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Britney Spears, Teen Queen: Rolling Stone's 1999 Cover Story

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According to Spears, the record that was subsequently delivered to those pliant programmers was not quite what she had envisaged. She had vaguely imagined herself singing "Sheryl Crow music, but younger — more adult contemporary," she says. Spears, however, is happy that she went along with Jive's choice of high-gloss producers and writers. "It made more sense to go pop, because I can dance to it — it's more me."

When it came time to make a promo clip for . . . Baby One More Time, Spears had to show that her Southern conviviality had its limits. Jive had hired on video director Joseph Khan, whose concept reached the storyboard stage be-fore Spears spoke up. "They had this really bizarre video idea, this animated Power Ranger-y thing," she explains. "I said, 'This is not right. If you want me to reach four-year-olds, then OK, but if you want me to reach my age group ...' So I had this idea where we're in school and bored out of our minds, and we have Catholic uniforms on. And I said, 'Why don't we have knee-highs and tie the shirts up to give it a little attitude?' — so it wouldn't be boring and cheesy." The seventeen-year-old won the day, and the rest is chart history.

Britney Spears sits in her mom's kitchen, holding an ice pack on her knee as she sips her morning coffee. Her hair is down but not messy. Hot rollers have been dutifully applied; makeup and jewelry are in place. The knee is feeling a little better, but Spears is growing impatient with her local physicians. They don't seem to understand that she's got a new video to make.

Spears hobbles out of her kitchen and down a photo-lined hallway to her old bedroom. "It's a girly room," she warns. To say the least. The tiny space, like the rest of the house, is awash in floral patterns and frills; throw cushions cover every square inch not colonized by an impressive collection of pale-faced dolls, from porcelain models to squishy plastic specimens. "I knew this would happen!" says Spears in mild exasperation. Her little sister has been trying to fashion one doll's hair into dreadlocks.

For Spears, these dolls, like Mom's abiding ban on long-distance phone calls, are reminders of an earlier life. She has no intention of going back.

The next step forward is today's trip to New Orleans, where Spears will be attended by a physical therapist from the Saints football team. While she's there, this self-confessed bad driver may test-drive a soft-curved, new model BMW like the one in her next video, for the demure "Sometimes."

Spears' highway to heaven has not been without speed bumps. First there was the threatened lawsuit against her from a man claiming to be her former manager (the case was resolved out of court). A more serious threat comes from fans who have figured out where Spears lives. Alone in the house one night, she hid from a prowler lurking at the window; her mother surprised another as he was hailing to her through a locked bedroom window. Britney's father, a construction contractor, has been forced to work in Memphis due to a slump in the Louisiana economy; Britney has taken to sleeping in her mother's bed.

Lynne Spears walks through the kitchen's French doors and into a hug from her daughter. The pair speculate about the zit that has appeared on Britney's nose. The singer nonetheless implores her mother to whip up a grilled cheese sandwich. "You go into a hotel and you'll have grilled cheeses, but they're not like your mama's," says Spears as she scarfs down the butter — fried snack. In between bites, she dips chips into a hot cheese sauce.

Brother Bryan rolls up, lugging a giant bag of boiled crawfish. He and his fiancee, Blaze, have promised to take Britney to a New Orleans bar that has a built-in waterfall. (Long before she was in the public eye, she used to tag along on drinking trips with her brother and his friends, with fake ID in hand.) "What about me? Can't I come, too?" asks Lynne Spears, pouting in mock disappointment. "Of course you can!" say the kids.

"I know how to drink," says Britney. "Me and my mom will have a glass of wine together, and that's fine. Kids are gonna drink, and the more you say, 'Don't do it,' the more they're gonna want to do it." She has, she confesses, never been inebriated. "I stop before that happens. I just sit there and go all quiet, because I hate to lose control."

Control freaks often make good pop stars, and Britney Spears is not lacking in that department. Anyway, a prosperous debut year is practically guaranteed by ... Baby One More Time, which is front-loaded with hits in several pop genres. The Max Martin tracks should come with a free insulin shot, and Eric Foster White's songs are not for the lactose intolerant ("E-mail My Heart"?), but Spears sure sells the heck out of her material. Hearing a Britney Spears song for the first time is oddly comforting, like finding a Starbucks in a strange town. Spears' record company will be disappointed if U.S. sales don't break 4 million.

For teenage tyros like Britney Spears, though, it's the sophomore year that sorts out the Boyz II Men from the New Kids. As Carson Daly says, "The loyalty factor with teens is dangerous. As quickly as they came, they will leave. But Britney should make enough money this year to not have to worry about what the teens do a year from now."

There would seem to be a finite number of available story lines for Spears. She could find gainful employment in stage musicals, as did Debbie Gibson, or even denounce pop altogether and reincarnate herself like a vengeful Alanis Morissette. Then there's Tiffany, the teen-pop sensation whose name is now synonymous with anonymous.

The way Jeff Fenster sees it, Spears has already outgrown such archetypes. "I think she's got the opportunity to become someone who combines the best elements of Madonna in terms of versatility with the serious singers she looks up to: the Whitney Houstons and Celine Dions."

Spears fancies the Madonna model, praising the singer as a "smart businesswoman" and expressing a desire to shape her own career. To date, Spears has co-authored one B side, and she often leaves fragments of songs on her answering machine. She sums up her own ambition with chilling simplicity: "I want to be big all around the world."

Whatever Britney Spears ends up "growing into," she stands today as the latest model of a classic product: the unneurotic pop star who performs her duties with vaudevillian pluck and spokesmodel charm. As Spears herself says, "It's not supposed to be in-depth — that doesn't mean I haven't worked really hard."

Then again, if you're standing in some bar ten years hence and "... Baby One More Time" comes on the jukebox, you will smile. And you will move.

It looks like ephemeral pop might even be around in ten years' time. According to one estimate, the U.S. teen population is set to rise, in the next decade, from 29 million to 36 million. In other words, resistance is futile. Teenagers are driving our culture — and they won't be giving the keys back any time soon.

Related
Britney Spears: A Life in Photos
Photos: Britney Spears, The Rolling Stone Covers
Photos: Britney Spears' 'Femme Fatale' Tour Kickoff
Britney Spears Pleases Herself: Rolling Stone's 2002 Cover Story
Britney Spears Finds It Hard to Be a Woman: Rolling Stone's 2003 Cover Story
The Tragedy of Britney Spears: Rolling Stone's 2008 Cover Story
Britney Spears Returns: Rolling Stone's 2008 Cover Story

This story is from the April 15, 1999 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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