Britney: the seven ages of a pop princess

Britney Spears has travelled a rocky road from prom queen to platinum-selling sex bomb - and scattered scandal in her wake. This week she's back at the top of the charts. Fiona Sturges tracks the key moments of a turbulent career and asks: whatever next?
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

1: THE MOUSEKETEER

You can't keep a good Southern girl down, particularly one with a pushy mom. Even at the age of nine, Britney Jean Spears, the mousy-haired, self-styled mini Madonna from down-home Louisiana is being groomed for mega-stardom. After being cruelly turned down at an audition to join the Mickey Mouse Club for being too young, our would-be pop princess promptly finds herself an agent and relocates to New York with her mum Lynne to enrol at a Fame-style dance school.

Two years later she dons the hallowed mouse ears and joins the class of 1994 alongside her future beau Justin Timberlake and soon-to-be-nemesis Christina Aguilera. Aged 14, Britney leaves to begin her singing career and, after two years singing in shopping malls, lands her first record deal.

2: THE SEXY SCHOOLGIRL

The pigtailed prom queen has arrived. With the help of knee socks, bunches and some pink lip-gloss, 17-year-old Britney lands the No 1 spot around the world and becomes the fastest-selling teen star in chart history. The song in question? "Baby One More Time", a hysterical paean to thwarted love complete with a pounding bassline and slinky R&B grooves. The video has Britney stomping down a school corridor dressed in a plaid micro-mini, flanked by a similarly saucy set of girlfriends, and dropping to her knees and begging: "Hit me baby one more time."

While concerned parents and feminists everywhere slam her for her naughty baby-doll aesthetic, senior political figures (stand up Alastair Campbell) and previously discerning broadsheet writers fall for Britney's Lolita-esque charms and declare themselves to be fans.

3: THE PERFECT PARTNER

The American dream made flesh, Britney bags herself a handsome boyfriend, Justin Timberlake, by now a member of the group *NSync, and sweeps the board at the 1999 MTV awards, trampling all over her childhood heroes Madonna and George Michael.

In interviews, Britney paints a heart-warming picture of herself as a good Baptist girl who prays every night and will stay a virgin until she is married. Poor Justin is left humiliated as the world is, in effect, told that he's yet to get into his girlfriend's knickers. Britney, the self-styled paragon of virtue, angrily squashes rumours that she has had breast implants and claims that her sexual allure is simply an accident. Apparently, finding clothes properly to accommodate your ample booty is beyond the capacity of this 18-year-old. Britney and her beloved mom publish a book, entitled A Mother's Gift, about the importance of God, virginity and her family. Aaaaw.

Meanwhile, a mystery businessman, inflamed by Britney's raunchy, school-uniform-clad antics on the video for "Baby One More Time", reportedly offers $7.5m for the honour of popping the singer's cherry. Poor pure-of-heart Britney is "disgusted" and suggests that he "have a cold shower and leave me alone".

4: THE VIRGIN NO MORE

Acting less like a God-fearing virgin than your average horny teenager, Britney is increasingly a girl of mixed messages. For a girl who proclaims abstinence on every level, her songs suggest she's crammed in enough sexual experience to rival the average 40-year-old.

Then, of course, there's those publicity shots. Church leaders are up in arms as the starlet, whose fans are mainly children, is photographed for Rolling Stone magazine with one hand around a pink Teletubby and the other pointing lasciviously towards her pink satin knickers - though why the clergy are reading Rolling Stone remains a mystery.

Tongues start wagging yet again as Britney hires Gregory Dark, a notorious director of pornographic movies, to make the video for "From the Bottom of My Broken Heart". As if that's not enough to dent the studiously polished Britney halo, the star is overheard saying that she and Justin "have great sex".

When she moves in with Justin, even Britney's mom, her best friend and confidante, briefly disowns her. And by now it's not just Britney's squeaky-clean image that's taking a battering: in spite of having amassed a personal fortune estimated to be $50m, her sales are on the slide. While her first two albums sold more than 30 million between them, her self-titled third album struggles to make it beyond the three million mark. Doubtless noting this worrying change in her fortunes, Britney signs up for a $5.7m advertising campaign with Pepsi.

5: THE BAD GIRL

With her popularity on the wane, Britney decides it's time to re-invent herself. We move from Britney the taut-tummied, pastel-pink girl next door to Britney the boozing, burger-munching slapper. Six months after being photographed stumbling out of a German nightclub after an evening of cocktail consumption, she is spotted boozing in Las Vegas (where it's illegal to drink until you're 21). The pop princess is also banned from a karaoke bar in California for demanding alcohol despite being under age.

As well as revealing - shock! horror! - a taste for fast food, Britney admits that her proclaimed virginity was a sham, a claim that is backed by Timberlake himself - shortly after ditching her. That's right, poor Justin's had enough. Having dumped his one-time fiancée by phone, Timberlake later claims that Britney cheated on him and exacts cruel revenge when he casts a cuckolding Britney lookalike in the video to his hit single "Cry Me a River". Adding to her humiliation, Spears's first film, Crossroads, in which she plays a high-school babe who embarks on a road trip, bombs at the box office. Admitting defeat, albeit temporarily, Britney takes some time out.

6: THE LOST WEEKEND

Britney's wholesome image is dealt its final, devastating blow as she admits to being sexually active and having once taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub. Her taste in men leaves much to be desired: post-Timberlake, Britney ends up in the arms of the lead singer of Limp Bizkit and pop's prize pig, Fred Durst. After Durst's ungentlemanly kiss-and-tell, our beleaguered teen queen lunges at the actor Colin Farrell, who subsequently refuses to be her boyfriend. But there's worse to come: first Britney spends a steamy night with the dancer and choreographer Columbus Short, whose wife happens to be seven months pregnant. Then all hell breaks loose, with the whirlwind wedding at the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas to her childhood pal Jason Alexander. The marriage lasts 55 hours - though we're assured that it was never consummated - and ends with Spears coughing up £300,000 to help Alexander get over his heartbreak. Britney's parents keep her under lock and key, only allowing her out for trips to the doctor. As newspaper and TV commentators mourn the corrupting of this simple Southern lass, the death knell is signalled for Britney's pop career.

7: THE COMEBACK

It started with a kiss. The Britney-Madge snog at last year's MTV awards was meant to be a new dawn for Spears. But still, Britney's unable to check her rebellious streak. Last month she was photographed on a shopping expedition wearing a belt with a buckle that read "Fuck You". There have been conflicting reports regarding Britney's spiritual rehabilitation, too. Following the lead of her friend and mentor Madonna, the singer spent an evening with her brother Bryan at a cabbala centre, although, given her remarks at a British press conference (Journalist: "I hear you've developed an interest in Hinduism." Spears: "Is that like the cabbala?"), you sense that she has yet to find the path to enlightenment.

Unlike Madonna, who began her career at 25, Britney has never been in control of her future. Groomed from the womb, her career has been in the hands of marketing executives, stylists and her mom. Her current incarnation can hardly be described as a step forward: the salacious video to her new single "Toxic" has her wriggling around in a see-through catsuit. Is it a last-ditch attempt by the once-perfect princess of pop to wring what is left from her ailing career? Or will she, like Madonna, persuade her fans that she's a long-term proposition?

Comments