Britney Jean Spears was born on December 2, 1981 in the small town of Kentwood, Louisiana (population 2,200). Her mother, Lynne, devoted herself to nurturing her eldest daughter's talent from the time Britney was three. Her father, Jamie, had a drinking problem that magnified as his construction business faced a downturn.
When she was eight, Spears' mother brought her to Atlanta to audition for The Mickey Mouse Club, though Britney was too young to make the cut. For the next four years, Spears lived part-time New York with her mom, where she played the lead in the off-Broadway play Ruthless and performed on Star Search. When she was 12, Spears finally did join the Mickey crew, where she starred alongside Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. Here, she poses with the cast.
After the new Mickey Mouse Club was canceled, Spears returned to New York and tried to grab the attention of the music industry through demo tapes and auditions. Jive Records was interested, and she paired with manager Larry Rudolph and went to Sweden to record with songwriter Max Martin. She returned with her hit first single, "… Baby One More Time," which was released in late 1998. Here, Spears poses backstage at New York's Madison Square Garden on December 17th, 1998.
In January 1999, Spears released the video for "… Baby One More Time" and her album of the same name. She appeared on her first Rolling Stone cover that April, and won several Billboard and American Music Awards. She attended her first MTV Video Music Awards at New York's Lincoln Center on September 9, 1999. By the end of the year, her debut album had sold 10 million copies.
Spears' second album, Oops! … I Did It Again, was released on May 16, 2000. It broke records by moving 1.3 million copies in its debut week. (The blockbuster single of the same name came out one month prior.) Here, Spears poses with her Oops!-inspired doll in October 2000.
By the time Spears attended the Grammy Awards on February 23, 2000, in Los Angeles, she had embarked on her first world tour for Oops! … I Did It Again.
Spears makes her debut on the Grammy Awards stage at Los Angeles' Staples Center on February 23, 2000. She was nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. She did not win either award, though she sang "From the Bottom of My Broken Heart" and "… Baby One More Time."
By the time Spears posed for this 2000 portrait, she was an international superstar and public attention had shifted to her personal life. She began dating Justin Timberlake of 'NSync – her former tour mate – in 1999, though her manager insisted that they keep the relationship quiet and tell the press that they planned to abstain from sex until marriage.
Spears poses with the Eiffel Tower during a 2000 Oops! tour stop.
Spears stirred up her first major performance controversy at September 7, 2000's MTV Video Music Awards in New York. She stripped down into a sparkly, tight, flesh-colored outfit to perform her cover of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" as well as her own "Oops! … I Did It Again."
Spears and her former fellow Mouseketeer, Christina Aguilera, present a statue at the MTV Video Music Awards on September 7, 2000. (Aguilera also performed that night, joined by Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst.) For years, the press portrayed the two pop sensations as bitter rivals.
Spears and her boyfriend, Justin Timberlake, suit up at the 28th Annual American Music Awards in Los Angeles on January 8th, 2001.
Spears' third studio album didn't come out until November 2001, but she spent most of that year in the spotlight. On January 28, 2001, she performed at the halftime show for Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, Florida, alongside 'NSync and Aerosmith.
Britney was released on November 6, 2001. Spears took a more active role in the album's songwriting, striving to reflect her conflicted feelings about growing up and exploring her sexuality in public (as evidenced on the singles "Overprotected," "I'm a Slave 4 U" and "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman"). The album debuted at Number One, replacing Michael Jackson's Invincible. Here, Spears performs at Uniondale, New York's Nassau Coliseum on one of the first dates of her accompanying Dream Within a Dream Tour.
Spears acts as Grand Marshal during the NASCAR Winston Cup Pepsi 400 at the Daytona Speedway in Florida on July 7, 2001. The following summer, Spears got a movie about NASCAR green-lit, but the project never came to fruition.
Spears chats with Mick Jagger at the MTV Video Music Awards on September 6, 2001, in New York. She covered the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" on Oops! … I Did It Again and performed it live at the VMAs the prior year; however, when she found herself in an elevator with Jagger, she didn't recognize him. Spears made a similar gaffe while promoting Britney in 2002, telling a reporter that she covered "I Love Rock & Roll" because she loved Pat Benatar.
Spears alluded to her newfound sexual freedom, as explored on Britney, during her 2001 MTV Video Music Awards performance. She took the stage almost naked, accompanied by a gigantic albino python. Around that time, she reportedly began sleeping with her choreographer, Wade Robson, one of Timberlake's close friends and collaborators.
