A quick heads up before we get started. We're not going to be swearing, but we are going to be talking about some difficult mental health issues in this story on.
It's January 30th, 2008, and Britney Spears is at her home in Beverly Hills. She lives in a gated community. There are gorgeous views of Los Angeles down below. Not that she can see them because the house is surrounded by privacy hedges. Her neighborhood is called the summit, which is a little ironic because right now Britney's close to rock bottom. For a decade, Britney's been America's biggest pop star. But right now she's exhausted. She spent months in the courts fighting to keep custody of her kids.
But a few weeks ago, she lost that fight. Damn, I'd be pacing the floors, too. Oh, my God. I know. It's awful. And now Britney's vulnerable and raw. Her mom showed up earlier today hoping to calm her down. If anyone can. It's Lynn Spears, a soft spoken schoolteacher who's never far from Britney's side. Lynn wants Britney to get out of the house. She got a tip that someone's going to try to have her committed to a psych ward.
But Lynn's no match for what Britney's going through and Britney is no match for what's about to happen. Twenty cops stormed into the house. What the hell is going on? That's what Lynn wants to know. One of the cops tells her we've got a 51 50 psychiatric hold. We're taking Britney in a 51 50 is a code that means she's a danger to herself or other people and can be put into a psychiatric hospital against her will for up to 72 hours.
On what grounds? Lynn demands to know. But the cop says they're just following orders. Orders from whom? Lynn doesn't know. Weirdly, Britney seems barely fazed by what's going on around her. It's only when paramedics strap her down on a stretcher that she calls out in a panic.
Mama, I'm here, baby. Lynn shouts, running after her with the paramedics block her path. They load Britney into the ambulance and roll past the summit's gates, where a gang of paparazzi are furiously snapping pictures. At the hospital, the first person to show up at Britney's bedside is a guy named Sam Lutfi. Who's that? Yeah, he's well, no one's really sure what he is. Is he Britney's manager, her spokesperson, her friend, or is he some sort of creepy Svengali?
It's hard to say, but it doesn't matter right now because Britney trusts him. She's probably glad to see him. But Lynn, not so much. When she arrives and finds Sam at Britney's bed, she explodes. You put her in here, she shouts. Sam claps back. You're the one who always causes drama.
Britney begs them to stop shouting, stop fighting. Sam leaves to get some food. Lynn leaves to probably to cool down. A little while later, Britney can hear a knock on her door, it's her mom, but the door doesn't open. The doctors outside won't let Lin in. Then there's another knock. Britney can hear Sam out in the hall, but again, the door stays closed. The doctors won't let him in either. So she's all alone.
Yeah, and it's going to get worse tomorrow. Lynn Spears and her ex-husband Jamie will petition a judge for a restraining order against Sam Lutfi. Then they'll take it a step further. They'll ask for a temporary conservatorship and a judge agrees to grant it, putting Jamie in charge of Britney's assets, her comings and goings and her entire life. Wow, that's heavy stuff. Well, buckle up, because that's just the beginning. Oh, baby, baby. It's October, and you know what that means.
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It's a show about power, how you get it, how you keep it and what happens when it goes to your head.
It's also about how the rich are just like us, because even the rich love and cry and dream and hope and spend way too much time on Tick-Tock. I mean, what else are we supposed to do? We can't leave our apartments.
For as long as Britney Spears has been singing, she's been squarely in pop culture sites, she can't do anything without somebody writing an article about it or a book or a documentary or a tweet or a podcast.
Well, obviously, we're not exempt. We're just as obsessed with her as everybody else. I mean, there's a reason she hasn't been off our cultural radar since 1998.
What is it about her? Why can't we just leave Britney alone? Wow. Blast from the past. Yeah.
In this three part series, I'm going to tell you how Britney went from being a sweet, shy girl from a small town in Louisiana to one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. But getting famous so fast, so young isn't easy, which is why we're also going to talk about the conservatorship Britney's dad placed her under after her very public 2008 mental health crisis.
You mean the conservatorship that was supposed to be temporary but somehow has lasted for more than a decade?
Yep. Her fans formed a movement hashtag Free Britney. It's dedicated to freeing Britney from the conservatorship, but there's a lot more to it than that. But before we get to all that, let's start at the beginning. This is episode one, a girl named Lucky.
It's March 1990, an eight year old Britney Spears is feeling cooped up. She lives in this small town in Louisiana called Kentwood. It has like 12 people, really, Brooke.
