On her new album Glory, Britney Spears continues her career-long tradition of crafting space-themed pop masterpieces with the song “Man On The Moon.” The track is a three-minute-and-46-second tropical confection that tells the tale of an astronaut’s lonely lover. Typical sad-ballad trope, right? Sure, but not if you’re Britney. Any space aficionado worth her salt — and Britney’s previous works of galactic brilliance (see below) have made it abundantly clear that she is — knows that astronauts’ lovers are, notoriously, some of the loneliest in the universe.
“Houston, I know there’s a problem here/must be a hole in the atmosphere,” she sighs, in one of her least-chipmunk-y vocal performances on the album. You can practically hear her gazing up at the night sky, squinting to see the ISS. “I’ve been right here dreaming of you,” she continues; “Waiting for my man on the moon.”
She could have taken the words out of the mouths of the women in the Astronaut Wives Club, memorialized in a book of the same name by author Lily Koppel, published in 2013; the “club,” consisting of the spouses of astronauts on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions, were, as the book asserts, notoriously sad. Their lives were glamorous, sure, but their space-faring husbands were showered with glory while they were whisked away, tasked with the impossible feat of de-stressing their spouses while maintaining Stepford-worthy smiles in front of an admiring nation.
“I had married an engineer and here he was a hero,” she told the Los Angeles Times a few years after her husband’s historic Apollo 11 mission with Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins. “This was disturbing, but I didn’t understand, and my immediate reaction was anger toward Buzz. I did realize I should have expected it.”
In “Man On The Moon,” Britney exhales desperation over reverb-tinged guitars: “I can’t compete with the stars in the sky/I’m invisible, invisible.” With Aldrin’s words echoing in our ears, suddenly — perhaps for the first time in her career — Britney surprises us with her depth.
We can’t be blamed for expecting her to be shallow. After all, her use of space-themed metaphors were, in her youth, purely aesthetic choices: She co-opted extraterrestrial imagery to illustrate her artistic vision in the videos for songs such as the turn-of-the-millennium alien classic “Oops! … I Did It Again” and the Femme Fatale single “Hold It Against Me,” which revolves around a meteor crash. Even 2013’s “Alien,” off the album Britney Jean, lazily used extraterrestrial life as a metaphor for feeling like a weirdo.
Now, Britney, having experienced the harrowing realities of adulthood, has moved beyond the thin tropes of her youth.
Or maybe she hasn’t. It’s entirely possible that her Man On the Moon is actually a reference to MTV’s deeply valued Moon Man prize, as Bustle alleges. Maybe some things never change.