and the Pathology of Victimhood
in Britney Spearsí ". . . Baby, One More Time"
In her Top 10 hit ". . . Baby, One More Time," Britney Spears posits
the songís persona as a passive naïf. Continual references to blindness
and hitting metamorphose the song from a teen-targeted summer pop tune
into ideology enslaving young women into dangerous, constrictive views
of relationships--and themselves. Using feminist and Lacanian theory allows
us to see the speakerís entrance into the Symbolic and the problems thereof.
The speaker rues over a terminated "love" affair. She (although arguable,
this critic finds the speakerís notion of and adherence to gender roles
distinctly "female") supplicates for a "sign" of his (again, heterosexuality
is an assumption made for the sake of discussion) persevering proclivity.
This sign is to come in the form of a "hit." References to the speakerís
death ("killing me") are frequent, as are other indications of mistreatment.
The speaker begins addressing "baby," her lover. She claims ignorance
of the troubled relationship, thus displaying her quiescent predisposition:
"how was I supposed to know / that somethiní wasnít right here."
Because of her passivity, she appears as an innocent victim. The poor,
helpless speaker is not to be blamed for anything. One might picture a
little girl shrugging her shoulders and asking, "what could I do?" when
caught eating a whole cake. This denial of responsibility is commonly seen
on The Jerry Springer Show when someone maintains, "I didnít mean to have
an affair. It just happened." Placing the locus of control outside oneself
causes one to naturally become a victim.
Yet the speaker seems apprehensive in her inveterate paralyzed role.
She professes, "I shouldnít have let you go": are we to conclude that she
dismissed her lover for no reason at all? No, she is not active in the
relationship; she has made that clear. Instead, she now affirms she should
have asserted some dynamic action in the anti-synergetic affiliation. Instead
of considering the future or making proactive plans, she rather lives in
the past--an illusionary past.
The speakerís lack of foresight is emphasized by continued references
to sight. The speakerís lover moves "out of sight," perhaps into a future
that the speaker cannot imagine. She also denounces her lover because he
"got her blinded." Is this a reference to substantive abuse? We cannot
be sure. If we interpret it literally or figuratively, we end up with similar
results. She cannot see because of this man: he has transmogrified her
ability to envision the future into nothing--all she can stare into an abyss.
Her blindness is doubly troublesome when we consider her inability to
think. By tying her capacity for thought to the presence of her lover,
she is now stranded without brainpower in his absence: "when Iím not with
you I lose my mind." Whether she is thought-deprived without him or simply
crazy is not the issue: she has so completely given herself away that she
no longer functions independently. She even claims erroneously that she
"the reason I breathe is you"; no, the reason she breathes is instinctual.
She has tied all processes of her body, on conscious and unconscious levels,
to her lover. No wonder she is so helpless without him. She claims her
"loneliness" kills her, but it is instead the fact that she has let herself
depend on her lover as an unborn fetus depends on its mother (though it
is she who calls her lover "baby").
Lacanian theory supports a reading focusing on vision and childhood
development. Lacanís three main requirements for movement from the Imaginary
to the Symbolic are the mirror phase, use of language, and the Oedipus
complex (Haywood 280). The persona is struggling with all the concepts;
she is on the cusp of entering the Symbolic. She has recognized lack, necessary
for "growing up" in a Lacanian sense. Her sorrow comes having no one to
care for, the job a mother usually fulfills in childhood. Her desire to
develop another relationship that would replace that broken affiliation
suggests the possibility of an Electra complex. Of course, Lacan cared
little about determining Womanís place in his theory. Let us not discount
the legend of Oedipus Rex though. Instead of knowing too much ending in
death and blindness, here Spears warns us (by example) of the girl who
knew too little. The song reeks with overtones of blindness, sexuality,
and tragedy. The dissolution of the relationship reduces her to a blabbering
baby in need of Mother. She recognizes lack, has the language to express
that desire, and the need to find someone of the opposite sex to care for
her: she has entered the Symbolic--but she dares not progress beyond that
Vagueness in ". . . Baby, One More Time" adds to the perceived passivity
of the speaker. A confident speaker would likely clarify what "somethiní
wasnít right" means. Did the other person leave the cap off the toothpaste?
Did the other person murder a family member? A range of alternatives exists;
but instead let us recognize that this ambiguity is crucial. The speakerís
reluctance to specify indicates not only her inability to know or realize
what is wrong, but also suggests that it does not matter what caused the
relationship to go awry. The relationship, already on the verge of disaster,
needed little more than a touch to go over the edge into division.
Not only is the speaker unable to grasp the problems that exist(ed)
in their relationship, she is also unable to propose solutions. "Show me
/ how you want it to be. / Tell me, baby, / Ďcause I need to know now,"
she begs her lover. She cannot come up with ideas of her own, such as "why
donít I develop a spine and a personality" or "why donít you not see other
people anymore." The speaker does not even own a vocabulary to formulate
such thoughts; instead, she can only seek guidance like a preschooler asking
to use the restroom. "Thereís nothing that I wouldnít do," she asserts.
She claims "itís not the way I planned it," but it seems unlikely her "plan"
would work to begin with. This critic imagines it involved a castle, a
beautiful princess, a handsome prince, and happily ever after. "How was
[she] supposed to know" that such fairy tales are products of her adherence
to traditional notions of romance and womenís roles therein?
The speakerís beliefs about womenís roles fall into familiar power differentials.
She blames her lover for her despondency and inability to see, think, or
function, though she takes no responsibility for the failed relationship
nor any possible solutions for repair. She leaves all that messy thinking
to her lover. She simply waits (probably by a phone) for him to tell her
what to do.
She accents this passivity with tones of domestic violence. She asks
for a "sign. / Hit me, baby, one more time." Another hit means another
ounce of love has reached its destination. She measures her loverís affection
in bruises. These contusions are the only visual evidence she has of their
love, and remember how important sight (an ability now lost by her loverís
absence) is to the speaker. By asking to be hit, she is volunteering
to be completely subservient, now physically as well as emotionally and
mentally (previously granted), to his every whim. "Thereís nothing
that I wouldnít do," she asserts. She is begging for him to control her
Crucially important is the official title: it does not feature "hit
me," but instead utilizes an ellipsis to indicate omission. Why did Spears
(and/or those controlling her record publication) feel the need to call
the song ". . . Baby, One More Time"? Did she/they suspect the outrage
this song might create? By attempting to erase the "hit me," someone tried
to cover up the overtones of violence. Yet simply changing the title cannot
efface the masochism and vapidity of the songís speaker.
The speakerís complete yield of self to a potentially abusive lover
is deleterious for teens still forming an identity, especially those seeking
guidance and advice about sexual relationships. The effects of Spearsí
song remain to be seen; yet this critic feels that the message sent is
a harrowing one. The speakerís recognition of self-worth cannot eventuate
Haywood, Susan. Key Concepts in Cinema Studies Routledge: London, 1996.
Spears, Britney. ". . . Baby, One More Time." ...Baby One More Time. Audio CD. BMG: 1999.
Lacan, Jacques. Ecrits: A Selection Trans. Alan Sheridan. Tavistock: