Britney Spears was barely 16 years old when her first album,… Baby One More Time, appeared at number one on album charts in 1999. Simultaneously, the album’s title song also debuted at number one on the singles charts. A former Mouseketeer on the Disney Channel’s Mickey Mouse Club, with bright-eyes and wavy blond hair, she came to symbolize the peppiest and perkiest of the shifting currents of the popular music culture at the threshold of the twenty-first century. Spears reflected an image in direct contradiction to the trends of the times; she posed instead a wholesome and non-threatening image to counteract the sinister gangsta’ rap and sullen gothic subcultures that permeated the recording industry in the 1990s. Her innocent appeal extended beyond the teenage throngs that traditionally controlled the realm of popular music. Young girls emulated her appearance, and young boys harbored secret crushes, while parents nodded overwhelming. Spears’s name became a household word, and she earned over $1 million by the age of 17. Her popularity soared to such heights that a contingency of her fans reportedly camped outside in the wintry January weather of Charleston, Virginia, for days in order to get tickets for one of her concerts.
Spears was born in 1982 in the small town of Kentwood, not far from New Orleans, Louisiana. She was the second of three children—and the oldest daughter—of Jamie Spears, a building contractor; and Lynne Spears, a second-grade teacher. Spears was a mere toddler, two years of age, when she first tried to sing. She mimicked popular crooners such as Whitney Houston and even donned makeup to complete the fantasy. As soon as she was able, Spears, who was raised a Baptist, sang with church choirs. Additionally, she danced and performed in talent showcases.
Spears was eight years old when she first auditioned to be a Mouseketeer on the Disney Channel’s Mickey Mouse Club show, a reprise of the original Mickey Mouse Club program from the 1950s. The producers, impressed with the talented youngster, referred Spears instead to the Professional Performing Arts School and the Off-Broadway Dance Center in New York City, because she was too young to conform to the format of the Disney show. With assistance and support from her family, the budding superstar availed herself of the opportunity to develop her talent. In 1991, at age nine, she moved along with her mother and younger sister to New York City. There Spears enrolled at the professional school, and before long, she began performing in live theater presentations and in television commercials. Later, in 1992, she returned to Disney studios to audition a second time for the Mickey Mouse Club. Spears by then was eleven years old and a show
Born on December 2, 1982, in Kentwood, LA; daughter of Lynne and Jamie Spears; second of three siblings. Education: Off-Broadway Dance Center, New York City; Professional Performing Arts School.
Mouseketeer on the Disney Channel’s Mickey Mouse Club, 1992-94; Jive Records recording artist, 1997—; debut LP, … Baby One More Time, 1999.
Awards: American Music Award, favorite new pop-rock artist, 2000.
business veteran, and she easily secured a position as one of the Mouseketeers.
Britney Spears performed with the Mouseketeers for two years, during which time she worked with another soon-to-be diva, Christina Aguilera, as well as with Keri Russell (television’s Felicity), and ‘N Sync’s JC Chasez and Justin Timberlake. Following the cancellation of Mickey Mouse Club, her friendship with Chasez and Timberlake led to a meeting between Spears and ‘N Sync manager Johnny Wright, an acquaintance that set her on the path to superstardom. Subsequently she moved into a regular spot as the opening act for ‘N Sync. She developed a huge following of fans in very little time and distinguished herself quickly as a solo act on her own merits, which led her mother to send a demonstration tape to the New York-based manager Larry Rudolph. Rudolph, an entertainment lawyer, secured a contract with Jive Records for the 15-year-old Spears, and in 1999 Jive released Spears’s first album along with a single release of the CD’s title song, “… Baby One More Time.”
Phenomenally, both the album and the single debuted on the music charts at number one. Spears became an overnight sensation. Her first album went “diamond” and sold 8.4 million copies by the end of the calendar year to rate as the second highest selling album that year. Early in 2000 she won the American Music Award for favorite new pop-rock artist. Additionally, she received two Grammy Award nominations from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for her debut album, which by then had sold over ten million copies.
