The doors open and Spears moves quickly down the hall, flanked by her team of handlers. Occasionally another team member will breeze by and Spears will bounce or spin, but mostly she moves briskly, eyes straight ahead.
This current tour is technically just a small excursion, almost an after-thought to ...Baby One More Time. The real work will begin on June 20th, once Spears gets set to embark on a fifty-three-day tour for her new album.
"It was so ridiculous, because I had one week to record half the album," says Spears of Oops!...I Did it Again. "I was so busy. And then I went to L.A. for the Grammys, and I recorded the other half of it. It was just boom, boom boom."
"Oops!...I Did it Again" is about romantic misunderstanding (she made him believe she wanted to be more than just friends). The proclamation that the singer is "not that innocent" is sure to turn a few heads. There is also an R&B cover of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," a few ballads and "Dear Diary," Spears' first effort as a songwriter.
"It has all kinds of different moods," Spears says of Oops!... I Did it Again. "Some of the sounds on this album are just out of this world, stuff that people would never expect me to do. It's so diverse. People ask if I feel pressure because... Baby One More Time did so well, and, well, yeah, I do. It's hard to top that, but I'm off to a good start with the stuff I've recorded. It's better."
Spears reaches the dressing room, and her handlers disperse. A moment later, she and Culotta slip inside.
"The new album is really hot, but I just know how much better it could be," she continues. "I think about the third album, and I'm so excited because I know I'll be able to have, like, six months. I want to be able to be in the studio 24/7 and just do my thing. I won't be having to do the commercials and all that. I'll just be motivated by one thing."
In the meantime, there is the tour. And movie offers. Recently, Spears met with a team of writers about potential scripts. She likes the idea of updating Roman Holiday or Dirty Dancing. Agents and acting coaches hand her their cards every time she attends an event. Yesterday, producers called to discuss Spears' starring in Grease 3. "I really want to get into films," she says.
It is sixty minutes to show time. You step out of the dressing room to allow Spears the one hour of scheduled quiet in her day. As you do, her bodyguard pulls a chair in front of her door and sits silently, guarding her privacy.
It is near the end of the final interview when you ask Spears which of her qualities she'd most like to see portrayed in an article.
"I don't want to say," she says. "Why don't you tell me what you think of me?"
You strike a deal: that she will tell you her ideas if you, in turn, tell her yours.
"OK," she says, sitting up on her hotel bed. "I'm someone who's really focused. This isn't all fun and play."
She pulls her knees to her chest and rocks.
"The reason why I say that is that in the interview in People magazine, when people write back after the article, they wrote the most hurtful things ever," says Spears. "The interviewer made it seem like all I talked about was Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck, which isn't true at all. So they wrote all these degrading things. I'm really serious about what I do. And I'm someone who is down-to-earth and comes from a good family. I love my family...."
She stares at the bedspread for a moment.
"OK," she says. "Your turn."
You start slowly, saying that you agree with much of what she said — that she is sweet and hardworking and down-to-earth. You also tell her that she seems very lonely.
There is a long pause.
"I think you're right," she finally says. "Keep going."
You tell her that it seems as if part of her wants to be a normal kid, yet being a normal kid has always been boring to her. That she loves where she's from but doesn't want to live there, and, together, this makes her feel guilty.
"That's just right," says Spears. "I want to be by my family, but I don't think I can live there. I'm so used to all these things that these other places have to offer, so I would be miserable there."
Again her voice trails off. You ask her if she's scared that, by wanting her current life, she's alienating the people who are closest to her in the world. She musters a smile.
"That's so right, it's scary," she says.
When Spears' concert finally starts, it begins in a school setting, but things soon devolve in ways that are not particularly scholarly. There are students talking back in class, explosions and erotic dancing. At one point, Spears flies halfway across the auditorium on a makeshift magic carpet.
It is a short set: one hour, nine songs, five costumes. Spears works the crowd with charm and poise, dancing and singing with a childlike abandon.
One of Spears' tour sponsors is Polaroid, which is headquartered in nearby Boston, and at one point, midshow, Spears walks to the drum riser and grabs one of the company's products.
"I want to take y'all's picture," she says to the crowd. "I'm making a scrapbook of every place I visit. Let me just take a few pictures with my brand-new Polaroid camera."
The children in the crowd scream and shove, struggling to be part of the special moment. Later, when Culotta tells this story to Spears' manager, they will both have looks of awe. "She's so smooth," Culotta will say. "She's a pro," he will agree. But for the moment, Spears stands before her fans, camera in hand.
"Say cheese," she says.
In a flash Spears is back to work, moving in time with her dancers. When the show finally ends with ". . . Baby One More Time," the audience goes wild.
Spears says her thank yous and rushes offstage, straight to the parking facility, where her bus sits idling. She jumps onboard, still sweaty from the performance, and before her fans have even left their seats, Spears is on the road, a police escort leading the way. Some time during the night, she will be told that she has been asked to both host and perform on the May 13th Saturday Night Live, but, for now, Spears is simply in motion. It is a nine-hour drive to Baltimore, where tomorrow, Spears will repeat the events of today almost point by point. She is eighteen years old, and this may be her only moment, so she is working like there's no tomorrow.
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