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SpearsBaby II: The rebranding

What will a second child do for Britney and Kevin's careers? Marc Hirsh considers the career value of the celebrity birth.
/ Source: contributor

Britney Spears likes sex. This much we know, thanks to her candor displayed on the horror that was “Chaotic.” (No, Britney, I can’t . Not now, not ever. Lie to me, constantly and forever.)

And not just any sex; sex with Kevin Federline, a man whose name has traveled to punchline status and beyond so quickly that it’s well on its way to becoming this generation’s equivalent of “Sonny Tufts.” (Look it up. And note, while you’re doing so, that it required looking up.)Anyway, Britney likes sex a lot but perhaps doesn’t understand the biological consequences (a lot). So here we are, a few months after her public announcement that her second pregnancy was entirely unexpected and almost one year to the day after the birth of Sean Preston, and the world has been blessed with BritSpawn No. 2, little Butterstick Kal-El Spears Federline.

Hey, Britney, in case you missed it because you spent your school days cinching up your uniform and dancing in the halls instead of sitting attentively in the Family Life classes that were probably underway on the other side of those doors, we provide a brief refresher course: sex=babies.

On the other hand, what she does seem to have picked up is that babies=publicity, as evidenced by her recent People magazine cover story, in which she complains about how exhausted she is from what has been for all intents and purposes a two-year pregnancy. And now is as good a time as ever for a new baby, though not for Britney, who gripes about how it’s, like, hard to record her new album while she’s dealing with one baby and waiting on another, y’all. Say what you want about her music, but she used to be prolific enough to release an album every year or two before Federline cabbage-patched into her life.

It’s difficult to say what will happen when (or if) Britney’s new tracks ever see the light of day. But quite simply, after Kevin, “Chaotic,” her failure to use seatbelts and the fact that last year’s remix collection “B In The Mix” wasn’t even certified gold, Britney needs all the publicity that her babying will provide her. Ironically, the actual end result (which, as another reminder for Britney, is a baby) will actually prevent her from reaping the rewards.

No, the real beneficiary is none other than the scraggly wannabe who derailed her career in the first place. K. Fed fancies himself a rapper, you see, and he has the embarrassing, hilarious performance of “Lose Control” on last month’s Kid’s Choice Awards to prove it. As creepy and slack-jawed as Federline may be, as a publicity stunt, having an unplanned second baby with your legal spouse sure beats getting caught with a prostitute just prior to the release of “Nine Months” or having your amateur porn leaked to the Internet right before whatever it is that Paris Hilton ever does. (I hear she wants to be the next Iron Chef.)

The Spears-Federlines aren’t the only ones. This has been a huge year for celebrity power couples and their newborns, who are often used as Happy Meal-style promotional tie-ins for their latest projects. The following are the most notable of the living, breathing, pooping publicity stunts, starting with the most recent and hardest to outshine.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, code name “Brangelina”
Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt’s May 27 arrival may well have been the single most heralded birth in two millennia and brought Pitt’s child-acquisition total for the past year to three (he also adopted Jolie’s children Maddox and Zahara). The hysteria surrounding the couple and their youngsters was total and black-hole-level inescapable, to the point where the lack of product to tie to Shiloh became beside the point: Shiloh was the product. Witness the multi-million-dollar bidding war for photographs.

It’s all the more curious considering that Pitt hasn’t starred in enough mega-hits to fully justify his stardom and Jolie’s biggest roles were in the “Tomb Raider” movies and the nightmares of anyone who saw her and her brother at the Oscars that one time. But there it was: a media frenzy that almost defied description that happened to tie in to nothing more spectacular than the DVD release of “Mr. And Mrs. Smith.” You did remember to pick up your copy, didn’t you?

Gavin Rossdale and Gwen Stefani, code name “Gwendale” a.k.a. “DoubtBush”
Did you know that the golden couple of '90s alt-rock had a baby this year? No, really, did you? Because thanks to the aforementioned Infangelina’s impending arrival one measly day later, the May 26 birth of son Kingston James McGregor got a clip line in the “celebrity births” column and little more. In any other year, this kid, born of famous, successful and preternaturally beautiful rock stars, would have been the power baby. In this year’s crowded playing field, he was a footnote who couldn’t even drag Institute (Rossdale’s post-Bush outfit) past 81 on the Billboard album charts or get Stefani’s “Crash” into the top 40.

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, code name “TomKat”
Daughter Suri was born on April 18. So we hear. Much like Spears, it seems like Holmes has always been pregnant, from the moment Cruise shouted his heterosexuality to the rooftops in front of a studio Oprah-full of shrieking enablers to ... well, to the moment months later when Vanity Fair finally gave us some hard evidence, beyond Cruise's say-so, that a baby was actually birthed.

As a result, the window of opportunity for them to capitalize on their love child was far wider than it had any right to be, with the pregnancy itself becoming public knowledge sometime around the releases of “War Of The Worlds” and “Batman Begins,” before Suri was even conceived. Her birth came just as “Thank You For Smoking” was hitting wide release and “Mission: Impossible 3” was about to hit.

But Suri was already old news by then, having already been eclipsed by Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt months before either of them breathed their first, and Smoking failed to catch and “M:I 3” became that most curious of hybrids, the $135 million-grossing flop. In the meantime, the biggest movie star on the planet and his impressionable young wife generated publicity so wretched that it almost boggled the mind. I mean, when Parade magazine, that Sunday-newspaper bastion of feel-goodery, refers to Holmes as “dazed, passive and vacant” in what otherwise was a Cruise puff piece? You’ve got a P.R. problem. Suri, call your agent.

Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow, code name “Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow”
Martin and Paltrow might be near the top of their respective fields, but when their most iconic baby fashion moment was the noise-damping headphones clamped onto daughter Apple when Gwynnie was watching her hubby’s band Coldplay perform at Live 8 last summer, there’s a distinct lack of effort involved. With nothing more exciting on tap than Coldplay riding out the already-huge “X&Y” and Paltrow’s “Love And Other Disasters” awaiting release, all that was left when son Moses was born in April was to note that his name wasn’t as goofy as his sister’s and move on.

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, code name “Bennifer 2” a.k.a. “Garfleck”
Violet was born on December 1, 2005. Six months later, “Alias” was cancelled. People noticed both events about the same. What happened? Ben and The Other Jen really dropped the ball by appearing determined to focus on their child rather than publicity. It’s as though they were using Violet as the baton in a career relay, with the end of Garner’s spy series taking up the first half of this year, since which (hand-off!) Affleck has taken up the slack with the upcoming Hollywoodland. At almost no point in any of this have we heard about their baby (which could be why we’ve heard almost nothing about “Hollywoodland”). There were oil tankers of ink spilled out Bennifer I’s ring, for God’s sake. Could you imagine if they had had a baby? It would have eaten Shiloh Nouvel for breakfast and snacked on Butterstick Kal-El for lunch, that’s for damn sure.