Much like cell phones, the internet, and Starbucks, it’s hard to imagine a world without Britney Spears. The pop superstar slammed onto the music scene at the height of the MTV era in 1998 with her debut single "…Baby One More Time," and pop culture hasn’t been the same ever since. With her signature pigtails, flawless dance moves, sensual voice, and unforgettable schoolgirl get-up, Spears showed the world she was ready for success, and seemingly revitalized teen pop overnight.
For those reasons alone, Spears deserves a seat at the table of celebs who’ve completely changed the game, and made doing so look easy. But that was just the beginning of her ascent to mega-stardom, and she’s been breaking records and slaying the red carpet ever since.
From pop sensation to paparazzi target to mother of two, Spears has continued to evolve and shape-shift over the years — and with every new album and tour, she has proven that she has staying power in spades. Never one to stay out of the spotlight for long, Spears has grown into a lucrative brand unparalleled by anyone not a member of the celebrity elite. Read on to witness the stunning transformation of Britney Spears.
Born a wholesome southern belle
Although Britney Spears looks like everyone’s dream girl next door, she actually does have her own origin story. She was born on December 2, 1981, in McComb, MS, according to Lifetime. The daughter of a second grade teacher and a caterer, Spears grew up in Kentwood, LA, an hour north of New Orleans, with her parents and siblings. So she’s a southern belle by birth, and by the sound of everything, the world she came into was super wholesome.
From the age of two, it was obvious that Spears loved singing, as she would hog the bathroom and sing with great gusto into her hairbrush. "I was in my own world," she recalled in an interview with Rolling Stone. "I found out what I’m supposed to do at an early age." Her mother confirms that she did this, too. "She was always singing — she would never hush," she explained.
And of course, this was to the chagrin of her older brother, who remembered her singing and dancing to Madonna in front of the television. "It was very annoying," he added. Maybe it was then, but it all paid off today, obv!
Her talent was apparent from the start
Spears didn’t sing in the bathroom forever, as she had the ambition and talent to showcase her abilities to the world. To that end, she won her first talent show when she was six. "When people see things on TV that they can’t do," she shared in an interview with Rolling Stone, "that should make them want to go out there and make something of themselves. That’s how I looked at it." That’s a pretty mature attitude for a little kid!
That confidence and skill continued to pay off, too. By the age of 10 she was a champion on Star Search in 1992, which was a pretty big deal at the time. But even then, she was already looking for the next big thing, as talent shows were no longer interesting to her. "Those little competitions got really old," she continued, showing just how ready she was for fame and fortune. Look out, world!
A mousekateer in Mickey’s club
One year later in 1993, Spears would again appear on television at the age of 11 in The All New Mickey Mouse Club. She had previously auditioned for the show when she was 8-years-old, according to Rolling Stone, but execs at the time decided that she wasn’t old enough to be a cast member. But she secured an audition for herself a second time, and this time she landed it, fair and square. "Her parents were not pushing her at all," said Jeff Fenster, Jive Records’ senior vice president of A&R, who later signed her to the label. Girl was after her own destiny!
Spears wasn’t the only person on the show who went on to have a successful career in entertainment. Other famous alumni from that incarnation of the program include Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, and Ryan Gosling, according to Variety. And if you didn’t catch them lighting up the screen the first time around, you can see Spears and Timberlake busting a move on the show on YouTube, when Spears’ ascent to super-stardom was just beginning.
Success was simply her destiny
After The All New Mickey Mouse Club was cancelled, Spears returned to Kentwood — but not for long. Larry Rudolph, an entertainment lawyer, got her an audition with Jeff Fenster, Jive Records’ senior vice president of A&R, shortly thereafter, who was immediately impressed by Spears’ abilities. "It’s very rare to hear someone that age who can deliver emotional content and commercial appeal," he confessed in an interview with Rolling Stone. She was thus signed to Jive Records, where execs were even more impressed when they heard her collaboration with her producer-writer, Eric Foster White. After that, her development deal was increased, and she embarked on a 26-destination mall tour in 1998 and recorded an album.
Fenster recognized that Spears was hungry for success on her own terms. "For any artist, the motivation — the ‘eye of the tiger’ — is extremely important," he continued. "And Britney had that. This is clearly a self-motivating person from a very young age." Our girl knew what she wanted, and seized every opportunity in order to get it. Clearly success was simply her destiny.
