other people as well, and making them just as hungry for an alternative (especially the alternative that is the soulful you.) It’s scary to be the first, lone voice in the wilderness…but it can be amazing how quickly other voices join in.
Britney rebelled against her own past, her own corporate, sexy-but-‘virginal’ image that turned out to be less about honesty (she wasn’t really a virgin) and more about how the powers-that-be could best make money off her (virginity sells!). You can question – seriously seriously question – many of the decisions she made (*cough*Federline*cough*) but in the end it was her right to make them. And here’s the thing. She still has a career. Would that be the case if she was still playing the good girl role, instead of standing that role on its head? If the culture was still obsessing over her virginity? instead of maybe – maybe – maybe taking a tiny step towards being the kind of place where a girl’s moral character is measured by something other than what’s between her legs?
So go, Britney.
Work it out. Rock hard. There’s a lot of us rooting for you.