Alastair: If there’s one thing the superficial persona I invented for the sake of this introduction can’t stand, it’s ambiguous lyrics. When I’m getting down to the doof doof doof doof music us young people totally dig, I want the song’s meaning to be unmistakably obvious.
Piece of Me by Britney Spears, on the other hand, is a piece riddled with riddles. With odd self-depreciating lines like “Oh my god, that Britney’s shameless” and seemingly unrelated references to the paparazzi, it’s impossible to tell where she’s going without some sort of in-depth, line-by-line analysis. And so with the moral support (of the writing-several-passages-outright variety) of Chad McCanna and Andrey Summers, I put together exactly that.
Sensitive readers are advised that the following article contains graphic images of the spiky-haired guy from Good Charlotte.
“I’m Miss American Dream since I was 17″
The song begins with an unmistakable reference to the 1961 classic “It Was a Very Good Year” (famously performed by Frank Sinatra). Songwriter Ervin Drake compares said year to a “vintage wine”. Here Britney cynically redefines the modern American Dream as the opportunity for underage drinking.
“Don’t matter if I step on the scene”
…Of a stage play in progress, perhaps, as the result of illegal intoxication? And which play? Read on.
“Or sneak away to the Philippines”
Namely Philip Quast, who so memorably played Javert, the inspector who doggedly pursued righteous convict Jean Valjean in – aha – the stage musical version of Les Misérables. Spears clearly sympathises with the character’s conflicted sense of duty. Keeping in spirit with Javert’s ultimate collapse in discipline, she herself breaks protocol by interrupting a sentence-in-progress to namedrop him. Such is the strength of Philip’s pining.
“They still gon’ put pictures of my derrière in the magazine”
“Gon” is an abbreviation of the already-abbreviated “gonna”. The key here is the missing “NA”, or to use the full name, North America. The physical continent and its people are most definitely not missing, leaving the spirit – the American Dream, if you will – as the only possible absentee. But how can the ideal be missing when its embodiment, Miss American Dream herself, is clearly present to sing the line?
The reference to buttocks stands out as an oddity within the subtext, but all will be explained in time.
“You want a piece of me” (x2)
Eureeka! She is not missing in her entirety, but merely in part. Specifically, the aforementioned derrière, which she voluntarily offers to the listener. Why? The rump is much admired amongst cannibals for its tender and plentiful meat. And with that, we find the lyrics’ unmistakable purpose: this is a pop anthem for modern-day connoisseurs of human flesh.
I acknowledge and accept your alternative culinary lifestyle with a selfless offering of my own anatomy. Take note of how it’s repeated for ritual effect.
“I’m Miss Bad Media Karma”
On November 27, 2007, the single’s day of release, five journalists were attacked by Bolivian police for covering protests over constitutional reform. Coincidence?
“Another day, another drama”
Again with the reference to stage performances. It is left nebulous at this early juncture as to which exact play Spears is making reference. However, this will become clear four lines down, if you are not already piqued by the earlier mention of a Victor Hugo masterwork, and the curious phonetic similarity between “Another drama” and the French “Notre Dame”.
“Guess I can’t see the harm”
A seldom-used portmanteau (or smord) of “ham” and “arm”; dropped to establish empathy and mutual respect with her flesh-eating target audience.
“In workin’ and bein’ a mama”
Again, we see emphasis through absence. The “G”s were removed at the last minute to commemorate the recent passing of Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons. The apostrophes stand proudly in place, fulfilling the letter’s roles just as Gygax’s legacy lives on.
“And with a kid on my arm”
In the much-loved and highly accurate Disney film adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame De Paris, the character of the gypsy Esmeralda has a loveable goat side-kick. A “kid”, as it were, on her “arm”. Earlier invoking Hugo’s works, Spears now weaves them into her own self-image as a re-enforcement of pan-continental feminine ideals.
However, as previously established, Britney also sings as the embodiment of underage drinking. The metaphorical “kid on the arm” is at the same time a potential victim of that so-called “American Dream”. This presents a possible ulterior motive for Spears’s support of the contemporary cannibal community: in giving away parts of her body, she simultaneously removes the temptation for fledgling victims of the bottle. She is a very reluctant Goddess of Booze (just as Esmeralda is the embodiment of indulgence in the tragic Disney film), and in these duel good deeds, she seeks atonement.
“I’m still an exceptional earner”
Anyone incapable of sitting down – and thus, incapable of resting – has no choice but to be productive.
“I know you want a piece of me”
For the first time since her original assertion that the listener is interested in devouring her flesh, Ms. Spears demonstrated prior knowledge of this taboo lifestyle. In doing so, we are to assume that since the issue has not yet been raised in her artistry (though a case can strong be made for the driving, some would say masticating synth beats in “Toxic”), she reaffirms cannibalism as a largely acceptable form of sustenance.
