Britney Spears has become a pop icon. Now she wants more. Britney has grown up, no longer singing about being so innocent or cute. Life is now more complicated and her latest release, Britney, goes deep inside of the world that Britney is living today. Parents and kids may not like it, but the facts are clear: this is a new Britney, like it or not.
Here is our interview with Britney. We cover her latest album, music in general, touring, and life.
I wonder if you’ve thought about the message you send to young girls. I see them looking at you and I wonder if you worry about them or think at all about them getting this message of sexuality at a pre-sexualized age?
First, I’m very flattered that young kids look up to me because the innocence of them is a really beautiful thing. But I think it’s honestly up to their parents to explain to them that I’m a performer, and that when I’m onstage that’s my time to perform and express myself. But I don’t wear those clothes to the supermarket or to a ballgame and, little kids, just like when they go into their mom’s closet and they dress up in their mom’s clothes, it’s fine and fun, and it’s like their time to play at home. But, you know, that’s not what they’re supposed to wear out into reality in the real world.
I noticed that you did a lot more writing on the album compared to your last album. I was wondering what that experience was like for you.
Actually, this album is the first album that I’ve ever really written on and really took my time on, so when I actually listened to the whole album, it’s just that much more special because you put your heart all over it. And it’s like your baby. And even just performing, like I’m at the rehearsals right now, and when I get to get onstage and I get to sing a song that I wrote, it just means so much more, you know, when it comes from you. I don’t know if I’m the best songwriter in the world, but I had a lot of fun doing it. And hopefully I’ll get better and grow.
Can you describe to me the process you went through writing? How did that work? Did you do it with other people?
Well, really Josh and Brian, these really crazy young guys with the biggest personalities in the world, they work for Jive, and they came to the studio. And I guess because of their young energy and they’re really new at the whole game, Jive probably knew that our personalities would fit. So of course we got together and we just hit it off, and some days we come to the studio, and if the vibe wasn’t right, we wouldn’t write anything. But sometimes we come in the studio and we’d write three songs. I mean, sometimes I would come up with a melody. Well, most of the time I came up with the melody and words, and they would come up with the track, but sometimes I would just come up with a concept and then they would come up with a melody or vice-versa. It was just kind of whatever the person was feeling at the time.
I was curious about the mindset going into this record because it really reads like a declaration of dependence from adolescence or something. And tell me a little bit about the concept that you had going in or if you even had a concept going in.
I really didn’t have a concept going in. I was really inspired by a lot of hip-hop and R&B when I was on tour before I even recorded the album. And so that’s why I changed up the producers I worked with a little bit, just to incorporate that in it a little bit. I go into the studio, and whatever vibe we were feeling at the time, whatever I was going through at the moment, that’s how I kind of express myself.
Can you talk a little bit about the song “What It’s Like To Be Me”, how that came about and how that felt to record it?
Actually Wade Robson, the director of my tour, and Justin, my boyfriend, they wrote the song for me. I went to the studio and they had the track ready for me. I just laid the vocals down. But the song isn’t specifically about what it’s like to be me. It’s talking about a girl in a relationship and the boy doesn’t understand what she’s going through. Before she’s going to open up to him, he has to realize what she’s about. So that’s what the song’s about.
You talked about Justin, “What It’s Like To Be Me”. Could you talk a little bit more or elaborate a little bit more on his influence on the record, either directly or indirectly?
Well, he wrote that one song on the record. But as far as the other stuff, he is a busybody himself, so I try not to bother him too much with the stuff that I do. But if I had something to ask him, his opinion, whatever he thinks and whatever his opinion is means a lot to me. I mean, he’s everything to me. So I’m always asking him if I have something that’s really weighing on my mind, he’s always there for me. But other than that, he really didn’t have that much input on this record. But definitely on my next one, hopefully he’ll have a lot more.
With this record, were you trying to get away from the old sound and into a more edgy kind of thing?
Really, this album I’ve been really inspired by a lot of hip-hop and R&B, so when I went to this record, before I was even recording it I was going to clubs and stuff, the music that was really standing out for me was the Neptunes. Every time a song came on by them I was just like, ‘Man, I have got to get up and dance.’ So, you know, ‘Nsync had worked with them and I told Jive that I think I really want to work with them. So I went in with the studio with Pherrell and Chad, and they are the funniest guys in the whole world to work with. Such really funny guys and we actually recorded a ballad first, a beautiful folk song that didn’t make the album. It’ll probably go on the next album. But we recorded some songs together and we just hit it off and the music that they do for me is just kind of where I’m at right now. It really suits me and who I am and that’s the reason why that we made it the first single because the song just really stood out, “I’m A Slave For You”, and so it just kind of worked.