"I want to be big all around the world"
By the time the single "…Baby One More Time" dropped in 1998, Spears also had a modeling gig and opened for N’Sync. But once the world saw her dancing in the hallway in a Catholic school uniform in the video, she was no longer playing second fiddle to anyone. "I have never seen an artist so focused on what she needed to do," noted Jive’s marketing director, Kim Kaiman, in an interview with Rolling Stone. The song went to the top of the charts, and Spears spread her wings and took flight.
Spears wasn’t just a prop who sang and did whatever people told her to do, either. For example, she revealed to Rolling Stone that she had input on the video, which was originally going to be animated and similar to the Power Rangers — clearly not the right concept. "So I had this idea where we’re in school and bored out of our minds, and we have Catholic uniforms on," she explained. "And I said, ‘Why don’t we have knee-highs and tie the shirts up to give it a little attitude?’ — so it wouldn’t be boring and cheesy." Now that was the right formula, for sure!
The kiss that sent shock waves around the world
Anyone who was watching the VMA’s in 2003 will tell you that when Spears locked lips with Madonna in an open-mouthed kiss, people just about lost their minds. Same-sex couples were over a decade away from having the right to marry, and Ellen DeGeneres had only just come out as a lesbian in 1997, six years prior. So seeing two women kiss on live television was a big deal.
Spears, of course, remembers when it happened, and dished the dirt on the behind-the-scenes mechanisms at work at the time. "And of course [Madonna’s] the groom and I’m the bride so… she probably thought that we should kiss," she revealed in a 2003 television interview. "She was like, ‘Why don’t we do it here, why don’t we do the kiss here?’ And I was like, ‘Okay, alright.’" Thus the idea was born.
The way Spears tells it, that was an actual first kiss for the pair. "And we never actually like, really did it in rehearsal. When we got on stage, she’s like, ‘let’s just see what happens.’ I was like, okay. And then we did it." History, as they say, had been made.
A whirlwind Vegas romance
In the midst of recording hit after hit and embarking on extremely successful concert tours, Spears was also wrangling a personal life in the spotlight of her success. She made headlines in particular in 2004, when she famously got married to childhood friend Jason Alexander in Las Vegas — and had the whole thing annulled 55 hours later. What on earth was going on?
As Alexander tells it, the whole thing started when she had him flown to Las Vegas on New Year’s Day. "It wasn’t really a booty call," he shared in an interview with ABC News. "It was just, you know, a friend asking a friend to come on a trip." But when he got there, they did some partying, and then Spears suggested they get married. "I went with my feelings," he continued. "I was in love with her… I feel like she felt the same way."
But when Spears told her family that the couple had tied the knot, they were upset as there was no prenuptial agreement. So Spears had the marriage annulled. "That was probably the hardest part about it," he added. "I had obviously got my feelings involved." What a mess!
Finding love and starting a family
On the heels of her annulled three-day marriage to Alexander, it appeared that Spears rebounded and found true love — for a while, at least. On September 18, 2004, Spears married Kevin Federline, a backup dancer, in a top-secret ceremony, according to People magazine. Originally they were supposed to be married a month later, but the couple opted to marry instead in a small ceremony (it was supposed to be their engagement party), rather than a lavish affair. "I just thought it would be too much if we had done it when we were supposed to," Spears reflected in the interview.
The pair had two children together, first Sean Preston on September 14, 2005, then Jayden James on September 12, 2006, according to E! News. But apparently all was not as blissful as it seemed, as two months later, Spears sent Federline a text, asking for a divorce. "Instead of following my heart and doing something that made me really happy, I just did it for the idea of everything," Spears admitted in the 2008 MTV documentary Britney: For the Record (via E! News).
The pair continue to share parenting duties of their two sons.
About that famous meltdown…
If you were paying attention to pop culture even in the slightest in 2007, you remember Spears’ famous meltdown, arguably due in part to the relentless presence of the paparazzi in her life. That likely contributed to stress in her marriage to Fenderline, too. "That was a whole different lifestyle than I ever imagined," he revealed in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. "I mean, just getting around from place to place and having 20 people follow you all day long — your whole life kind of being told through somebody else’s eyes." For that reason, it’s not hard to have sympathy for the pop star.
