The story of “A Star Is Born” is by now familiar. A husband and wife in show business struggle to keep their union strong despite the fact that one of them finds fame and fortune while the other endures only heartache and disappointment. The most serious casualty in such a relationship isn’t a broken dream; it’s everlasting love.
I couldn’t help but gravitate toward the “A Star Is Born” model when the news broke that Britney Spears and hubby Kevin Federline are calling it quits. Obviously, the strain of astounding success juxtaposed against pathetic failure proved to be too much. Obviously, Britney just couldn’t deal with K-Fed’s meteoric rise into hip-hop royalty.
It must be brutal for Brit. One moment he’s lying around the mansion with his entourage siphoning her funds while trying to think of words that rhyme with “prenup,” then suddenly it’s all gone. No more insipid heart-to-hearts. No more unexplained late-night absences. No more pleas for career boosts. Just a big black hole where his love had been.
K-Fed’s status in the entertainment business has been massively misinterpreted, and, in turn, this breakup will appear to the unenlightened as Britney getting fed up with K-Fed.
Sure, he was booed recently during a brief appearance at the annual Halloween Carnival in West Hollywood. And he was booed at an appearance during a World Wrestling Entertainment match in L.A. And he reportedly had to plead to keep organizers from canceling a concert in a New York City club after only 300 people showed up in a room that holds 1,500. And shows at the House of Blues in Cleveland and Atlantic City were cancelled. And many in the hip-hop community reacted with derision and scorn after K-Fed performed at the Teen Choice Awards, including XXL magazine editor-in-chief Elliot Wilson, who said: “He doesn’t get that he’s Britney’s man and it’s hard to take him seriously.”
Also, there is his new CD, “Playing With Fire,” in which he raps about climbing out of obscurity in Fresno to enjoy a life of privilege and wealth as Britney’s husband. Rolling Stone’s Kevin O’Donnell called it “reprehensible,” while Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Willman gave it a grade of “F” and Stephen Thomas Erlewine of All Music Guide said, “It’s also a bore because he’s a boor.”
All of that is just jealousy. K-Fed has, above all else, street cred. The street in question might be Rodeo Drive, but still. People make such a big deal out of the fact that 50 Cent has been shot nine times. Try being K-Fed for a day. Try loading a day’s worth of shopping and 11 slacker buddies into one Rolls-Royce Phantom and then come talk to me about street cred.
Our finest hip-hop artists are where they are because they draw upon challenging life experiences and harrowing close calls to inspire their music. This is K-Fed all over. He’s a poster boy for adversity. For instance, recently he told Entertainment Weekly: “I used to be embarrassed to go to the store and buy tampons, but that’s all past tense. Once you make it through that, then you’re good.”
It’s possible that quote was taken out of context, but I don’t recall him saying that he was buying the tampons for Britney. If he wasn’t, if he was just buying them, then he is truly facing more hardship than any man should bear. Somewhere in that tragic situation is a song that, despite threats of more ridicule, demands to be written and performed before a sparse audience.
Longing for the days of wine and mooching?
Britney made a recent appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman” and looked good. She had a sassy new blond hairdo and was clad in an enticing black dress. It was only a staged cameo, a mere morsel of celebrity banter, but it gave her an opportunity to meet the public during this trying time. The folks in Dave’s audience responded favorably, bathing her in applause.
But she obviously is hurting. Reminders are everywhere. Whenever she sees a married couple sitting together in a restaurant, she’ll immediately think of Kevin, especially if the guy is making the woman pick up the check. When she attends one of the major music awards shows, she’ll hobnob with fellow superstars backstage and long for the days when Kevin was beside her, asking her for 20 bucks for cigarettes.
And somewhere out there, found on eBay or at a garage sale, a DVD copy of “Britney and Kevin: Chaotic,” their short-lived UPN reality series, will serve as a shining example of how two music-industry titans working at the peak of their artistic powers can not only co-exist but thrive in an unforgiving business. Even though the show lasted all of five episodes, was roundly thrashed by critics, and may have even hastened the eventual demise of that network.
But most of all, Britney will suffer the indignity of watching as K-Fed’s career skyrockets. No longer encumbered by the old ball and chain, he is now free to tour the world and demonstrate that he is more than just Mr. Spears.
Now he can get cancelled out of much bigger venues. He doesn’t need the Britney marketing machine; he can sell his CDs out of the trunk of the Ferrari he gets in the settlement. And if you think the music industry will shun him now that he’s no longer together with Britney, think again. In the music business, loyalty rules. Artists and executives are renowned for taking care of their own. Hip-hop artists especially will rally to K-Fed’s side and make sure he has everything he needs to keep rapping insightful observations like, “One earring costs more than your budget.”
All he needs now is a chance. And a good lawyer.
Meanwhile, Britney sits in an empty palace, taking care of her kids, no longer serenaded by the dulcet tones of hubby cursing out yet another entertainment reporter on the plasma who calls him a parasite and complaining that there’s not enough Kobe beef in the fridge to make chili.
Michael Ventre is a frequent contributor to MSNBC.com. He lives in Los Angeles.