You say hell and damn an awful lot on this record. What about parents who don’t want their kids to hear that?
I guess they just shouldn’t buy the album. And honestly, when I say hell and damn, I say it out of frustration in my songs. It’s not like a normal term of endearment that I use all the time.
You said at one point in this interview that you wanted people to come away from your show with an idea of who you really are, but earlier you said that it’s up to parents to explain that you’re a performer and you kind of compared it to little kids playing dress-up and sort of said that’s not really how you are, the way you projected on the stage and in video. Is that a bit of a contradiction?
Well, there are parts in the show where I do get really personal and I sit down and I sing, and like as far as “I’m Not A Girl Not Yet A Woman”. But there are parts of the show as well where I am being a performer. I’m putting on a show, you know, and I’m dancing and there’s a song where it’s very – how can I say it? – rock and roll, very edgy where I’m kind of hitting guys around because I’m mad at them. And it’s not like abusive or anything but it’s a show, it’s theatrical. I wouldn’t really do that in real life, but the show definitely has levels of emotion like that. And some of them are false emotions. I mean, they’re all real, but it’s not something that I can relate to really at that point and at that moment, but there are songs that I can.
What was the most challenging aspect of recording this third album?
Most challenging aspect? I’d say I was really nervous when I first went into the studio because I was like, can I even write? But it was a lot simpler than what I thought. I just sat with people who made me feel really comfortable, and I had a lot of time for this album and the last two albums I did I didn’t. So this was probably been the most laid-back process in making an album that I’ve had. So I’ve really been blessed in that, seriously. So it really hasn’t been that complicated. Well, probably the most complicated thing was when we all sat down and we had to pick out the songs, because I recorded like twenty-three songs, to pick out the ones that were going to make the album. So many people were like, ‘I like this one, I like that one,’ but we all definitely came to an agreement.
On your album there tends to be some rock and R&B. I was wondering if this is a new direction for you and who inspired you to do it?
I don’t think I’ll ever be hardcore R&B. I don’t know who knows what I’ll be like tomorrow, but for this album I was really inspired by [Daisy] and The Neptunes, those were the two people I really listened to. I just love their tracks and, like I said though, right now that’s not where I am, to be hardcore, but I definitely wanted to incorporate a little bit into it just to make it a little bit nastier and funkier.
I’m kind of curious about the label’s reactions to the material on this record and how you guys worked out trying to market this material differently.
Oh. I just do the creative side of things. I don’t know how they market anything. I just kind of let them do their job and I do mine. Hello?
Which song is closest to your heart of the new stuff, like on a personal level, and can you explain why?
Probably “I’m Not A Girl Not Yet A Woman”, it’s just really where I’m at right now, and probably just in between stages of your life where you are I think as a teenager and something I can really relate to.
Why call this album Britney? Do you feel like you’re reinventing yourself or re-introducing yourself?
I think a lot of people on their first album prefer that they use their first names but I just think that this album is really a reflection of me and I just thought the simplicity of Britney fit.
I think that no matter how well this album and tour do, and no matter how much you’ve grown as an artist, you’re going to have critics, some of whom are going to continue to rip you for what you’re wearing and how you’re dancing. I’m just wondering how frustrating is that at this point? Are you desensitized or does it still hurt as much?
I’m not really here to please the critics. I’m here to please my fans, so that’s what they are, they’re here to criticize people, so who cares about them. I just want to please my fans and hopefully they’ll see beyond them and see me for who I am.
You were hoping that some older listeners would perhaps pick up this album and have some respect for it. It made me wonder, are you prepared to leave the pre-teen fans behind?
No, that’s not my intention, to leave my young fans, definitely no. I just want an older generation maybe to pick up on it as well and have it all. That would be nice.
How do you deal with the pressure of selling a lot of records?
It’s kind of hard to top something like Baby One More Time and Ooops. And honestly, I pray that it does something like that, but my expectations aren’t really there. I know this album is probably going to be a growth record for me. I just want people to buy it and maybe even like an older generation, maybe buy it and just have respect for it.
You seem to have a lot of admiration for Cher. Could you talk a little bit about the connection that you have with her or that admiration?
