Sympathy For Britney

Those who know me know how much I love music. I’m often unfairly opinionated and I know that taste is subjective.

I have never cared for Britney Spears’ music.

I have never listened to one of her albums.

I have never seen her in concert.

I, like many of you, have heard most of her hit songs because, in her prime, they were all over the radio or on TV, and it was hard to escape her when she was at the peak of her popularity.

I was working in music retail when her first few albums came out and we sold those albums like crazy.

I also was not much into the boy bands of the era either with the exception of NSync because it always seemed to me as if they had more talent than Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, or any of the lesser popular knockoffs around that time.

Of course, when Britney started dating Justin Timberlake, it only made sense. Here were two of the most popular pop stars of the time who became romantically linked following their tenure together in the Mickey Mouse Club.

I have also not generally been the type of person to find pleasure in watching someone’s train wreck of a life. So, when Britney’s story became more televised because of controversy than because of her music, I wasn’t interested. I knew something must have been wrong, but just like rubbernecking when you see a car accident, at a certain point, you don’t want to see the damage that’s been done to the bodies.

And, maybe you know where this is heading.

In case you didn’t know, Britney’s autobiography came out last week and it’s been making a lot of headlines.

Initially, it didn’t strike a chord with me, despite the fact that I love music biographies and autobiographies because there are so many artists and artist stories that I’m drawn to.

The trajectory has always fascinated me.

However, despite the fact that I never was a fan of Britney or her music, there was something about her that drew my attention.

It was the fact that there always seemed to be something darker under the surface.

Much like Madonna, but in different ways, there was something controversial or unsettled behind the scenes of Britney’s popularity and the things that happened in her life after she and Justin parted ways.

Perhaps this is a reason why I have an irrational dislike for artists like Taylor Swift, who, despite her talent and jaw-dropping popularity, she is, in my opinion, the epitome of what I struggle with in modern pop music: she is safe, she is saccharine and she is completely sanitized.

Harken back to the 80s, the 90s and even the early 2000s and the most popular stars of those eras always had something lurking beneath the surface that made you feel as if they were slightly dangerous, slightly different than the rest of us: from Michael to Prince to Madonna to George Michael and to Britney. Only two of those are still alive, mind you.

Despite my initial leaning, once the book came out, I purchased a physical copy so I could have it on my shelf, but I listened to the audiobook (which was brilliantly narrated by Michelle Williams).

Bear in mind, this is not fine literature. You won’t read this and consider Britney to be a mindblowing author. But that’s not the point.

What you may find, is that this is a woman, who grew up in a very small town in the South, had a very unfortunate and often traumatic upbringing, shot to a meteoric level of fame, had, without question one of the most public and visible relationships in modern popular culture, and when it ended and blew up in her face, she (and Timberlake) were only 21 years of age.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I knew where my life and maturity level were at the age of 21 and if my life had been magnified and scrutinized the way theirs was at that age, I probably would have had something of a breakdown as well.

When you look back, as Britney takes you down that road of those personal and professional decisions she made, those otherwise strange decisions have a slightly different perspective. She admits, in her own way, that she was often confused, aloof, shattered, taken advantage of, and on some occasions under the influence of a substance (sorry, I’m trying not to ruin the book, should you decide to read it).

Her father, perhaps the most notorious and damaging influence in her life, reminds you of another tyrant father in music history, Joe Jackson. The father to not only Michael Jackson but that entire family of talented children. What you see is children, who became ungodly wealthy, and parents who stood to become wealthy too, as long as they could manipulate and guide their children no matter what it took to do so.

Like any autobiography, what you’re getting is Britney’s perspective. Maybe she left some salacious details out and maybe she was spot on. We may never know.

What is apparent to me, as someone who is not a fan and will not be going back to devour her music like I might with someone else, is that much of her story is tragedy and tragedy in a very public and embarrassing way. The silver lining is that she appears to be a very loving and devoted mother, that she still loves to perform, and that the adoration of her fanbase and the #FreeBritney clan may have been her salvation.

You’ll hear stories in the book that will break your heart. You’ll also hear stories that give you clarity for how people can make the choices they do when the paparazzi are breathing down their necks all for the sake of a juicy headline.

I know that I normally write about nutrition, training and mindset topics and, I’ve given Britney Spears’ life more attention over the last week than I have over her entire career combined. But this isn’t just about her, it’s also about mental health and the attention, we as a very curious public tend to give it.

When A-list celebrities struggle with aspects of their mental health, it’s easy for them to become the punchline of jokes. Those punchlines, then, in turn, make others question their own mental health. It can lead to people wondering if they should see a therapist, if they should even speak about their mental health struggles and how/if they would be viewed if they didn’t handle every situation in their life perfectly.

For me, the book highlighted a lot of what’s wrong with the public when they turn to celebrities simply for the need to watch the trainwreck. I don’t know where Britney’s life will go after the release of this book. I don’t know that I’ll be drawn to any new music she decides to release.

What I do know is that I have a profound amount of respect for what she’s overcome. I don’t need to follow her on social media, I don’t need to buy tickets to her concert. I just have a lot more sympathy for someone who took the time and effort to put much of the good and bad of her life into the pages of the book so that all of us could take it in.

On that note, but a far more tragic one, Sinead O’Connor’s autobiography is also worth your attention. Sinead herself narrates the audiobook and it is absolutely worth diving into that version.

It’s a reminder that for our entertainment, stardom comes at a price.

Who’s paying admission for the show?

(Photo edited from the cover of her book “The Woman In Me”)