When a dislocated knee limited her movement and kept her from the dance floor in 1999, Spears bounced back seemingly without missing a beat. Although she canceled her scheduled appearance at the American Music Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, wherein she was to perform a routine combining her three hit songs “… Baby One More Time,” “(You Drive Me) Crazy,” and “Sometimes,” she performed ably at the Grammy Award ceremonies in 2000.
Spears admittedly takes criticism from reviewers because of her spun-sugar-candy adolescent image. Regardless, her popularity on the record charts is proof of her talent. Her name, according to Searchterms.Com, is among the most frequently searched keywords on the Internet. The various Britney Spears Internet sites rank among the top ten of the most commonly sought locations on the World Wide Web. Her Internet appeal was so high that with her mother’s assistance, Spears under took the construction of her own personal website. The site includes pictures of Spears—for which she wrote clever captions—videos, and fan photos taken at her concerts and other personal appearances. Also online, Spears participated in chats with the Disney Corporation and with America Online.
Spears’s appearances in the number one slot of the Billboard charts keep her consistently in the public spotlight. Her music video, “Time Out With Britney Spears,” rose to number one on Billboard’s music video sales for January 13, 2000, with her second album scheduled for release in May of 2000. Her hectic performance schedule for the first year of the millenium included an appearance at the Baltimore Arena in March, and at Miami, Florida’s American Airlines Arena. Spears has also contracted to appear at Boston’s Tweeter Center, Chicago’s New World Music Theatre, Houston’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, and the Hollywood Bowl and the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion in Los Angeles, California. Additionally, she aspires to act and appeared in a guest role on television’s Touched by an Angel.
Even in the midst of her superstardom, Spears remains focused on maintaining her sensibilities. At her family home in Louisiana, she retains responsibility for humdrum household chores, and in between her exotic touring commitments and her assignments as the celebrity model for designer Tommy Hilfiger, she continues her high school studies. Additionally, when school, chores, dance and recording sessions, and “Tommy” fail to usurp all of her time, Spears honors contracts to pose for posters and miscellaneous endorsements. As her career flourished, she transferred from her private high school in McComb, Mississippi to a home schooling program from the University of Nebraska, all the while retaining the “bubble-gum teeny-bopper” image that suited her lifestyle so adeptly. Indeed, Time called her first album “cuddly.”
Her admitted indulgences in life include fast food, sunshades, vanilla body lotion, and fantasizing about movie heartthrobs, especially Brad Pitt. Spears professed further to enjoying television, especially the sitcom Friends, and Felicity, Steal Magnolias and Beaches are among her favorite movies. With respect to other musicians, Spears’s taste in music remains within the limits of the same genre that she performs. She enjoys Lauryn Hill, Brandy, and TLC. Despite her superstar income, expensive clothes do not hold particular appeal for the young woman who professed, in fact, that she loves to shop at thrift stores. Within the confines of a brimming adolescent schedule, Spears, for relaxation, gads around the highways in a Mercedes SL500 convertible that she purchased for herself since earning her driver’s license. Her dislikes include body piercing and hard/gothic rock music.
As with any popular ingenue, Britney Spears’s social life is a topic of great media interest. According to widespread reports, she established a pen pal correspondence with England’s Prince William after meeting him and his family. The two “made a date” for Valentine’s Day in 2000, it was reported further. To help fuel gossip, an agent revealed that Spears started house hunting in the Bohemian-style nineteenth-century community of Primrose Hill in north London, where her dream home might cost over $3 million. Her public relations contingency meanwhile persisted in reinforcing her youthful image with a host of innocent merchandise and other paraphernalia geared squarely at children of elementary age and younger. Among the Britney Spears merchandise: a doll, and a flashing Britney Spears wristwatch.
Media fascinations not with standing, Spears maintains a level head for matters on the serious vein. She started the Britney Spears Fund in conjunction with the Giving Back Fund to provide summer camp opportunities for underprivileged children who aspire to the performing arts. The camp, for children ten to twelve years old, in Berkshire Hills in Massachusetts, was scheduled to open in the summer of 2000.