Twelve, OK, the population is actually like 2000, but it's still too small for Britney. She feels like a big fish in a rain puddle. She's been winning gymnastics competitions since she was six and her coaches think she's good enough to go to the Olympics.
She's also the star pupil at the local dance school and her singing voice is so good she won a competition at the town's dairy day festival where the judges called.
I don't know, maybe.
But the point is all of that is small potatoes. She wants more than a dairy Drebin. Sometimes she goes into the bathroom, stands on the edge of the bathtub, facing this big mirror and sings into a bottle of shampoo like it's a microphone that's a step down from singing karaoke in a Roku remote. Yeah, and she's not in her 30s like we were. Britney wants to be a star, but how do you go from performing for local cows to, you know, an actual audience?
Well, Britney has an idea.
She corners her mom and tells her that the Disney Channel is holding open auditions for the Mickey Mouse Club and she's desperate to go. The only problem is the auditions are in Atlanta, which is an eight hour car ride away. And her mom's not sure she's up for the drive, but Brittney is persistent. And finally her mom relents. They hop in the car and drive 500 miles to Atlanta.
They spend hours waiting in line with two thousand other ambitious kids. When Britney's called before the casting directors, she launches into a rendition of Sweet Georgia Brown. When she's done singing, she takes a deep bow.
One of the casting directors asks, who taught you that my mama, Brittany says softly now that she's not performing, Britney's feeling a little bashful. But she adds, she just told me every time I sing just to bow. OK, that's adorable. It's very adorable.
And the casting directors are charmed but not charmed enough. Britney may be talented, but she's only eight and the typical Mouseketeer is around 12. So casting directors are like, come back and try again in a few years. And just like that, Britney and Lynn are on their way back to Kentwood. Britney's big break is a bust and Britney Spears was never heard of again. What a waste of incredible talent. Terrible, isn't it? And that's our show.
Thank you and good night. No, I'm kidding, obviously. Well, actually, not really kidding because for Britney, it's no laughing matter.
This wasn't just her big chance. It was also her chance to escape. Escape from what? Well, when Britney locks herself in the bathroom and sings into her shampoo bottle, she's not just escaping into a world of musical Make-Believe. She's also closing the door on a pretty tough home life. Her dad is, let's just say, difficult. His name is Jamie and he's got dark hair and he scowls a lot. And apparently women think he's good looking because he sneaks around with a few of them behind Lindsay back disappearing for days without a word.
And when he is home, he's not exactly father of the year. One time when Britney's five, she and her dad are hanging with a few relatives at a crawfish boil.
That's the most Louisiana thing I've ever heard, truly. Except this one isn't so festive. Jamie drinks too much and then he grabs Britney and climbs into his truck like they're going to go joyriding or something, which, of course, has the family worried. So Jamie's brother runs over and tries to stop him. And what does Jamie do? He sucker punch him. They start going at it.
And Britney just stays there in the truck crying and jumping up and down. And it's not just the drinking in the fighting. Jamie is also bad with money. When Britney was born, he took out a second mortgage on the family house and turned their barn into a gym, thinking he'd start a new business. It actually went OK at first, which is kind of surprising considering there are only two thousand people in the whole town. But then Jamie started drinking too much and the whole enterprise started sinking faster than a dumbbell in a swimming pool some nights to put food on the table.
He has to go out into the woods and shoot squirrels for dinner. Oh, gross. Yeah. So Britney doesn't just want to be a star because she loves the spotlight. She knows that if she hits it big, she'll make gobs of money. And if that happens, she'll be able to help out, maybe even buy her mom a house. But after coming up empty at her Mickey Mouse Club audition, that dream feels a long way away.
And then a year later, she gets the phone call of a lifetime, actually, Linn's the one who gets the call. The woman on the other end introduces herself as Nancy Nancy Carson. She runs a talent agency in New York City that specializes in child stars, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Cynthia Nixon. She helped all of them get their start and now she's got her eye on Britney.
Wait, how does she know about her? She saw her at the Dairy Day Festival. I'm just kidding.
What are the casting guys from the Mickey Mouse Club called Nancy and told her he'd seen something special in this girl from Louisiana.
Nancy wants Britney to come to New York and audition for her. I'm guessing plane tickets are out of reach. They are. But Lynn is not about to let being broke get in the way of her daughter's dream. So she booked a 30 hour train ride from Louisiana to the Big Apple and they bring along a few people for moral support. Britney's dad, her older brother, one of her brother's friends, and an aunt and a cousin.
I thought they were trying to save money while all seven of them share one hotel room.
