Have you heard Britney Spears is a Democratic socialist now? On Instagram, our most important pop celebrity has been helping us through the COVID-19 crisis as only she can, by posting self-portraits with wild eye makeup and shots of the moon that would not be out of place on Lisa Frank stationery. But this week, something else appeared.
“During this time of isolation, we need connection now more than ever,” the message began. “Call your loved ones, write virtual love letters. Technologies like virtual communication, streaming and broadcasting are part of our community collaboration. We will learn to kiss and hold each other through the waves of the web.” Yes, call your loved ones. “Virtual love letters,” sure. But what’s this? “We will feed each other, re-destribute wealth, strike.” Look at you, Britney. Eat the rich! The message went on, “We will understand our own importance from the places we must stay. Communion moves beyond walls. We can still be together.” In the caption, she appended three rose emojis.
This may sound more like a few typo-ridden platitudes (“re-destribute”?) than a political declaration, but Spears’ Instagram army did not see it that way. “Britney Spears said ‘GENERAL STRIKE,’” one commenter observed. “Queen of proletariat.” And it wasn’t just the words: The triad of roses in the caption was clearly an allusion to the favored emoji of the Democratic Socialists of America, to which Spears was just as clearly pledging her loyalty. Soon, the post went viral on the left-wing internet, where it launched a meme: Comrade Britney. The revolution-minded masses were only too happy to raise their fists in solidarity with their new soldier: “i wasn’t expecting comrade britney spears today, but this is welcome,” one wrote. The DSA itself seized the moment: “Comrade Britney knows: together we can build a better world, because capitalism is Toxic,” the organization wrote on Twitter.
Before long, international headlines arrived. This was no benign Instagram post. Spears had “called for” a redistribution of wealth and a general strike in America. “Is Britney Spears leading the revolution?” Page Six asked. Soon, the conservative press, always on the hunt for a dipshit celebrity to flame for the base, latched onto the story. Fox News called the post “a politically charged message to her 23.6 million Instagram followers.” Noting the warm democratic socialist embrace of a wealthy singer, Breitbart huffed, “Spears has an estimated net worth of $59 million.”
Perhaps this was partly sour grapes on the right’s part. The heretofore height of Spears’ career as a political pundit came in 2003, in an interview with Tucker Carlson, then the slightly less rabidly right-leaning co-host of Crossfire on CNN. Shortly after badgering her about what her mother thought of her famous VMA kiss with Madonna—Spears was 21 at the time—he asked her for her thoughts on President George W. Bush, who had ordered the invasion of Iraq six months earlier. The exchange:
Carlson: You’re going to be on the National Mall soon performing for Pepsi and the NFL and also to support our troops. A lot of entertainers have come out against the war in Iraq. Have you?
Spears: Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision he makes and should just support that, you know, and be faithful in what happens.
Carlson: Do you trust this president?
Spears: Yes, I do.
Spears’ robust view of executive power sparked its own international headlines at the time and was later immortalized, a little crudely, in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. Her apparent affection for Bush also seeded one of the first—but certainly not the last—Britney conspiracy theories. Spears, born in Mississippi and raised in Louisiana, had registered as a Republican in 2001, a fact many fans seemed happy to forget.
In any case, as the tongue-in-cheek reverie over the “socialist” Instagram post threatened to blur into reality, a few things may have been lost. It might be worth noting, for example, that the Instagram quote in question came not from a revered socialist icon but from Mimi Zhu, a fairly anonymous author of a writing newsletter in Brooklyn. (Zhu tweeted that she was “rly grateful” for the repost but wished Spears had tagged her. Still, her Twitter bio now reads, “comrade britney is my king.”) Or we might note that Spears also posted an apparently self-shot Instagram video this week with a more innocuous message—“During this time of quarantine, I hope you are all being strong and lifting each other up. My prayer is with you”—and included four rose emojis in the caption. It’s almost like she thinks it’s a flower. And perhaps most damning of all to the Bernie faithful, Spears has not quite been apolitical since her Republican days. In 2016, she posted photos with Hillary Clinton on Instagram, initially with the hashtag “#ImWith Her,” before it was later removed. I am not certain anyone should count on her political allegiance.
Still, there is something to Spears’ uncanny ability to get swaths of the world talking when she says anything vaguely political. Her exceptionally dark history as an object of public consumption—from child star to virginal ingénue to target of horny Tucker Carlson snickering to (bad) mom to deranged Hollywood ghost to subject of a dubious conservatorship to Vegas cash cow—has certainly transformed Spears from the breathy, low-calories singer many still seem to consider her. This has shown up in her music—in songs like “Piece of Me,” whose sweet synths don’t mask her rage at the life she’s found herself in—and in her fandom, which has launched into vigilante investigations of her family born of their own rage that she still doesn’t have control of her movements or her fortune. That loyalty, though pernicious at times, has been hard won, and it’s enough that even a likely meaningless Instagram post from Spears is enough to shake the foundations of the pop-star political complex, if only a little. Somewhere, Taylor Swift is pouting into an “I Voted” sticker.