“… Baby One More Time,” Jive, 1999.
“Sometimes,” Jive, 1999.
“From the Bottom of My Broken Heart,” Jive 2000.
… Baby One More Time, Jive, 1999.
Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Australia), January 19, 2000, p. 4.
Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia), January 25, 2000, p. 34.
Entertainment, September 17, 1999, p. 7; December 24, 1999, p. 28; January 14, 2000, p. 86.
Newsweek, March 1, 1999, p.64.
People, February 15, 1999, p. 71; May 10, 1999, p. 114.
Record, (Bergen County, NJ), January 4, 2000, p. A-2.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 2000, p. 24.
Sunday Telegraph, January 23, 2000.
Teen, August 1999, p. 60-62.
Time, December 28, 1998, p. 186; March 1, 1999, p. 71.
Toronto Sun, January 14, 2000, p. 15; January 19, 2000, p. 49.
“Britney Spears,” AMG All Music Guide, wysiwyg://5/http://allmusic.com/cg/x.dll (February 4, 2000).
Born: Kentwood, Louisiana, 2 December 1981
Genre: Rock, Pop
Best-selling album since 1990: . . . Baby One More Time (1999)
Hit songs since 1990: ". . . Baby One More Time," "Oops! . . . I Did It Again," "I'm a Slave 4 U"
Britney Spears skyrocketed to stardom in the late 1990s with catchy pop tunes and a canny
PR/media blitz. Her music videos displayed a frankly sexual demeanor, playing upon the duality of youthful innocence and sexual promiscuity. Controversial as this was, considering that Spears was sixteen years old at the time of her first hit, ". . . Baby One More Time," this erotic alchemy made her a superstar. She has appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone four times, performed at the MTV Video Music Awards, and starred in the movie Crossroads (2002). Although Spears attempted to break new musical ground in her third album, Britney (2001), working with new producers and co-writing several songs, many critics have dismissed her as a manufactured pop icon.
Spears was raised in Louisiana by her mother, Lynne, an elementary-school teacher, and her father, Jamie, a building contractor. The second of three children, Spears showed an early interest in music and dance, and was soon appearing in local talent shows and choirs. She auditioned for The Disney Channel's Mickey Mouse Club at the age of eight but was too young to join the cast. However, she was encouraged to continue her training, and she spent the next three summers in New York studying the performing arts. Spears landed a role in the off-Broadway play Ruthless, appeared in several commercials, and won as a contestant on Star Search. With this added experience, she was granted a spot in the Mickey Mouse Club and moved to Orlando, Florida, for two years. During this time she met Justin Timberlake and Joshua "JC" Chasez, also regulars on the show, who later joined the boy band *NSYNC.
Still a young teenager, Spears auditioned with Jive Records and was teamed with several songwriters and producers: Eric Foster White, who had previously worked with Whitney Houston, and the Swedish team of Max Martin and Rami, producers for the Backstreet Boys. Despite its various influences, Spears's first album . . . Baby One More Time (1999) was consistent in tone, style, and production, balanced with upbeat pop tunes and innocent ballads.
Eric Foster White contributed songs traversing different musical styles, from the frothy "Soda Pop" to the clever remake of "The Beat Goes On." The ballad "From the Bottom of My Broken Heart" was especially suitable for the young singer. Buoyed by a prominent acoustic guitar, lush synthesizer textures, and backup singers, Spears projected confidence in her vocal delivery. The line "You were my first love, you were my true love" projected the image of Spears as a young woman grappling with typical adolescent ordeals and endeared her to a generation of young fans. While White offered memorable ballads and a variety of stylistic challenges, Max Martin produced the formula for her success.