Oh, just me being inspired by her? Well, first of all, since I was a little girl, “If I Could Turn Back Time”, I used to sing that all the time. I was the entertainment for everyone’s wedding, singing that song for the after party after the wedding. And I’ve always loved her voice. She has such a soulful voice. And I’m a performer as well. When she puts on a show she’s all about the costumes and the beautiful hair. And she’s such a beautiful person. I met her at the MTV Europe Awards. And it’s really great to know someone that you’re inspired by, when you meet them they’re actually cool, you know. So when they asked me who would you like to do a duet with, I would say please do it with Cher because we made this, you know, “The Beat Goes On”. Then when I found out like three weeks ago she wasn’t going to be able to, I was really disappointed. But I understand. She’s a busy woman, so she’s got to do what she’s got to do.
I’m curious if Janet Jackson was an inspiration or something that was in the back of your head because you’re definitely moving to a more adult phase of your career, and if you’ve used that at all as an inspiration?
Oh my God, I’ve always been majorly inspired by Janet and everything that she does. But really with this album, I really just went by what I was feeling at the time and what I was going through. And through that, that’s how we came up with all the songs. It was just really a reflection of what my momma’s going through personally, you know.
With all the people that are in your genre, like Mandy Moore and Willa Ford and Jessica Simpson, do you admire any of them or how do you feel about them and their music?
No, I think they’re all very cool. Anybody who’s out there fulfilling their dream and working hard and doing what they love, I think that’s a beautiful thing. So I definitely think that’s very cool.
The people who bought your first record when they were thirteen or fourteen, now they’re sixteen or seventeen, do you consciously try to kind of stay ahead of the curve as your audience grows older? I mean, do you think to yourself, ‘I need to make a record that will appeal to people who are now in their late teens who may have first liked me when they were in their mid or early teens’?
Really, maybe I should think that deep. But honestly, I think when you grow as a person, you’re going to grow as an artist as well. And I just think for this, my third album, I had to grow creatively. And I couldn’t do like “Baby One More Time” number three, you know. So for me as a person, I just had to change it up a little bit and just pray that people will think that’s cool or appreciate or really love my music.
I know you flew in to Philadelphia on a private jet to see Madonna’s show. I’m wondering what you took away from seeing her, whether you learned anything in terms of the way she deals with the audience, has contact with the audience. And what it was like to deal with her backstage?
She was very sweet. Actually, her daughter came into the waiting room first, and she is so beautiful, like the most beautiful little girl you’ve ever seen in your life. And she walked in and she was just so cute. And so then like, ‘You want to come see my mommy?’ I was like, ‘Okay, sure.’ So I walked in and I met Madonna and she was very, very cool. She was really, really sweet. We didn’t have a long chat because she had to go onstage and stuff, but her show of course was amazing and I was very inspired. But as far as her show and my show, my show is totally different from her show. Just her as a performer, she was an inspiration to watch, the way she handles the audience.
Your film Crossroads is coming out in February and I was wondering how many songs of yours will be on the soundtrack and what attracted you to the script?
“I Love Rock And Roll” is on it and “Overprotected”, but I don’t think there’s going to be a soundtrack, honestly. But the thing that attracted me to the script, really the whole concept of divinity was my idea, and we got a writer, I talked to a writer and I told her what I wanted the story to be about and she completely elaborated on it. It’s one of the scripts that I read and it was like my little project, something that when I think that you do a movie you can’t just do a movie, you have to be really passionate about it. And I had been having a lot of offers and stuff and really cool scripts, but it was just something I felt like my heart was into and that’s probably why I really wanted to do it.
With all the dancing, you have new stuff on the tour, have you in the past choreographed your own stuff? And it just seems like something that you would maybe go into as being a performing entertainer.
You know, there’s parts in the show where I have to make up my own things to do. But in overall production, when we’re on stage I like to get choreographers to come in because it would be too much work, other stuff that I have to concentrate on. So it’s easier if I have someone to come in that I can trust and teach it to the dancers for me. But that is something I would love to do in the future.
You’re starting your tour late because you were sick and I was wondering, what kind of health hazards are there to avoid in your line of work? And can you say what city you’re calling from please?
Yeah, calling from Orlando right now. But honestly I am never sick, ever. I’ve probably been sick once in my life with just a little cold so when I was sick like three weeks ago I thought I was dying, I was drama queen. But I’m really, really better now and I just had a really bad virus. I just couldn’t get out of the bed.
You’re dressed like Elvis in all the ads for the Las Vegas special, so are you a big Elvis fan?
Yes, I am a really, really big Elvis fan. And I think the real reason why we did the whole Elvis thing is because he’s from Vegas. And I always thought it would be really, really fun. My family are big Elvis fans so.
On this record you cover “I Love Rock And Roll”, on your last album you covered “Satisfaction”. Why cover songs like these that are so associated with particular performers, songs that are really ingrained in people’s minds as being by those particular performers. Isn’t that kind of risky?
