Cardi B Rebrands What It Means to “Feel Like Britney Spears”

Cardi B Rebrands What It Means to “Feel Like Britney Spears”

by Genna Rivieccio (Paris, France)

“I Feel Like 2007 Britney” has been long overdue for retirement as a “cute” little phrase hyperbolically announcing one’s fraught mental state. Plastered on every type of “merch” from t-shirts to coffee mugs to magnets, this “light-hearted” allusion to one of the most troubled years in Britney Spears’ life, a time when she was mercilessly mocked for having emotional difficulties, continues to be commodified. And this in spite of all the kumbaya bullshit of late about how we should treat mental illness with more dignity and respect as opposed to poking fun at those who have clearly suffered from its toll. Whatever Spears “has” (apart from Too Much Time Spent Under Media Scrutiny Syndrome), a “post-woke” public ought to realize the insensitivity of “I Feel Like 2007 Britney” by now, and that the narrative surrounding it is entitled to an overhaul.

Enter, rather unexpectedly, Cardi B. Making Britney and her newfound freedom a key part of her verse on Latto’s “Put It On Da Floor Again,” Cardi deftly references the frequent twirls and choreographic tirades paraded on Britney’s Instagram account—the premier source for endless dissection as fans continue to search for the “truth” behind her often arcane posts. While maybe, sometimes, “What U See (Is What U Get)”—except that time the #FreeBritney movement accurately read into her coded messaging for help throughout her conservatorship—Cardi is overtly Team Treat Britney Like A Grown-Ass Woman Who Can Do Whatever She Wants. Going so far as to give Britney a rebrand herself. A process that tends to occur whether the pop star wants it or not—because, as most know, Spears has never had much agency when it comes to what people project onto her.

But surely, positioning Spears’ incessant dancing videos as a source of self-empowerment is far better than the opposing side of the rhetoric that insists she’s more “insane” than ever and should therefore be put back into a conservatorship. The commentary in favor of that “motion” reverberates with a chilling loudness at a time when society believes it has moved “beyond” the whole slap women with a “hysteria” or “witchcraft” charge so as to ultimately control them and keep the patriarchy alive and well.

As though to exemplify that point, “concerned” “fans” had police perform a wellness check on the singer back in January due to some of her “erratic behavior.”[1] Including not just her dancing videos, but also her arbitrary deletion of Instagram, which sent people into a frenzy thanks to the belief that she’s still somehow being “controlled.” Spears was so affronted by the infiltration into her supposedly free existence that she posted the comment, “I shut down my Instagram because there were too many people saying I looked like an idiot dancing and that I looked crazy.”

One person who patently does not feel that way and wants nothing more than for the dancing to continue is Cardi B. So it is that, during her one-minute verse for “Put It On Da Floor Again,” she raps, “I’m sexy dancin’ in the house, I feel like Britney Spears.” To further emphasize that line, she appears in the video for the song wearing a t-shirt that reads, “I Feel Like Britney Spears.” Repurposing the phrase with a positive connotation whereas, in the past, likening oneself to Britney came with the stigma of possessing fragile mental health. Albeit intended as a “jocular” form of self-deprecation. Thus, with her seemingly small gesture, Cardi B is actively reshaping the enduring falsity that Britney is somehow “crazy” for dancing in her house all the time when, in fact, her dancing is not only sexy, but a flagrant display of how she chooses to use her agency.

Unfortunately, Latto is in the mix to trivialize mental health in a similar fashion to the “I Feel Like 2007 Britney” mantra by declaring, “She thought I would kiss her ass, she must ain’t took her meds.” What’s more, Latto definitely wants to highlight that line by wearing it as a shirt in the video, specifically during the moment she’s working behind a pharmacy counter and throwing a slew of pill bottles up in the air. So yes, there’s still some work to be done on ableist language coming from the so-called “mentally sound.”

As for who Latto might be referring to with that line, one name in particular that pops up is Nicki Minaj. The two famously had beef after Latto expressed her affection for Minaj throughout her still-germinal career (as so many up-and-coming female rappers do), only for Minaj to leave a bitter taste in her mouth after dragging Latto into some Grammy controversy surrounding “Super Freaky Girl” being moved into the pop category for a nomination consideration, while Latto’s “Big Energy” remained, in the eyes of the Recording Academy, worthy of staying in the rap category. This “affront” to Nicki—that really had nothing to do with Latto—incited them to row on Twitter, with Latto calling Minaj a “40-year-old bully” and a “super freaky grandma.”[2] For comments about “being old” are always a tried-and-true insult of youths or the, let’s say, youth-identifying.