". . . Baby One More Time" presents a catchy pop beat, initiated by an acoustic piano and carried into the rhythm section. The melodic line emphasizes Spears's low vocal register and cleverly displays internal rhymes in the verse: "Show me how you want it to be. Tell me baby." The bridge reiterates the piano textures from the introduction, creating an atmospheric and intimate moment that builds to the final chorus. The forceful and provocative lyrics, "Hit me baby one more time," are accompanied by an unforgettable melodic oscillation, providing the hook for Spears's first big hit.
Like many of her pop predecessors, Spears aired her songs and honed her performing skills on a brief tour of shopping malls. After the release of her first single, ". . . Baby One More Time," in October 1998, Spears earned a spot as an opening act for *NYSNC's winter tour. Although the media spotlight was directed toward boy bands in the late 1990s (especially the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, and Hanson), the phenomenon of "girl power" was beginning to blossom. Building upon the success of the Spice Girls and their playful sensuality, Spears insured her iconic status with a video in which she danced through high school hallways, suggestively revealing her midriff in a Catholic-school uniform.
Spears has consistently juxtaposed these two identities—the innocent ingenue and the sexy provocateur—in her songs, videos, and numerous media publications. In 1999 she was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone in a decidedly revealing pose, lying on a bed with a black bikini top while grasping a stuffed animal and talking on the phone. This combination of teenage purity and sexuality worried many parents and, for the same reason, enraptured many fans.
By the end of her highly successful summer tour, Spears had become a pop phenomenon. She released three followup songs, "Sometimes," "From the Bottom of My Broken Heart," and "(You Drive Me) Crazy"; she garnered four awards at the 1999 MTV Europe Music Awards. During breaks from touring and promoting, Spears managed to record new songs for her second album. Oops! . . . I Did It Again (2000) largely features the work of Max Martin and Rami and repeats many of the song themes of the first album, from the everyday girl of "Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know" and "Dear Diary" to the self-assured young woman of "Oops! . . . I Did It Again" and "Stronger."
The title track proved to be the strongest hit from the album, although it barely crept into the Billboard 's Top 10. "Oops! . . . I Did It Again" was a pop proclamation of inadvertent sexual power. Spears declares, "I'm not that innocent" while repeatedly uttering "oops" in a coquettish manner. The song itself displayed typical pop textures in many ways similar to her first hit. Unique to this song is the bridge, which takes the form of a narrative sequence referring to the blockbuster movie Titanic (1997).
"Stronger" reveals her independent side with a strident beat, synthesized bass sounds, and slightly distorted vocal effects. The chorus states, "I'm stronger than yesterday" and leads into the verse with a melodic ascent and an emphasis on the word "stronger." This sentiment is repeated in the song "Don't Go Knockin' on My Door," which declares, "I don't need nobody, better off alone." Spears transforms the Rolling Stones' raucous anthem "Satisfaction" into a benign, finger-snapping song that is prefaced with a phone call dialogue between Spears and a friend. This unsuccessful cover invited harsh criticism from rock musicians and critics alike. "Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know" has a pleasant melody with an interesting harmonic progression, but the remainder of the songs were innocuous, hastily crafted, and numbingly formulaic.
Her third album, Britney (2001), reveals a different side of Spears. Rather than repeating herself, she teamed up with the producers N*E*R*D (formerly the Neptunes), who infused her album with dance-club textures and R&B grooves. In "I'm a Slave 4 U," Spears adopts a darker vocal tone with a repeated vocal slide on "slave." This approach is repeated in "Boys," with its overt references to Janet Jackson's "Nasty Boys" and "Control." These darker textures allowed Spears to adopt a self-assertive stance, singing "Let's turn this dance floor into our own little nasty world." Spears contributed to the songwriting process in "Lonely," "Anticipating," "Let Me Be," and "That's Where You Take Me." For the rest of the songs, Spears again relied upon Max Martin and Rami, who crafted "Overprotected," with its hip-hop-influenced bridge, and "Bombastic Love." Unfortunately, Martin and Rami produced yet another coming-of-age ballad for Spears in the insipid "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman."
