Inside the Diva Factory

Well, look at that, I posted something about this and here I find a recent article about the same thing…tsk tsk.

I admit I was once a Britney fan, when her song ‘Toxic’ was a hit, but those days are long gone.

I’ve listened to some of the album..it got the point where I couldn’t listen to it anymore. Was it Britney I was listening to or a robot? her voice is very manufactured and the music….kinda sucks. Well. IT SUCKS ASS!

She doesn’t sound real..more like fake, like plastic.

I am sure people with no taste will love it and rate it 5 stars, like they do with everything else on iTunes. CAUSE THEY DON’T know the difference between crap and authentic music. And they’re dumbtwits.

Hey, I like Jennifer Lopez’s ‘On the Floor’, it grew on me  and video is contagious.

 

Britney Spears: Inside the Diva Factory

 

It took a virtual village to build the superstar’s new album

March 28, 2011

By Glenn Kenny
Special to MSN Music

The music industry’s old and new worlds collide this week with the arrival of Britney Spears‘ latest album. Among other things, Spears’ “Femme Fatale” dramatizes both the blockbuster scale of mainstream pop’s time-honored hits mentality and the new realities of how music finds an audience in an era of digital disruption. In the brave new world disorder of the recording industry, the old hierarchy of major labels, big recording contracts and lavish albums can seem all but obsolete as the audience takes control, letting tiny indie labels and self-contained artists bypass yesterday’s star-making machinery to seed their careers with laptop studios and viral promotion. The old verities of the business — radio airplay, retail displays and big record marketing campaigns — are being overwritten by virtual guerilla music making and marketing.

Except, perhaps, for the very biggest hits: In contrast to the sleeper hits that invade via YouTube or Facebook, or recent critics’ darlings such as James Blake, whose debut album bears the note “All tracks written, performed, produced, and recorded at home by James Blake,” Spears’ “Femme Fatale,” her seventh studio album, comes to consumers bearing a lengthy if not Byzantine set of credits.

 

 

On the album’s “deluxe edition” (which features 16 tracks as opposed to the regular edition’s 12), 22 individual songwriters are cited. Spears herself is not among them. There are over a dozen producers, sometimes as many as four to a single track. And this is strictly the aural side of Britney we’re talking about; as an artist who’s always been as image-driven as she is, there’s another whole network of video directors, stylists, makeup artists and photographers that goes into the crafting of the promotional material and ancillary merchandise that is now part and parcel of a major-label mega-launch that an event record such as “Femme Fatale” demands.

Cynics might say that as far as Britney Spears is concerned, this is to be both expected and disdained, that it’s evidence that she’s not much more than a media puppet, and that even such pop phenoms past and present as Madonna and Lady Gaga have more “integrity” simply by dint of writing, or at least co-writing, their own material. And that old-school idols kept their Svengalis to a minimum, as measured by exceptions such as Elvis Presley and notorious micromanager “Colonel” Tom Parker. (While we’re on the subject of Elvis, let us not forget that, perusing his hefty discography, one doesn’t find a whole helluva lot of songwriting credits for The King, either. Just saying.)

Such cavils don’t negate Spears’ outsized commercial power, however. Having seemingly gotten over a number of personal and business trials, she’s still here and she’s still selling records (in some form or another), and she’s still all over what’s left of Top 40 radio.

“I don’t think that Britney would be around today had she decided, after Baby One More Time’ and those hits that broke her, that she was going to co-write her own material,” notes Peter Zizzo, a producer, songwriter and longtime music industry figure who helped discover and break young female artists such as Avril Lavigne and Vanessa Carlton. “She’s definitely proof that there’s something to be said for choosing your lane and staying in it. In a sense it’s kind of mind-boggling that she’s had a career for almost 15 years now; she could have gone the way of a Tiffany or a Debbie Gibson. But the fact is that she puts out great pop records, consistently. I think that testifies to the fact that she understands herself, she recognizes that she’s a product and a brand.”

