Thursday, December 24th, 2009
20

The End of the 00s: The Dance-Off Decade, by Lindsay Robertson

YOUNG HEARTS, RUN FREEIn the wee hours of August 1, 2002, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, who had broken up the previous March after Britney allegedly cheated on Justin with their shared choreographer, ran into each other at a club in Los Angeles called The Lounge. Reports differ, but by all accounts the two young pop stars began arguing, with Britney complaining that Justin had been "using different women for media attention" and Justin calling Britney a cheater. The arguing got heated, and continued onto the dance floor of the club-where for the next 90 minutes, Britney and Justin, with the help of their respective entourages, reportedly had a dance-off.

While the significance of the Spears/Timberlake dance-off was not lost on the gossip-reading public (it made the cover of US Weekly)–or even SNL, which re-enacted the event (rather lamely) during actor Matt Damon's monologue a few weeks later (Amy Poehler played Britney)-the public soon forgot about the incident as both Britney and Justin began to morph from bubble gum pop singers into international superstars.

Both would go on to write songs about their breakup–Justin released "Cry Me a River," and its subsequent video starring a cheating Britney lookalike, and Britney returned with "Everytime," which ended with the haunting line "My weakness caused you pain, and this song's my sorry." Yet so many questions still surround the dance-off: not just the obvious and, it seems, unknowable (who won? what moves were used?) but also "How does the Spears/Timberlake dance-off define an entire decade?" Because it does. It really, really does.

Much has been written about how reality TV and the sudden easy availability of fame have made this decade what it was. And of course it's true: this was the decade when any old regular person could get famous, as long as he or she wasn't choosy about what they were famous for. Some, like Paris and Nicky Hilton, enjoyed fame before they literally ever participated in or created a product of any kind–remember when every writer smugly called them "famous for being famous" and thought he or she was the first one to think of that clever distinction? And remember when it was actually a kind of awe-inspiring observation? This was indisputably the decade in which everyone asked everyone else to come into their lives and look at them and know who they were. If the 70s were "The Me Decade," the 00s were "The Look at Me Decade" (Or, possibly, the decade in which we all realized every decade, for all eternity, would be "The Me Decade.")

Anyway, the dance-off. By the time the dance-off occurred, we already had Survivor and Big Brother (remember how long they waited to tell the Big Brother contestants about 9/11 because giving them news of any kind broke the rules of the gameshow? And doesn't that seem so weird now?) and of course we'd had The Real World forever already. We were already, as a culture, eagerly watching regular people with no talents do nothing on TV.

But the dance-off, and the subsequent respective revenge/apology songs represented the flip side of what was going on in the culture. While all around them, regular ugly people who had not spent their entire childhoods honing their performance and entertainment skills were getting nearly as famous as they were just for eating bugs or whatever, Britney and Justin probably felt a little confused, and no doubt a bit resentful. Maybe they wondered if they were the last of a dying breed. Maybe they feared that they needed each other to survive (and, indeed, they would). Maybe it was fate that brought them together at The Lounge.

So when these two trained entertainers collided at that Los Angeles club that night, they didn't just argue the way regular old ugly people would argue. No, Britney and Justin resolved their differences the only way those two child performers knew how: they got out on that dance floor and they danced.it.off.

And then, possibly mutually inspired, they staged another "dance-off" in the public stage with their song releases, making millions of dollars and changing their images forever in the process. The Spears/Timberlake dance-off was one of the moments in this decade when the talented asserted their superiority and claimed a little bit of their own space back from the encroaching hordes. The Spears/Timberlake dance-off was a signal to the bug-eaters that there's a little tiny thing called talent that should still be part of the conversation. After the dance-off, reality TV went through all of the often ugly mutations (remember Temptation Island?) it had to go through to get us to where we are now, in a TV landscape that is once again at least partly talent-based (Top Chef, Project Runway, So You Think You Can Dance, American Idol) with a little bit of cray-cray thrown in just so we don't get to cocky about our high culture (one word: Hoarders).

I'd like to think that what happened on that sultry August night in that Los Angeles club was one of the milestones on the twisted and gnarled path that was the Aughts, and one of the moments that helped keep the old value of true showmanship alive in our culture. But probably not. US Weekly probably made the whole thing up.


Lindsay Robertson has been meta-enabling on the internet since 2000.

20 Comments / Post A Comment

BoHan (#29)

How have I not heard of this before? This is the best story ever! Including of course, the retelling and the moral.

Zack (#2,609)

You know when the premise of an article is just so crazy that even though you have no interest in the topic at all you read through and in the end bam the writer pulled it all together?

Yeah, this wasn't one of those.

(but seriously, doesn't that fact that no one – like BoHan above, or me – remembers this event moot the entire premise of the post. Maybe it did "represented the flip side of what was going on in the culture," but the fact that it was quickly forgotten means the culture won out. The only thing that matters in the 00's is celebrity, doesn't matter how or why you got it, or whether you have any accomplishments or skills at all, it just that you have it. I mean, just look at our President [kidding!])

Zack (#2,609)

I meant Obama and not Bush. And I was joking. But now that I think of Bush, doesn't that kind of prove my point?

I'm not surprised you don't remember the event in question, given that I'm pretty sure you were in high school at the time.

Hez (#147)

Well, I remember it, and I've probably taken wayy more drugs than you.

PS: Lindsay, isn't it killing you not to know what songs they danced to? Their own? Each others'? Some holy grail retro dance-off mix that I will now have to spend the rest of my days in search of? GAH!

(Sorry. This is what happens when you don't do eggnog.)

jstoner (#2,745)

'If the 70s were "The Me Decade," the 00s were "The Look at Me Decade" (Or, possibly, the decade in which we all realized every decade, for all eternity, would be "The Me Decade.")'

Excuse me while I go jump off a bridge…

kneetoe (#1,881)

It all has to get back to you, doesn't it?

Sakurambobomb (#1,722)

I remember this incident clearly. I dimly recall that the dance-off was to Earth Wind & Fire's "September", or a remix of it, but I am not 100% sure.

Hez (#147)

STRONGLY APPROVE

I remember the dance off too.

Though I doubt anyone who did/does not follow sleb gossip would know about it.

FeyBoohoozer (#410)

oh if only John and Olivia weren't oldes. What a movie this would make!

HiredGoons (#603)

" began to morph from bubble gum pop singers into international superstars."

I fail to see the distinction.

jolie (#16)

Though to be fair, they were dancing to house music so it meant nothing.

(Merry The Holidays Lindsay! Love this and love you for reminding me of the Britters dance-off alskflakhfslkfhsaf)

I think it took place at Hyde or Privilege so I doubt it was house.

jolie (#16)

Oh honey.

(It's a Jersey Shore joke. Sometimes when you don't get things it's best to just smile and look vacant. HAPPY THE HOLIDAYS!)

johnpseudonym (#1,452)

My snarkiness caused you pain, and this comment's my sorry.

THIS!
<3

Also, that dance-off could never have the same punch in any other decade? Like, MAYBE a young Elvis and ___ could have danced it off? Or Tiffany and the INXS guy? But they never boned. I mean, Lindsay is so fucking right because this is such an (N)Aught(ie) moment. It cannot be done with the same emotional/cultural reverberations ever again! All dance-offs hitherto MEAN NOTHING!

melis (#1,854)

______ = ann-margret?

ericdeamer (#945)

How could anyone NOT remember this!?

Post a Comment