Spot Light: 2000 MTV Video Music Awards
In support of her album, Oops! . . . I Did It Again, Britney Spears performed at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards. Spears began her act sedately, singing her pop rendition of the Rolling Stones's "Satisfaction." Wearing a suit and tie costume, she appeared to be taking a dignified approach. With a quick gesture, Spears shocked the audience with an onstage costume change, tearing off her black suit to reveal a glittery skin-toned outfit. The music immediately shifted to "Oops! . . . I Did It Again," allowing Spears to proclaim, "I'm not that innocent."
This momentary façade of nudity reaffirmed and epitomized the image of Spears as a youthful provocateur who had capitulated to the commercial imperatives of a sex-driven music industry. Although Christina Aguilera adopted Spears's method of sexual exhibition, a host of other female performers consciously avoided this mode of frank display.
Although Spears attempted to break new musical ground in Britney, the album did not sell as well as its predecessors. Moreover, she had to contend with an anti-Britney movement that perceived her as a manufactured pop icon. Gossip columns ruthlessly charted her relationships with Justin Timberlake, Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, and others, while new female stars challenged Spears's preeminence. Christina Aguilera stressed an R&B aesthetic, Avril Lavigne produced music with a harder edge, and Pink stated outright in her single "Don't Let Me Get Me," "Sick of being compared to damn Britney Spears." Spears contributed to the music industry's renewed focus on female performers and songwriters. In meeting these personal and professional challenges, Spears sustained a booming and unflagging popularity.
. . . Baby One More Time (Jive, 1999); Oops! . . . I Did It Again (Jive, 2000); Britney (Jive, 2001).
B. Spears, Stages (Chicago, 2002).
Spears, Britney (b. 1981)
Spears, Britney (b. 1981)
"Pop Princess," "Teen Queen," and "Video Vixen" are all terms that have been used to describe Britney Spears since she burst onto the music scene at the age of seventeen in 1998's "Hit Me Baby One More Time" video. Not since Madonna in the 1980s had a young female artist been as scrutinized for her appearance as for her music. Unlike Madonna, however, the only vote Britney Spears was old enough to cast at the time of her debut was for a video to appear on MTV's Total Request Live, a show on which viewer requests determined video airplay.
Britney Spears made her first foray into the entertainment industry at the ripe age of eight, when she applied for Disney's The Mickey Mouse Club and was rejected on account of her age. This would be the first of many times Spears's youth would be more of a concern than her music. Though at eleven she finally became a Mouseketeer, it was not long before mouse ears gave way to Spears's "wardrobe" staple, the bare midriff.
Some found it difficult to see Britney Spears, with her songwriters, stylists, and choreographers as anything but a pawn of the entertainment industry. She was a young girl performing songs written largely by men (though she co-wrote five songs on her third album) for boys under the pretext of being the voice of girls everywhere. By 2003 Spears had sold more than thirty-seven million albums. She had also appeared on countless magazine covers, won numerous awards and endorsements, written two autobiographies, and starred in the 2002 film Crossroads. Spears garnered a wide fan base, with old and young alike having responded to something in her image, if not her music.
The teen idol, his/her fans, and their disapproving parents date back to Elvis Presley, with his censored hipswinging. The same element of a teen idol's persona to which the young look up is that which parents criticize–their sexuality. Britney Spears, herself, attested that her over-the-top sexuality as expressed in her clothing (or lack thereof) and dance moves was just a performance, that she was really an innocent young woman whose virginity would be staunchly upheld until marriage. In so doing, her sexuality was debased to a marketing ploy, which brought on even more criticism.
Her commercial success prompted the music industry to crank out numerous Britney Spears derivatives according to the same formula of the sexy young girl next door. With television rather than radio as the dominant source for music, image rather than talent dictated success.
Born in 1981 in Kentwood, Louisiana, Britney Spears made a career of entertaining the listener rather than engaging him or her, which proved successful in the wake of the brooding, hard-edged form of rock and roll known as grunge that had been popular in the early 1990s.
See also: Teenagers; Youth Culture.
Official Britney Spears Website. Available from <www.britneyspears.com>.