Exactly six years ago, life was not great for Britney Spears. She had just performed at the MTV Video Music Awards, an event that usually prompted headlines about the cool and now infamous things she'd done, like dance with a snake or kiss Madonna. But this time, her lackluster performance of her first single in several years, "Gimme More," shocked in a different way. The New York Times called it "listless", described her as "wan" and said that the whole thing was a "fiasco", all in one sentence.
If you'd like to watch that performance again to see how far she's come, you can, though it's relatively horrifying. That being said, it's not actually that far off from the performances or videos Spears has done since, even as her mental state has seemingly improved. That much is clear from the video for "Work Bitch," which is perfectly fine, except that it's not the Britney we were brought up with. It's the one we've come to expect.
Perhaps it's that Spears' dance moves are so dated; she's still doing sort of a stiff robot-esque late '90s early '00s thing that worked really well when that was actually the time we were living in. Now that time has passed, her patented moves would look tired even if she didn't look so tired doing them. And while most pop stars aren't even close to as talented as their many backup dancers, dance-wise, you're not supposed to notice because they have such captivating presences you barely look at the people behind them making them look good. Unfortunately for Britney, she isn't good enough at the dancing part anymore so the whole "Work Bitch" affair just feels messy. Like, this is not a dance move that you can base a whole video on and yet she does it about 1000 times:
Her clothes in the video don't help; while Spears has never exactly been a fashion queen, her idea of sexy seems to be what a 13 year old girl would think was titillating, a far cry from the nude glittery bodysuit she wore during her "Toxic" video days when her body was the hottest thing around and she was basically screaming to the world that she knew she needed little to no adornment to prove it.
The "Work Bitch" video has a very light S&M vibe; Spears she does some casual whipping and puts some of her dancers on leashes like they're dogs. The lyrics would indicate that Spears is talking from above at lowly underlings who need to know their place. But if looked at from another perspective, it feels as if the whole song is Spears reminding herself what's at stake if she ever decides to stop the Britney bot from running:
You want a hot body? You want a Bugatti?
You Want a Maserati? You better work bitch
You want a Lamborghini? Sippin martinis?
Look hot in a bikini? You better work bitch
You wanna live fancy? Live in a big mansion?
Party in France? You better work bitch
Bring it on, ring the alarm
Don't stop now, just be the champion
Work it hard, like it's your profession
Watch out now, cause here it comes
Here comes the smasher, here comes the master
Here comes the big beat, big beat, disaster
No time to quite now, just time to get it now
Pick up what I'm putting down
"Work Bitch" might seem like a message from Spears asserting her dominance, but it's far sadder than that when taken as a rallying cry to get herself moving in the morning. It's a reminder that she needs to literally work, bitch to get her daily bread, when she probably would rather be hanging out with her kids, a sentiment she's expressed in various ways for years now.
None of this is to say that Spears shouldn't be doing her darndest to provide for her family, or that "Work Bitch" is not a good pop song (though it's definitely not as good as the remix). But had Spears been in the position of these minions she's whipping in her video and released this as her first single, it's not really a strong enough song or video to ensure that she would have gotten to where she is now with it. She's resting on her laurels as Britney, bitch — which makes her impending Vegas residency all the more nerve-wracking for those carefully considering the cost of a ticket to her show, airfare and the psychological trauma of going to Las Vegas. Britney Spears used to be the girl next door, so she knows better than anyone how important it is to make it look like you're not trying too hard. The problem for her is that she lost that a long long time ago. Now everything she's doing seems like work.