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Britney Spears



Britney Spears

More than any other single artist,
Britney Spears was the driving force behind the return of teen pop in the late '90s. The blockbuster success of the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys certainly paved the way for her own commercial breakthrough, but Spears didn't just become a star -- she was a bona fide pop phenomenon. Not only did she sell millions of records, she was a media fixture regardless of what she was (or wasn't) doing; among female singers of the era (many of whom followed in her footsteps), her celebrity star power was rivaled only by Jennifer Lopez. From the outset, Spears' sex appeal was an important part of her image; the video for her debut single, "...Baby One More Time," outfitted her in full Catholic-school regalia, and sent her well on the way to becoming an international sex symbol.

Yet Spears' handlers seemed to be trying to have it both ways -- there was a definite tension between the wholesome innocence Spears tried to project for her female audience, and the titillating sexuality that enticed so many male fans. Those marketing tactics made Spears a somewhat controversial figure, the subject of endless debates concerning appropriate role models for teenage girls. Early on, Spears tried to defuse the controversy by preaching abstinence until marriage, and even denied that she was consciously cultivating such a sexualized image. Of course, the more provocative and revealing her on-stage wardrobe became, the less plausible that claim seemed. But apart from her ability to tiptoe the line between virginal coquette and brazen tart, Spears had a secret weapon in Swedish pop mastermind Max Martin, who had a hand in the vast majority of her hits as a writer and/or producer. With Martin crafting the sort of contemporary dance-pop and sentimental ballads that made stars of the Backstreet Boys, Spears kept on delivering the goods commercially, as her first three albums all topped the charts.

Britney Jean Spears was born December 2, 1981, in the small town of Kentwood, LA, and began performing as a singer and dancer at a young age. With a nationally televised appearance on Star Search already under her belt, Spears auditioned for the Disney Channel's The New Mickey Mouse Club at age eight. The producers turned her down as too young, but one of them took an interest and introduced her to an agent in New York. Spears spent the next three years studying at the Professional Performing Arts School, and also appeared in several television commercials and off-Broadway plays. At 11, she returned to The New Mickey Mouse Club for a second audition, and this time made the cut. Although her fellow Mouseketeers included an impressive array of future stars -- *NSYNC's Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez, Christina Aguilera, and Felicity actress Keri Russell -- the show was canceled after Spears' second season. She returned to New York at age 15 and set about auditioning for pop bands and recording demo tapes, one of which eventually landed her a deal with Jive Records.

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