Oh, good tip. From pretty much the moment they set foot in Manhattan, Britney is overwhelmed. At one point, she looks around at the skyscrapers and bustling sidewalks and busy streets and she asks, where are all the cows? That can't be true. Look, I write it in a book, so it has to be. After getting settled in their single room. Britney and her parents make their way to an imposing brick building in Midtown. They take the elevator up to the 20th floor and walk into the offices of Carson Adler Talent Agency and assistant tells her parents to wait in the lobby while Britney goes back to meet Nancy.
Britney's nervous. She's just this nine year old kid standing in this fancy office and what's probably the biggest building she's ever been in in her life.
But when Nancy asks her to sing something, it's like Britney transforms into a totally different person. In fact, Nancy will later say it was like Britney evolved on the spot. She's like a light bulb on a dimmer when she performs something. Kranks The wattage up all the way.
I'm just like that. You turn this microphone on and bam. Yep.
Everyone says that after Britney's audition, Nancy calls in her parents and they only have one question. Is she good enough?
Nancy tells them Britney's obviously talented, but in show business, there's no such thing as a guarantee if they're ready to take a small risk. And Britney is going to need professional training like a vocal coach, a dance instructor. It's actually a big risk for the Spears family. They could barely afford the trip to New York. How are they supposed to afford all that? But then I picture them looking at Britney and realizing there's nothing in the world that makes their daughter happier than singing and dancing and performing.
They haven't always done things right as parents, but they can do it now and help make their little girl's dream come true if this is what she wants and they'll find a way to make it happen.
In the spring of 1991, two things happened in the Spears family. First, Lynn gives birth to a little girl named Jamie Lynn. And then in May, she and Britney in the new baby leave Louisiana and move into a shoebox apartment in New York's theater district.
They stay for four months, and Britney takes classes at a performing arts school where her teachers help her develop a more breathy style, which leads to a major opportunity.
A year later, she gets the chance to audition for Star Search. Are you even the rich die hards may remember it from our Beyonce episodes is the TV talent show that helped put Destiny's Child on the map and launch the careers of stars like Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Usher. Now it's Britney's turn. She kills it in the early rounds and makes it to the final.
Actually found a clip. This is host Ed McMahon making the introduction.
And Kentwood, Louisiana, here is 10 year old Britney Spears.
Britney is singing Love Can Build a Bridge by the Judds. It's a love song. Of course not. Thirty seconds, in comes the big moment, one of those Elting notes, you have to hit spot on and hold or it's a disaster.
So here it comes. Remember, she's only 10 years old.
It's. That's insane. She owned that totally, it's amazing, but she lost. Oh, boo, to those judges. Yeah.
Britney smiles and hugs the winner, a total pro.. But when the show's over, she runs sobbing into her mother's arms.
She feels like she let everyone down, not just her family, but her entire hometown.
Because that's the thing about Britney.
She feels like she's got everyone's hopes and dreams riding on her. That's an insane amount of pressure for a little kid.
Yeah. And with each new opportunity, the pressure only mounts.
In January 1993, while Britney's back home in Kentwood for the holidays, she gets a very good piece of news. She's 11 now and she reapplied for the Mickey Mouse Club and she's made it to the finals.
She's one of twenty four contenders out of almost twenty thousand applicants. They'll choose seven to be on the show. Brittany and her mom go down to Orlando for three days of auditions. She learns dance routines, comedy monologues, how to be on camera. And then on the third day, she performs for a panel of judges. They're going to grade her, see if she deserves to make the cut. Drum roll, please.
They give her a B plus.
And because this is America a B plus can really take you places she's in.
The judges have been watching her closely and they've seen a girl who will work herself into the ground to get something right.
On top of that, she looks the part wholesome, innocent. One of the judges scribbles on the scorecard. Very good. Nice girl. Sign her up. When she gets back home, everyone in Kentwood loses their minds. Practically the whole town signed up for cable so they can get the Disney Channel. The mayor makes April twenty fourth nineteen ninety three Britney Spears day. The Chamber of Commerce gives her a plaque. OK, I want a day named after me.
Done. I declare today national orisha Skidmore Williams day. And where's my plaque. What about an almost full vegan froyo punch card. Oh I'll just make my own. OK.
In May 1993, Britney, her mom and little baby Jamie Lynn moved down to Orlando so Britney can start filming the Mickey Mouse Club. The production schedule is grueling. Every week that summer, Britney has to learn three full scale dance numbers, shoot two music videos and perform in comedy sketches. And on top of it all, she still has to squeeze in sessions with our tutor to make sure she doesn't fall behind on her schooling. Her tutor has worked with dozens of show biz kids, but he's never met anyone like Britney.
