If you had asked me seven years ago if I would ever be capable of writing a love letter to Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” I would have slapped your eyeballs out of their fucking sockets. In 2004, the song was playing throughout gyms and strip clubs everywhere, hence my natural aversion to it. Well, that, and it took me quite some time to come around to grasping the high camp value of Britney Spears (this was before the whole head-shaving, umbrella-heaving era).
Unlike most of Spears’ other successful songs, namely “…Baby One More Time” and “Oops…I Did It Again!” (she just loves those fucking ellipses), “Toxic” possesses a more genuine tale of love/infatuation gone horribly wrong. Set to the distinctive backbeat created by the Swedish producing powerhouse that is Bloodshy & Avant, the frenzied synths add a heightened air of obsession with someone who treats you like shit, yet somehow you can’t help going back for more.
Although the accompanying video really makes no sense in terms of conceptually matching the song, it does provide some of that high camp I was referring to before. Several versions of Spears (a blonde, red, and brown-haired trifecta) appear. The flight attendant version likes to have sex in airplane bathrooms, the motorcycle riding version likes to dance around in some weird room, and the brunette likes to make out with guys in hotel rooms and then poison them. I have no idea how this fits with the song, but it works in terms of allowing Spears to be as scantily clad as possible.
The lyrics of “Toxic” mourn the fact that “a guy like you should wear a warning/You’re dangerous/I’m falling.” This sentiment reiterates the notion that, while she knows she’s in the wrong for pursuing a relationship/dalliance that is only going to cause her pain in the end, she cannot let logic and reason hinder her brief opportunity for pleasure, confirming the simultaneous agony and ecstasy by absent-mindedly singing, “With a taste of you lips I’m on a ride/You’re toxic, I’m slipping under.” The lyrical composition of “Toxic” is not only stand alone because of Bloodshy & Avant’s writing contribution, but also because it is the only song on the album that seems to address surrendering and submitting to the charms of a man. Other singles on In The Zone, such as “Me Against the Music” and “Showdown,” are proponents of independence and having a good time.
“Toxic” is evidence of how easy it is to become vulnerable to someone we know we shouldn’t, a testament to human stupidity in a way, but also an indication of how untenable attraction can be.