“Piece of Me” is a classic example of the sort of song that is an attempt by a superstar pop artist to address “the haters” out there who criticize them. “Leave Me Alone” by Michael Jackson is another one of these songs. While I’m sure that fame can be an overwhelming responsibility – life under a bell jar and all that – these songs often sound whiney and insincere. While I imagine that any celebrity would have many justifiable reasons to complain about the nature of their lifestyle, these songs violate one of the many tacit deals a pop artist makes with his fanbase: either perform a song that makes me relate to you like I know you or perform a song that makes me delighted and stimulated by your rarified lifestyle that I’ll never know, but don’t tell me what a pain it is to take out the trash when the paparazzi are lurking because I just don’t care. “Piece of Me” is, unfortunately, one of these songs. However, it is excellently produced and the first stanza is a stunning bit of truthtelling by one of America’s most discussed women today.
A rhythmic track plays evoking the jingle-jangle of a tethered horse combined with female vocal backing gasp, Britney intones “I’m Miss American Dream / Since I was seventeen.” A lot of pop songs, especially those who are influenced heavily by hip-hop artists, rely on hyperbole. It’s amazing how many times have I heard a previously unknown artist sing a pop song about a-list clubs, photoshoots, “bling” and other perks of superstardom that simply couldn’t have been happening to this artist before the song was written and recorded. But Britney has been “Miss American Dream” since she was seventeen. In fact, if you count her tenure on the Mickey Mouse Club, it’s been longer than that. This is not some sort of aspirational pop star fantasy, it’s simply the truth. “Don’t matter if I step on the scene or sneak away to the Philippines, they still gon put pictures of my derrière in the magazine” she says. More truth. And she sounds weary.
Unfortunately the song dissolves into a tirade of self-pity after that. Apparently Britney thinks that the media hates her because it can’t abide by her “working and being a mom.” Meanwhile Britney, up until the time of the grudging release of this album she did no promotion for, appears neither to “work” nor “be a mom” choosing instead to party around the clock. Britney’s relationship to her own fame is complicated. She complains about the over-zealous attention of the paparazzi, but then she courts their attention shamelessly: changing outfits and hairstyles several times a day in order to get them to take more photos of her. Just as a person who was sexually molested as a child can be pathologically sexually promiscuous as an adult, Britney is now joylessly and pathologically seeking moments of fame as the inevitable result of being introduced to worldwide fame too young. And that’s the song I wish she performed on this album. Unfotunately those first two lines never delivered despite their initial promise.