(This is part two in a seemingly never ending series on the film “Spring Breakers.” This piece will contain spoilers on the film so if you plan on seeing it and don’t want anything ruined, please come back after you’ve seen it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.)
How you want it to be
Tell me baby
‘Cause I need to know now
Is killing me (and I)
I must confess
I still believe (still believe)
When I’m not with you I lose my mind
Give me a sign
Hit me baby one more time.”
“Hit Me Baby One More Time”-Britney Spears
At two separate points in “Spring Breakers,” the girls (joined later by James Franco’s character Alien) break into songs by Britney Spears. While outdated enough to seem kitschy, I think choosing Spears over other teeny bopper princesses of that era, say, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson or Pink even, is hugely intentional and serves as a callback to when over-sexualizing our young women took a step further over the line and became acceptable in mainstream pop culture. The year was 1998 when Spears released the song and video for “Hit Me Baby One More Time” which is, I feel not coincidentally, the first song the girls all sing together onscreen.
Who can forget the school-girl outfit Spears wore in the music video for that song and the cute yet clearly sexy way she danced and toyed with the camera and us, the viewer? Sadly what was always seemingly forgettable is that at the time she made that video, Spears was 17 years old. That’s just… creepy. And yet we all played along even if there were background noises about how it might be a little wrong or offensive to parade a 17 year old girl around in next to nothing, clearly asking for sex and probably having little idea as to what sex actually involves. At least, we hope not.
Granted, it’s happened before in popular culture (semi-nude and definitely suggestive photos of Brooke Shields as a young girl creepily come to mind) but I think Spears’ instant celebrity status from this video was a clear marker in pop culture and the sexualization of young women. Spears had a mediocre yet catchy tune that would have slipped by almost unnoticed if not for that music video. The imagery of inappropriate, morally objectionable but clearly wanton sex made her a star, not her frothy and barely suggestive song. Add to that the explosion of the internet which offers free, yet artificial and pretend sex (read: porn), for free and we’re starting to get at what Korine is getting at in “Spring Breakers.”
At one point in the film, Korine’s wife Rachel (who plays the 4th “Spring Breaker,” Cotty) proceeds to get completely drunk off her a*s. She then begins to tease a group of men who have surrounded her at the party by taking off her bikini top and writhing suggestively on the ground, pouring cheap beer on herself while proclaiming that none of these guys would ever “get her p***y.” She later engages in some of the grossest, fakest looking open-mouth kissing I’ve seen since a youngster at the skating rink. The kissing and acting by Rachel Korine are undersexualized due to the performance aspect of the kissing. It’s as if they watched too much porn or daytime soaps and there’s no kiss in the kissing. I’ll get more to that later as it’s a theme in the film: emulation, façade and lack of feeling. In any case, the scene is a scary one and I think it can be read many ways which makes it an extremely important scene.
On one hand it’s meant to be arousing, as Rachel Korine is a beautiful woman wearing next to nothing. But it’s also simultaneously disgusting to see anyone behave that way- including the men who are encouraging her to drink more and get more and more frisky and inebriated. This then reflects on you, the viewer: what do you want to have happen to young Cotty? For me, the scene was sheer terror because Cotty is willingly putting herself in a horribly vulnerable position.
And just to be clear, I’m not one of these closet misogynists who think a woman is always secretly somehow to blame for their rape. Instead, I’m just talking about this scene and I think Harmony Korine is intentionally making us face this question of how we want or expect this scene to end. If you can’t admit that she’s compromising herself in front of a group that may not have the best of intentions at heart, then I honestly think you’re not being honest with yourself.
The information on the screen bears me out. It’s offensive yet slightly arousing, much like the (in)famous rape scene in Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs.” But this scene in “Spring Breakers” reminded me more of the off-limits sexuality in “Hit Me Baby One More Time” because, just like in that video, you shouldn’t find sexual attraction in something off-limits such as a seventeen year old shaking her hips suggestively while dressed like a catholic school girl. You shouldn’t want to see a beautiful, yet out of her mind, drunk girl have any kind of sex, forced or not. But if we’re to be honest, the video was sexually stimulating, and meant to be that way, and this scene is the same.
Yet for me, it’s sheer horror. It’s as if Cotty is emulating the phony “can’t have this” sex she’s seen in countless music videos in which there’s zero repercussions yet, in the “real world,” this safety net is non-existent and her actions could have consequences. You just want her to get away from there as fast as she can.
Another aspect of the scene which is intriguing, questionable and stimulating is which girl is being taken advantage of and asking for the attention. Rachel Korine is beautiful and her character has a spunky, fun attitude. She wants to party and have a good time and after thirty plus minutes of seeing four girls in bikini tops, most men are able to make the leap (if you will) to a girl being topless. But no way are Hudgens, Benson, and especially not Gomez, taking their tops off!
These are the untouchable, Madonna-w***e Disney princesses who are meant to be looked at and worshipped, but not touched or tainted anyplace except in the viewer’s mind; much as young Spears was supposed to be until her widely publicized meltdown which humanized and humiliated her. The aforementioned young ladies are facades of young girl innocence and while Harmony Korine has cast them in a movie for adults, and they do bad girl things like smoke weed, rob people and drink, they stop short at sex, at least on-screen.
Rounding out the Britney Spears section of “Spring Breakers” is probably the film’s best scene (next to Franco’s well documented “look at my shiiiiit” scene which we will get to soon enough) in which Franco’s “Alien” plays a sweet melody on the piano for his new found girlfriends and that song eventually becomes Spears’ ballad “Everytime,” which Alien sings with the girls fully straight faced. The song is reportedly about her breakup with Justin Timberlake and by my Wikipedia based explorations, it could be argued that this is among the last time Spears was considered “innocent.” Shortly after that song was released she began her relationship with Kevin Federline, had her first child and a downward spiral started from which she only recently emerged.
From this point in “Spring Breakers,” actions occur that will push the girls into territory that will forever taint them and steal what is left of their innocence. Just as Harmony Korine chose “Hit Me Baby” for the first Spears song, he could have easily (and heavy-handedly) chosen something like “I’m a Girl, Not Yet a Woman,” but he doesn’t. He chooses a song about Spears’ real-life heartbreak, a song about how she’s haunted by what she’s done to her relationship with Timberlake and how she feels unable to survive. It’s an interesting and telling choice by Korine. Now, before you all accuse me of being Vice President of the Britney Spears Adulation Society, I’ll leave you until part three…
— Britney Spears (@britneyspears) March 12, 2013