What It Feels Like . . . To Pick Up Britney Spears by Neil Strauss, 31, Writer | Aug 01 ’05
For two years, journalist Neil Strauss went undercover in a secret society of pickup artists for a book, The Game (ReganBooks). It is a world with its own code of conduct, its own language, and its own celebrities. An AFCpickup-artist jargon for an average frustrated chump, a loser with women Strauss was taken under the wings of the most powerful pickup artists in the world, who gave him a new name and transformed him into one of them. After more than a year of “sarging” (picking up women), he was named the best pickup artist in the community. In the following excerpt adapted from his book, he describes what it feels like to take on the most challenging quarry of them all.
AFTER EIGHTEEN MONTHS in the seduction community, not only had my dating life improved exponentially, so had my professional life. The skills I had amassed approaching over a thousand women in bars and clubs made me a much better interviewer. I discovered just how good when I was assigned an article on Britney Spears.
I didn’t plan to sarge her. But she left me no choice.
“Was there a lot of pressure on you while making this album?”
Britney Spears: “What, now?”
“Was there pressure from yourself or the label to have a major hit this time around?”
“I have no idea.”
“You have no idea?”
“I have no idea.”
“I heard you did a track with the DFA that wasn’t included on your new CD. Why was that?”
“What’s the DFA?”
“They’re two producers from New York, James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy, who call themselves the DFA. Does that ring a bell?”
“Yeah, maybe they did something.”
The interview was going nowhere. She was on autopilot. I looked at her, crossing her legs and fidgeting on the hotel-room couch next to me. She didn’t give a shit. I was just an amount of time blocked off on her calendar, and she was tolerating it poorly.
Her hair was tucked under a white Kangol hat and her thighs pushed at the seams of her faded blue jeans. She was one of the most desired women in the world. But in person, she looked like a corn-fed southern sorority girl. She had a beautiful face, lightly and perfectly touched with makeup, but there was something masculine about her. As a sexual icon, she was unintimidating and, I imagined, lonely.
A gear slammed down in my head.
There was only one way to save this interview: I had to sarge her. No matter what country I was in or what age or class or race of woman I was talking to, the game always worked. Besides, I had nothing to lose.
I folded my list of questions and put them in my back pocket. I had to treat her like any club girl with attention deficit disorder.
The first move was to hook her attention.
“I’ll tell you something about yourself that other people probably don’t know,” I began. “People sometimes see you as shy or bitchy offstage, even though you aren’t.”
“Totally,” she said.
“Do you want to know why?”
“Yeah.” I was creating what’s called a yes-ladder, capturing her attention by asking questions that require an obvious affirmative answer.
“I’m watching your eyes when you talk. And every time you think, they go down and to the left. That means you’re a kinesthetic person. You’re someone who lives in her feelings.”
“Oh my God,” she said. “That’s totally true.”
Of course it was. It was one of the value-demonstrating routines I’d developed in the community. The eye goes to one of seven different positions when someone thinks: Each position means the person is accessing a different part of their brain.
There is a simple structure most women must be led through. First, they must be opened; the ice must be broken in a way that doesn’t make them uncomfortable. Next, a pickup artist needs to demonstrate higher value, to show why he stands out from all the other men a woman has the option of dating. Once she’s convinced, he must build rapport and create a sense of emotional connection. Only then, at least if he’s playing solid game, is it time to make a physical connection.
As I taught Britney how to read different types of eye movements, she clung to every word. Her legs uncrossed and she leaned in toward me.
“I didn’t know this,” she said. “Who told you this?”
I wanted to tell her, “A secret society of international pickup artists.”
“It’s something I observed from doing lots of interviews,” I answered. “In fact, by watching the direction people’s eyes move when they speak, you can tell whether they’re telling the truth or not.”
“So you’re going to know if I’m lying?” She was looking at me entirely differently now. I wasn’t a journalist anymore. I was someone she could learn from. I had demonstrated authority over her world, as the father of the seduction industry, Ross Jeffries, once told me.
“I can tell from your eye movements, from your eye contact, from the way you speak, and from your body language. There are many different ways to tell.”
“I need to do psychology classes,” she said, with endearing earnestness. “That would be so interesting to me, studying people.” It was working. She was opening up. She kept talking: “And you could meet somebody or be out on a date and be like, ‘Are they lying to me right now?’ Oh my gosh.”
It was time for the heavy artillery.
“I’ll show you something really cool and then we’ll get back to the interview,” I said, throwing in a time constraint for good measure. “It’ll be an experiment. I’m going to try to guess something that’s in your thoughts.”
Then I used a simple psychological gambit to guess the initials of an old friend she had an emotional connection to someone I wouldn’t know and hadn’t heard of. The initials were GC. And I got one letter out of two correct. It was a new routine I was still learning, but it was good enough for her.
“I can’t believe you did that! I probably have so many walls in front, so that’s why you didn’t get them both,” she said. “Let’s try it one more time.”
“This time, why don’t you try it?”
“I’m scared.” She put her knuckle in her mouth and pinched the skin between her teeth. She had great teeth. They really were a perfect C shape. “I can’t do that.”
