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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Know Your Artist: Britney Spears

As a celebration of Britney's  seventh studio album, Femme Fatale and her being the Artist Of The Month. Here's a life chronology. And if you notice I don't include all about her personal life as this is a music blog and I want to keep the focus on that.

1981–97: Early life and career beginnings

Britney Jean Spears was born on December 2, 1981, the second child of Lynne Irene (née Bridges) and James Parnell Spears. She is of English heritage through her maternal grandmother, who was born in London, and of distant Maltese descent. Her siblings are Bryan James and Jamie Lynn. At age three, she started to attend dance lessons in her hometown of Kentwood, Louisiana, and was selected to perform a solo at the annual recital. During her childhood, she also attended gymnastics and voice lessons, and won many state-level competitions and children's talent shows. Spears made her local stage debut at age five, singing "What Child Is This?" at her kindergarten graduation. She said about her ambition as a child, "I was in my own world, [...] I found out what I'm supposed to do at an early age". At age eight, Spears and her mother Lynne traveled to Atlanta for an audition in the 1990s revival of The Mickey Mouse Club. Casting director Matt Cassella rejected her for being too young to join the series at the time, but introduced her to Nancy Carson, a New York City talent agent. Carson was impressed with Spears's vocals and suggested enrolling her at the Professional Performing Arts School; shortly after, Lynne and her daughters moved to a sublet apartment in New York. Spears was hired for her first professional role, as the understudy for the lead role of Tina Denmark in the Off-Broadway musical Ruthless!. She also appeared as a contestant on the popular television show Star Search, as well as being cast in a number of commercials. In December 1992, she was finally cast in The Mickey Mouse Club, but returned to Kentwood after the show was cancelled. She enrolled at Parklane Academy in nearby McComb, Mississippi. Although she made friends with most of her classmates, she compared the school to "the opening scene in Clueless with all the cliques. [...] I was so bored. I was the point guard on the basketball team. I had my boyfriend, and I went to homecoming and Christmas formal. But I wanted more."
In June 1997, Spears was in talks with manager Lou Pearlman to join female pop group Innosense. Lynne asked family friend and entertainment lawyer Larry Rudolph for his opinion and submitted a tape of Spears singing over a Whitney Houston karaoke song along with some pictures. Rudolph decided he wanted to pitch her to record labels, therefore she needed a professional demo. He sent Spears an unused song from Toni Braxton; she rehearsed for a week and recorded her vocals in a studio with a sound engineer. Spears travelled to New York with the demo and met with executives from four labels, returning to Kentwood the same day. Three of the labels rejected her, arguing audiences wanted pop bands such as the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls, and "there wasn't going to be another Madonna, another Debbie Gibson, or another Tiffany." Two weeks later, executives from Jive Records returned calls to Rudolph. Senior vice president of A&R Jeff Fenster stated about Spears's audition that "It's very rare to hear someone that age who can deliver emotional content and commercial appeal. [...] For any artist, the motivation—the 'eye of the tiger'— is extremely important. And Britney had that." They appointed her to work with producer Eric Foster White for a month, who reportedly shaped her voice from "lower and less poppy" delivery to "distinctively, unmistakably Britney." After hearing the recorded material, president Clive Calder ordered a full album. Spears had originally envisioned "Sheryl Crow music, but younger more adult contemporary" but felt alright with her label's appointment of producers, since "It made more sense to go pop, because I can dance to it—it's more me." She flew to Cheiron Studios in StockholmSweden, where half of the album was recorded from March to April 1998, with producers Max MartinDenniz Pop and Rami, among others.

