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Music Video Breakdown: 'Toxic' By Britney Spears

By 03.12.13
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There are a few ways to look at the music video for "Toxic." The first is that Britney Spears is playing a spy, or some sort of assassin, who steals a poisonous chemical from a lab in Paris, gets her cheating boyfriend to ingest it, and then disappears undetected. In doing so she dons multiple disguises, enlists the help of a fellow spy to transport her to the laboratory, and uses her training and experience in the field to do things like dodge laser sensors and scale skyscapers with suction cup-like devices. Exciting and adventurous? Sure. But all in a day's work for a spy or highly-trained assassin.

The other ways to view this video are ... darker. Much darker. Like, "midnight in a corn field" dark. But we will get to those in a minute. First, feel free to watch the video below and join me on the following pages for a discussion of its very sexy, occasionally confusing plot.


Before we start digging through the video, though, let's take a brief trip back in time, shall we?

The year is 2004. Provided you are willing to characterize her shotgun New Year's Eve Vegas wedding/annulment two weeks earlier as either an innocent mistake or all in good fun (and I am, because I am hopelessly in the tank for her), Britney Spears had been on a one-way bullet train to superstardom when the video for "Toxic" was released. The only minor blip had taken place a few years earlier, when she and Justin Timberlake went through a messy public split and he absolutely ethered her in the music video for "Cry Me a River." But still, even after that, she famously opened the 2003 VMAs by smooching Madonna, and she released her next record, In the Zone, which received generally positive reviews and debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. Things were all -- or at least mostly -- coming up Britney.

Here are some things that happened between this video and 2007: KFed. Rehab. The whole shaved head umbrella rampage thing. This performance. Etc. etc. etc.

All this brings me to my point: Do you think, on the way home from this video shoot, Britney Spears accidentally ran over an evil genie's foot in her Porsche, and he put a curse on her? This is my working theory.

The video starts out on an airplane with Britney as a stewardess. She spends the first 30 seconds or so doing things like spilling champagne on people's crotches, kissing children on the head, and making sexy faces at the camera that is following her up and down the narrow aisle between seats.

You know, stewardess things.

PICTURED: A very reasonable reaction to being propositioned on an airplane by an impossibly attractive stewardess who is half your age and looks suspiciously like a very famous multi-millionaire pop star. Especially when said proposition involves this advanced seduction technique:

This guy got paid for a day of work that consisted almost entirely of Britney Spears rubbing up on him and sticking her tongue down his throat. I hope he sent his agent a very nice fruit basket as soon as he got home.

But anyway, back to the plot. Why is Britney Spears rubbing up on him and sticking her tongue his throat, you ask? BECAUSE HE'S ALSO A SPY. She rips off his to mask and GOOD NEWS he was actually a very handsome guy all along! This is important because very pretty people should only kiss ugly people if they have ulterior motives or assurances that the ugly person is secretly attractive. Please make a note.

While she is making out with the very handsome be-ponytailed man, she reaches into his pocket to remove this device, then she marches out of the bathroom. Two quick things:

1) My favorite part of this scene is that, after she runs off with whatever device he was carrying that was apparently important enough that he was traveling with it in an extremely elaborate and life-like disguise, he just looks at the camera and shrugs, like "Eh, whattaya gonna do? She was pretty." This tells us (a) he is not a very good spy, and (b) we should begin diverting billions of dollars toward a program that recruits devious bikini models to work at the CIA.

2) Uh, where did she go after she stole this from him? They're trapped in a metal cylinder that is cruising at 30,000 feet. Couldn't he have just followed her back into the cabin and taken it back? I don't think she thought this through. It worked, sure, but it still may not have been the best plan of action.

Oh, also, she periodically pops up throughout the video wearing nothing but underpants and diamonds. I probably should have mentioned that earlier. My apologies.

CUT TO: Paris.

Britney has switched out the stewardess uniform for a leather catsuit, red wig, and hilarious sequined sunglasses that I'm pretty sure she can't see through, and has enlisted the help of male model Tyson Beckford to transport her to her desired location on a motorcycle. Given what we learned about Mr. Beckford's motorcycle driving skills in the first 20 seconds of the video for Toni Braxton's "Un-Break My Heart," let's just say I might have looked for a different driver to whip me around the sidewalks of Paris at 200 mph.