“I’m Mrs. Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous” (you want a piece of me)
The reference to a Good Charlotte song serves as a reminder of the Madden twins, who have had very active romantic lives of late. Joel recently Nicole Ritchie’s child. Brother Benji, pictured, has dated both Sophie Monk and Paris Hilton. Another blonde singer/socialite in the mix isn’t terribly surprising.
“I’m Mrs. Oh My God That Britney’s Shameless” (you want a piece of me)
Shameless, indeed. Polygamy is widely misunderstood and stigmatised in western culture. Not unlike cannibalism.
“I’m Mrs. Extra! Extra! This Just In” (you want a piece of me)
Name changing regulations in the United States prohibit symbols and most punctuation marks from inclusion in a new denomination. Whether this is a genuine protest against the establishment or mindless alcohol-fuelled anarchy is unclear, but the undercurrent of female empowerment is undeniable.
“I’m Mrs. She’s Too Big, Now She’s Too Thin” (you want a piece of me)
Evoking fairy-tale memories of Hansel and Gretel being fattened for supper, Spears draws a distinct comparison between pastry-dwelling witches and her aforementioned cannibal listeners. They are presented as the worst kind of Flip-Floppers, and she the Swift Boat Veteran for the Truth behind the proper weight for consumption.
“I’m Mrs. You Want A Piece Of Me”
By embodying the song in which she sings about embodying the song in which she sings about embodying the song and so on, Spears becomes a modern-day symbol of ouroboros: the serpent eating itself in an eternal loop. Whether through the infinite reference loop she forges with this line, or simply from the positive repercussions of her noble sacrifice, her derrière is rendered immortal, and her history of playing with snakes on stage suddenly makes a lot more sense.
“Tryin’ and pissin’ me off”
Once again Spears laments Gary Gygax’s tragic passing with the subtle, yet tear-jerking omission of his initials from grammatically integral intervals.
“While gettin’ in line with the paparazzi”
Britney views her own life as an outsider, joining those who photograph her. This implies a strong belief that the body and soul are separate entities; a necessary barrier to overcome if one is to eat the former.
“Who’s flippin’ me off”
Paparazzi is a plural term, making “who is” poor use of English. This is a clever jab at grammatically incorrect pop-culture parodies such as “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stoned”. We hear you, Britney. We hear you.
“Hopin’ I’ll resort to some havoc”
The Dungeons and Dragons community, or “Dung-beetles” as they prefer to be called (Spears chief among them), are obviously unable to so much as look at a D20 until Gary Gygax’s mourning days are over, and so the only alternative may well be the Command & Conquer franchise‘s failed foray into first-person-shooting, “Renegade” – starring the burly man-about-town commando Havoc.
“End up settlin’ in court”
Or, failing that, Tennis.
“Now are you sure you want a piece of me?”
“You want a piece of me”
“I’m Mrs. Most Likely To Get On The TV For Strippin’ On The Streets”
This is common road workers’ slang for “laying down strips of white paint”, generally in the formation of a pedestrian crossing (such as the one seen on the cover of The Beatles’ Abbey Road). This confirms what music analysts have been arguing for decades: that Spears laid the groundwork of the rock ‘n’ roll genre, without which the Fab Four could never have crossed that great musical landscape.
“When gettin’ the groceries, no, for real”
As opposed to metaphorical shopping. With so many allegorical allusions and double-meanings littered through the lyrics, it is understandable why she would want to make the distinction.
“Are you kiddin’ me?”
“Kidding” in this instance being “the act of presenting one with children”. This is asked disbelievingly, almost threateningly, as if blaming the listener for introducing Britney, the reluctant embodiment of underage drinking, to new victims.
“No wonder there’s panic in the industry
A Google Image search for “panic in the industry” reveals this graph, which appears to be a show of support for Mozilla Firefox.
By drawing attention to the internet browser (which, according to the image above, you are statistically likely to be using right now), this serves as a call to action. As the song draws to a close, Britney’s work is done. The future of cannibalism is in your hands, dear Firefox user. Don’t let Victor Hugo down.
“I mean, please, do you want a piece of me?”
In a final shocking position reversal, Spears begs of her cannibal fans that they consider, and indeed seek out her flesh as a viable source of sustenance. Additionally, by ending her dissertation on an interrogative, she has successfully utilized the Socratic method, attempting to draw the information out of the listener, much like a memory on its way to the Pensieve.
Through this clear reference to the works of J. K. Rowling, Spears has finally revealed the truth oft-reported but never confirmed: that though born to a Muggle mother, her own children Sean Preston and Jayden James are members of the Wizarding World.