She's so wholesome and sweet, he worries she won't be able to handle the pressure that comes along with fame. But her other teachers have faith. Britney's choreographer is totally blown away by her. This guy is used to working with tweens who are lazy and throw tantrums and generally act like sulky little jerks.
But Britney's not like that. A girl's a workhorse. She practices every dance step until it's perfect. She takes all correction's graciously and gratefully, whatever it takes and it pays off. She keeps getting better. Anything they throw at her, she's ready.
Britney is loving her new life as a Mouseketeer. I mean, she used to dream about just being able to afford a trip to Disney World and now she works there. Plus, she's got a new group of friends and they're all just as ambitious as she is. Her BFF is Christina Aguilera.
OK, if I didn't have you as my bf, I definitely want Christina is my ride or die while you're lucky because I sing just like her.
So the two of them walk around the lot holding hands, talking about their crushes. They even make a pact to become big stars together.
We are my friends and I made a pact to make out with every member of the Backstreet Boys.
Yeah. How'd that work out? Well, there's no expiration date, so there's still a chance.
OK, I'm praying for you. And speaking of boy bands, future in-sync member Justin Timberlake is also one of the season's new mice, which means he's Britney's co-star and she thinks he's a totally cute Christina.
Justin and their moms all live in the same apartment complex and the families are thick as thieves. The moms bond at the pool while the kids run wild. And get this, Justin and Britney even smooch during a game of truth or dare. Britney has everything she's ever wanted. Her dreams are coming true.
But then, one year after Britney's initiation into Mouseketeer Adam, she and her cast mates are called into a meeting with a bunch of Disney executives who tell them the show is getting cancelled. They're told it's time to move on with Godspeed.
What does that mean? I think it's executive doublespeak for nobody wants to watch wholesome teenagers dance around and sing songs anymore. Britney's done at 12 years old.
She's headed back to Louisiana. This was supposed to be the break that put her on the map. Now she's back to square one. We get support from Ring, we're home more than usual these days, but it's still hard to keep a close eye on things. More deliveries mean more boxes left unattended and more opportunities for packages to go missing.
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Visit Madison Dasari dotcom now to find your perfect shade. It's nineteen ninety five and sleepy Kentwood, Louisiana, but inside the spears' modest ranch, home life is a tinderbox. Jamie's drinking has gone from bad to worse. He's volatile and sometimes violent. One moment he's throwing a glass against the kitchen wall. The next he's begging Linda, forgive him. It scares Britney how hot and cold he can be when she senses he's about to tip over into one of his rages.
She escapes out the back door to her aunt's nearby trailer. So the opposite of Disney Dreamworld, pretty much.
Lynne tries to take control of the situation and signs them up for family counseling with a pastor so they all reluctantly get into the pickup truck and head to church. This could be a game changing moment.
The pastor says if Jamie doesn't try harder to establish a good, strong relationship with his daughter, then she's going to end up clinging to the first real romance in her life. And that relationship will determine the course of all her relationships with men from then on.
That's scary. Yeah, well, to Jamie's credit, he tries, he quits drinking. He borrows money from friends to get back on his feet. He tells the family he'll do whatever it takes to get his daughter's career on track. He doesn't want to be the reason her dreams don't come true. And then the summer Britney's fourteen, she goes to New York for an audition.
While she's there, she gets the chance to meet with an entertainment lawyer named Larry Rudolph. He's not your typical suit. For one thing, he looks more like a rock star than a dorky attorney. He's from the Bronx.
He's got a don't mess with me attitude. And he gets results. He represents the Backstreet Boys and he's always looking to expand his client list when they meet.
Larry can tell right away that she's cute and sweet, but he can't get over how shy she is. The Mickey Mouse Club may have taught her how to shine on camera, but in person she's still an introvert. She won't even look him in the eye. And yet he can tell there's something they're talent. It's hard to explain. I guess Larry just knows that when he sees it, but he's not ready to act on it yet. He thinks she's still too young to break out.
She's got to let her talent develop. So he's like, let's keep in touch back to Louisiana yet again. Brittany wants to challenge herself. How she supposed to do that here in her tiny small town? So around her 15th birthday, she calls up Larry and says, is there anything I can do? And Larry's lawyer Gears Start Turning.
One of his clients is a singer named Toni Braxton. What? So you like Toni Braxton? She's OK. I mean, yes, I love her. Well, she just dumped a song from our new record because it was too poppy. Larry tells Britney he'll send it to her, sing it just like Tony, he says, and then go into a local music studio and record. So that's what Bret does. She makes the tape, mails it off to Larry, and then gets in bed and prays every night and her prayers get answered.
