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Britney Spears: The Rise and Fall of an American Teen Queen

One of the most difficult transitions in the entertainment industry is to successfully go from a teenage superstar into a respected entertainer.  After all, so many teenage celebrities find that their appeal lies in being cute in a non-threatening way, which is a trait that doesn’t tend to age well.  From 80’s pop star’s Tiffany’s baffling decision to pose nude in Playboy as a way to reignite her music career to the well publicized eccentricities of Michael Jackson, it’s become a cliché to watch the breakdown of a former teen superstar.  However, few public meltdowns have met the rapid descent of Britney Spear’s career.  At her prime, Britney Spears was the Michael Jordan of the pop world.  Her albums routinely debuted at number one and she was a massive point of discussion for TV talk shows and conversations between friends.  Although people suspected that there was much more to idyllic life that Spears was portraying at an early age, few could have expected the befuddling events of Britney Spear’s recent life.  Of course, to properly examine the rise and fall of one of America’s top selling female artists in history, we need to first examine how Britney Spears became a star.

The beginnings of Britney Spears life were inauspicious.  Born in the Mississippi town of McComb to building contractor, James Parnell Spears, and grade school teacher, Lynne Irene Bridges on December 2, 1981, Britney Spears was raised in a typical Southern manner.  The middle child of three kids, Britney Spears was an accomplished gymnast and grew up a fan of pop star, Madonna.  Like many kids, Britney harbored secret dreams of stardom and was auditioning for national television shows like The New Mickey Mouse Club at the tender age of eight.  Although she had been rejected by the show on the grounds that she was too young, Britney showed the pluck that would define her later career.  At such a young age, Britney was studying at the respected Professional Performing Arts School in New York City and even landed a spot on the talent competition show, “Star Search” at the age of ten.  Signed to an agent, Britney Spears was pursuing a career in show biz at an early age.  However, unlike many other Hollywood aspiring children, Britney Spears had the talent to become noticed.

Britney Spears caught her first significant break in 1993 when the New Mickey Mouse Club chose her to perform on the show.  The 1993 class of New Mickey Mouse Club performers would involved a group of ambitious kids that would grow up to become superstars in their own right.  Appearing with her on the show during the 1993 and 1994 seasons of The New Mickey Mouse Club would be future pop stars Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, JC Chasez, and actors Keri Russell and Ryan Gosling.  This experience gave Britney Spears a taste for fame that she couldn’t help but enjoy.

Although Britney Spears would return to her family’s new home in Kentwood, Lousiana at 14 to live a normal teenage life, she still had her dreams of stardom fresh in her mind.  After a brief stint in the all-female pop group Innosense, Britney Spears would work hard on solo demo tape that would lead to her singing a deal with Jive Records.  While talent and ambition certainly played a role in Britney Spears’ ascension up the celebrity ranks, Britney was also blessed by the fact that she emerged at the right place at the right time.

The year was 1998 and the American music industry seemed at a doldrums.  After the exciting rise and fall of grunge music in the early 1990s, the American music charts were now filled with uninspiring carbon copies of respected bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam.  Although these grunge acts reflected the mindset of a population negatively affected by the late 1980s and early 1990s recession, by 1998, all of these downer bands seemed irrelevant.  The country was swimming with money and optimism.  What was missing was a musical act that reflected these newly frivolous times.

People just wanted to have superficial fun again and Britney Spears was able to give the public what they wanted in spades.  Knowing that they had a potentially huge hit on their hands, Britney Spears was able to capitalize on the unapologetically pop sounds of boy bands like The Backstreet Boys and N-Sync with the release of her debut album, “…Baby One More Time.”  While many people found it a bit unnerving to support teenage boys singing songs about love, they could easily get behind an attractive young girl singing the same style.  Her debut single, “…Baby One More Time” caused a huge sensation and quickly rose to the top of the charts throughout the world.

However, to say music played a big part in Britney Spears’ rise to success would be overstating the importance of her music.  Most music critics thought that her debut album was a mediocre pop album.  What helped Spears attain her early success was her bold image.  America has always had a long love affair for the teenage blonde beauty and Spears shrewdly marketed herself as both innocent while undeniably sexy.  In her first music video, Spears dressed up in a Catholic school uniform that had a certain Lolita-ish appeal.  Although some people criticized Spears for her provocative image, the majority of the American public loved it.  Spears would continue to straddle this line with her increasingly racy music videos while performing songs like, “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman,” that stood as testaments to her innocence.

