Before she headed her band Prom Queen, Seattle-based musician Leeni Ramadan worked for a singing telegram company where part of her job included impersonating pop stars. Among her roster was theee icon, Britney Spears.
Over the phone, Ramadan told me she'd attend children's birthday parties and conventions as the pop princess, reciting the singer's entire musical catalog to groups of kids.
"I did the best I could with the costumes," she recalled. "I was never really a lookalike, but I love doing costumes and makeup and being in drag and all that stuff, so that part was really fun for me. But I was mostly really into impersonating the vocal styles."
It's this deep familiarity with the singer that generated her latest project. This Friday, Prom Queen will drop Lucky, an EP of five Britney covers reimagined in the band’s signature "doom-wop" style.
Ramadan told me she planted the seeds for the project back in 2016 when she dropped a country cover of Britney's “Everytime” on Soundcloud. Since releasing that song, she’s kept a Spotify playlist of Britney songs she’d like to cover, and the pandemic's creative lull became an opportunity to tackle that wishlist.
While creating the EP, Ramadan did not anticipate the massive wave of attention Britney is now receiving for her struggle to get out of her oppressive conservatorship headed by her father, Jamie Spears. The conservatorship, put in place in 2008 after a string of publicized crises, removed Britney's autonomy — she lost access to her finances, was put on a grueling work schedule, and didn't even have permission to remove her birth control device, among many issues. She recently called the arrangement "abusive."
Thanks to documentaries like New York Times’ Framing Britney Spears, investigations by New Yorker reporters Ronan Farrow and Jia Tolentino, and activism from her dedicated fanbase, the movement to #FreeBritney has blown up to become a heavily watched court battle. But Ramadan has emphasized that her Britney project isn't opportunistic. Instead, she told me it comes from a place of deep admiration and support for the pop star.
“I wanted to make sure that this is being perceived as it was intended: as a love letter to Britney and really in honor of her,” Ramadan told me, adding that a portion of the EP's proceeds goes to the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse (NASGA). “We want to help this cause, and we want to try to get more people who are in her situation the help that they need and the visibility that they need.”
With Lucky, the band strikes gold. The EP, taking its name from Britney’s 2000 single off her Oops! ...I Did It Again album, breathes life into the pop star's songs and reflects different, more sorrow-tinged elements of her catalog.
Prom Queen’s interpretation of “Everytime”—written by Britney allegedly in response to her ex Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River”—turns the track into a dreamy country tune. On “Toxic,” they play up the Bollywood and surfy underscoring of the original song, adding a horn solo. I think it's a perfect fit for a Tarantino film.
Perhaps the best track is “Coupre Électrique,” a cover of Britney’s first song recorded in a foreign language from her 2016 album, Glory. While the French lyrics are of dubious grammatical correctness, Prom Queen transforms the deep Britney cut into a sultry, yé-yé-esque song that makes me want to smoke tons of cigs and guzzle black coffee. The song's inclusion is meant to demonstrate the breadth of Britney’s range as a singer and show “that she does have a deep catalog,” said Ramadan.
The title track, which closes out Lucky, becomes a melancholic fairytale in Prom Queen’s hands. Ramadan plays a fairy godmother of sorts, her gentle voice soaring over an orchestra of delicate strings, seemingly narrating Britney's current predicament, despite Britney releasing the song years before her conservatorship took hold. Take this line:
If there's nothing missing in my life / Then why do these tears come at night?
Prom Queen's interpretation makes a strong argument that pop music can be prophetic.
“I wanted to end it with 'Lucky' and call the album Lucky because I really do think that song most accurately encapsulates her life,” said Ramadan. “It sounds so autobiographical when you hear it... and in a doo-wop structure, it's sort of a Prom Queen song without being a Prom Queen song.”
Prom Queen plans to release a full visual album to accompany the EP, with a music video to go along with each track. So far, they've dropped one for "Baby One More Time." It's an Old Hollywood-inspired mishmash of fun choreography and pink suit jackets—a far cry from Britney's iconic schoolgirl music video. But the goal, Ramadan told me, isn't to reenact the pop star's music videos exactly, rather pay homage to her visual work through their distinct lens.
People can expect to see the full suite of videos released over the summer, and Ramadan promises each video is "pretty different." On August 21, Prom Queen will host a Lucky Prom over at The Factory Luxe, and the concert will double as a music video shoot. They will require attendees to show up in semi-formal or formal attire, and DJs, photo booths, refreshments, dancing, and a complete performance of the EP will greet the sharply dressed attendees. It sounds like a prom out of Britney Spears fans' wildest dreams.
In particular, Ramadan told me to keep an eye out for the music video "Lucky," which she flew down to Los Angeles to shoot with singer Cassandra Violet, who joins her on the song. They ended up filming part of it at a #FreeBritney rally outside the courthouse on the day a judge announced that Britney could hire her own attorney—a big victory for the pop star and movement supporting her.
Given Ramadan's history with Britney, she said she's "pretty deep" into the #FreeBritney movement, closely following the news and trial updates. She hopes that the very public push to give Britney back her freedom will "clear some of the roadblocks she's had in front of her" and also generally bring reform to conservatorship laws.
Just last week, the New York Times reported on a new bipartisan effort in the House of Representatives to pass legislation that would grant people under these types of arrangements the ability to ask a judge to replace a guardian or conservator. While introducing the legislation, Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) said Britney's struggle directly inspired their effort.
“The Britney Spears conservatorship, it’s a nightmare," said Crist. "If this can happen to her, it can happen to anybody.”
Ramadan believes that the overwhelming amount of attention on Britney's case means there's no turning back and that freedom from the restrictive conservatorship is on the horizon. She wishes that whenever this chapter in the pop star's career is closed, we can start focusing on Britney's value and complexity as an artist—not just as tabloid fodder.
“I think everyone has been in a karaoke bar where someone has decided to try to sing a Britney Spears song and no one can really do it," said Ramadan. "She's not manufactured—there is true talent there that people underestimate quite a lot. And it's always evident, whenever you see anyone trying to be her or trying to emulate her. There's an 'It Factor' that you really can't replicate with Britney. She's special.”
You can pre-order Prom Queen's Lucky, which drops July 30, here.