Head west and drive south towards the Gulf of California and leave the highway and keep driving towards the flattest expanse. Here is the land you seek. Sand lays thick on the desert plain, a layer of rust extending to the horizon. The only hint of border is a distant mountain range. This is the desert where those birthed at the shift of the century have come to give into their thirst. Very few made it out of the ‘90s and into the 21st century alive with their integrity, hits, and full head of hair, in tact. It is said that nothing can survive out here. Except for one thing.
Impossibly, jutting out the sand, a mirage. A vanity, almost childlike, plastic and cheap. A blonde woman sits with her back turned, facing the mirror.
How did she get here? Is this the last hope of a dying generation crawling through the sand? That the last thing they see before they perish in the dust, succumbing to the sun and heat, is this hallucination of millennial success? Is this a mirage?
They stand on a white platform on a square stage impossibly free of sand. A gang of women in leather flank Britney. If her history was written in the sand it has been swiftly erased by the tire of the white, driverless Bugatti. Rubber tires rip apart any recollections of faltering mental states and the notorious outlaw of hefty girth KFed. She moves and with each pulse of her hips, asks remember when I was a Slave 4 U, toxic in my jumpsuit made of flesh and diamonds?
Surely this is a hallucination. Here's an oasis. The sky above the desert inverted to become a pool of the purest blue. The visions come faster.
Here's a dungeon meant for dancing. An underground nightclub harbors practitioners of S&M. The hot beats and thrumming neon light up the pop dominatrix. Britney cracks her whip, taunting them into submission with cries of work bitch. Beats by Dre product placement. The unlikeliest of ball gags. This is where the lights make you look like all you once were. You recall visions of dance clubs past. The sweaty jungle of Toxic. The factory of Me Against the Music.
Here's another pool. Britney lilts in pink on a lily pad of ivory. She is marooned. Hammerhead sharks swim quickly. Too quickly. They are too synchronized. It's a metaphor for something. The vision moves too quick you don't have time to work it out.
An anonymous model stomps through the desert carrying a dummy dressed up like a girl. Headlights catch the girlish Britney like a deer. Plastic girls explode. Britney stands atop an inverted triangle hovering over the desert land. Attached to her reigns are four women, hands and knees grinding into the sand. She whips at her human steeds. They writhe in ecstasy.
The feeling is that it is the thing you see before you die. Britney in top form, perfectly curled extensions, an abdomen with flesh pulled tight and tanned like a Navajo drum. You conjured this woman out of your memories. Like the minotaur, she reigns, this desert is her labyrinth. She consumes your nostalgia and it makes her stronger on this oasis of a dance floor.
Britney once sang I'm a Slave 4 U. She is a Slave 4 U no more. Now U are a Slave 4 her.
Previously: "Wrecking Ball"
Art by Claire Webb.
Celeste Ballard is a freelance writer for the The Hairpin and The New Yorker Shouts & Murmurs blog, and a producer at Above Average, the digital arm of Broadway Video. You can find her on Twitter @celesteballard.