Fair Cher: With "Work Bitch" Britney Spears Becomes a Next Level Gay Icon with Few Equals
Within the past week, Princess of Pop Britney Spears blessed fans with a new song and a very exciting but not very well-hidden piece of news. "Work Bitch" debuted on Sunday, a day early due to a low-quality leak, and Spears announced her upcoming two year residency in Las Vegas. The single, an EDM heavyweight-helmed dance song in the vein of her will.i.am collaboration "Scream & Shout," is not what we've known from the pop star. Since Blackout, she's been pulling away from the merely coy and sugary pop that helped her break out post-Mickey Mouse Club and become the prototype for today's Mileys and Selenas.
More than just extracting the saccharine from her sound, Britney has reinforced another important cultural influence she's had: her mainstay as a gay icon.
Before the single premiered, there was some speculation that it sampled drag superstar RuPaul's most memorable single "Supermodel (You Better Work)."
Though it doesn't, Britney does refer back to the iconic parenthetical of Ru's song and repeats it throughout her track. And It wouldn't have been much of a stretch for her to appropriate a little bit of drag history and culture into her song. She has a history of playing gay clubs (much to the dismay of San Fran residences when she promoted Femme Fatale outside of the Castro Theatre for Good Morning America) and has become a well-known figure to emulate in drag. Even the VMA kiss with Madonna helped bind some ties for Brit and the LGBT community, completely demolishing the "wholesome" image that had been attributed to her since the beginning of her career.
In 2011, in light of the Castro catastrophe, Oscar Raymundo described Britney's appeal to gay men: "In terms of mainstream visibility; Britney Spears is the ultimate twink, the ultimate leather daddy, and the ultimate pervert. She may well be the ultimate gay icon." Her ultra-feminine look found a way to appeal to more than just a teenage girl fan-base who had once easily identified with her high school day dreams she played out in music videos and songs. Like the icons that came before (Cher, Judy Garland, and Madonna), Britney is a recognizable persona with the distinct tone of her singing voice, dance moves, and outfits that are so uniquely associated with her that they are an easy and much-abused Halloween costume idea.
But what exactly does it mean to be a "gay icon"? There's no exact formula and writers have been examining the phenomenon as recently as this week. Writer Trevor Martin compares the iconography of powerful women in gay culture to the stereotypes of heterosexual males hanging up pictures of their favorite sports stars on bedroom walls. He cites a professor who proclaims that gay men choose women because they too are marginalized. In the end, Martin specifies the difference between someone having a strong following from gay men and being "a bona fide gay patron saint." Britney has not only become the latter, she has gone on to embrace it and integrate it into her career.