Nikki Webster returned to the forefront of the Australian public’s consciousness last week, courtesy of an inspired appearance on Sunrise atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The chorus of ‘Strawberry Kisses’, it turns out, still knocks.
The rediscovery of this fact prompted me (along, I can only assume, with thousands of other Australians) to re-acquaint myself with the career of Australia’s most notable post-Minogue child star. Webster’s videography, it turns out, is highly cohesive: her clips are packed with tightly-choreographed dance routines, garishly-coloured latex and bell bottom trousers. Upon review, though, these traits appear to have been shamelessly lifted again and again from the output of another iconic child star turned pop star: Britney Spears. This ongoing, blatant artistic repurposing needs to be acknowledged, so here we are.
In 2001, Britney Spears released her second album Oops!…I Did It Again, preceded by a single of the same name. She danced in space, unwittingly flirted with an astronaut and wore a skintight red catsuit.
In 2002, Nikki Webster did basically the same thing, translated for a Cheez TV viewership. In ‘Strawberry Kisses’ Webster wears a hot pink latex set on board a CGI dream of a space station. She has a space-based love interest of her own, too — though rather than being gifted whatever it was that the old lady dropped into the ocean in the end, Nikki receives a copy of her own CD single from her miniature beau. Adorable.
For the lead single from her second album Bliss, Webster returned to the ‘Oops!’ clip for inspiration, basically taking the premise underwater. (Perhaps it’s the same ocean into which the old lady dropped Britney’s ‘Oops!’ gift? Meta, Webster.) She demonstrates her keen eye for detail in recreating a specific shot from ‘Oops!’: white outfit, midriff exposed, aerial angle, armography.
A teenaged girl cradles her head in her left hand and gazes pensively into the middle distance of a classroom. A large school bell rings. Dancing ensues. Am I referring to ‘…Baby One More Time’, or ’24/7 (Crazy ‘bout Your Smile)’? Yes, both — because they are pretty much EXACTLY THE SAME.
When Nikki released ’24/7’ in 2002, the supply of original, locally-produced music video treatments was clearly running dry. As a result, Webster was forced again to default to a Spears-esque narrative — this time appropriating two Britney videos in a single clip.
’24/7’ relies most heavily on elements previously used in‘…Baby One More Time’. There are sweatpants galore, loose-fitting school ties and synchronised dance routines in the school grounds. The only thing separating Webster from a copyright infringement lawsuit in these scenes is the square metre of white Lowes fabric that covers her stomach. (Spears famously suggested re-working the traditional school uniform to expose her naval in the ‘…Baby’ clip.)
The climactic scene for ’24/7’ takes place in a high school hall. Here Webster once again provides a meta commentary on practices of cultural recycling by wearing the red latex catsuit Britney had previously donned in ‘Oops!’, ironically modified with a midriff cut-out and a collar. Seriously.
By 2005 Webster had tired of pop stardom, and retreated from the public eye. She returned in 2009, though, with a revamped image and a Zoo cover to boot. Predictably, to declare her sexual awakening Nikki took inspiration from Spears’ own era of erotic discovery — specifically the video for 2001’s ‘I’m A Slave 4 U’.
‘Slave’ takes place in a sweaty, vaguely dystopian-looking bunker. ‘Devilicious’ looks like it was filmed in Sydney’s Carriageworks, but the vibe is pretty similar. In both clips there’s a lot of writhing and synchronised heavy breathing. People are very sweaty and limbs are akimbo.
During her first stint in pop Webster had never adapted Spears’ Lolita-esque positioning (probably for the best, given her age at the time). This made her transition to bisexual sex fiend in ‘Devilicious’ (“all the boys wanna kiss me/and the girls can’t resist me”) fairly jarring, and the single had limited success.
Enough time has since passed, though, for Webster to gain perspective on her career. In 2015 she revealed that she had felt pressured to follow in Britney’s footsteps (no shit, Nikki). Her recent return to prominence could now spell the beginning of a new, original chapter; let’s just hope her new Creative Director has a diversity of references on hand when it comes to filming the ‘Strawberry Kisses (2017 Trop-House Remix)’ video.