Britney Spears here?

It took about three years, but I finally got my first big perk for all my work at the Record – an advance copy of the new Britney Spears CD, which arrives in stores on May 16.

In the interest of full disclosure I must admit that a poster of Britney does indeed hang just outside my door. For my 21st birthday, I not only received a copy of her first album, but I also received my very own Britney Spears Barbie doll. With the new album coming out, friends have been e-mailing me about various contests that offer chances to meet Britney on MTV or win the top that she is wearing on the cover of the latest issue of Rolling Stone.

I must also admit that I join the ranks of many teenage women in this country, watching MTV’s big show TRL religiously (except of course on Mondays, when I am stuck in the Record office). Just last week, I stopped at the television in Baxter mailroom to see whether or not Eminem could beat out Britney for the #1 spot that day.

At this point I think it is safe to assume that anyone reading this review has heard Britney’s new single, which is the title track for her second album Oops! I Did It Again. The song, which was of course released for MTV and radio stations weeks before the CD actually hits the shelves, is the first song on the album.

Anyone listening to this song who knows Britney’s music should notice right away the stunning resemblance that this song has to the title track of her first album, Baby One More Time. Although the words are different, the song has pretty much the same beat as her first big hit.

When thinking about her music, though, it is important to remember that Britney Spears is as much a visual artist as anyone in the music business. What this means is that although the new video does not have any images of Britney dressed up as a Catholic schoolgirl, her new outfits definitely differentiate the two songs. With this in mind, it is difficult to write a fair review of this album before the videos for the songs are made.

The video for Oops! I Did It Again is staged in what looks to be a landscape from Mars, but is referred to as “Britney World,” a place where Britney seems to be some sort of a queen. Britney aptly warns us in this first song that despite what we might think about a teenager appearing half-naked on the cover of Rolling Stone, she is not that innocent.

In an age when boy bands are being created and crushed faster than internet IPOs on NASDAQ, Britney is in essence the female embodiment of one of our latest cultural crazes. In another move from the “let’s stick to what works” playbook, the second song on the new CD, “Stronger,” bares a striking resemblance to the second song on the first album, “Crazy.” Both provide a faster, more electronic beat than the first singles and, recalling that Britney is a visual artist, leave a slow sequence right after the second chorus for the director to stage that perfect shot, the one that made the video for “Crazy” such a big hit.

Other songs on the album that closely resemble those of current hit-makers are the third song, “Don’t Go Knockin’ on My Door,” which mimics the stop and start beats of Destiny’s Child, and “Can’t Make You Love Me,” which appropriately takes sounds from the Backstreet Boys “Larger Than Life.”

A theme that seems to run through the lyrics of many of the songs on this album is that although Britney may have achieved material success, she is still searching for that special someone. This theme is clear in the upbeat song “Lucky,” which samples music from Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.” In this song Britney sings, “If there is nothing missing in my life, then why do these tears come at night?”

The search for companionship must have also played a factor in the decision to cover the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” Just like the Rolling Stones, Britney Spears tries and tries, but just can’t get no satisfaction.

The album is also full of slow songs, all of which have the potential to be staples of the middle-school dance circuit as soon as the videos premiere on TRL. “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know” and “Where Are You Now” will continue to keep the girls on the dance floor, even if the guys continue to stay in the corner.

In such a tightly scripted, packaged and polished album the producers did allow a new development. Just as was the case with the Backstreet Boys, the second album is the first time that Britney was allowed to sing a song that she wrote. The song “Dear Diary” is the last song on the album and although it’s interesting, let’s just say that songwriting is not Britney’s most valuable asset.

In summary, this album is essential for anyone who wants to be plugged into pop culture. In an age where MTV not only plays music for teens, but lets them choose who is to be the most popular, this album is sure to be a success.

However, as is the case with NASDAQ, popular culture breeds a dangerous circle. Lucky for MTV, the way down is just as much of a spectacle as the way up.