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.