Let's go back to the beginning. I first heard Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time" at a friend's birthday party in October 1998. I couldn't believe that everyone kept playing the song over and over again. I thought it was a joke. I remember saying, "She's a one-hit wonder. Let's see how long she lasts."
Well, I'm an idiot or, at the very least, I have different tastes in music than my peers. Still, I did buy her first album just like all my friends. I did listen to it in my room and dance around like her, just like everyone else. And I did believe she had it all, just like everyone else. She was everything I was supposed to be at age 14 . . .fun, pretty, popular, sexy (at least to boys my age), and innocent.
Then the breast implants rumor started. We all wanted to believe they were just rumors, but her boobs got HUGE. Even at the gullible and know-it-all age of 14, we all knew that 17 was WAY too young to get breast implants and she'd have to have crazy parents if they allowed their daughter to get breast implants. We weren't even allowed to stay out past eleven o'clock.
And then the cover of Rolling Stone came and, while standing in Wal-Mart during the Spring of 1999, I knew then that Britney Spears was a train wreck. Even I, Miss Chubby Awkward Girl, knew that that wasn't normal. Jumping around in a bra and hot pants that said "baby" on your ass, with your baby sister riding a tricycle behind you, was NOT normal. In fact, I knew something was terribly wrong with her. I knew that she could only go so far with such overt displays.
There were other clues, too. The time she accidentally left her mic on backstage and got caught cursing at people because her backing track was off. Or that one of my classmates who was OBSESSED with Justin Timberlake found out that Justin and Britney were sharing a HOTEL ROOM together in Baltimore. This was even before she admitted a relationship with him and years before she'd admit that she wasn't a virgin. (Haha!)
I did see Britney Spears in concert during the "Oops! I Did It Again . . ." era. It was not very memorable except for her silver low-riding pants that lovingly displayed her love-handles over the sides. I walked away thinking, "God, I could so do what she did on stage. Big deal."
Another telling indication of her approaching meltdown was the song and music video "Lucky." It's about having it all and still crying at night. Feeling empty. Granted, the girl probably didn't write it, but it was right on. The writer predicted it themselves. There's a part where she sings:
But there's no one there to wake her up
And the world keeps spinning
And she keeps on winning
But tell me, what happens when it stops?"
(Cut to April 2007. While driving home from the bar with friends one night, that song came on and we all shouted after the aforementioned verse: "You shave your head bald and flash the world!")
Other clues of her impending insanity vary. There's the orgy in the "Slave 4 U" video. I also watched her Diary on MTV and was alarmed (and slightly comforted) to see her freaking out about eating a piece of chocolate cake and being coaxed by her mother, who said: "It's okay to eat cake!" I also remember her trying on a pair of boots that were too small and wouldn't go around her calfs and one of her people shouting: "It's okay! Britney, you're not fat!" (Eating disorder, anyone? Binging and purging? Not accusing, just saying.)
Then there were other small things. Justin admitting they had sex. Fred Durst saying he hit it and describing the encounter in vivid detail. Her quickie marriage in Las Vegas. Her taking time off after her parent's split. Her bursting in tears and having a breakdown on 20/20. (I just wanted to give her a big hug at that point. My maternal instincts kicked in.)
And then there were the barefoot public bathroom visits and Kevin Federline.
Everyone knows the rest. When she dumped Kevin Federline, everyone was ecstatic. Finally, we thought, she's on her way back! Then Paris Hilton came along . . .
I was mesmerized by her vagina. It wasn't so much the vagina itself that mesmerized me, as it was that this is what's it's come to. This is how desperate Britney Spears is. If this wasn't an act of intentional desperation, it's just the result of severe drunken depression. This has gone too far. And I called it back then when I saw the Rolling Stone cover. I knew it. Sex sells and that's what she knows. Without it, what is she? I don't know which is worse- her being completely aware of what she's doing or being completely oblivious to it all.
While staring at her vagina on my computer screen, I remember thinking: "This is what we all wanted to be? This is who we all loved and adored? This is who I wished I was because all the boys wanted to make out with her and all the girls wanted to be friends her? This was the big secret. Her vagina, which all us girls have . . .this is what makes her so special? That's it? Here's our Pop Princess. She's just like every other woman in the whole entire world. Here's her vagina."
And here we are right now. She's a mother to two little boys. She smokes in front of them. She drinks. She probably does drugs. She's lonely. She's sad. She shaved her head.
The way Britney turned out makes me feel conflicted. In a sense, I'm relieved. I've had mental breakdowns and I've made mistakes and I think my life sucks and I'm not Britney Spears. I wasn't the hottest teenage girl in the world, nor do I have millions of dollars and she ended up WORSE than me. At least I had awkward teenage years that made me stronger and smarter. At least I made lasting friendships. At least I trust my family. This makes me feel better.
I'm also sad for her. Britney Spears made me happy and carefree when she performed. She's never done anything to make me dislike her. She seems smarter, more caring, more accessible than her counterparts. She's a true entertainer. Even though we've seen it all from her (literally), she's still an enigma. We're still fascinated by her.
Chuck Klosterman, my favorite music journalist, interviewed her long ago and said that her Southern accent was fake and she seemed very calculated. He says she's smarter than we think and I agree. There are her funny and astute observations about people and things, which she covers up with ditzi-ness and obliviousness once people start to catch on. Maybe she is tricking us all. Maybe she'll get the last laugh.
So her new single "Gimme More" came out last week. And it's not terrible. Her singing isn't exactly great, but I feel more comfortable criticizing her vocals rather than her existence as a human being. This is how it all started. I'm rooting for her, even though it all seems in vain. I was wrong about her before, when I thought she was a one-hit wonder nearly a decade ago at my friend's birthday party. Please make me be wrong again.