Nonetheless, the beef Minaj stewed was in keeping with her notoriety for starting feuds with newer female rappers. The same, naturally, went for Cardi B when she first rose to prominence in 2017 with “Bodak Yellow.” Although the two initially played nice by collaborating on “MotorSport” (also released in 2017) with Migos, their rivalry had crested to the point of getting into a physical clash by September 2018. The two were in attendance at New York Fashion Week when Cardi ended up with a huge bump on her head after engaging in an altercation with Minaj’s security, managing to throw a shoe at her during the fracas.[3] Soon after the fight, Cardi was featured on Quavo’s “Champagne Rosé” with Madonna, rapping braggadociously of those, like Nicki, convinced of her downfall, “They say my time is tickin’/These hoes is optimistic.” A sentiment echoed by Latto on “Put It On Da Floor Again” via the lyrics, “They thought I was gon’ fall off/I hate to bring you bad news.”

Thus, despite claims of a “peace treaty” in the aftermath, it seems pointed that Cardi is working with Latto—Minaj’s latest enemy—while Minaj places her bets on collaborating with Ice Spice (rap’s freshest female ingenue) on a remix of “Princess Diana” for the win (in addition to “Barbie World” for the Barbie Soundtrack). And, considering Taylor Swift has placed her own bets on Ice Spice as well, Minaj is probably the victor here. What’s more, “Princess Diana” is definitely the better track, even as Cardi makes “Put It On Da Floor Again” stand out via her inherently protective statement about Britney.

Funnily enough, Cardi’s baby daddy, Offset, veered toward less favorable commentary about Spears on the aforementioned “MotorSport” by noting, “488, hit the gears/Suicide doors, Britney Spears.” The insinuation here plays with another moment from Britney’s worst year ever—2007—when she proceeded to go apeshit on a paparazzo’s car door with a green umbrella after having recently shaved her head. Indeed, the images of her bald self as she maniacally wields this umbrella are arguably more famous than the head shaving photos themselves. So perhaps, in her own way (whether deliberate or unconscious), Cardi is also trying to compensate for the insensitivity of Offset’s mention of Spears in another song she was featured on.

Latto, who also “worked with” Cardi roundaboutly by appearing in the 2020 video for “WAP,” instead opts to tell us she feels more like Shawty Lo. The deceased rapper who is something of the “OG” Nick Cannon in terms of fathering many children from multiple women (with Shawty beating out Cannon, in one regard, by having eleven children from ten women, while Cannon has twelve children from a mere six women). Going by behavior patterns, Shawty Lo was surely the “crazier” one if he were to be compared to Britney Spears. And yet, as is the norm, the standards for women’s behavior being deemed “crazy” are far less lax than they are for men (see: Kanye West a.k.a. Ye).

As for Cardi’s “erstwhile” rival, Minaj, she, too, has come to the defense of Spears in recent months. Namely to lambast Britney’s ex, Kevin Federline, for posting videos that Britney’s sons filmed without her knowledge wherein she’s meant to be portrayed as, once again, “acting crazy.” Minaj declared of Federline’s smarmy maneuver,

Do you understand what kind of a clown you have to be to be a whole grown fucking man and as soon as you see somebody happy and getting married and moving on and being free and feeling good in their own skin, to do the very thing that you know is going to attempt to break them down? Going to the media. Only cowards use the media against a famous person who they once loved, they procreated with, they’re being taken care of by, they once were being taken care of by, using the person’s fame as this constant ‘gotcha’ moment… And you think you not gonna have fucking karma from it? You think it’s okay? You think that anybody is gonna feel sorry for you?

Minaj was far closer to Britney than Cardi ever could be, as she started to garner fame circa 2010, opening the door for her to collaborate with Spears on a remix of 2011’s “Till The World Ends” before joining her as an opener on the Femme Fatale Tour. Indeed, Minaj would state at that time, “She reminds me of my best friend… whenever I see her, I feel at peace for some strange reason.”[4]

The affection that Black women seem to have for Britney can perhaps be explained by seeing in her horrifying story a familiar kind of oppression and subjugation simply for being herself. For trying to live her life without it being twisted and skewed by the masses into her doing something “wrong.” And so, for Cardi to invest in rewriting the script about what it means to “feel like Britney Spears,” well, that’s just ripe for quoting Ana Navarro when she said, “The power that that has, the intelligence that that has, the clearance that that has, the access that that has, the influence that that has, the profile that that has, the international implication that that has.”

[1] Ashley Iasimone, “Britney Spears Says She’s ‘Alive and Well’ After Reported Police Wellness Check Prompted by Fans,” Billboard, 28 January 2023 [27 June 2023].

[2] Joshua Espinoza, “Latto Addresses Past Issues With Nicki Minaj: ‘It’s Disappointing. You Just Got to Take It to the Chin’,” Complex, 25 February 2023 [27 June 2023].

[3] Daniel Kreps, “Cardi B, Nicki Minaj Have Confrontation at New York Fashion Week Event,” Rolling Stone, 8 September 2018 [27 June 2023].

[4] Colin Daniels, “Nicki Minaj: ‘Britney Spears is like my best friend’,” Digital Spy, 11 August 2011 [27 June 2023].