Spears films a Pepsi commercial for the Super Bowl in January 2002. In the clip, Spears portrayed characters from the 1950s to the future. She made her big-screen debut in February 2002 in the coming-of-age movie Crossroads.
Justin Timberlake uncovered Spears' alleged affair with Wade Robson when he discovered a note in Spears' room in February 2002, on the night that the two pop stars were scheduled to appear on Saturday Night Live. Spears tried to make amends, but a shaken Timberlake refused to reconcile, and many assumed that his biting solo smash "Cry Me a River" was written about their breakup.
Record executive Clive Davis meets with the recently split Timberlake and Spears at his 27th Annual Pre-Grammy Party in Los Angeles on February 26, 2002. At the Grammy ceremony, Spears' "Overprotected" was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, but she didn't win.
At the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards in New York, Spears presented Michael Jackson with a birthday cake, but he misinterpreted Spears' brief introduction and gave an acceptance speech thanking her for proclaiming him "Artist of the Millenium."
In the wake of her split with Timberlake, Spears became a fixture at parties, nightclubs and events. Here, she poses with Donatella Versace at a fashion show in Milan on October 1, 2002.
Spears spent her first New Year's Eve sans Timberlake with actress Natalie Portman; the two hosted a party at New York's Hudson Hotel on December 31, 2002.
As Spears became increasingly disillusioned with the music industry, she turned her focus to her social life, seeking love from Hollywood bad boys such as Colin Farrell. Here, the two attend the premiere of The Recruit in Hollywood on January 28, 2003. Around this time, Spears also had a fling with Fred Durst, which the Limp Bizkit rapper bragged about on The Howard Stern Show.
Spears exits the drive-thru window of a Hollywood In-N-Out Burger on February 27, 2003. Paparazzi photographs of the singer at fast-food restaurants soon became a thriving industry.
Spears hugs younger sister Jamie Lynn at Nickelodeon's 16th Annual Kids' Choice Awards on April 12, 2003, in Santa Monica, California. The younger Spears began appearing on Nick TV shows in 2002 but didn't score true fame (and infamy) until late 2007, when she revealed that she was pregnant at age 16.
Spears demonstrates her feelings toward tabloids and celebrity coverage by rocking a Page Six Six Six shirt at an MTV party in Hollywood on June 28, 2003.
Spears performs with Christina Aguilera and Madonna – Britney's future "Me Against the Music" collaborator – at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York on August 28, 2003. The threesome (plus Missy Elliott) performed Madonna's "Like a Virgin" and "Hollywood."
Spears' 2003 VMAs performance became famous for its two brief kisses. When Madonna lip-locked with Spears, the camera instantly cut to Timberlake for a reaction shot, forcing Aguilera's similar kiss to lose most of its airtime. After the awards, Spears decided that she and Madonna were soul mates and began to look to the elder pop superstar for advice.
Spears performs at the NFL Kickoff Live from the National Mall special in Washington, DC, on September 4, 2003.
Spears poses with Queen's Roger Taylor and Brian May while filming the Pepsi "We Will Rock You" gladiator commercial in Rome on September 22, 2003. The flashy clip also starred Beyoncé, Pink and Enrique Iglesias.
Spears takes the stage at the 31st Annual American Music Awards in Los Angeles on November 16, 2003. The performance was two days before the release of her fourth studio album, In the Zone, which tackled mature topics such as masturbation and hangovers. It featured production by Moby, Diddy and Bloodshy & Avant, as well as more creative input from Spears.
The album debuted at Number One yet sold fewer copies than her prior three records did in their opening weeks; still, it yielded memorable videos for "Me Against the Music," "Toxic" and "Everytime."
Spears receives her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on November 17, 2003.
During a November 17, 2003, appearance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, the talk-show host quizzes Spears on marriage and kids. "Right now, I'm just having fun," Spears told Leno after saying that she thought 25 was the ideal age to wed. She was 22 at the time. When Leno said, "In two years, you'll be married with two kids?" Spears made a face and yelled, "Oh, I don't know … no!"
Spears' brother, Bryan, escorts her to the 31st Annual American Music Awards on November 16, 2003. A month later, she returned home to Kentwood to spent the Christmas holidays with her family; she stayed at a small house on her parents' property with a few childhood friends, including onetime crush Jason Alexander. After having a rough year (as she told Rolling Stone in our October 2003 cover story), she was ready to have fun again.
