By Michael Slezak
Updated August 15, 2007 at 08:16 PM EDT

Rumor of the week: Britney Spears will be the opening act at this year’s VMAs. Good news for folks who like to take long, leisurely drives past traffic accidents, but not so much for Britney loyalists (a few still exist, I presume) who’d like to see the “Toxic” singer return to the top of the Billboard charts. I mean, at this point in her career trajectory, Britney’s place in the pop-culture hierarchy is somewhere between “national punchline” and “crazy lady in hotel lobby.” I was chatting with a couple of friends over dinner last night, and we concluded that not even a Linda Perry-penned, Timbaland-produced track with a guest rap by Kanye West and backing vocals by Christina Aguilera (as if!) could restore Britney’s musical credibility. So why take the VMA stage when they’re all gonna laugh at her?

Then again, one might ask: How’s a single mother of two supposed to make a living? If I were Britney’s manager, I’d start with a tranquilizer dart plan to restore some mystery to the one-time sex symbol’s public persona. Step one: Disappear to rural Montana, or the hills of Vermont, or a farm in Arkansas, and lead a life so mundane, so quiet, that even the few paparazzi who follow her will wind up bored — and more importantly, deprived of a viable source of income. Stay out of the public eye for a good six to nine months, while eating well, working out regularly, and spending some quality time with the kids. (Hey, it could happen.) Take secret meetings with an up-and-coming producer (think someone like Rich Harrison, circa Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love”), but sign the person to a confidentiality agreement so he or she can’t publicly discuss the project. And just when everyone’s thisclose to forgetting you even exist, unveil your new look (new wig please!), your new bod, and your new music as the opening act at the VMAs…in 2008, naturally. Hey, crazier things have happened. (Remember when “Mambo No. 5” was a hit?)

Then again, maybe Britney’s past her musical expiration date, and ought to consider signing up for the best season of The Surreal Life ever. You make the career call in the comments section below.