And speaking of questionable spy-related decisions, I'll also go out on a limb and say blowing a giant hole in the front of a laboratory and strolling in wearing a red wig and leather get-up that doesn't cover your face might not be the most subtle way to make an entrance. But hey, what do I know, right? I mean, I've hardly robbed any laboratories.

Britney uses the gizmo she stole from the guy on the plane to enter a restricted area and swipe a vial of green poison. Which is just, like, sitting on a table, out in the open.

Scientist: Hey, what should we do with this vial of top secret green poison?

Other Scientist: Just put it on the table.

Scientist: Uh... shouldn't we put it in a safe in case the dude transporting the key -- which he is just keeping in his pocket, by the way. Not in a steel reinforced briefcase with a 30-digit combination or anything. IN HIS POCKET -- gets it taken from him by a sexy spy posing as a stewardess, and she blows a huge hole in the building and ends up walking off with the vial tucked between her boobs?

Other Scientist: Pfft. Like that could ever happen.

So this is where Britney does a dance version of the scene in Entrapment where Catherine Zeta-Jones slinks and dips beneath the lasers. Okay, fine, got it. Just one thing...

These lasers didn't get triggered until she accidentally stepped in front of a motion sensor on her way out of the room where the vial was stored, which means these lasers WERE NOT triggered by her blowing up the whole front of the building when she first got there. This security system is both confusing and terrible.

We then get a quick shot of a guy (her boyfriend, presumably) making out with a girl in the shower. This is why Britney is doing all this. For revenge against her other-lady-smooching beau.

The lesson here is that Britney Spears does not tolerate extra-relationship making out unless said making out is part of a plot to kill the other person in the relationship for their original making out-related transgressions. Seems reasonable.

nbd just scaling a tall building with suction cups while dressed like a fancy gypsy

Britney enters her lover's apartment through the window and confronts him, first throwing him on the bed, then whipping him on the floor, then kissing him a bunch. He doesn't seem all that concerned to this point, which brings up an interesting question: If he wasn't gonna fight her on this one, why didn't she just take the elevator and knock on his door ? Could have saved her a whole lot of suction cupping her way up a building. That's all I'm saying.

p.s. I selected this screencap so I could point out that Britney Spears sticks her tongue out like that every time she says the letter "L,", which is something I noticed on my third consecutive viewing of the video as I was working on this post. My job is weird.

After she kisses him, she pours the poison into his mouth (NOTE TO SELF: If you happen to be dating a spy or assassin, do not cheat on them), then...

... leaps off the balcony to make her escape.

Okay, but...

Remember how I said there were other, darker ways to look at this video besides "Britney Spears is a spy and she uses her spy training to kill her cheating boyfriend"? I mean, that's pretty dark on its own, seeing as it involves a spy risking an international incident and blasting off the front of a laboratory as part of a plot to murder her lover, but here are some other possibilities:

- What if everything between the first shot of Britney (where she's on the phone in the plane) and the last one (back in the plane after she jumped off the balcony) was part of a daydream she had at work? What if she knew her boyfriend was cheating on her, so she spent the whole flight conjuring up a scenario where she seduced the schlub on the plane, rode a motorcycle through Paris, stole a vial of poison, and murdered him in his apartment? And what if that leap off the building at the end was actually her committing suicide? That would mean this stewardess was having vivid, elaborate visions of a murder-suicide, and should probably see a psychiatrist.

- What if she wasn't a spy? What if she was just a normal stewardess who found out her boyfriend was cheating on her, and spent months -- maybe even years -- teaching herself amateur spy techniques (seduction, laser-evading dance movers, how to scale a building with suction cups) and researching her plot, all while pretending nothing was wrong and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Then, when the time came, BOOM, she followed her plan to the letter, killed her lover, and jetted off on the next flight. That would be downright psychotic, and it would explain some of the amateur hour spy mistakes we saw throughout the video. It would also be diabolical. After all, who would suspect a simple stewardess of such a plot? Not the overworked cops on the beat, that's for sure. Someone needs to get Columbo on this, pronto.

Anyway, those are some things to think about next time you watch this video. Did I just blow your mind a little? I feel like I did.

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