She was no longer Britney Spears. She was just a one-set, a lone target. Or, as Robert Greene would classify her in his breakdown of seducer’s victims in The Art of Seduction , she was the lonely leader.
“We’ll make it easier,” I said. “I’m going to write down a number. And it’s a number between one and ten. What I want you to do is not to think at all. There’s no special ability required to read minds. Just quiet your internal chatter and really listen to your feelings.”
I wrote a number on a piece of paper and handed it to her.
“Now tell me,” I said, “the first number that you feel.”
“What if it’s wrong?” she asked. “It’s probably wrong.”
This was what we called in the field an LSE girl she had low self-esteem.
“What do you think it is?”
“Seven,” she said.
“Now turn over the paper,” I told her.
She slowly turned it over, as if she were afraid to look, then moved it up to eye level and saw a big number seven staring right back at her.
She screamed, leaped off the couch, and ran to the hotel mirror. Her mouth hung agape as she looked her reflection in the eye.
“Oh my God,” she said to her reflection. “I did that.”
She was like a little girl seeing Britney Spears for the first time. She was her own fan.
“I just knew that it was seven!” she announced as she galloped back to the couch.
Of course she knew. That was the first magic trick I’d learned from Mystery, arguably the best pickup artist in the world: If you have someone choose a number between one and ten randomly, 70 percent of the time especially if you rush their decision that number will be seven.
So, yeah, I had tricked her. But her self-esteem needed a good boost.
“Cool interview!” she exclaimed. “I like this interview! This has been the best interview of my life!”
Then she turned her face toward mine, looked me in the eye, and asked, “Can we stop the tape recorder?”
For the next fifteen minutes, we talked about spirituality and writing and our lives. She was just a lost little girl going through a late emotional puberty. She was searching for something real to hold on to, something deeper than pop fame and the sycophancy of her handlers. I had demonstrated value, and now we were moving on to the rapport phase of seduction. Maybe Mystery was right: All human relationships follow the same formula.
Rapport equals trust plus comfort.
However, I had a job to do. I started the tape recorder and asked the questions I’d given her at the start of the interview, plus all the other questions I had. This time she gave me real answers, answers I could print.
When the hour was up, I stopped the tape recorder.
“You know,” Britney said. “Everything happens for a reason.”
“I truly believe that,” I told her.
“I do, too.” She touched my shoulder and a broad smile spread across her face. “I’d like to exchange numbers.”
AFTER OUR HOUR was up, Britney left the room to change for an MTV interview. She returned ten minutes later with her publicist.
As she sat down in front of the cameras, her publicist looked at me strangely.
“You know, she’s never done that with a writer before,” she said.
“Really?” I asked.
“She said it was like the two of you were destined to meet.”
The publicist and I stood next to each other in silence as the MTV interview began.
“So you had a crazy time out the other night,” the interviewer asked.
“Yeah, I did,” Britney answered.
“What was the energy level like in the club when you walked in and surprised everyone?”
“Oh, it was just crazy.”
“And how much fun did you have?”
Suddenly, Britney stood up. “This isn’t working,” she told the crew.
“I’m not feeling this.”
She pivoted on her heels and walked toward the door, leaving the crew and her assistants befuddled. As she passed me, the corners of her mouth turned upward, forming a conspiratorial smile. I had gotten to her. There was something deeper to Britney Spears than what the pop machine required of her.
The game, I realized, works better on celebrities than ordinary people. Because stars are so sheltered and their interactions limited, a demonstration of value or any other gambit holds ten times the power.
In the days that followed, I thought often about what had happened. I had no illusions: Britney Spears wasn’t attracted to me. She wasn’t considering me as a potential mate. But I had interested her. And that was a step in the right direction. Pickup is a linear process: Capture the imagination first and the heart next.
Interest plus attraction plus seduction equals sex.
Of course, maybe this was all just self-hypnosis. For all I knew, she exchanged phone numbers with every journalist to make him feel special and ensure a good story. Her publicist probably had an answering service set up at that number specifically for gullible writers who thought they were pickup artists. Maybe I was the one being sarged, not her.
I would never know the truth.
I stared at that number every day, but I couldn’t bring myself to dial it. I told myself that it was crossing a journalistic line: If she didn’t like the piece I was writing (which was quite possible), I didn’t want her to go on record saying I had written a bad article because she hadn’t phoned back.
“Just call her,” Mystery constantly prodded me. “What do you have to lose? Tell her, ‘Can you not look like Britney Spears? We’re going to do some crazy shit and we can’t get caught. We’re going to wear wigs and climb up to the Hollywood sign and touch it for good luck.'”
“If I had met her socially, fine. But this is a work assignment.”
“You’re playing the game at another level now. When the article is finished, it isn’t an assignment anymore. So call her.”
But I couldn’t do it. If it had been any of the intimidatingly beautiful women I’d met early in my training and been too scared to ask out, I would have called back in a second. I had no fear of women like that anymore. I felt worthy. I’d proven that over and over since. But Britney Spears?
One’s self-esteem can only grow so much in a year and a half.