Nine women and one guy—mostly strangers—trail into a small apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The twentysomethings sit down in a living room and start chatting with one another while “Hit Me Baby One More Time” blares in the background. Some nibble on chocolate chip cookies from a plate labeled “Gimme More.”
They’re all here for a 90-minute presentation titled, “Britney Spears: Goddess, Feminist Icon, Pop Priestess,” a quirky but semi-serious workshop that discusses the singer’s unique role in feminism, sexuality, and pop culture. Call it nostalgic, call it crazy, but it keeps selling out.
“I think the workshop has tapped into something. I don’t know if I would have put my finger on it beforehand, but I think there’s some kind of movement going on,” said Rachel Goldberg, co-creator of the Spears workshop, which she runs out of her apartment with business partner Suri Ratnatunga.
Goldberg, 27, and Ratnatunga, 26, met while working for Groupon, and are benefitting from a Spears resurgence. While her Vegas residency led to some labeling her a pop culture afterthought, the artist recently graced the March issue of People magazine and is set to drop a new single with Iggy Azalea in May, 17 years after “Hit Me Baby One More Time” first graced the charts.
The duo has led six workshops since beginning their celebration of all things Spears in December, and they have several more planned for the spring. A Britney Spears-themed warehouse dance party might also be in the works.
During a recent workshop, group members, who paid $20 each, listened to a PowerPoint presentation complete with pictures, videos, and GIFs of the superstar they affectionately refer to as just “Britney.”
One participant, Hannah Orenstein, came dressed as circa-1998 Britney Spears, complete with a schoolgirl skirt and pigtails.
“She’s an icon... and people still care about her,” said Orenstein, a 21-year-old intern at Cosmo.com. “She’s sort of this lightning rod for women who think about sexuality and other women in pop music.”
That sentiment was reflected in the presentation by Goldberg and Ratnatunga, who portrayed the now-33-year-old former Mickey Mouse Club member as not just a sex symbol, but also a feminist icon.
“She’s really played off of this virginal sexual thing as something that’s carried on through her career, and as something she’s profited off of in a feminist way,” said Goldberg.
Even her 2007 breakdown packs significance, according to Ratnatunga. Pointing to infamous pictures of Britney Spears shaving her head, Ratnatunga paused and began to explain.
“This is her divorcing herself from her public image,” she said. “It’s her being like, ‘Fuck what you think, I’m going to shave off all my fucking hair. And I’m not going to be a sex symbol to you guys anymore. And I think all of this rebelling is her being like, ‘I’m not going to be who you think I am anymore.’”
After the more serious part of the conversation, the participants played trivia. One young woman was able to list all of Spears’ albums in order in under a minute.
Space is very limited for each workshop (10 people max) since Goldberg’s living room fits no more than 12 guests, an environment Goldberg calls “casual” and “intimate.”
“The plan is to expand this since it’s selling so well,” said Ratnatunga. “Maybe do another class at the end of our Britney 101. We’ve been asked about the 201.”