Before Ke$ha’s sleaziness, Gaga’s pantslessness and Christina’s “dirrty”-ness, there was Britney’s innocence.
In 1999, her Catholic schoolgirl uniform and bared 16-year-old midriff defined pop music for our generation. “…Baby One More Time,” the title track off the former Mouseketeer’s debut album, took our tweenaged lives by storm, leaving only a path of J-14 posters and overly sexified Britney clones in its wake. While our parents were up in arms over her April 1999 Rolling Stone cover, we were busy buying either the light pink or baby blue copy of her CD and blasting it on stereos bulkier than most of today’s desktop computers.
Britney Spears was the teenage girl I could only dream of being. She had an always-enthusiastic group of friends and captured the attention of the dreamiest guys — not that it mattered, however, as she infamously proclaimed, she was waiting until marriage to lose her virginity (mmhmm, suuuuure). The outfits and dance moves, far too risqué for her target audience, were all in the name of fun as long as she we knew she wasn’t going home and using those same moves in the bedroom.
The MTV darling gave birth to a whole new generation of little girls wishing to grow up and become pop singers, and these girls followed her every move, especially when she headlined her first tour in the summer of 1999. And so, I had just turned 10 when my father took me to my first concert — the Britney show in Omaha, Nebraska. I watched in awe as the masses of people streamed in, many of them wearing their own schoolgirl outfits to emulate the now-iconic video. I still remember that she opened with “(You Drive Me) Crazy” and went offstage at the end before singing “Baby One More Time” (this was when I first learned the meaning of an “encore”). I begged my dad for a shirt from the merchandise table, a too-large black tee that I wore until Britney’s screen-printed self wrinkled and peeled away. And don’t even get me started on the whole same-name thing. All of the Brittany/Brittney/Britni’s born in the late ‘80s had a special connection with Ms. Spears (and later, used her personal catchphrase: “It’s Britney, bitch”).
The Britney of ‘99 is perhaps the world’s favorite Britney: pre-Federline, pre-shaved head, pre-Christina, who could sing circles around our first pop darling. Anyone who wasn’t a starstruck preteen could easily see through her perfectly PR-managed exterior, but back then, it didn’t really matter. She was churning out saccharine Max Martin-penned tunes, and America was pumping money into all things associated with the Britney brand.
Perhaps we should all blame ourselves for the things that were to come later because in ’99, Britney was living in fantasyland. In the span of a year, she had gone from a downhome Louisiana girl to having the best-selling album by a teenage artist in the history of the world. She was supposed to be holding on to her Christian values while dry humping backup dancers on a world tour long before her classmates graduated high school.
If you’d asked most people back in the days of “…Baby One More Time” if Ms. Spears would span multiple decades and still be churning out hits in 2011, most would have likely discounted her. But as a fan since the beginning, I’m glad she’s survived the more-than-eventful journey she began back in the 20th century, and I look forward to a pretty kick-ass 20th anniversary special on MTV in 2019.