Spears began work on “Femme Fatale” in 2009. Like all of her records, the process starts with what seems to be turning into a vestigial figure in record-making: the A&R executive. “A&R” stands for “Artists and Repertoire,” reflecting earlier eras when self-contained artists were an exception to the rule and label handlers would pick songs, producers and arrangers to build hit records. By the’70s heyday of rock and pop singer-songwriters, the emphasis in this position was in holding the artist’s hand, creating an environment in which he or she felt sufficiently protected to craft what would be his or her own repertoire.

Record company executives like David Geffen and Clive Davis were renowned for giving their artists room to breathe and leaving the marketing to other experts, or so it seemed. “I liked [Clive Davis] because he thought like an artist,” no less a personage than Miles Davis noted in his autobiography. Still, when need be, Davis could take a firm guiding hand with artists, especially ones who didn’t write: He assembled the talent on both the songwriting and production ends for the debut album by Whitney Houston, and didn’t that pay off?

In Spears’ case, the executive overseeing the product is Teresa LaBarbera Whites, of Jive and now Sony (which owns Jive now). LaBarbera Whites has long had a stake in Spears’ career, and according to a music industry figure at another major label who spoke on condition of anonymity, “Spears trusts her implicitly.” For “Femme Fatale,” LaBarbera Whites and Spears made the Long Island-born producer and songwriter Lukas Gottwald, known as Dr. Luke, co-executive producer. This empowered Gottwald as a key project gatekeeper, responsible for corralling the other songwriting and producing talent. The record’s other linchpin, and second co-executive producer, is Max Martin, the Swedish pop-song kingpin who’s been part of the Spears creative team since writing “… Baby One More Time.” “Max Martin is the best pop songwriter in the world right now; there’s just no argument there,” our unnamed industry source contends, but if you insist on arguing the point, there are literally dozens of top 10 songs and millions of records sold in Martin’s favor.

“Clearly the instincts that went into making this record are in the exact right place,” our sources adds, pointing to the deep talent roster behind “Femme Fatale.” “The point when you’re doing these kind of pop records is to surround yourself with the right people. Dr. Luke is as hot as it gets right now. As are the track producers Billboard and Benny Blanco. I see she went back to Bloodshy, who did  Toxic.’ It’s not like they have slackers to make up the rest of the album.” Indeed, as Spears’ career has advanced, she’s picked up new creative collaborators to work with, and on “Femme Fatale” she keeps around those whose work has borne Top 40 fruit. “Toxic,” with its nearly shrill and frantic sound, was a bit of a departure for Spears, but it worked — like crazy — so Bloodshy gets to stay involved with her records. (Sometimes things don’t go as well. Underground music fans still gape in awe at the ill-fated team-up in the early aughts between Spears and DFA, the New York avant-dance production team later to splinter off into LCD Soundsystem.)

So can we presume that Spears is, when all is said and done, the secret mastermind behind this hive of pop-manufacturing activity? Our insider shrugs. “If you’re in a position to work with these guys, it doesn’t matter what she thinks, as long as she understands what’s expected of her.” (By the same token, this source also admits that sometimes staying out of the creative process pays off, noting that once teen diva Christina Aguilera became actively involved with crafting her own material, she went on to “make records no one cares about.”) Peter Zizzo sees it a bit differently: “There’s no way you can survive this long without in some way being aware of the creative choices you’re making.”

With that question unresolved, one last point of curiosity remains: Given how not-cheap all of this talent is, how does an increasingly impoverished music industry bankroll such productions? The answer is simple: Spears still moves the old-school “units” that Kurt Cobain of Nirvana mocked in his song “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter.” The “units” are just manifested differently than they used to be. Instead of vinyl 45s, cassingles or CD singles, digital singles purchased on iTunes and other outlets are the stuff of today’s Top 40.

“Spears is a worldwide superstar, so she’ll still sell traditional albums,” the insider insists. “In the digital world she is equally strong. Ten digital singles equals one album in terms of sales, and she absolutely delivers in that category.” Add to that the fact that in today’s pop world, the record companies may have their fingers in everything that a particular artist is selling, and there are a lot of things being sold The count isn’t yet in on how much more “content” will be generated by “Femme Fatale,” but the record is not only charting, but getting a good reception from pop-savvy critics. As Spears approaches, dare we say it, cougar-dom, her icon status appears to be in excellent shape, which means it’s likely that it will be very well-maintained well into the future.