Two pairs of lips, a little tongue. Nothing odd for cable television, even if it was two women. Still, when Britney Spears kissed Madonna on the MTV Video Music Awards — a lip lock that seemed designed to prove that both women were still capable of causing a sensation — it became head line news. "Tonsil hockey," leered the New York Daily News. "Booty bouncing," seconded the New York Post. "Sorry," said the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which had to apologize after outraged readers objected to a Page One photo of the kiss.
Even CNN's Crossfire got into the act, featuring Spears one-on-one with Tucker Carlson — a bow-tie-wearing conservative better known for sparring 'with the likes of Hillary Clinton. Spears said that, no, she'd never kissed a woman before, and, yes, maybe she would again, if it was Madonna. She also revealed that the kiss had been rehearsed, and all involved had agreed to see how it felt in the moment. Though she denies it, even more was rehearsed: Madonna playfully slapping Spears' ass — a moment that didn't make it on the air.
"I flew to London from New York, and I couldn't believe it was all over the papers there," says Spears. "It's crazy and it's bizarre, but it's also kind of amazing." And it's the first step in launching Spears' return after a year's layoff, a prelude to an appearance on the football-season pre-show NFL Kickoff Live, just a week later, and the upcoming release of a new single and video. The question that remains for Spears is, do people still care about the music? Or is she becoming more famous for stunts like this?
"I'm not gonna come out on this record and show my crotch or anything," she says. "That's not me. I would never do anything like that. It's all in the way you do stuff, all in the way you carry things. The music is most important to me."
Still, it's undeniable that, as the former Mouseketeer has inched past the age of consent, she's had a much bumpier career ride. Her last album, Britney, sold 4 million copies — not a flop, by any means, but considered a disappointment when compared with her previous two albums, which sold a combined 22 million copies. Then came her feature-film debut, Crossroads, which was mostly ignored by her fans and widely reviled by critics. In August 2002, Spears announced a hiatus.
"Why the hell did I say that?" she asks today. "That was so fucking stupid. But honestly? I thought I could chill out for a while and be a normal person."
Unfortunately for Spears, her break proved neither normal nor especially chill. She suffered the highest-profile of breakups with her longtime boyfriend, Justin Timberlake, who implied she cheated on him, cast a Britney look-alike in his "Cry Me a River" video and crudely spoke about their sex life in a radio interview. Spears' New York restaurant, Nyla, closed after seven months, in the wake of a slew of bad press and health-code violations. Meanwhile, stories circulated about Spears the party girl. Star magazine alleged that she snorted cocaine in a nightclub. Spears denied the story through a representative, though she later told Star, "Let's just say you reach a point in your life when you are curious." Perhaps the low point came when Fred Durst appeared on the Howard Stern Show to share an extremely graphic kiss-and-tell, including descriptions of Spears' pubic hair. The mental image of the balding, goateed Limp Bizkit singer getting it on with America's jailbait sweetheart was, with the possible exception of those death photos of Uday and Qusay Hussein, easily the year's most disturbing.
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