Larry tells her not one but three record labels are interested in hearing her sing in person. He has so much faith in her talent, he offers to pay for her and Lynn to fly to New York. This is it, Britney's big chance to finally be someone, so to say the meetings are high stakes and high stress is an understatement.
She'll have to go into a room with a bunch of straight-faced executives who she doesn't know and sing like she's never sung before.
Her first meeting is with Mercury Records, home of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and U2.
This doesn't sound like a fit.
It's not when Britney finishes singing, they say we just don't see it. No surprise there, I guess. Next up is Epic Records.
Now, these guys have a little more range.
They have some funk like Sly and the Family Stone and they've got Pearl Jam.
OK, do any of these labels ever sign women? They do have TLC. OK, so maybe she has a shot?
Unfortunately, no. Their response is even worse. One of the execs will later admit he was thinking this is the next big thing. Please, she has no presents, no hunger, and she's cosmetically challenged.
I was expecting a star, not a shy little girl. Funny. I was expecting a professional, not a misogynistic asshole. Seriously, what?
Britney still has one more meeting. This one is with Jive Records. They've got N Sync, the Backstreet Boys and Iliya. OK, now you're talking the jive execs ask her to sing something a cappella and she goes with an old standby. Amazing Grace. She used to sing that song for her grandpa after church on Sundays.
When she's done, the room is completely silent. So Britney just stands there waiting for their judgment. But what she doesn't know is that one of the executives, a guy named Jeff Fenster, is totally blown away. She's exactly what he's been looking for, a sunny, all-American teen. Best of all, he can tell she's still totally green, which means he can mold her into exactly the kind of pop star he wants. She doesn't say anything in the meeting.
But two weeks later, when Britney's back home in Kentwood waiting to hear what they thought, she gets a call from Larry.
We've got a deal, he tells her. Well, sort of a deal. Jive Records is going to sign her up for 90 days. She'll make one single. And if they like it, they'll keep her around. If they don't, then they'll pay her five hundred dollars and cut her loose. But Britney's not worried about that. She has a record deal, and that's not even the best part. The label is going to send her to Sweden to record with a professional songwriter.
She's excited and also a little scared because her mom can't go with her. Instead, Lynn hires Phylicia Colada, a friend from Kentwood, to travel with Britt as her assistant. She actually reminds Britney of her mom.
So it's OK with her.
When they land in Sweden, they're taken to meet Max Martin. He's worked with Backstreet Boys, Ace of base, but he still hasn't had a number one chart busting single. He's a built Swedish dude with long blond hair, and he's a perfectionist, just like Britney.
They immediately hit it off. He plays her a song he's been working on. He's calling it Hit Me Baby One More Time. He tells her it's based on the American expression kids use when they want someone to return a call. I think it's hit me back.
It is. But English is Max's second language. So it's morphed into Hit Me Baby.
Britney doesn't care. She's just thrilled to be working with someone so talented. So she's like, sure, let's do it. Is this the part where we get to sing, OK, let's play a game? Is this Britney Spears or me?
Oh, oh, babe. Babe, how was I supposed steno? Obviously that was Britney. Ding, ding, ding.
Hit me, baby. One more time. When they're done, Max sends it back to jive attention. Jeff Fenster, he's the guy who saw something in Britney. And when Fenster hears it, he's like, hell, yeah, I was right. And there's nothing a record company exec likes more than being right.
He tears up Britney's 90 day option and signs her to a real record deal. He said it was rare to hear an artist Britney's age convey so many emotions and also be commercial. But he wouldn't be a record exec if he didn't change something. So he decided the song needed a new name. He calls it Baby One More Time without the hit me part. He figures it'll go over better with radio stations. Then he sends Britt on a twenty six city mall tour while she's singing her heart out to people shoveling fries in the food court.
The folks at her label are busy trying to figure out how to market her. What's her personal brand going to be? What's going to make her stand out? And a light bulb goes off. They think, who doesn't love the all-American cheerleader Britney's game. So she bleaches her teeth and dyes her hair, honey blonde. And then everyone goes crazy for her.
Not yet, because no one knows who she is. They may have an image for her now, but they still got to share it with the world. And the way to do that is to shoot a music video for baby one more time. The label hires a guy named Nigel Dick to direct it.
He's this British guy who loves. Rock and roll, played by dudes with v shaped guitars who have hair down to their butts. Wow, that sounds exactly like Britney Spears. Yeah, odd choice, right?