Things only got worse for Spears, who lost custody of her children on October 1, 2007, according to Today, because of her struggle with drugs and alcohol. She also famously shaved her head in public, racked up some vehicle offenses, and hit a vehicle with an umbrella. It seemed Spears was doomed to be stuck in a downward spiral. Fortunately, Spears was able to get her life back together after focusing on her mental and physical health. After that, she was primed for a comeback.
It didn’t take long for her to make a comeback
After all of the hoopla in 2007, Spears managed to have it all turned around by the next year. She got rid of Sam Lufti, her controlling manager, and seemed to have her custody battled settled by August of 2008. "God has a way of taking something bad and turning it into something good," her father, who was designated as her conservator, shared in an interview with OK!. "If this hadn’t happened, I would never have been able to get back with my daughter and have this relationship I have with these two little boys." So something truly good came out of the very bad.
Additionally, Spears’ sixth studio album, Circus, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Charts, as did the single "Womanizer." She also made several television appearances, and went on a successful tour. But more than anything, it was motherhood that helped Spears bounce back to health. "My kids shaped my personality and filled me. They made me not worry about what was happening to me," she explained in an interview with Yediot Ahronot (via Marie Claire). We are so here for that!
Meanwhile, her career was still full-steam ahead
Even in her darkest hour, Spears’ music continued to be massively successful. With her meltdown behind her and her comeback well-established, Spears continued to have a lucrative and successful career in both music and in television. Her seventh studio album, Femme Fatale, reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 2011, and was followed by yet another successful tour. She also snagged a coveted spot as a judge on the television show The X Factor in 2012, along with a handsome $15 million paycheck for her time, according to E! News. Get that money, girl!
Additionally, Spears’ longtime partnership with Jive Records came to an end as they were dissolved in 2011, according to Billboard. Having met her contractual obligation with them with her hit album Britney Jean, Spears was now free to renegotiate her contract or sign with whomever she wanted, according to Billboard. She renewed her contract with RCA, and released Glory in 2016, according to the Los Angeles Times. There’s clearly no slowing her down!
Landing a Las Vegas residency
In the midst of releasing albums and lighting up television sets on The X Factor, Spears also landed a residency in Las Vegas at Planet Hollywood in 2013, according to Rolling Stone. Originally she was slated to perform 50 shows over the course of two years, but the Piece of Me residency was so in-demand that she ended up performing a whopping 248 shows — dang, Britney! The show finally came to an end in 2017, with a final gross of $137,695,392, according to Billboard — that’s a seriously impressive run. It just goes to show that she knows how to work, b*tch.
After taking Piece of Me on a world tour in 2018, Spears announced that she would be returning to Las Vegas once again for a new residency, this one entitled Britney: Domination. The news was announced on a livestream hosted by Kalen Allen on Ellen DeGeneres’ YouTube Channel in October of 2018. The residency was set to kick off at the new Park MGM’s Park Theater in February of 2019, but it was put on hold in January of 2019.
She took an abrupt hiatus in 2019
Spears is a multi-million dollar brand, whose performances obviously rake in lots of cash, and require tons of preparation and manpower. So when Spears announced that she was putting Britney: Domination on hold in January of 2019, you knew something serious was happening. "I’ve been looking forward to this show and seeing all of you this year, so doing this breaks my heart," she wrote in a post on her Instagram page. "However, it’s important to always put your family first… and that’s the decision I had to make." That does not sound good.
So what was going on that prompted the cancellation? "A couple of months ago, my father was hospitalized and almost died," she continued, the cause being a ruptured colon, according to The New York Times. "We’re all so grateful that he came out of it alive, but he still has a long road ahead of him." To that end, Spears made the decision to focus on her family, and put her career on hold. That’s a totally understandable decision, boo.
Putting her mental health first
After putting her second Las Vegas residency on hold in January of 2019, there was another new development in Spears’ personal life. In March of 2019, upset about her father’s health condition, she was admitted into a mental health facility, according to TMZ. The outlet reported that Spear’s father has had two surgeries in an attempt to curtail the issues he’s having with his intestines and colon, but is experiencing complications, and doesn’t appear to be getting any better, for now. Ugh, that sounds just horrible, and our thoughts go out to everyone in their family.
Spears took to Instagram to update her fans, and let everyone know how she’s doing. "Fall in love with taking care of yourself, mind, body, spirit," reads the post, accompanied by the caption, "We all need to take time for a little ‘me time,’ accompanied by a smiley face. Hang in there, girl!