Britney Spears - “How I Roll”
We all love this song. But some days, it’s the only song I want to listen to, and I’m still trying to figure out why.
I think it’s the way the song uses such cheap, chintzy tactics: the “Popcorn” sound, the finger-in-the-mouth pop, the jerky handclaps, the gibberish lyrics. When her voice isn’t dying like an unplugged turntable, Britney whispers her way around the ping-ponging syllables and novelty sound effects. Britney is an undisputed club floor filler, and this song – with its posses, tequilas and burst speakers – is ostensibly in the club dance genre. But that sort of song should boss and swagger, however hollowly. Instead, “Roll” has the DIY bubblegum flavour of something the Ting-Tings might have blurted out - absent any of that band’s neurotic anxiety. I have a sense while I listen to “Roll” that I’m meant to underestimate it, that it’s meant to fly under my radar.
This is probably because, barring cyborg adjectives, Britney’s identity lately could be summed up as “somnambulist sexpot.” “How I Roll” positions this personality as a conscious choice rather than something her handlers are desperately trying to work around. After all, Britney rarely enunciates her words (is she saying “Try my love” or “Try luck tonight” or simply “Tra lah lah”?); on “Roll” it feels like delicious restraint rather than the result of a presumably Ativan-incapacitated tongue.
Even as she cheerfully sleepwalks, there is that piano chasing her down with mournful chords. It expresses what she won’t and seems to encourage her to say what she can’t. It catches up to her, pushing out that one burst where she actually, you know, sings, “If you know what it takes to be my man/We can go make love together.” It sounds like some honest oops of emotion; a return to a stronger, more human Britney. But she immediately kills that hope with the moderately shocking, “You can be my fuck tonight.” Ha ha, Britney says, I’m not here. It’s always been just the sexbot.
At this point, you are probably trying to find your way out of the song. With all of this calculated, self-conscious decadence, it feels like if you can just understand the structure of “Roll” you’ll be able to understand why it exists. Where the heart is. Whether the heart exists. But the song, fragmented and interested only in perpetuating its jittery self, won’t let you clearly uncover the markers of versus, chorus, bridge. You can’t find the centre. You just get more boms, more shimmies, more strange male-sounding voices (Bloodshy? Pitch-shifted Britney?) overlapping each other and jostling the listener forward. Once the song has ended, you start it again, trying to untangle the threads to the centre of the maze. There’s something trapped in here. Something perhaps important. (Britney? Nothing?)
But you can’t put your finger on it. The seams are too strong. The centre, hidden, does hold. You can only endlessly worry “Roll” around, hoping it’ll eventually crack itself open.