But the label thinks he's the best man for the job. So Nigel goes off and noodle's on a video idea and then he and Britney hop in a call to discuss it. Nigel begins his pitch. We open on you dressed in a Lycra superhero costume, Britney hesitates and asks. You mean like a Power Ranger? That'll work if the video is for four year olds. Wow, savage. Yeah.
It's a bold move, especially for a teenage nobody. I guess she's not so shy anymore. Yeah.
Britney tells Nigel what she thinks the video should be. She says something like, it should be relatable.
It should be about a bunch of kids in school were bored out of our minds. I'm typing up big fluffy pen on my textbook and staring at the clock. And once that bell rings, my girls and I dance the hell out of that school hallways, parking lot, basketball courts. I definitely want to do at least one backflip. Britney's showing that she's not just a lump of clay to be molded. She has ideas and she's not afraid to speak up.
Though the video does evolve beyond Britney's fun at school concept, she ends up wearing this Catholic schoolgirl outfit, short skirt, tied up shirt. It's more suggestive than she probably bargained for anyway, now that her single's done and the videos in the can.
All that's left for Britney to do is wait and pray and pray some more.
She returns home to Louisiana, super excited to be reunited with her mom. Lynn picks her up at the airport. They throw the suitcases into the car and turn on the radio one oh four point one, New Orleans.
It's their favorite station when Britney was a kid. They drive around blasting it, singing along to Madonna and Whitney Houston. But now as they head toward Kentwood, it's not Madonna or Whitney singing, it's Britney, bitch. Yeah, it is. As the opening bars start playing, Britney lets out a huge scream. Linson in shock and about to cry. It literally couldn't have come at a better time.
Things at the Spears house have not been good. Jamie's gym went under. He declared bankruptcy. The phone company turned off their phone. Lynn had to go back to work as a second grade teacher. To say money's been tight is an understatement. So this is a nice little victory.
And then in January 1999, they get an even bigger one. Britney's album drops and it hits number one on the Billboard chart. The video for Baby One More Time plays over and over again on MTV.
Britney is not a nobody anymore. Now she can't go anywhere without being recognized. The world is obsessed.
Her label sends her out on a promotional tour. Some days she does 40 interviews back to back. It's grueling, but she handles it like a pro and the press loves her. She's bubbly and innocent. She sits on her hands during interviews and lets out a big Oh, that's so sweet any time someone compliments her.
So it sounds like things are going great.
Well, if this show has taught me anything, it's that there's nothing the press loves more than building someone up just to tear them back down.
It's the spring of nineteen ninety nine and this guy named David LaChapelle is getting a tour of Kentwood from its most famous resident, Britney Spears. David's a photographer who shot everyone from Andy Warhol to Michael Jackson. Now he's been hired by Rolling Stone to photograph Britney for the cover of an upcoming issue. Britney takes him to the local baseball field and he photographs her standing in the batter's box. She shows him her backyard and he snaps a pic of her wheeling around a bike wearing shorts with the word baby emblazoned across the back.
At the end of the shoot, David asks if he can take a few pictures of Britney in her bedroom. Britney says, sure, the room is small, too small for her parents and her lawyer, Larry, to fit. So they wait outside while David and Britney go in.
A few minutes later, Larry pops his head in to check how it's going. Britney's lying on her bed in her bra and underwear, smiling for David's camera. Larry's like, nope, we're done here. Lynn and Jamie shut it down. They're just glad they got there in time to stop it. Except they didn't. The magazine hits newsstands in April nineteen ninety nine and Britney is on the cover in her bra and boy shorts, lying on purple satin sheets and cuddling a Teletubbies.
And she's only 17.
That's so exploitive and gross. Yeah, the tabloids have a field day. They call her names like Louisiana Lolita and Vampyres Seductress. One outlet says, quote, She's a moderately talented girl whose body is the main event. Reporters ask, are you a virgin? Are you a lesbian? Are you bisexual or have you had breast implants? She's barely 18. These are adults. OK, first of all, these are questions you shouldn't ask anybody ever. But the fact that she's not even 18 just makes it that much more disgusting.
Yeah, I agree. And Britney does her best to build up a wall. She tries not to let it faze her. She goes on tour, records, a follow up album and ignores the haters. But the tabloids and paparazzi won't leave her alone, and they kind of never will again. What's the secret to your best night's sleep, first toss out the memory foam. I couldn't agree with you more, Brooke. You and I have both been sleeping on mattresses from our sponsor, O'Gara.
