Did the media drive Britney to the brink?
At 8, Britney auditioned for The Mickey Mouse Club but was deemed too young.
Her talent did not go unnoticed, though, and she was introduced to an agent who began mentoring the future star. She took acting classes and returned to Disney in 1993. She appeared in the Mickey Mouse Club for one year and attracted a small army of devoted fans.
In 1994, the Mickey Mouse Club was closed, and Britney headed home. She tried performing in a teenage band but eventually decided to go solo. She signed with Jive Records and started touring the country, opening for Backstreet Boys and NSYNC.
Four years later, Britney Spears released her debut LP, Baby One More Time, which became an instant hit. Her tracks were in heavy rotation on the radio, and critics were heaping praise on her. They were calling her an angel and the queen of pop.
But the media soon turned against her, and Justin Timberlake played a role in it. He doesn't deny it and has repeatedly apologised for inadvertently setting media vultures loose on Britney.
Cry me a River
When Britney hooked up with Justine, the media wouldn't stop talking about them. They were the most hotly discussed young celebrity couple at the time. Many fans still look back on those days with nostalgia.
When they broke up, Timberlake released a bunch of tracks about it. Cry me a River topped all the charts and made Timberlake a successful solo act.
The problem is that the track openly alludes to Britney's infidelity, without calling her by name, of course.
Timberlake also released other songs which dashed to bits the angel girl image Spears had been working so hard to maintain. Naturally, everyone, including the media, sided with the injured party and went on a crusade against Britney.
Now, instead of praising her angel-like looks and beautiful voice, journalists started writing about the negative influence her music was having on kids. Timberlake planted in the public subconscious the idea that hiding behind Britney's pretty face was a daemon incarnate. The media ran with the narrative, taking it to the extreme, while the public lapped it up, believing every word.
Young and resilient, Britney just kept pushing through all the flak, defending her creativity and pop culture in general.
When she was accused of being a bad influence on teenagers, she said she couldn't be held accountable for raising every child in the country as that was what parents were for. She sincerely believed that she was going her own way.
But the constant harassment and bullying by the media began to take its toll, eventually leading to the infamous 2007 meltdown when Britney shaved her head and attacked a paparazzi vehicle with an umbrella. Many people were perplexed by the sudden change of image. It transpired later that Britney was fed up with constantly being sexualised and decided to deliberately make herself look ugly. Everybody interpreted it as a mental issue, though.
Today, people are more tolerant of celebrities, but back then, instead of understanding and support, all Spears got was more harassment and bullying.
Given how her father treated her, the conflict with Kevin Federline, and the way other celebrities (specifically the Paris Hilton clique) hated her, Britney simply had nobody to turn to for help and support. Under the circumstances, it's a miracle her meltdown wasn't even worse.
Since Britney was behaving erratically, a court appointed her father as her guardian. Everybody agreed it was the right thing to do under the circumstances. But Jamie Spears took advantage of his daughter to get rich. Nobody cared about that, though: now that the star's rise to fame and fall from grace generated sales for the glossy magazines, they couldn't care less about what happened to her next.
Meanwhile, Britney soon got back to work. She continued releasing new music and touring the country. And few people seemed interested in why she was not taking time off and getting professional help after suffering a severe mental breakdown.
The media didn't want to know why a woman who had officially been deemed dysfunctional was continuing to perform on stage and making millions every year. It wasn't until a decade later, with the rise of social media, that fans started sharing their suspicions that something was wrong.
Fans launched the #FreeBritney movement online, which ultimately helped Spears regain her freedom and get rid of her father's guardianship.
Today, Britney is happy to, at last, be free from her father's tyranny. She quit performing and recording, which isn't surprising, seeing how her father forced her to do both against her will for years. She's finally taking the much-needed time off to figure things out.