The Woman In Me — Britney Spears
Back in the autumn of 2003, Chuck Klosterman interviewed Britney Spears just after the cultural “bombshell” dropped that she had, indeed, lost her virginity to Justin Timberlake (3 years prior, at age 18). The story starts with an anecdote about how Brit has no pants on for her Esquire magazine cover photoshoot, but over the course of the conversation Brit—22 at the time and about to drop In the Zone, her fourth studio album (the one with Toxic on it)—denies seeing herself as a sexual object, admits magazines miiiiiiiight put photos of scantily clad women on the covers to sell more magazines but says “a better reason, the one I choose, is that they do it to inspire people.” And deftly dodges any questions about her image, iconography, Timberlake, or sexuality in general.
“The Western world has always been fixated with the eroticism of purity,” Klosterman writes, “and no one has ever packaged that schism like Britney Spears…What makes her different is her abject unwillingness to admit that this paradox exists at all. She never winks, she never cracks, and she never relents from her abject naïveté… And suddenly, something becomes painfully clear: either Britney Spears is the least self-aware person I’ve ever met, or she’s way, way, savvier than I shall ever be.
Or maybe both.”
As Britney fans, we never really got the opportunity to find out. Just two months after Klosterman’s article was published in Esquire magazine Brit got hammered and married (then quickly unmarried) on a whirlwind trip to Vegas. Six months later she was engaged to a dancer/deadbeat dad she’d only known three months… and, well, we all know the rest.
Or do we? Last month Brit served up her life story (Britney’s Version) in The Woman in Me, a 274-page autobiography that offers a different perspective on her highly publicized and globally scrutinized “unravelling” that add much-need context to her story. She also drops a few gossip bombs (though all of us already all knew Timberlake was a self-centered douche, right?), gives insight into the creative process behind some of her biggest hits, and generally peels back the curtain on a difficult and frustrating life where everyone—from record people to romantic relationships to her own immediate family—took from, used, controlled, and ultimately broke one of the most iconic performers of a generation (though the Adderall probably didn’t help).
While he’s not credited by name in the book, Page Six reports that journalist Sam Lansky came in to help Britney as a ghostwriter (this is pretty standard even for non-famous authors). Regardless, the pair has crafted prose is self-aware (“I was a bad dresser—hell, I’m still a bad dresser”) yet simple and somewhat deadpan— Britney doesn’t lean on melodramatic language, even while talking about highly dramatic situations such as being talked into (and going through with) a home abortion at age 19, or being hounded to literal tears by paparazzi any time she attempted to do anything (often with young kids in tow while stuggling with post-partum depression). She quotes Rumi with the same observational tone she uses to discuss picking out the white marble (now famous Instagram video background) floors in her home. Brit kinda just tells it how it is and shares a chuckle when she can.
Even at her own expense—there’s a line where she admits Instagram followers may have been expecting a book written in rose emojis. And let’s not kid ourselves—child stardom, a rough upbringing, shitty parents, an industry ready to exploit anything for profit, and intense public and (especially) media scrutiny of every aspect of your life (including your weight and innumerable questions about whether your breasts are real at age 18) would like drive any one of us a bit squirrelly. With this book, Britney admits it and tries to explain why.
Interestingly, her subdued, dissociative style was there even when Klosterman spoke with Britney way back in 2003.
“Had I not went into music,” she tells me, “I probably would have gone to college and become a schoolteacher. That was my dream, because I love kids. Either that, or an entertainment lawyer.”
For a moment I think it’s a joke. But it’s not a joke. But it’s brilliant. Schoolteacher, entertainment lawyer, popstar, African warlord—what’s the fucking difference?… Britney is like the little kid who freaks out Keanu Reeves in The Matrix: You say you want to bend a spoon. Well the first thing you need to realize is that there is no spoon.
And there is no Britney Spears, at least not the way we all thought or hoped. At her height, Britney was a dancing, singing, snake-caressing embodiment of the American Dream—wholesome in the streets, indecent in the sheets, rich, famous, free. The reality—the way she was treated and by whom—weaves a much darker tale. The Woman In Me is a heist story, about a stolen life.
The Chuck Klosterman Britney essay that I quoted (heavily) is available for 99 cents as a stand-alone ebook or can be found kicking off his excellent essay compilation Chuck Klosterman IV is available at your local bookstore, where you will also find Britney’s The Woman in Me. (Though people are loooooving the audiobook version because it is read by Academy Award-winner Michelle Williams and she does a really killer Justin Timberlake impression.)