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It's March 2000, and Nigel Dick is on the universal lot in California, it's been a little more than a year since he directed the music video for Baby One more time now, the reuniting to make the video for a little ditty called Oops, I Did It Again. It's going to be the lead off single for Britney's new album right away. Nigel can tell things are different when they work together. Before, Britney was still a nobody. Now Nigel can barely get a second alone with her.
Britney can't come out of her trailer without the paparazzi swooping in and shoving their cameras in her face. And the worst part is no one seems like they're trying to protect her. Britney's got this whole team around her now, choreographers and stylists and bodyguards. But Nigel gets the sense their job isn't to look out for her, it's to sell her. Kelaher says it's like he is the meat. Let them matter. She's still as hard working as ever, nailing every dance step, contributing great ideas and singing her heart out.
But the girl he knew before is gone.
I wonder if Britney feels like that's true.
I mean, it's hard to say the paparazzi, the pressure, it's all got to be more than she bargained for. But on the other hand, her wish came true. She's a famous singer and that's had its upsides. Britney always dreamed that if she ever made it, she'd be her mama house. It'd be her way of paying her back for all those years. She took her from audition to audition city to city. Britney knew how much Lynne sacrificed.
So she buys Lynn the perfect piece of land outside Kentwood and tells her to build her dream home. No budget, just go for it. But there's one condition. Lynn can't put Jamie's name on the deed. Her own dad. Yeah, for one thing, Britney's worried that if Jamie's name is on the deed, the bank might come after the house to pay off some of his debts. But there's more to it than that. She wants her mom to get away from him.
Britney asks her mom, do you want to live this way for the rest of your life?
And Lynn says she doesn't. She agrees to Britney's deal. Look at that. She set her mom free. Yeah, it's ironic, though, because Britney's feeling more and more like a prisoner herself. She's on the road non-stop. She's exhausted. Remember, this is a girl who doesn't half as anything. Sometimes after a concert, she'll be in tears. Her anxiety gets so bad that she starts taking medication just to cope. She has so many things she always thought she wanted.
But now that she has them, her life is starting to spin out of control. It's September six, 2001, and Britney is stepping out of a limo at the MTV Video Music Awards. She's accompanied by an old friend from her Mickey Mouse Club days. He's also an old crush, Justin Timberlake. They've been seeing each other on the DL. Now they're making it official. They walked the red carpet wearing matching denim outfits. And Britney can't stop smiling.
She's come a long way since her Mickey Mouse Club days. She may still be shy in the inside, but she's gotten a lot better at hiding it when she's out in public and helps having your crush on your arm. And she's also evolved into a pretty bold performer. Later that night, she performs a new song of hers called I'm a Slave for You. Britney's Wild on stage in a cage with an actual tiger. She throws open the doors and jumps onto the back of a dancer who's dressed like a zebra.
Britney starts throwing down incredible moves and then, like halfway through the song, someone hands her a twenty five pound Burmese python and she drapes it over her shoulders. OK, can you imagine wearing a Canadian tuxedo and a Burmese python in the same night?
I couldn't, but now I can. When the song's over, the crowd loses its frickin mind. One writer will later say that Britney's performance, quote, changed the course of history. It's the most iconic animal performance since AABA double dribbled his way into America's heart. And it signals the arrival of a new Britney Spears. She's not just the cutie pie from Kentwood anymore. By day, she's a totally fearless performer. And by night, she's dating one of the most popular singers on the planet.
After they're coming out at the VMAs, JT becomes her rock. She's touring, which means she doesn't get to see him as much as she'd like.
But when they are together, he's always doing cute little things like surprising her with candles and roses. And he understands the pressure she's under because he's been under it, too. Britney is completely smitten, she tells the Observer, As far as love is concerned with him, too much is not enough. And Justin is equally enamored. He says there's only been one person in my life that has become more important than everything that I do.
And it's her. In February 2002, Britney gets a guest spot on Saturday Night Live, which is a huge honor. So, of course, she's both nervous and excited. Justin, like the doting boyfriend he is, goes with her to the taping for support. He's hanging out in her dressing room when he finds a note. Hmm. What's this? He reads it. It's from her choreographer, a guy Britney spends a ton of time with as she perfected her routine for the show.
And after Justin finishes reading, he starts to wonder if maybe that's not all they've been doing. So later, he confronts Britney about it and immediately she burst into tears and admits they kissed. But it was only one time things have been so hard for her. She's been working non-stop. It's lonely, and the choreographer was there. But she promises Justin, it'll never happen again. And he agrees to give it another shot. But it doesn't work out by the end of the year.