1998–2000: ...Baby One More Time and Oops!... I Did It Again

After Spears returned to the United States, Spears embarked on a shopping mall promotional tour to promote her forthcoming album. Her show was a four song set and she was accompanied by two back up dancers. Her first concert tour followed, as an opening act for 'N Sync. Her debut album, ...Baby One More Time, was released on January 1999. It debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 and was certified two-times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America after a month. Worldwide, the album topped the charts in fifteen countries and sold over ten million copies in a year. It became the biggest selling album ever by a teenage artist. The title track was released as the lead single from the album. Originally, Jive Records wanted its music video to be animated; however, Spears rejected it, and suggested the final idea of a Catholic schoolgirl. The single sold 500,000 copies on its first day, and peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, topping the chart for two consecutive weeks. "...Baby One More Time" later received a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. The title track also topped the singles chart for two weeks in the United Kingdom, and became the fastest-selling single ever by a female artist, shipping over 460,000 copies. It would later become the 25th most successful song of all time in British chart history. Spears is also the youngest female artist to have a million seller in the country. "(You Drive Me) Crazy" was released as the third single from the album. It became a top-ten hit worldwide and propelled ...Baby One More Time to sell 26 million copies. The April 1999 cover of Rolling Stone featured Spears laying on her bed, clad with a bra, shorts and an open top. The American Family Association (AFA) referred to the shoot as "a disturbing mix of childhood innocence and adult sexuality" and called to "God-loving Americans to boycott stores selling Britney's albums." Spears responded to the outcry commenting, "What's the big deal? I have strong morals. [...] I'd do it again. I thought the pictures were fine. And I was tired of being compared to Debbie Gibson and all of this bubblegum pop all the time." Shortly before, Spears had announced publicly she would remain a virgin until marriage.
On June 28, 1999, Spears began her first headlining ...Baby One More Time Tour in North America, which was positively received by critics, but generated some controversy due to her racy outfits. An extension of the tour, titled Crazy 2k, followed in March 2000. Spears premiered songs from her upcoming second album during the show. Oops!... I Did It Again, her second studio album, was released in May 2000. It debuted at number one in the US, selling 1,3 million copies, breaking the SoundScan record for the highest debut sales by any solo artist. The album sold over 20 million copies worldwide. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone said that "the great thing about Oops! – under the cheese surface, Britney's demand for satisfaction is complex, fierce and downright scary, making her a true child of rock & roll tradition." The album's lead single, "Oops!... I Did It Again", peaked at the top of the charts in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and many other European nations. The album as well as the title track received Grammy nominations for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, respectively. The same year, Spears embarked on the Oops!... I Did It Again World Tour, which grossed $40.5 million; she also released her first book, Britney Spears' Heart-to-Heart, co-written with her mother. On September 7, 2000, Spears performed at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards. Halfway through the performance, she ripped of her black suit to reveal a sequined flesh-colored bodysuit, followed by heavy dance routine. It is noted by critics as the moment that Spears showed signs of becoming a more provocative performer. After Spears returned to the United States, Spears embarked on a shopping mall promotional tour to promote her forthcoming album. Her show was a four song set and she was accompanied by two back up dancers. Her first concert tour followed, as an opening act for 'N Sync.