Well, really the song “I Love Rock And Roll” is associated with a movie that I just did. There’s a karaoke scene in the movie and they said we need a song for you to sing, and actually I sing “I Love Rock And Roll” all the time in karaoke so it just made sense for me to do that song. I wanted Rodney Jerkins to come in though and redo the track and make it really funky. And I don’t know, I just love the song. I love her and I just think she’s amazing. It’s like she’s rock and roll chick and she’s just having a good time and I don’t know I think it’s a very empowering song, so I just wanted to do it so I did.
Joan Jett actually sings “I Love Rock And Roll”.
Oh thank you, thank you. I’m such a dork. Thank you for telling me that.
You do live life a little bit like a target. What is that experience like for you?
I don’t take myself that seriously. So I just have to laugh it off when stuff like that comes up. I find it interesting they find me so interesting.
You’ve spoken many times about being placed in the proverbial role model limelight. And you said that you hate being considered a role model because you said you’re just like the kids. Ultimately though, what message would you like your fans, especially the young kids, to take from you? And how extensive do you sense that you influence the kids?
Well, I know when I was younger, I looked to people like Janet Jackson and Madonna. And they were major inspirations for me. But I also had my own identity and I knew who I was. So I think it’s very flattering for them to look up to me, definitely, but I think they should all know that in their own rights, that we’re all special. We’re all beautiful beings. And it’s very flattering, oh my goodness, that they look up to me. But I just sometimes think it’s kind of lame when someone places a label on someone as being a role model, because when I go onstage, I do my thing and I perform. And that’s my time to express myself. But when I come off, I trip and I burp and I fart, just like everybody else.
I’m just wondering, how do you balance expressing yourself in your lyrics and trying to maintain some sense of privacy? And which is more important to you when you actually sit down to write?
Seriously, this album was very therapeutic for me because it’s very cool that when you’re feeling something, that you can express it through a song, but there are still definitely a lot of songs that I write that I keep to myself. It’s hard for me honestly because I am an open person. And I’m very open toward everyone. And that’s something that I’ve had to constantly tell myself to hold back from. No, but I definitely still do keep a lot of things from myself. Oh my God, I have to.
You’re growing up in the spotlight and it’s difficult at times, when you said that you think of yourself. But what does it mean for you personally to be not a girl and not yet a woman?
Honestly, I guess it depends on what your definition of a girl and woman is. I think my definition of a girl is someone who hasn’t experienced her life at the fullest potential yet, very naive, and, you know, she’s still growing. And a woman is one who has fulfilled her life, and she has a lot of wisdom, gained all the wisdom that she needs. She’s just completely lived her life the way she needs to. And she knows herself in and out. And I think that I’m kind of right in between there. I think I’m on verge of being a woman. It is kind of hard though because since I have grown up in the spotlight, people place these things on you to be a certain way, not even necessarily my fans or anything, it’s the people around me. They treat you a certain way when you’re like sixteen or seventeen. And it’s up to you to stand up and say, ‘Okay, I need my own identity. I need to grow and be an adult and do things on my own.’ And it’s just a matter of you standing up or a matter of me standing up and saying that. And I think a lot of teenagers can relate to that because they’re going off to college, and their parents want them to grow up and be this wonderful independent person, but yet at the same time they want to feel needed. And they’re like, I want them to be my baby forever, you know. So I think it’s a teenage issue.
Do you feel like most of your fans are growing up with you and maybe you’re growing up a little bit faster and in sort of a more Technicolor way? But do you think they’ll be able to follow along rather than trying to always appeal to six-year-olds or whatever?
Honestly, I don’t know what I’ll be like tomorrow and I don’t know what they’ll be like tomorrow. I just do my thing and do what I love. And hopefully they’ll be inspired for me and listen to my music and love it, but that’s not something that I really think about.
You had said in Rolling Stone that you feel, and this was a quote, wiser and more centered and more settled and I wondered how so? In what ways?
I used to hold things in or like if I felt something I really wouldn’t say it because I wanted to be nice. And I come from the South, so I’m still very nice and polite, but if I think someone’s saying something to take advantage of me or something I’m very open and just talking and saying how I feel.
Do you sense you’re at a turning point in your career right now and how you’ll define yourself in the future and perhaps moving on to a broader audience?
I definitely think this is a turning point in my career. I think that I’m really just coming into my own and becoming the person I want to be, but honestly I really don’t like defining myself or I don’t even know how I am right now. You know, I just am, and have no idea what I’ll be like in the future. Hopefully just a good person.
+ charlie craine