They're done now that it's over for real. Britney can barely hold it together at a performance in Mexico City. She gets so upset that she runs off stage mid song. The song, by the way, is called Stronger. Oh, the irony. Yep. And it gets worse after their breakup, Britney gets a call from Justin and she's so happy to hear from him. Ecstatic even he hints at a reconciliation and Britney can't believe it. Could this really be happening?
But then at the end of their conversation, he changes gears suddenly and is like, Oh, by the way, I'm making a video for my single.
And I hired an actress who looks like you to be in it.
No big deal. Just need your permission.
She's confused, but she's also willing to do anything to make him happy, especially if it means it might help them get back together. So she's like, yeah, go for it. Wait, is this the video for.
Yep. Cry me a river.
OK, I really watched it and wow, it is not what I remembered. So Justin sneaks into his ex's house with a new woman and films them hooking up.
And then when his ex, the Britney lookalike, comes home, he has his little home movie playing on the TV that is simultaneously the creepiest and worst concept for a music video I've ever heard.
Yeah, and when Britney sees it, she's devastated. She calls him and demands to know how he could do this to her, but he doesn't even try to defend himself. I mean, he's totally exploiting her. What a dick. Britney responds with a video of her own.
It's for a song called Every Time. And the video has Britney fighting with her boyfriend in a limo and kicking boxes in the hallway of a hotel and then throwing stuff around their hotel room.
And then she climbs into the bathtub, slips under the water and drowns. It's so dark that the label makes her at a shot at the end where she pops up out of the water and is like, surprised.
I was only dreaming.
It's pretty clear to me she's working through some really difficult stuff. Yeah, but no one's listening. Instead of worrying about her, the media just run stories about how her star is falling. She just can't win. In two three, Britney does an interview with Diane Sawyer. And when Diane asks about what a tough time she's been having lately, Britney can barely keep it together. It's pretty rough.
Yeah. Oh, it has. Kind of weird, weird pollen's. Oh, my goodness. How low is strong, Britney? Oh, yeah. It was a weird I mean, she's literally crying on national TV, crying for help.
Yeah. It does sort of seem that way, doesn't it?
Britney wants to run away and rid herself of all her pain. So on New Year's two thousand four, she goes to Vegas with a childhood friend from Kentwood named Jason Alexander. She take ecstasy. And at three thirty in the morning on January 3rd, Britney asks Jason to marry her. He says yes, because that's what you say when you're a small town bro and Britney Spears asks you to get married. They go to the little white wedding chapel in a black limo.
They get a marriage license and Britney walks down the aisle.
OK, I already know the tabloids are going to have a field day with this, but to me, it's just really, really sad.
Britney knows she has to tell her parents. She calls Lynn Spears, who is, of course, shocked and immediately gets Larry and Jamie on the phone. The three of them head to Vegas as fast as they can. When they get there, they force Jason to sign an annulment. The marriage is over. After fifty five hours, you'd think Britney might be relieved.
Even she must realize that getting married when you're high as a kite isn't necessarily the best move.
But also, isn't she allowed to make her own decisions without her parents and her manager swooping in and telling her what to do? Britney's rich and famous and grown up, but sometimes she feels like the people around her still treat her like a kid.
In April 2004, Britney goes out with some of her backup dancers to a place in Hollywood called Josef's Cafe. One of her girls says, Hey, Brit, come over here. I want you to meet someone. But someone is a guy and his name is Kevin Federline, and pretty soon he'll be Mr. Britney Spears. Come on, Brooke, spoiler alert. OK, you for sure knew that was coming true. But you know what? I don't know anything else about him.
OK, well, for that, you'll have to wait until episode two. This is the first episode of our three part series, Free Britney, if you like our show, please give us a five star rating and a review and be sure to tell your friends subscribe on Apple podcast, Spotify, the Wonder App or wherever you're listening right now. Join Wonder E-Plus in the Wonder app to listen ad free. In the episode notes you'll find some links and offers from our sponsors.
Please support them.
Another way to support us is to answer a short survey at Wonder Ekom Flash survey. We use many sources when researching our stories like Rolling Stone and People, but we especially recommend Britney Inside the Dream by Steve Dennis. I'm Brooke Safran. And I'm Trisha Skidmore. Williams Scrilla Breen wrote this episode. Our producer is Caleb Isidor. Our sound design is by James Morgan, audio assistant by Sergio Enriquez, additional editing by Janine Cordillo and Alison Rimer. Our executive producers are Stephanie Jones, Marcia Lui and Hernan Lopez for wondering.
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