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Britney Spears Finds It Hard to Be a Woman: Rolling Stone's 2003 Cover Story

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When you were working on the songs on this album, did you write much about what happened to you this past year?

Honestly? No. I just think once you start being so self-serving with your music ... I did a little bit of that with my last record, and I really didn't want to put myself out there that much.

Do you think writing about your life is self-serving? A lot of musicians write about personal things.

I understand what you're saying. But when everything is about you, I just think... Like, on this record, some of the songs, like "Brave New Girl," I can relate to that song, but it's how personal you go. This record is definitely personal to me, but it's not shockingly personal — put it that way.

So you had two songs written about you recently.

What?

Well, Justin Timberlake did "Cry Me a River," and then Fred Durst came out with "Just Drop Dead." Is there something about you that makes guys want to write nasty songs about you?

I think guys have egos, and when their egos get hurt and their pride's messed up, they deal in weird ways. And, um, I don't know, man. I really don't know. It's made me really weary of guys, I'll put it that way.

I don't want to talk about this at length, but when Justin Timberlake put out his song and video, and then later started talking publicly about your relationship, how did you react? Were you pissed off? Were you hurt?

I think I was in shock, to be honest. I didn't know what to say, what to do. That was the last thing I ever thought somebody might do. I was really shocked shitless. But you live and you learn.

Did you call him up or say anything to him?

Well, actually, [laughs] he called [laughs]. I'm gonna break it down right now, OK? You want the scoop, you want the truth? Here it is. He called me up and asked me if it was OK. I can't believe I'm telling you this right now. But who cares. He called me up and wanted to supposedly get back together or whatever, but behind it was, "And by the way, you're in a video that's coming out." That kind of got slipped in. "Don't worry about it. It's not a big deal." So the record label called and said, "If you want to change this, you can." I had the power to say no to the video. But I didn't, because I thought, "Hey, it's your video."

Had you seen it?

I hadn't seen it. Then it came out, and I said, "I should've freakin' said no to this shit!" I was so like, "Whoa. What is going on right now?" But, hey. And I said, "Why did you do this?" He goes, 'Well, I got a controversial video." And I was like, "You did. [Claps her hands, as if for a dog that just performed a trick.] Yay for you." So he got what he wanted. [Clears throat] I think it looks like such a desperate attempt, personally. But that was a great way to sell the record. He's smart [laughs]. Smart guy.

What about the Fred Durst stuff?

That's my bad for just associating myself with people like that.

I think that was the general reaction of most people. Like, "God, what was she thinking?"

Yeah. We had two days of working together. We went out one night somewhere. And I'm dating the guy now. It was news to me. So [sighs], I don't know [laughs]. I'm not doing so good with the relationships.

Was that a surprise, when he started talking about you on "Howard Stern"?

I'm really embarrassed, like I said, for associating myself with him. Honestly, I believe everyone at their core has a good heart. But something must be going on for someone to be that desperate to go on a show and talk about a girl, about someone you don't really know that well. That is, like, morally... . I'm really surprised at people. Like, holy shit, man.

A few weeks later, I see Spears once again, at her performing-arts camp, a ten-day program for children ages eleven to fifteen on Cape Cod. The camp is in its fourth year. Spears arrives on the last day to watch the kids' recital. She flew in from Los Angeles that morning, arriving at the camp at three and meeting briefly with a few of the campers. Someone whispers that she's tired, but she looks fresh-faced and extremely young. She's wearing an outfit similar to the other morning's: a flowery tank top and jeans, this time with a floppy Gilligan hat shading her round face and her long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. After crouching next to one of the camp's instructors as he demonstrates a sort of hip-hop fiddling technique, she retreats to a private cabin with her entourage. After a few moments, though, she decides there are too many people around and moves to a more secluded cabin so she can eat her Subway sandwich.

At five o'clock, when the recital begins, she appears and sits in the front row to watch the performances. She laughs during a skit in which a little boy plays Spears by miming a girl tossing her hair. When the recital is finished, she poses for photographs with groups of campers, who are quickly rushed offstage by the counselors. After answering questions from the kids for about five minutes, she heads back to her secluded cabin.

Earlier I'd asked her what she'd be doing if she wasn't at all involved in the entertainment business.

"Do you want me to be totally honest?"

Sure.

"I'd probably be a schoolteacher. I love kids."

But, of course, she is in the entertainment business, so that's a moot question. As for all of the problems that go along with her chosen career path, she seems to be trying to take a positive view. "It's funny, I hate to say it, but I love reading Us Weekly, I love reading Star magazine. It's entertaining to me, because the stuff is so not true. It's, like, the other day, they had this huge article about me finding a hair in my sandwich. We were sitting there laughing for eight hours about that shit."

During her breaks this year, she says, "I did party a little bit. But what the hell else am I gonna do? I'm a teenager. Of course, I experimented in that I partied and stuff. But that's not me. I know that. But, you know, I'd never been out that much before, and so it was kind of, like, a big deal for me to be at this club or that club. And then, all of a sudden, other people were so interested in it." She sighs, and her accent turns more Southern. "Ah don't know," she continues and chuckles. "I'm sick of talking about me now." She does not say "honestly," but she seems to mean it.

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