In January of this year, Britney Spears found her life and career in transition again: On the same day, she announced that she would not be continuing as a judge on Simon Cowell's X Factor, and that she and fiance Jason Trawick were splitting up. The breakup was complicated by the fact that Trawick, a talent agent, also had been legally named one of Spears' co-conservators – a supervisor, along with Spears' father, Jamie, of the singer's personal affairs, approved by the L.A. County judge who has presided over her life since her breakdown in 2007.
Now, with Trawick out of the picture, Spears seems to be asserting herself on her new album, Britney Jean, out in December: "After having a huge breakup this year, I had a lot to say in the studio," she said this fall. At the center of the new album is Will.i.am (who collaborated with Spears last year on the hit single "Scream & Shout"). Over the course of two months this past spring, Spears and the Black Eyed Peas leader met up for a series of long lunches in Los Angeles.
"It really became like Will quasi-interviewing her," says Spears' longtime manager, Larry Rudolph. Adds Will.i.am, "I would ask her questions about her trials, tribulations, relationships." Spears told Rudolph, "I want Will to be a central figure in the album; I don't want to have hundreds of songs sent over."
Will.i.am ended up executive-producing Britney Jean. "Sometimes I'd write songs; some of them came from other people. But Britney wrote a lot of the songs." Australian hitmaker Sia contributed heavily to the single "Perfume," a track she penned with Katy Perry titled "Passenger" and an uplifting midtempo number called "Brightest Morning Star." "Britney was extremely sweet," says Sia. "She came in with the title 'Brightest Morning Star' and told me that's how Jesus found his way. She wanted to write a kind of gospel song that wasn't ramming it down your throat." David Guetta, Diplo and William Orbit also wrote and/or produced songs.
Instead of touring, Spears will kick off her two-year Las Vegas residency at the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino on December 27th, playing 48 shows a year, for a reported payday of $30 million. The 90-minute show, Britney: Piece of Me, will feature a retrospective of hits, plus a few songs from the new album. The venue itself is small by Spears standards, holding only 4,650 people; ticket prices will start at $59, and stretch up to $3,000 group VIP packages. "We want you dancing and having a good time," says the show's director, Baz Halpin. "There will be bottle service, and we even have a later start time than a regular Vegas show."
Rudolph says that the Vegas run fits into Spears' family life. (Her sons, Sean Preston and Jayden James, are eight and seven, respectively.) "Now that she's a mother, it's a whole lot less wear and tear on her," he says. "It's a thing that can continue for a while pretty effortlessly. Right now, she's committed to the idea of getting out there and killing it."
This story is from the December 5th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.