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Beverly Godfrey column: Britney Spears, pop defender of the arts

Beverly Godfrey is a News Tribune copy editor. You can reach her at bgodfrey@duluthnews.com.

It’s a weird week when I feel compelled to defend Britney Spears, but here I go.

A recording of her singing was leaked on the Internet last week. It wasn’t accompanied by music or “auto-tuning,” and I’ll agree it sounds pretty weak.

But I listened to it with sympathy. It sounds like someone warming up, or singing a song for the first time, or singing just to check microphone levels.

The implication by whoever posted it, of course, is that Spears can’t sing well and shouldn’t be famous.

There is an implication, too, that only people with perfect voices should be singers. Or that people shouldn’t be granted the right to work at their craft and improve — something made much harder if you’re afraid a rough practice track will end up on the Internet.

The reason I care about this is because I like to see people, especially children, encouraged in the arts. When something like this happens, a celebrity being taunted on the Internet, I think it discourages people from taking their own artistic risks.

I’d like us all to acknowledge that occasionally giving a bad performance is part of being an artist. Performers shouldn’t be afraid that if they mess up, people will make fun of them. Messing up is “part of the process,” to use an artist’s expression.

It’s true that some people are born with more talent than others, but even the most talented work very hard at their craft. It’s not right to think, “I’m not talented enough, so what’s the point of trying?” Spears herself could be a testament to hard work; Forbes Magazine has put her net worth at $200 million.

Too many people go around saying they “can’t sing” or “can’t write” or “can’t draw,” as if you’re either born with or without the ability — period.

I hate to see kids too embarrassed by a drawing they made to let anyone see it, or so afraid they can’t sing well that they won’t sing at all. This has to be a modern phenomenon, where we compare ourselves to the pitch-perfect, produced songs on the radio. I like to imagine that long ago, folk songs were sung at community celebrations by people who never gave a thought as to whether they were “good enough” to sing. Their singing voice was no different than their talking voice. You’re not afraid to talk to people, so why be afraid to sing?

Four years ago, Taylor Swift was criticized after a somewhat off-pitch performance with Stevie Nicks at the Grammy Awards. I wouldn’t expect a singer’s best performance at an awards show, where the rehearsal time is limited and songs are unfamiliar. But for some critics, there’s no room for experimental duets, I guess.

It’s funny that both Swift and Spears have been known to perform “revenge songs.” I’m glad to see they have some little way to fight back.

Maybe because Spears is a world-famous millionaire, some people feel like she’s obligated to be better than she is, but I’d say you can’t argue with success. It’s true, I don’t appreciate her skimpy outfits and sexual lyrics, but that’s not the point. Whether I see her as an artist or businesswoman, I admire her hard work and success. When people want to drag her down and take cheap shots, I think it must be because they’ve never created anything themselves, never dared to put themselves on display.

It would be a pretty boring world if all of us were too shy to share our talents. So this week, I salute and encourage artists, whether you’re a famous pop star or not.

Beverly Godfrey is a News Tribune copy editor. You can reach her at bgodfrey@duluthnews.com.

Beverly Godfrey
Beverly Godfrey is a News Tribune copy editor and columnist. You can reach her at bgodfrey@duluthnews.com.  
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