By the time Britney Spears’ memoir The Woman in Me dropped Tuesday morning, much had already been said — by critics, by the tabloids and by Spears herself, often railing against the former — about the contents of the highly anticipated book. In an excerpt and People cover story, Spears spoke about effects of her decade-plus conservatorship and revealed that she had an abortion during her relationship with Justin Timberlake. When The New York Times managed to get a copy from a bookstore ahead of publication, key facts about the couple’s breakup were revealed: He did it via text message, and an ensuing interview with Diane Sawyer was one of several “breaking points” for Spears. The Daily Mail even dug up a previously unreleased audition tape for The Notebook — a role that famously went to Rachel McAdams. Throughout these prepublication reveals, Spears took to her Instagram (which she has often used to speak publicly and uninhibitedly) to call out the press for its “dumb” and “silly” headlines and make it clear that she did not write the memoir with the intent to offend.
Given all of this, it’s with a bit of trepidation that I cracked open my copy of The Woman in Me (obtained, I’d like to note, in a manner entirely above board). Would there be anything left to say about the book that hasn’t already been dissected, a headline that wouldn’t add to the cacophony of Spears-labeled stupidity? To me, the value of Spears’ memoir is both as a historical record of the injustices done to her and an exercise, for the reader, in empathy — it’s impossible to finish this book without developing complicated feelings about what the entertainment industry does to young women, and what we as her fans were able to overlook for decades as we enjoyed her music. Below, a few of the moments (both light and dark) that stood out most.
More from The Hollywood Reporter
Spears was an extremely passive participant in her own star-making
During chapters about her early days, she describes wanting more than the life she had in Kentwood, Louisiana, and recalls loving her time singing and dancing on The Mickey Mouse Club, but it’s clear she never fully understood what she was signing up for on her way to fame. She says of meeting with the founder of Jive Records — who would eventually sign Spears to her first record deal — at 15: “I was just visiting these people Larry [Rudolph] told me to meet with.” When she started working with prolific producer Max Martin, she says, “I flew to Sweden to record songs, but I barely registered the difference between there and New Jersey; I was just in another booth.”
She turned down a role in the film Chicago
In addition to The Notebook, Spears had the opportunity to join another high-profile movie. Producers and executives pursued her for a role in the 2002 film (which starred Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger), but she writes of not wanting to be distracted from her studio music career. She reflects that she regrets not taking it and that she wishes she used the power she had back then to be “more rebellious” in her decision-making.
Madonna helped Britney through another dark period in the post-Timberlake breakup
Madonna was one of the only visitors to a New York City apartment Spears was renting, and she initiated her into Kabbalah with a red-string ceremony, gifting her a trunk full of Zohar books. She describes these interactions as leading directly to their joint VMA performance and collaboration on “Me Against the Music.”
The album Blackouts is the work she is most proud of
But Spears has dark memories about her MTV Video Music Awards performance of single “Gimme More.” Her team pressured her into the gig, and she was dealing with the trauma of a custody battle and sleepless nights. “It was less than a year since I’d had my second baby in two years but everyone was acting like my not having six-pack abs was offensive.” To make matters worse, she believes Justin Timberlake gave one of his career-best performances (alongside Nelly Furtado and Timbaland) that night.
The vocal fry in “… Baby One More Time” was inspired by Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”
Spears stayed up late before recording so that her voice was “gravelly” from exhaustion. The original proposed concept for the music video was a futuristic astronaut scene, with Spears in a Power Rangers-esque outfit; luckily for all, she suggested the high school set instead.
She is constantly asked when she’s going to put on shows again
“I confess that I’m struggling with that question,” she writes at the end of the memoir, noting that she is finally enjoying singing and dancing the way that she used to when she was young — for now, she does it for joy and not for money.
The book is littered with men behaving badly
Most of it we already know — Jamie Spears’ alcoholism, abuse and control; Kevin Federline’s manipulation — but a few points struck me anew.
Jamie Spears made $16,000 a month during Britney’s conservatorship, becoming a multimillionaire at the expense of his daughter. During her 2013 Las Vegas residency, he placed her on a strict diet, and she “ate almost nothing but chicken and canned vegetables.”
Ed McMahon hit on a 10-year-old Spears during her run on Star Search, telling her she had pretty eyes and asking if she had a boyfriend. “I kept it together until I made it backstage,” she writes. “But then I burst into tears. Afterward, my mom got me a hot fudge sundae.”
Andrew Wallet, the lawyer who oversaw Spears’ conservatorship, alongside her father, was “eventually paid $426,000 a year for keeping me from my own money.”
Justin Timberlake had a habit of using blaccent and AAVE (African American Vernacular English) during the NYSNC days. During a chance encounter with Ginuwine on the streets of New York, he allegedly said “Oh yeah, fo shiz, fo shiz! Ginuwiiiiine! What’s up, homie?” He also broke up with Spears via text message while she was on the set of the “Overprotected” remix music video; she went home to Louisiana to recover from the shock, and he flew out to see her, bringing with him a letter he’d written and had framed that ended with the line, “I can’t breathe without you.” That made the music video for “Cry Me a River,” in which Timberlake acted opposite a woman who looked just like Spears, all the more painful for the singer. “There’s always been more leeway in Hollywood for men than for women,” she writes of their post-breakup period, in which she was painted as the harlot who broke his heart. “And I see how men are encouraged to talk trash about women in order to become famous and powerful. But I was shattered.” (She does note her appreciation for the way he spoke publicly about their sexual relationship, as it saved her from having to “come out” as a non-virgin.)
Best of The Hollywood Reporter