Dissecting the unstoppable force that is Britney Spears is a complex and daunting task. Throughout her nearly 15-year career, there have been superior talents and performers (Christina Aguilera, Pink and Beyonce can easily sing the thin-voiced Spears under the table); cooler trend setters (stylish it-girl Rihanna); and more dynamic artists (The piano-tinkling Lady Gaga and the bubbly Katy Perry frequently write their own material, a skill set that Spears has yet to fully master).
Indeed, despite such modest talent, a litany of scandals, and changing musical tastes, Britney’s fame and influence towers over them all to the tune of over 100 million records sold worldwide.
This makes the eighth best-selling female music artist’s ongoing world-beating success all the more intriguing. If you were a betting individual in 2007, the sure money would have been on Britney becoming a cautionary pop music casualty. During that epic meltdown of a year, America’s Louisiana-born Sweetheart (way before Kanye West transformed future country megastar Taylor Swift into a modern day Joan of Ark) checked into a drug rehabilitation center; shaved her hair completely bald; physically threatened paparazzi with an umbrella; lost physical custody of her children to freeloading ex-husband Kevin Federline due to what was reported as mental instability; and was universally panned following an embarrassing zombie-like performance on the MTV Video Music Awards.
By January of 2008, the wheels had completely fallen off for the former teen-idol who once led the frenzied pop revival a decade earlier with her mammoth 1997 debut …Baby One More Time—an album that went on to amass 25 million copies across the globe. For her troubles, Britney was placed under involuntary psychiatric hold as the courts gave her father James Spears complete conservatorship over his troubled daughter.
Such a devastating freefall would have put a swift end to the careers of most mere music mortals. But just as everyone was scrambling to write her epitaph, the troubled singer was enjoying some of the most jubilant reviews of her roller coaster time in the spotlight with her fifth studio release Blackout. Rolling Stone gave the project a gaudy four-star rating, later calling the set, “Possibly the most influential pop album of the last five years.” The Observer proclaimed, “Britney has delivered the best album of her career.” Other glowing reviews followed as Blackout would go on to push over 3 million units, an astonishing feat for an act who had become a tabloid wet dream.
Following 2008’s acclaimed follow-up Circus and a $131 million grossing tour in 2009, it’s clear that the world’s endearing and somewhat strange love affair with Britney won’t be ending anytime soon. Her latest single, the tongue-wagging techno-pop romp “Hold It Against Me,” has shot to no. 1 on the Billboard charts. And her upcoming release Femme Fatale, due out March 29, is already breaking records, as it recently landed in the all-time top 10 on Twitter’s longest running trending topics. Not to mention the news is still swirling on whether or not blondie will be performing at this year’s Grammy Awards come Sunday (Her reps have shot down the idea…but with Brit-Brit, you never know.)
So how does she do it? VIBE rounded up PopEater’s John Mitchell, Newsday’s Risa Dixon, pop and R&B songwriter/artist Keri Hilson and influential celebrity blogger Perez Hilton to find out why the controversial Spears continues to win. It’s Britney, bitches.–Keith Murphy