2001–03: Britney and In the Zone

In February 2001, Spears signed a $7–8 million promotional deal with Pepsi, and released another book co-written with her mother, entitled A Mother’s Gift. Her third studio album, Britney, was released in November 2001. While on tour, she felt inspired by hip hop artists such as Jay-Z and The Neptunes and wanted to create a record with a funkier sound. The album debuted at number one in the Billboard 200 and reached top five positions in Australia, the United Kingdom and mainland Europe and sold over 12 million copies worldwide. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic called Britney "the record where she strives to deepen her persona, making it more adult while still recognizably Britney. [...] It does sound like the work of a star who has now found and refined her voice, resulting in her best record yet." The album was honored with two Grammy nominations—Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "Overprotected"— and was listed in 2008 as one of Entertainment Weekly's "100 Best Albums from the Past 25 Years". The album's first single, "I'm a Slave 4 U", became a top-ten hit worldwide. Spears's performance of the single at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards featured a caged tiger and a large albino python draped over her shoulders. It was harshly received by animal rights organization PETA, who claimed the animals were mistreated and scrapped plans for an anti-fur billboard that was to feature Spears. To support the album, Spears embarked on the Dream Within a Dream Tour. The show was critically praised for its technical innovations, the pièce de résistance being a water screen that pumped two tons of water into the stage. The tour grossed $43.7 million, becoming the second highest grossing tour of 2002 by a female artist, behind Cher's Farewell Tour. Her career success was highlighted by Forbes in 2002, as Spears was ranked the world's most powerful celebrity.
In July 2002, Spears announced she would take a six month break from her career; however, she went back into the studio in October to record her new album. Spears's relationship with Justin Timberlake ended after three years. In December 2002, Timberlake released the song "Cry Me a River" as the second single from his solo debut album. The music video featured a Spears look-alike and fueled the rumors that she had been unfaithful to him. As a response, Spears wrote the ballad "Everytime" with her backing vocalist and friend Annet Artani. Spears opened the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards with Christina Aguilera, performing "Like a Virgin". Halfway through they were joined by Madonna, with whom they both kissed. The incident was highly publicized. Spears released her fourth studio album, In the Zone, in November 2003. She assumed more creative control by writing and co-producing most of the material. Vibe called it "A supremely confident dance record that also illustrates Spears's development as a songwriter." NPR listed the album as one of "The 50 Most Important Recording of the Decade", adding that "the decade's history of impeccably crafted pop is written on her body of work." In the Zone sold over 609,000 copies in the United States and debuted at the top of the charts, making Spears the first female artist in the SoundScan era to have her first four studio albums to debut at number one. It also debuted at the top of the charts in France and the top ten in Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. In the Zone sold over 10 million copies worldwide. The album produced the hit singles: "Me Against the Music", a collaboration with Madonna; "Toxic"—which won a Grammy for Best Dance Recording; "Everytime" and "Outrageous".

2004–07: Compilation albums, motherhood, personal struggles, and Blackout

She began The Onyx Hotel Tour in support of In the Zone in March 2004. On June 8, 2004, Spears fell and injured her left knee during the music video shoot for "Outrageous". She was taken immediately to a local hospital, where doctors performed an MRI scan and found floating cartilage. The following day, Spears underwent arthroscopic surgery. She was forced to remain six weeks with a thigh brace, followed by eight to twelve weeks of rehabilitation, which caused The Onyx Hotel Tour to be canceled. In October 2004, Spears announced she would be taking another career break to start a family. Greatest Hits: My Prerogative, her first greatest hits compilation album, was released in November 2004.[68] Spears's cover version of Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative" was released as the lead single from the album, reaching the top of the charts in Finland, Ireland, Italy and Norway.[69] The second single, "Do Somethin'", was a top ten hit in Australia, the United Kingdom and other countries of mainland Europe. Worldwide, Greatest Hits: My Prerogative sold over 5 million copies. In late 2004, Spears went on KIIS-FM radio in Los Angeles, CA to play a new demo titled "Mona Lisa." The demo was to be the first single from an upcoming album called the "Original Doll." However, Spears' label later cancelled the album for unknown reasons. In November 2005, she released her first remix compilation, B in the Mix: The Remixes, which consists of eleven remixes. In May 2007, she produced a series of promotional concerts at House of Blues venues, titled The M+M's Tour.
Her fifth studio album, Blackout, was released in October 2007. It debuted at the top of charts in Canada and Ireland, number two in the U.S. Billboard 200,—held off from the top spot by Eagles's Long Road out of Eden— France, Japan, Mexico and the United Kingdom and the top ten in Australia, Korea, New Zealand and many European nations. In the United States, Spears became the only female artist to have her first five studio albums debut at the two top slots of the chart. Blackout sold over 3.1 million copies worldwide. Peter Robinson of The Observer said that "Britney has delivered the best album of her career, raising the bar for modern pop music with an incendiary mix of Timbaland's Shock Value and her own back catalogue." Dennis Lim of Blender commented, "Spears’s fifth studio album is her most consistent, a seamlessly entertaining collection of bright, brash electropop." Blackout won Album of the Year at MTV Europe Music Awards 2008 and was listed as the fifth Best Pop Album of the Decade by The Times. Spears performed the lead single "Gimme More" at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards. The performance was panned by many critics. David Willis of BBC stated her performance would "go down in the history books as being one of the worst to grace the MTV Awards". Despite the backlash, the single rocketed to worldwide success, peaking at number one in Canada and the top ten in almost every country it charted. The second single "Piece of Me" reached the top of the charts in Ireland and reached the top five in Australia, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The third single "Break the Ice" was released the following year and had moderate success due to Spears not being able to promote it properly.

