If you were born before 1996, you're probably old enough to remember when Britney Spears hit the charts with "...Baby One More Time."
At the time of its release, the late '90s was experiencing a resurgence in pop music. Gone were the days of dreary Seattle grunge music; pop music was taking the airwaves by storm. Pop groups like The Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls were hitting number one on the charts, and pop divas like Britney Spears were making their debut into the world. "Baby's" infectious lyrics and its accompanying schoolgirl fantasy music video catapulted Spears into stardom, turning her into pop's biggest discovery since Madonna. She became Pop's golden girl, the untouchable diva in all her glory. All anyone could talk about was Britney. As a young gay kid in the late 90's, her image appealed to me so much. I remember wanting to tie my shirts up to bare my midriff as she did and have a headset microphone on my person at all times.
However, as Britney matured into a young woman, people (especially parents) started to take sharp jabs at her. When she released the self-titled album "Britney" in 2001, people had thought she went too far. For this album, Britney presented herself as a sexually liberated young woman who was coming into her own, casting off the shackles of teen stardom. The video for "I'm A Slave 4 U" was one the first of many scandals that would be associated with Britney as it portrayed her in far more provocative situations than previously shown. The controversy only continued when she performed the song at the VMA's, scantily clad with a python draped over her shoulders. This was when Britney became BRITNEY. She was at the top of her game, a force to be reckoned with. She was growing with her fans and with the demands of the times: sexier, raunchier, and more grown-up.
And then came 2007.
Fast forward to 2007, and it seems Britney had gone off the deep end. She had divorced husband K-Fed and was displaying increasingly erratic behavior: partying too much, wearing no underwear, and driving with her young son balancing in her lap. This behavior finally came to a culmination when Spears went into a Beverly Hills beauty salon and shaved herself bald. For many, this became a cruel joke. She was relentlessly hunted by the paparazzi, to a point where Spears actually attacked a photographer's car with an umbrella. I remember seeing the photographs of Spears attacking the car, the look of rage upon her usually sweet features. Then came the disastrous VMA's performance where she performed "Gimmie More" in a haze, her high energy replaced by a sort of apathy.
When you're a young person watching such a public breakdown, you have to wonder if there was something deeper going on. When she was going through her breakdown, I remember vehemently defending her from people who sought to sully her image. I remember vividly seeing the photos of her in Rolling Stone magazine, disheveled and crying, outside of her Beverly Hills home. When you see an image like that at a young age, it's hard to imagine what she was going through. I think if she had gone through her breakdown into today's day and age, where we have a better understanding of mental health, she would've been humanized. She wouldn't have been made into a joke or called crazy; there would be a genuine concern for her.
Seeing where Brit Brit is now and thinking about what she went through, reminds me of how important it is to speak out about mental health. Had she not gotten the help she needed, she probably wouldn't even be here today. Pop stars may change over time but one thing is for sure: there will never, ever be another Miss Britney Jean Spears.