Britney Spears: How Did She Lose It All?

Britney Spears has made the cover of Rolling Stone again, but this time it’s for all of the wrong reasons. Previous cover shots were done in full color, putting her entire body on display. This one is a somber black and white face close up and on her cheek it says, “Britney Spears: Inside an American Tragedy.”
As a member of her dwindling fan base, I can actually handle reading the constant stream of train wreck Britney Spears news. Because it’s not the words that bother me. What I cannot handle are the pictures that accompany the stories. When I read something particularly bad, I go back to the old photographs. The Rolling Stone covers. The MTV Video Music Award performances.
Anything to blot out the images of her out clubbing, crying, half naked, bald, pink wigged, going to rehab, going to court, naked and crying again.
When she burst onto the music scene in 1999, I so fiercely wanted to look like her. I stared at her pictures, her perfect abs, her long blonde hair. It didn’t matter that the hair wasn’t naturally blonde, that the pictures were posed and retouched, that it took hours upon hours and some plastic surgery to build that body; I was mesmerized. I didn’t listen to the music so much, but the music was secondary when it came to my love for Britney. I couldn’t get enough of seeing her and I wasn’t alone.
People dismissed the music but her image was inescapable. She was almost like a doll, fresh out of its pink princess satin wrapping, becoming an icon when she was barely legal. Her debut album, …Baby One More Time sold 25 million copies world wide and she was crowned a Pop Princess.
Then they actually made a Britney Spears doll.
She followed her debut album with Oops!…I Did It Again, which sold 10 million copies, followed by Britney and In the Zone. Worldwide, Britney has sold over 50 million albums.
If the music had to stand alone, I’m sure that she wouldn’t have experienced such astronomical success; she wouldn’t have become a worldwide phenomenon because pop princesses are not built on music. The accompanying image must resonate with the market and, at the time, nothing was as alluring as Britney Spears.
But everything about Britney was conflicted, as she constantly straddled the line of innocent girl next door and sex symbol. In her interviews, the way she spoke of herself went entirely against how she was portrayed in her music videos. From the beginning, we fed on the Britney-cum-Lolita candy, the “PR blitz” that sold Britney as the sexified virgin, which makes the state of her virginity fodder for gossip, even today after having given birth to two children.
And all the while, no one was paying attention to any of the lyrics: “I need to make mistakes just to learn who I am / and I don’t want to be so damn protected”; “If nothing’s missing from my life then why do these tears come at night”.
When people talk about her, they speak in terms of Before and After. Whether the defining moment for her was marked by her break up with Justin Timberlake or her involvement with Kevin Federline, Britney in a way has finally gotten what she wanted: to break free of the mold that had been created for public consumption.
But even after breaking free, she still couldn’t find freedom. She didn’t have the luxury of being able to learn who she was. Iconography is a dangerous business. You’re no longer perceived as being human; you are an image and belong to everyone. Everyone wants a piece of you.
Britney is no longer the Pop Princess. Fans saw the breakup with Federline as an opportunity to reach out and reclaim her fan base, to professionally reinvent herself and to redefine her career. I couldn’t have been more shocked to see how 2007 unfolded for her.
I never thought that rehab was in her future; that Kevin Federline would look like Father of the Year when comparing their perceived parenting skills. People tried to explain everything away, the crotch shots, the tattoos and the head shaving as Britney’s way of asserting herself and putting space between herself and her handlers.
When asked why she shaved her head, Britney said, “I don’t want anyone touching me. I’m tired of everybody touching me.” I had no idea what she meant by this, what potentially lurked beneath the façade of the pretty pictures and her kick ass performances.
Only now as people are searching for the answers as to how this could have happened to her do we see how the Britney image was manipulated for the masses, how her handlers fed off of it, how no one would stop “touching” her. Even after the head shaving, the paparazzi clamored for more and more.
I wonder if you told her, told her mother, told any of those ‘handlers’ in 1998, right before “Hit Me Baby One More Time” was released, that in ten years time, Britney would be labeled “an American Tragedy”, would they still have gone forward with her career? Would they have cared that someone’s life would ultimately be sacrificed?
But it’s over a decade too late for that because now this is how she walks through her life everyday.
“I don’t know who you think I am, bitch,” she snarls, “but I’m not that person.”
No, you’re not. That person never existed.

The Writers Strike is Over. Time to Get Your Drink On.
The Writers Strike is Over. Time to Get Your Drink On.
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