2008–10: Conservatorship, Circus, and The Circus Starring Britney Spears

A 60-minute introspective documentary, Britney: For the Record, was produced to chronicle Spears' return to the recording industry. Directed by Phil GriffinFor the Record was entirely shot in Beverly HillsHollywood, and New York City during the third quarter of 2008. Main shooting began on September 5, 2008, two days before Spears' appearance at the MTV Video Music AwardsFor the Record was broadcast on MTV on November 30, 2008 to 3.7 million viewers. On September 7, 2008, Spears opened the MTV Video Music Awards with a pre-taped comedy sketch with Jonah Hill and an introduction speech. She won Best Female VideoBest Pop Video and Video Of The Year for "Piece of Me".
Her sixth studio album Circus, was released in December 2008. It received positive reviews from critics; according to the music review aggregation of Metacritic, it garnered an average score of 64/100. Circus debuted at number one in Canada, Czech Republic and the United States, and inside the top in many European nations. In the United States, Spears became the youngest female artist to have five albums debut at number one, earning a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. She also became the only act in the Soundscan era to have four albums debut with 500,000 or more copies sold. Circus became one of the fastest-selling albums of the year, and has sold 4 million copies worldwide. Its lead single, "Womanizer", became her first number one in the Billboard Hot 100 since "...Baby One More Time" and topped the charts in countries such as Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Norway and Sweden. It was also nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Dance Recording. Spears embarked on The Circus Starring Britney Spears in March 2009. With a gross of U.S. $131.8 million, it became the fifth highest grossing tour of the year.
She released her second greatest hits album, The Singles Collection in November 2009. "3" became her third number one single in the US, and was the first song to debut at the top of the charts in three years. Later that month, she released an application for iPhone and iPod Touch titled "It's Britney!". In May 2010, Spears's representatives confirmed she was dating her agent Jason Trawick, and that they had decided to end their professional relationship to focus on their personal relationship.  Spears designed a limited edition clothing line for Candie's, which was released in stores in July 2010. On September 28, 2010, she made a cameo appearance on a Spears-themed tribute episode of American TV show Glee, titled "Britney/Brittany". Spears approved of the episode, although her appearances received mixed reviews from critics. The episode drew Glee's second largest audience, as well as the show's highest ratings ever.

2011–present: Femme Fatale

In February 2011, Spears confirmed that her seventh studio album, Femme Fatale, would be released on March 29, 2011. Max Martin and Dr. Luke executive produced the album, with Luke stating that he wanted the sound to "get harder in some ways […] and maybe a little more deep into electronic." Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Bloodshy & AvantShellbackBenny Blancowill.i.amFraser T. SmithStargate, and Darkchild all produced songs on the album. Its lead single, "Hold It Against Me," was released on January 11, 2011, and debuted at number-one on the Billboard Hot 100. This gave Spears her fourth number-one single on the chart, and made her only the second artist in history to have two consecutive singles debut at number-one, after Mariah Carey. A second single, "Till the World Ends," was released on March 4, 2011.


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