In the last months of 2011, Britney Spears' career is the cat in Schrodinger's sealed box -- it's both alive and dead. Most often, the swan song of a pop star's career is a Lifetime Achievement Award, which Spears received at this year's MTV Video Music Awards in August.
As a contrast from her earlier dance-floor singles, "Criminal" has a folksy sound. It starts with a Ren-faire recorder and a acoustic guitar chord -- it's like the first minutes of "Stairway to Heaven" but blander.
The lyrics and video seem like a steamy romance novel -- the girl-meets-bad-boy kind. The lyrics set up this guy as a smarmy scrub (He's a loser, he's a bum... he's a sucker).
It gets worse.
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"The man's a snitch," which means he doesn't even have a code of honor that most fictional mobsters or bikers have.
The problem I have is this sort of story sets women up for relationships with sociopathic jerks. The film Last Days of Disco made a similar argument about Lady and the Tramp. It's disturbing to a nice guy like me, but I digress.
If the video's British setting is an indication -- and if Britney's career path parallels Madonna's -- Britney's at the Anglophilia stage of her career. Since Britney already tried to put on an English accent, all she needs to do now is star in a British "fillum" that flops, marry an English guy and drink tea at 4 p.m. every day.
From this point on, Britney's relevance is gonna see-saw as we see a few more albums and stunts. Unless Britney stars in something critically acclaimed like Evita, I don't expect this cat will wake up.