After arguing with her mother during her Christmas vacation, Spears took off for Las Vegas and partied for three straight days. She snorted cocaine in the evenings, Ecstasy in the mornings and Xanax to fall sleep, according to Jason Alexander. At 3:30 a.m. on January 3, 2004, the couple spontaneously took a lime-green limo to Vegas' Little White Chapel and got married.
When Lynne Spears heard the news, she flew to Vegas and had her lawyers arrange an annulment. Alexander, startled by his sudden international fame, cracked under the pressure and dropped out of college.
Spears reunited with her idol, Madonna, during the NRJ awards in France on January 24, 2004. By this point, Spears' handlers were having a hard time making the star perform on command. According to a friend, she was "difficult" on the set of the "Everytime" video shoot, demanding Red Bulls and her doctor.
In early 2004, the increasingly shiftless Spears met dancer Kevin Federline, a 25-year-old high school dropout from Fresno, California, who had one child with his girlfriend and a second baby on the way. Spears became enamored with the club fixture known as "Meat Pole," and invited him to join her on her Onyx Hotel Tour.
While promoting In the Zone in Europe, Spears and her new boyfriend filmed themselves obsessively with video cameras, generating the footage that would later become their reality show Britney & Kevin: Chaotic. Here, she performs in Rotterdam in May 2004.
In June 2004, Spears suffered a knee injury during the shoot for her "Outrageous" video and underwent surgery in New York. She was forced to cancel her remaining tour dates, and Jive announced that her doctors had ordered the star to undergo four months of rest. Here, she begins recovery.
Spears and Federline announced their engagement in the summer of 2004; Spears proposed to Federline, who refused and proposed himself a few minutes later. The two were married in September 2004, and Spears' bridesmaids wore pink Juicy tracksuits for the occasion. After the wedding, Spears fired Larry Rudolph and her mother as her managers and turned to making money from her private life, selling her wedding photos for $1 million.
Spears attends the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas on December 8, 2004. Two months prior, she announced on her website that she would take a brief break from the music business to focus on her new family. "My prerogative right now is to just chill and let all of the other overexposed blondes on the cover of Us Weekly be your entertainment," she wrote. "Good luck, girls!"
In April 2005, Spears – seen here with Federline at a movie premiere – announced that she was expecting her first child. Sean Preston was born in September 2005, and his baby pictures were sold to People for $1 million.
After Spears gave birth to Sean Preston, the paparazzi's attention only heightened and she began to unravel in public. One photographer caught her behind the wheel of her black SUV with her infant son on her lap, rather than secured in a car seat, on February 6, 2006, and the public recoiled with horror at Spears' irresponsible parenting.
Here, during a surprise appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman on May 9, 2006, Spears breaks the news that she is pregnant with her second child. Son Jayden James was born in September 2006, but Spears and Federline didn't reveal any baby photos immediately, holding out for a bigger magazine payday that never came. Though the public craved Spears news and gossip, the singer largely abandoned her recording career; a greatest hits collection came out in November.
Spears loses her grip on Sean Preston while emerging from the Ritz Carlton Hotel in New York on May 18, 2006.
In an emotional and candid interview with Dateline's Matt Lauer in June 2006, Spears addressed the state of her marriage, "mommy mishaps" and how the paparazzi had gone "too far." Despite multiple reports that her marriage to Federline was on the rocks and that he was sleeping in the basement, a pregnant Spears tearfully denied that there was trouble between the pair and asked to be left alone because "we're people." Here, she poses with Lauer.
Despite Spears' protests that her marriage was stable, gossip spread that she was on the prowl for a new boyfriend. Some magazines fingered her bodyguard/nanny Perry Taylor (seen here strolling with Spears on May 30, 2006) as her latest love.
In November 2006, Spears informed Federline via text message that she wanted a divorce. Federline responded by scrawling "Today I'm a free man – Fuck a wife, give me my kids, bitch!" on a nightclub bathroom wall.
After filing for divorce, Spears rehired manager Larry Rudolph but also wanted to explore her new freedom. She hit Los Angeles hotspots with party girls such as Paris Hilton, and was photographed sans underwear three times. The Britney/Paris friendship didn't last long, and Hilton nicknamed Spears "the Animal" because she didn't think before she acted.
As Spears' partying became more frequent and worrysome, her handlers urged her to go to rehab. She spent only one day at Eric Clapton's Crossroads center in Antigua in February 2007 before flying back to Los Angeles. There, she went to Federline's house demanding to see her children but was told that she couldn't unless she checked back into treatment. Spears left in anger and drove around until she found a random hair salon, where she grabbed a pair of clippers and shaved her head.