Britney Spears would top the charts with her first four albums and she would even set the record for the best selling album in the first week for a female artist with her sophomore album, “Oops, I Did it Again.”  Her massive popularity was confirmed by the fact that major companies like Pepsi actively sought her for lavish endorsement deals.  She even had the cache to star in a vanity movie project, “Crossroads” where she appeared as a Louisiana teenager who embarks on a road trip to find her real mother.  While the movie was a critical failure, it was a commercial success for such a low budget movie.  Still, the best way to judge Britney Spears’ intense fame of that time was how much she was discussed in the media.  Non-stories like her virginity and her breasts were routinely debated on national news programs as if it were a geopolitical standoff.  This massive exposure and her proven success made her a role model for many teens.  Britney Spears has been credited for popularizing such fashion trends as low-rise jeans, navel piercing, and lower back tattoos.

As any celebrity can attest to, Britney Spears soon found that her dating life was a rampant source of speculation.  In 1997, she began to quietly date N Sync singer, Justin Timberlake.  However, the news of the relationship was quickly revealed and Justin and Brit became the darling couple in the teenage celebrity world.  With their cute public appearances and equally rapid climbs up the music charts, Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears seemed like the perfect couple.  However, their breakup in 2001 would send their careers spiraling in rapidly different directions.

In 2002, Justin Timberlake was looking to break out of the confining and really non-respectable world of being a teenage pop star by working with respected producers The Neptunes and Timbaland on his solo debut.  The album “Justified” would represent a remarkable transformation from pop tart to respected musician in Timberlake’s career.  One of the biggest songs that helped Timberlake gain credibility was “Cry Me a River,” a song that trashed Britney Spears’ carefully managed public persona.  In the song, Timberlake subliminally blamed Spears’ infidelity for the couple’s breakup.  While the song itself was scathing, the music video was devastating.  A Spears look-a-like roamed throughout the video ensuring that despite Timberlake’s statements of the contrary, the public would assume that the song was about Britney Spears.  In addition, Timberlake would contradict Spears’ long standing claim of being a virgin and essentially turned Britney Spears life topsy turvy.

With her public image seemingly at a low and the world waiting for her response, Britney Spears returned with her fourth studio album, “In the Zone.”  Rather than participating in a musical feud with Timberlake, Spears crafted a fun party album that listeners and critics would enjoy.  The album and the massively popular song, “Toxic,” would show that Spears was actually a talented musical artist.  Still, despite reclaiming her artistic success, Britney Spears’ life was clearly in shambles.

The public eccentricities that she has become known for in the last couple of years were revealed during this period.  On January 3, 2004, Britney Spears would marry childhood friend, Jason Alexander, in an impulse wedding in Las Vegas.  The move surprised many people but even more surprising (or less so depending on how cynical you are) was the news that she quickly annulled the wedding by claiming the marriage was caused by a series of dares.  This immaturity is pretty common for people at such a young age.  However, unfortunately Britney Spears role as a global icon means that she is in an undesirable role of having so many expectations on her.

Her personal life would continue to be more shamboliic.  Her elaborate Onyx Hotel Tour was cancelled after Spears injured her kneed while filming a music video.  The resulting time off allowed Britney to focus on her personal life, where she fell under the charms of a very surprising person.  Considering the massive success that Spears had accumulated in such a short period of time and also her considerable beauty, people were shocked to learn that Britney Spears was dating backup dancer, Kevin Federline.  This shock turned into outrage once people learned that Kevin Federline had left his pregnant girlfriend to begin dating Britney Spears.

One of the hardest things to overcome is a reputation for being a home wrecker but Britney Spears didn’t care.  She was in love and the couple would get engage after a scant three months of dating.  However, the pimp and hos themed wedding between the two did not exactly inspire a lot of confidence in their relationship.  Despite the public skepticism, the couple moved quickly in their marriage.  A reality TV show, “Chaotic” televised the early days of the couple’s relationship and the couple would have two children in their three year marriage.  However, while Britney Spears was struggling through the demands of motherhood, Federline was making moves to establish himself as a celebrity in his own right.  Working hard on a rap career and quickly gaining a reputation for being a notorious Hollywood partier, Kevin Federline was rarely home for the couple’s burgeoning marriage.  Eventually, the couple would divorce in early November of 2006, thus ending the saga of a trainwreck celebrity marriage.

While it may seem like the divorce to Kevin Federline would be the thing that would right Britney Spears’ life, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Emerging from marriage life, Britney Spears quickly befriended party girl, Paris Hilton, and she would be photographed on numerous occasions passed out with no underwear.  After breaking off her friendship with Hilton, Spears would continue to act in an erratic fashion.  If 1999 was the year of her musical breakthrough, 2007 was the year of rehab for Spears.  She would enter numerous drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers throughout the year, making appearances that made people question her sanity.  She shaved her head bald and attacked a car with an umbrella.  Spears would acknowledge the trouble in her private life but has done little to show that she is able to change her ways.  As the public wavers between sympathy and confusion about the way that Britney Spears life has become, one thing is undisputed – another American teen queen has suffered from the weight of her crown.