Every meltdown needs a soundtrack. Every extra shitty life moment needs a theme song. Most of the time, we don’t get to pick these songs or the albums. They pick us simply by being played while everything comes crashing down. For me, the album that will forever be associated with my own person shit storm in 2008 is Circus by Britney Spears.
Call it prophetic timing. Chalk it up to gayness. Or simply write it off to the magical powers of pop divas. But the sixth album by Britney Spears came out right as things were about to get really fucking real for me. Remembered 9 years later primarily for the hit single “Womanizer” and it’s wig swapping video, Circus falls firmly in the Comeback Era of our Lord and Savior Britney Spears. Having had her own terrible times in 2007, Britney was experiencing a renaissance. Less crazy, more energetic and presumably on a better combination of psych meds, Britney was doing all of the morning shows that fall. The word on the street was “It’s Britney, bitch and she’s back!” Couple this with the ushering in of the Obama era, things looked like they were turning around in America. Well, for everybody but me.
While Britney was cracking whips and wearing sexy ringmaster outfits on Good Morning America, yours truly was having cocaine induced panic attacks in the hallway of the apartment that he was days away from getting evicted from. It’s hard not to notice the juxtaposition of Britney’s upbeat, pop confection of a record, which I was listening to non-stop while my own life events were closer to the kind of circus with sad, drunk clowns and abused animals. Now, anyone who knows me knows that music is a huge part of my life and I’m not some top 40 devotee who slurps up all populist crap. The opposite actually.
As a former record store employee and DJ, I’m a music snob and a half. Go ahead and mansplain me on the topics of sports and home improvement but I will unequivocally smoke your ass when it comes to knowledge of music and pop culture. This is a fact. I proudly turn my nose up at overrated sensitive dude singers, pride myself on loving bands before anyone else did and enjoy seeking out weird old shit. That said, I have a soft spot for brain-rotting cotton candy pop. Britney is certainly a master of this category. Of the 90’s teen pop divas, her trailer trash roots, auto-tuned voice and undeniable club bangers have made me a fan. Not in a crying, “Leave Britney alone!” way but a fan in the same way that I’m a fan of the Filet O’ Fish from McDonald’s. Maybe it isn’t great but damn is it tasty! Plus, she’s got a lot of really great songs to work the imaginary runway in your bathroom to and a few truly legendary music videos.
Before I go any further, let’s look at a timeline of this awful era so we might have a little more clarity as to what was really going on:
- Circus came out on November 28th, 2008.
- My birthday is November 30th.
- Britney’s birthday is December 2nd.
- My sobriety date in January 2nd, 2009.
Coincidence, bad timing and the aforementioned diva sorcery, the album and the artist who made it are now forever wedged in a timeframe of my life that was undeniably horrible. Today in 2017, I think this is hilarious. I’m sure Britney and the gang didn’t sit down and say, “Let’s make an album you can bottom out from drugs and alcohol to but you can also dance to!” Sexy booty shaking anthems like the title track, “Kill the Lights,” “Leather and Lace” and “If You Seek Amy” are so light and fluffy they might as well be made out of marshmallows. “Leather and Lace” literally opens with the lines, “French fingertips. Red lips. Bitch is dangerous. Cotton candy kiss.
Can’t wait for my sugar rush” for crying out loud. It wasn’t like I was suicidal and listening to PJ Harvey on repeat (not this time, anyway). I was EXTREMELY delusional in those final days of 2008, however. Convinced that maybe things weren’t so bad and maybe an 11th hour financial miracle and a mystical answer from the gods would soon arrive, perhaps the sugary snacks of La Spears were just what I needed in that timeframe. Maybe it was all I could handle.
I sure the hell couldn’t handle reality. A mere month after Britney gifted Circus to the world, I would be evicted from my apartment. A few days after that I would come clean and ask for help. My own circus of daily drinking and regular cocaine use came crashing down. After starting drinking and using at age 14, at age 36 I finally got sober. Circus, the record soon fell off my playlist too. Too upbeat, too reminiscent of those last insane days, Britney’s solid B+ of a record was shifted out rotation for darker, holy-shit-my-life-is-fucked albums. In fact, I hadn’t even listened to the whole record since then until yesterday.
In celebration of her own 36 birthday(ANOTHER BRITNEY PARALLEL! Chills and goosebumps, people.), I honored St. Britney by listening to Circus as I was making curry and baking. Still hard not to bust a move to, the record has great dance tracks and some Grade A guilty pleasures. Remarkably, I remembered all of the lyrics to every track which is impressive given my chemical intake at that time. Not triggering or PTSD inducing, I had a really good time revisiting the soundtrack of my bottoming out. Britney and her general Barbie as pop star persona has always been really enjoyable to me and Circus falls very much inline with all of that. It’s always weird/hard/intense things time of year for me and oddly enough hearing Circus again brought some unexpected closure. I know. A spiritual moment courtesy of Britney Spears (Spearitual?) sounds ridiculous. But as I hung out in my kitchen with Brit-Brit, I gained some compassion and perspective for that guy who was literally dying.
It did strike me that one song, “Out From Under” sort of sums up that year and those final days perfectly. A dreamy-sounding break up song, it could be personally applicable for ending my relationship with drugs and alcohol or the actual romantic relationship I was in at the time. Produced by the underrated genius Guy Sigsworth, the song was probably played in dramatic moments on CW shows in 2008. But it was these lyrics that struck me yesterday:
I don’t wanna feel the pain
What good would it do me now
I’ll get it all figured out
When I’m out from under.
Under. That’s very much where I was and not where I am today. While we don’t get to pick our soundtracks for our bottoming out, I can honestly say I’m glad Circus is mine. It’s very “on brand” for my tongue in cheek journey of getting sober. Depression and despair that you can dance to! Perfect. Nice work, God & Britney. Plus, it forever bonds me to my Sagittarius sister Britney for life. But never forget that I did shaved head and crazy first, bitch.