We’ve all read and been appalled by the recent revelations surrounding her all-controlling 13-year conservatorship, but a birthday isn’t the time or place to dwell on these things. Suffice to say that Britney Spears is now FREE, living her best life and hitting reset as she reaches the big 4-0.
So, in light of her milestone special day, we thought it was only right to redress the balance of the life of Ms Britney Jean Spears. Because she’s so much more than cryptic Instagram posts, court hearings and scandalous documentaries. She’s an icon and a pioneer, who’s paved the way for every female performer since to follow in her dance steps, and has given the world some of its most-loved live performances, music videos and chart-topping songs. Guys, bow down to pop’s ultimate princess.
“I was in my own world. I found out what I’m supposed to do at an early age.”
Let’s take it waaay back to 2 December 1981, when baby Britney was born in the town of McComb, Mississippi. She started young, singing in her church choir and beginning dance and gymnastics lessons from the age of three. She later said of her childhood inclination towards the spotlight, “I was in my own world. I found out what I’m supposed to do at an early age.” After appearing in TV commercials and on the talent show Star Search, she landed a spot in The Mickey Mouse Club, aged 12, alongside the likes of future (ex) boyfriend Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling.
Five years later, her mum started shipping her around record companies (the less said about her family, the better, tbh, but we can’t completely overlook their involvement in getting Brit signed), but three labels passed, saying fans wanted bands like Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys, and didn’t need another Madonna or Debbie Harry.
And then came Jive Records. Senior Vice President of A&R Jeff Fenster said about the then-16-year-old, “It’s very rare to hear someone that age who can deliver emotional content and commercial appeal. For any artist, the motivation – the ‘eye of the tiger’ – is extremely important. And Britney had that.”
“Soulful, yet girlish; dramatic, but conversational"
She was quickly introduced to legendary Swedish producer Max Martin, who just happened to be sitting on a little demo he’d made called …Baby One More Time. Britney had the sound they were looking for – as Billboard later put it, her voice was, “Soulful, yet girlish; dramatic, but conversational – like Clueless via her 16-year-old Louisiana twang. Her trademark vocal fry [was] unmistakable, even on those first five syllables, ‘Oh, baby, baby…’” The rest, as they say, is pop music history. The song went on to top the charts in at least 22 countries worldwide, with over 10million copies sold in 1998 and 1999, and was named by Rolling Stone in 2020 as the greatest debut single of all time. Meanwhile, Britney’s debut album of the same name sold over 25million copies worldwide, was named by Guinness World Records as the best-selling album ever by a teenage artist, and is credited for reviving the teen pop genre.
Britney quickly rose to the top of her game – and a long line of “Brit clones” were emerging in her wake. Everyone was marketed in relation to Britney: Christina Aguilera was touted as her former co-star-turned-direct rival, with a bigger voice and a naughtier streak; Jessica Simpson was even more innocent and chaste than Brit, publicly vowing to remain a virgin until she got married (one of the many problematic side-effects of being a ’90s female pop star was that your virginity – or lack thereof – was open for discussion at all times); and Mandy Moore was even younger and even more formulaic.
WATCH 'I Had To Sleep On Britney's Private Jet!' Steps Get Nostalgic Taking Our 90s Quiz
Avril Lavigne and Pink, meanwhile, were anti-Britneys – but couldn’t have existed if Britney wasn’t there to set the benchmark. On this side of the pond, Billie Piper and Samantha Mumba were moulded in her likeness. And yet, unlike so many performers, Britney didn’t rise to the top and hit a ceiling. Instead, she kept rising and evolving, breaking new ground along the way.
Today, she’s not only acknowledged as the pop star who changed the sound of mainstream pop music, she also revolutionised music videos with her elaborate, choreographed concepts; changed the game for jaw-dropping live performances (hello, real snake); and even went on to revolutionise the standing of a Las Vegas residency with her impossibly successful four-year stint, inspiring artists such as Jennifer Lopez, Bruno Mars and the Backstreet Boys to do the same. Today, you won’t find a female artist (or any solo performer in general) who doesn’t give some nod to the precedent that Britney set.
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“Britney paved the way for so many artists"
“She taught us all how to be fearless, and the industry wouldn’t be the same without her,” says Lady Gaga, who has been both vocal in the #FreeBritney movement in recent times, and over the years has stressed just how much Britney inspired her own career (she wrote the song Telephone with Brit in mind). And Gaga’s not the only one – artists including, but not limited to, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, Sam Smith, Billie Eilish and Charli XCX have all publicly acknowledged Britney as vital to their own success. According to Azealia Banks, “Britney paved the way for so many artists and set a standard of production quality that all female artists to this very day are trying to live up to. She is the pinnacle of what it means to be a pop star.”
Now, as she celebrates her special birthday, the world can breathe a collective sigh of relief that Britney is liberated from the shackles of her conservatorship and is finally ready to start life anew. Who knows what the future holds in terms of her career? But that’s the least of our concerns. The fans – both famous and non-famous alike – just want Brit to be happy. The way we see it, 40 never looked so good.