You have to understand that standom isn’t a thing. It hasn’t ever been. Stans are, by and large, a pack of dilettantes; they just want to have something to say, and something to represent, in an endless media cycle, of which we’re all suddenly active commentators. But they’re really just consumers, as bourgeois as the rest of us. Anyone can call themselves Disnerds on their Grindr profiles, or draft an erudite tweet about Taylor Swift. But where’s the devotion? Fans are something else. They don’t want an identity, or a hobby — they want God. And whether it was the first Buffy rerun you caught on TNT at 7am on a school day, or the Spice CD your mom let you pick out at Sam Goody, you found, finally, salvation from this mortal coil. This isn’t some passing phase; it’s a pact for life. And that’s why the fairweathers will never understand the fever, and the pain, that binds us to Britney Spears. 

 

Her arrival was messianic, certain to have been predicted on some unearthed tablets of Aztec or Egyptian astrology, a Gnostic pop demiurge with supreme power to rule. “...Baby One More Time” dropped in 1998 and aligned a generational sensibility like nothing since the moon landing. For a legion of girlies and faggots, desensitized by O.J. and the Clintons, and witnessing the dark aggro animus rising through Linkin Park, the Columbine shooters, and, inevitably, George W. Bush, Britney landed like a Buddha-Moses-Superman figure, a being perfected, one who would lead the battle for an endangered, imagined paradise: girlhood. They could burn our Aqua CDs in the pyre of post-9/11, Marshall Mathers masculinity, but they could never kill our god. 

 

Her devotees were real ones, bound by blood to follow wherever she led. But in the years since her crucifixion, the world has fallen into shadow. But to follow anyone, in this new century, is to be corrupted. In the wake of her fall, the ethos of fandom has fallen prey to Selena Gomez’s Instagram and losers on Reddit. You’re either a right-wing fanboy doxxing Kelly Marie Tran for daring to appear in a Star Wars movie; or a passive, post-modern Housewives viewer, a pig in Andy Cohen’s slaughterhouse, bloated on a delusion of self-awareness and postmodernism. We’ve come out of three economic crashes in this century. All they have left to lure us is cynicism. 

As the dissociation brings us to our last labored breaths, the Christ has risen, once again, to rewrite a still-young millennium: Britney’s back. Her fans, raised in her revolutionary countenance, never gave up, and, in the last two years, have challenged the limits of the host-parasite dynamic. A change is upon us, in which the consumer can be viewed as an active agent, not just with expendable cash or predictable social media habits, but voice, action, presence. They have something that executives rarely count on from fandoms: humanity. 

 

These people design #freebritney t-shirts, host amateur investigative podcasts, study byzantine legal codes and fly to her court hearings. It’s not particularly healthy, necessarily; I don’t want to be this dedicated, this lost, this committed to anything. But it’s real, and that’s something no one, not even the faggot next to you on the train with the new Charli XCX dropbox leaks can claim. Though Britney is not yet out of the woods, this moment represents a seismic reimaging, akin to the rise of ACT UP, in which the people take matters into their own hands. And so Britney’s fans will change the terms of popular consumerism. They’ve proven that they’re not just turkeys to be fed, fattened, and served to her father with the returns from her Vegas show. They can do more than observe Britney: they can speak for her, fight for her, organize for her. 

 

I remember attending DragCon at the Javits Center, in 2017, and then, gratefully, seeing an actual drag show soon after: At one, you pay to be photographed with an exhausted queen under merciless halogen lights; at another, you serve your queen, screaming and throwing dollars at her as she gives and receives in equal measure. On a global scale, this toothpaste was already out of the tube, thanks to Patreon and OnlyFans. A more authentic dialogue between deity and acolyte has begun: how can we co-create together? Britney’s fans don’t claim to own her. They don’t collect her. They just love her. What if that was the new status quo? What if you actually felt something for someone again? In a marketplace of actual humanity, would I have to hear about this Kylie Jenner person again? 

 

As for Britney, she’s in. Despite the endless provisos which keep her nailed to the cross, Britney’s soul is free, as evidenced by her Instagram. Britney posts, at her convenience, an unending stream of abstract gibberish, a Joycean collage asserting her right to create something inherently meaningless, void of profitability or strategy.  There is no team, no outside observer, no master marketer behind the curtain. In an ocean of allegedly self-aware demi-celebrities and their so-called stans, ever-eager for a new badge of identity, Britney has declared herself one of the peasants: a loser, a loner, a true weirdo, seeking not gratification but identification. Like her fans, the real ones, who are in it for life, Britney is looking for something real. The stans won’t last the decade, but for the real fans, and for their savior, the love story has only entered its second act. We can save each other.