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January 30, 2004

Pop princess Spears to Material Mom: "Kiss me, baby, one more time"

Oops…she did it again. After pretending to marry Madonna at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, Britney Spears jetted off to Las Vegas with childhood friend Jason Alexander and got married…for real. Chicago's RedEye ran a photo of bridal Britney—clad in gown and veil—on its front cover, obscuring the fact that this was a picture from her "wedding" with Madonna and not her wedding with Jason. (For her legal ceremony, the ever-stylin' Brit wore blue jeans and a long-sleeved crop top).

The couple had the union annulled 55 hours later, which prompted the question: Britney, what are you doing?

Former Britney rep Lizzie Grubman thinks there's no way this was a publicity stunt. According to her, "This is a disaster if it's a P.R. stunt." According to me: Lizzie, you backed your SUV into 16 people while driving drunk in the Hamptons. You're the disaster, and Britney is still tops in my book, quickie starter marriages notwithstanding.

Call me a heathen if you wish. Tell me I don't believe in the sanctity of marriage (and you're right, I don't). But I think this is one of the smartest things Britney's done for her career yet.

This is not because I have some prurient interest in the whole affair. I say this because I love Ms. Spears. I loved her in eighth grade, when I was introduced to her jailbait classic "…Baby One More Time" at a party, and I love her now. I'm not sure if she's the next Madonna, but she has Madonna potential—and it's about time she started realizing it.

OK, so now the Material Girl (Maternal Girl? Material Mom?) is writing children's books and blathering about kabbalah on Oprah, but remember when Madonna used to be crazy? I don't mean mentally unstable, just wild (although we may need chemical imbalances to explain her Sex-Erotica-Body of Evidence years).

She went on Letterman and bared her breasts. She showed up to a movie premiere with girlfriend Sandra Bernhard while she was still married to Sean Penn. She had sex with Dennis Rodman, Warren Beatty, and probably Charles Barkley. She swore a lot. And, most importantly, she cemented her place in pop culture history. The catchy songs and staggeringly brilliant music videos may have been the cake, but the unpredictable antics of her personal life made for some mighty tasty icing.

Up until that 55-hour marriage to Jason Alexander, however, these kinds of stunts eluded our Britster. Oh, sure, she was good at taking her top off, as evidenced by Esquire, Rolling Stone, Elle, and at least a half-dozen other magazine covers. But plain ol' nudity was never good enough for Madonna. Even when Madonna did bare all—as in her infamous 1992 tome Sex—she made sure she was doing something else interesting, like hitchhiking or kissing Vanilla Ice or holding a knife to her crotch or something.

Britney has shocked the world before, but mostly through violations of her chaste, self-imposed boundaries. Case in point: she caused quite a stir after her announcement to W magazine that she did, indeed, lose her virginity to ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake. By contrast, does anyone even remember when Madonna was innocent and not just "Like a Virgin"?

The most shocking Britney moment to date, at least for me, has been her support of Bush concerning the war in Iraq. When pushed for a statement by the press, she offered a comment along the lines of, "You guys, let's just listen to our leaders, and everything will turn out OK!"

Oh god. That was the one moment in my Britney fandom when I actually considered throwing in the towel. I mean, I have really cut this girl a lot of slack: that awful "Boys [Co-ed Remix]" single, which tanked; song titles like "Dear Diary" and "E-Mail My Heart;" Crossroads. But blindly following Bush's march towards world annihilation? That was crossing the line.

At least when Madonna got involved in politics, she was sure to mix things up a little. I'm not so sure about now. All she's done recently is post a letter of support for General Wesley Clark on her website. But in the '90s, she appeared in a public service announcement with the American flag wrapped around her naked body and chanted, "Dr. King/Malcolm X/Freedom of speech/Is as good as sex./If you don't vote/You're going to get a spankie." Voltaire couldn't have said it better himself.

Another essential difference between Madonna and her young protégé is the manner in which they treat their exes. Britney Spears had a very high-profile romance extremely early in her career, and for the most part, she's chosen not to talk about it, instead subscribing to the axiom "A lady never kisses and tells." Fair enough, Brit, but when Justin's writing songs like "Cry Me a River" and making obvious allusions to you in the video, your new motto should be "All's fair in love and war." Madonna would have never taken such injustices lying down!

The secret to Madonna's longevity is that she's just as tough as she is media-savvy. She doesn't let anything—music critics, passing fads, petty exes—get in her way. She only seems outrageous because she does whatever she wants, whenever she wants to do it. Britney would do well to follow her example.

I've waited for Britney to go wild and crazy, but for the most part, she stayed true to her humble Louisiana roots. She waited until she was in love to have sex and limited her comments on talk shows to the boring promotional variety. When Christina Aguilera, her fiercest competitor, showed up to a European awards show dressed in a nun's habit (to protest double standards in men's and women's sexuality) I thought, "Britney, that should be you." The demonization of overtly sexual women has been a favorite theme of Madonna's for years. You might even say she based a career on it.

Is it possible that we're entering a new Golden Age of Britney?

Lynne Spears, you should not be grounding your child. You should be congratulating her. Want to live off her millions when you're doddering around Kentwood, Louisiana at the age of 102? Then keep your mouth shut.

Here's what I would do if I were Britney: keep anything but a low profile. Don't act apologetic at all. Ask, "If Justin Timberlake flew to Las Vegas this weekend to marry Cameron Diaz, would we be talking about how he's desecrating the hallowed institution of marriage? And hey, millions of my fans are gay or lesbian. How come I can get married in Vegas when I'm on a bender and they can't get legal recognition from the government at all?"

Then, go on 20/20 or Primetime Live or, hell, even Entertainment Tonight, and restart the promotion for your new album. Tell the truth—that the tracks are fierce and reminiscent of the Madonna and Like a Virgin albums. Ask why Justin Timberlake, who lacked any semblance of credibility a year ago, is suddenly critically respected just for doing an album with the Neptunes, while you've been compared to an "accommodating and hollow blowup doll." Blame it on sexism. I'm not sure if that's exactly true, but it sounds good.

Then kick back, relax, and count the days until they're calling you the next Madonna.