“…Baby One More Time,” “(You Drive Me) Crazy”
Who Is She?
…Britney, bitch. (Or, you know, one of the biggest pop stars of the past 25 years.)
Britney Jean Spears got into showbiz early on, appearing in commercials and on Star Search at the tender age of 8. At age 11, she joined the relatively young cast of The Mickey Mouse Club, which included Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling. Once the show was canceled, Britney returned to school, but longed to be more than just another teenager with TV experience.
In 1997, Britney met manager Lou Pearlman, known for putting together a little band called the Backstreet Boys. Lou originally wanted her to join the all-female pop group Innosense, but Britney was destined for bigger things.
Family friend and entertainment lawyer Larry Rudolph sent her an unused Toni Braxton song, which Britney recorded and sent out to four labels. Three of the labels rejected her, arguing that only pop groups like the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls were selling, not “another Madonna, another Debbie Gibson, or another Tiffany.”
Britney eventually signed to Jive Records and released her debut, …Baby One More Time, in 1999.
(Fun fact: Britney had originally envisioned her first album to sound more like Sheryl Crow, but the producers wanted to go in a more pop direction. Can you imagine adult contemporary Britney?)
Following in the footsteps of Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, Britney embarked on a US shopping mall tour to promote her debut album. Her first real show was as an opener for ‘N Sync.
…Baby One More Time debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and has since become the best-selling debut album by any artist ever. By June of 1999, Britney was headlining her own US tour.
(Fun fact: Execs at Jive Records wanted the video for “…Baby One More Time” to be animated, but Britney rejected that idea and suggested the infamous Catholic school girl uniform we’ve come to know and love.)
As Britney’s popularity began to rise, her image went from “girl next door” to “lingerie-clad Lolita” (not that there’s anything wrong with that). She posed for the cover of Rolling Stone on her bed in just a bra and shorts, and began wearing some revealing outfits for her headlining tour. Shortly before all this, Britney publicly announced that she wanted to remain a virgin until marriage.
After the American Family Association slammed the Rolling Stone photo shoot as “a disturbing mix of childhood innocence and adult sexuality,” Britney retaliated by saying, “What’s the big deal? I have strong morals. I’d do it again.”
Where Is She Now?
Riding the success of her eighth studio album, Britney Jean.
Britney’s second album, Oops!... I Did It Again, was released in 2000, and like its predecessor, debuted at number one. Meanwhile, Britney’s onstage persona became more and more provocative, as evidenced by her revealing costume change at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards.
Just one year later, Britney released her self-titled album, featuring the overwhelmingly more adult single, “I’m a Slave 4 U.” She returned to the VMAs in 2001 for another provocative performance, this time with an albino python draped over her shoulders.
After a role in 2002’s Crossroads (a teen girl slumber party staple) and a highly publicized split from dreamboat Justin Timberlake, Britney made yet another appearance at the VMAs in 2003. And how did she top her past two performances? Why, she kissed Madonna, of course.
Britney’s fourth album, In the Zone, dropped in 2003, and featured the smash hit that just about everyone admits to liking, “Toxic.”
(Fun fact: Think “Toxic” is just another catchy pop song? Both NPR and Pitchfork listed the track as one of the most important pop songs of the 2000s. So you don’t have to feel so guilty about liking it anymore.)
In 2004, Britney got married twice. Okay, so technically the first marriage wasn’t really a marriage because it was annulled 55 hours later. But unfortunately, the marriage to Kevin Federline was real. The two’s painfully awkward courtship was documented on the reality show, Britney & Kevin: Chaotic.
Two kids and a greatest hits album later, Britney filed for divorce. And that’s when things went downhill.
She shaved her head, went to rehab, lost custody of her kids and attacked some paparazzi with an umbrella (but they probably deserved it). I’m sure we’re all familiar with Britney’s very public breakdown, yes? The lackluster release Blackout in 2007 didn’t help her career, either.
But Britney managed to get back on her feet. Circus, released in 2008, faired much better with both critics and audiences, and 2011’s follow-up, Femme Fatale, did even better. In 2012, Britney became a judge on the American version of The X-Factor, along with Simon Cowell, L.A. Reid and Demi Lovato.
Britney’s latest album, 2013’s Britney Jean, is currently the lowest-selling album of her career (which is surprising considering how much I enjoy “Work Bitch”).
But Why Britney Spears?
Because this blog isn’t complete without her. Duh. Also, I’ve wanted to talk about Britney for a while because she’s quite the interesting character.
What Does Sam Think?
I’m just going to come right out and say this: Britney Spears is a musical icon and she definitely deserves that title.
Now, before you start attacking my judgment and questioning my sanity, let me explain myself.
Britney is not by any means a musical prodigy. The girl has a good voice and everything, but compared to her fellow pop divas (like, I don’t know, Christina Aguilera), her voice isn’t really that impressive.
And while it’s true that she’s put out some incredibly catchy songs, she’s definitely not the first female artist to top the charts.
So what exactly makes Britney Spears an icon? The answer: she knows how to market herself like a fucking pro.
Even as a teenager, Britney knew exactly what audiences were looking for. She was the one who suggested the schoolgirl outfit in the “…Baby One More Time” video. She refused to apologize for the Rolling Stone photo shoot. She upped the ante at three consecutive VMAs and we’re still talking about it.
Her infamous breakdown was obviously not planned, though. You can’t be that big and not pay some sort of price. That kind of fame would drive anyone to shave their head and attack paparazzi. The fact that Britney brushed it off and continued on with her career shows a strength that not many pop stars have.
More recent pop divas have attempted to rival Ms. Spears (see Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus), but let’s be honest here—they don’t even come close. Most people tend to compare Gaga and Madonna, but I think Britney is the closest contender for the Queen of Pop crown. Miley may know what she’s doing with her new “bad girl” act, but if you haven’t kissed Madonna on national television, you really aren’t even in the same league as Britney.
-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.