Britney Spears, the pop princess herself, is coming to Singapore this very weekend. In celebration of her gracing our island’s shores, we decided to take a wee trip back to what life was like for us growing up with Britney. She drove us crazy, yes she did (and herself too) but we will always love her anyway.
One day in 1998, a little girl’s life changed forever. She’d been saving her pocket money for weeks, making her bed every morning and doing chores, determined to have enough for this very day. The day was the release of ‘Baby One More Time’ on cassette, and she rushed out after school to buy it with those hard-earned cents.
But this wasn’t just any cassette. Besides terrible homemade recordings from the radio, and a mini-disco compilation of kids’ party songs like ‘aga doo’ and the Macarena, this was the first proper pop single she ever bought. One she’d go on to hear thousands of time throughout her life, and one that would always take her right back to that 11 year old girl singing with a hairbrush in the mirror, with fluffy pink bobbles and plaits in her hair, just like Britney.
Fast-forward 19 years, and it’s crazy to think about how much has changed since those days dancing around my radio with that cassette. And even though as an 11 year old, very confused about why the word ‘baby’ sounded more like ‘bieden’, I wore that tape out, rewinding until I got the pronunciation just right.
But we all have those one or two artists that we were completely obsessed with as a child. Growing up wouldn’t be the same without fold-out posters from the insides of magazines on your bedroom wall, or doing your face with your mum’s make-up to look just like them. But Britney wasn’t just another artist. She was different, and as I found myself stuck between being not a girl, not yet a woman in life, so did she.
So let’s back up again to the golden era of Baby One More Time, her debut single and fast-track ticket to stardom. The song was originally written for Backstreet Boys and TLC, but after REJECTING it (I know), it was taken to Britney, who snapped it up. To a pre-teen schoolgirl already infatuated with Spice Girls, she was everything I wanted her to be and more. A pretty, likeable girl just 6 years my senior, with that perfect 90’s American pop twang, singing about everything I was just starting to become interested in – love, relationships, breakups…. the only difference between us was that she could do killer high-kicks and had a better wispy fringe. I loved her.
By the time ‘Oops!… I Did It Again’ came along in 2000, she was transforming from innocent girl to powerful PVC-clad provocateur, declaring to the world how she was now the alpha-female playing love games. I was in a euphoric bubble of girl power, and by 2002 when she broke off the double denim dream-life with Justin, I was 16 and all those games about love that Britter’s sang about, I could now relate to.
Like any young teen, I was becoming vulnerable, quickly making mistakes for the first time and getting hurt learning from them. But I wasn’t going to go home, put on Celine Dion on cry myself to sleep surrounded by empty tubs of ice cream. Oh no. I’d put on Britney and get back up again, because that’s what she’d do. If she can live a life without JT, then I can surely deal with being a single, awkward, teen for a few years.
But then came the dark year of 2007. I can’t quite remember where I was on that cold night in February when Britney brutally razored those golden pop princess locks from her head…but it was a shock to everyone. After a difficult few years of marriages, divorces and births, all documented to the most minute detail in the media, this over-exposure and lack of control in her own life had finally become too much. She flipped. Desperate to shed that squeaky-clean femininity she’d been so characterised for throughout her career, she took that razor and shaved off years of oppression, anger and frustration. She wanted to scream and shout, but had to wait for Will.i.am in 2012 for that, so going bald was the next logical move.
Internet being what the internet is, the images were soon plastered across all social media and every major news site across the globe. That made me really start to feel for her – nobody should deal with that level of worldwide scrunity.
And I was sad and worried for her like everyone else, but I got it. At the time I was in a whole phase of rebellion myself. Experiencing freedom for the first real time at university, I got a lip piercing, an ear piercing, another lip piercing, another ear piercing, a tattoo and I dyed my hair more colours than I can even count. Only difference is that I didn’t have a herd of paparazzi on my back every second to document each outburst and bad decision. Thankfully, I just low-resolution photos from my pink Samsung flip phone that I’d later upload to MySpace.
I’m not saying we should all drive to the closest hair salon and demand a buzz-cut, but she needed an outlet, and if anything, it shows strength and courage. She was finally saying no to her pretend-life as the innocent, put-together starlet that lived her life according to what a producer, or a publicist or a manager said it should be, and that takes guts.
Despite protestations from a guy called Chris Crocker on YouTube, things got even worse for Britney after this. But then something amazing happened. She came back. And she kept coming back.
If you document all of Britney’s low-points, you can bet there’s a success to match. She had *that* stumbling performance at the 2007 MTV music awards, went to rehab, was in and out of hospital, lost custody of her children, and her father claimed control over all her personal, professional and medical matters. But does she sit and wallow about it? No, she releases another album, gets her single Womanizer to number 1, releases her own lingerie line and makes a guest appearance on How I Met Your Mother.
It’s women like her that showed me that no matter how many times you lose your crown, you can always pick it back up and start again. That you can say no to a situation and go a little crazy, but it feels alri-i-ight. That you can end up exactly where you want to be with a little drive and determination and come back stronger than yesterday.
At 35, she’s one of the bestselling artists of all time with 9 studio albums, having sold over 100 million records worldwide. She now has a residency at Planet Hollywood Resort in Vegas, making $30.5 million a year, which is developing into a world tour and has won back visitation rights to her kids…..I could go on, but we’d be here so long that I might shave my own hair off.
Two weeks ago as I watched a dancer lip-sync to Baby One More Time with a flashing hoop, I was reminded of this. All those little girls that grew up with Britney cassettes were here 19 years later shouting those words with the same ferocity and passion as the first day they heard it. A generation of women shaped by Britney to be vulnerable but proud and to never give up, because fight hard enough and you’ll always come out on top.
So I guess there’s nothing left to say except thanks Britney. No matter what comes my way in life, I know I can always get myself back on my feet, drape a seven foot albino Burmese python around my shoulders, step out into the world and say ‘it’s Britney b*tch’.
I’ll just leave you with the below. You’re welcome.
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