As one of the world’s most iconic singers, Britney Spears’ music undeniably changed the pop landscape and continues to do so more than two decades after her first single dropped.
Since breaking out into superstardom in 1999 with her debut album “…Baby One More Time,” Spears has consistently pushed the boundaries of what pop music can be, winning over and inspiring countless fans with her southern charm and sugary-sweet voice.
But as Spears continued to dominate the charts through the early 2000s, her rise to fame took a dark and tragic twist. Constant swarming by paparazzi, sexist questions from the media and mom-shaming by the tabloids led to an infamous 2007 incident in which she shaved her head at a hair salon and then hit a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella.
Years later, as seen in the New York Times-produced documentary, “Framing Britney Spears,” fans around the world now have better understanding and empathy for why Spears suffered her breakdown, as public outrage has built over the pop star’s treatment by the media for the entirety of her groundbreaking career.
In 2008, Spears was placed under a conservatorship, controlled by her father, Jamie Spears. Now, Spears’ new attorney petitioned to remove and suspend her father, which is the biggest legal move that has occurred in the 13-year legal battle. (The momentum was just sparked this summer, following Spears’ first-ever public testimony about her conservatorship, which led to the judge granting Spears her own self-chosen attorney for the first time.) A major hearing regarding Spears’ father’s involvement in the complex conservatorship is set for September 29.
Now speaking out against her conservatorship, which she told the court has been “abusive,” Spears has pledged not to make music or tour until her father is removed, giving rise to the #FreeBritney movement.
But, it appears Spears has been using her voice all along.
As is true for many artists, Spears’ true feelings may have been addressed in her music repertoire. From early hits like “Stronger and “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” to post-conservatorship releases like “Circus” and “Man on the Moon,” here are some of Spears’ most telling lyrics…
“I’ve had enough/ I’m not your property as from today, baby/ You might think that I won’t make it on my own/ But now I’m/ Stronger than yesterday/ Now it’s nothing but my way/ My loneliness ain’t killing me no more.”
Though it appears on “Oops!… I Did It Again,” which is only her sophomore album that came out when she was only 19 years old, Spears was already an international superstar with a global spotlight on her 24/7. And so, it makes sense that “Stronger” would allude to the pressure a teenage Spears felt at the time, while also leaning into her own strength.
Looking through a 2021 lens, “Stronger” appears to be increasingly relevant as Spears fights for her conservatorship to be terminated — in particular, the lyrics, “I’m not your property as from today, baby” and “You might think that I won’t make it on my own” ring especially true, considering that Spears hasn’t been able to make her own decisions for the past 13 years.
If-and-when Spears’ conservatorship is terminated, this song will take on a whole new meaning.
“She’s so lucky, she’s a star/ But she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart, thinking/ If there’s nothing missing in my life/ Then why do these tears come at night?”
“Lucky” is one of the world’s glimpses into the downside of Spears’ fame — a typical Hollywood tale of everything seeming perfect on the outside, while feelings of loneliness creep in on the inside. Spears blatantly sings that despite her luck in becoming a “Hollywood girl,” a.k.a., one of the world’s biggest stars, she lives a lonely life that causes her to cry.
When Spears sings, “And the world is spinning, and she keeps on winning/ But tell me what happens when it stops?” the poignant line causes listeners to think deeper about the adverse affects of constantly living life on a stage.
‘I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman’ (2001)
“There is no need to protect me/ It’s time that I/ Learn to face up to this on my own/ I’ve seen so much more than you know now/ So don’t tell me to shut my eyes/ But if you look at me closely/ You will see it in my eyes/ This girl will always find/ Her way.”
As a young rising star at the time of this song’s release, it’s clear that Spears is sick of being protected — and judged — by those around her. As evidenced in the lyrics, she longs to make her own decisions and face the problems in her life on her own, as she grows into a woman. Although from a distance people may see a pop star, with a closer look, Spears hopes that those around her can learn to trust her — also, a point she is also trying to prove with her conservatorship battle.
“Say hello to the girl that I am/ You’re gonna have to see through my perspective/ I need to make mistakes just to learn who I am/ And I don’t wanna be so damn protected.”
Just in case you didn’t gather it from “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman,” Spears really drives home that she’s sick of being sheltered, with “Overprotected” from her third and self-titled album, “Britney.”
On the upbeat cut, Spears questions, “What am I to do with my life?” “How am I supposed to know what’s right?” Though she yearns to be in control of her own destiny, Spears expressed that every time she tries to assert her own opinion, “I stand corrected.”
Though she didn’t know at the time when the song was released in 2001 — seven years before she was placed under a conservatorship — by definition, a conservatorship is, quite literally, over-protection.
‘Piece of Me’ (2007)
“I’m Mrs. ‘You want a piece of me?’/ Tryin’ and pissin’ me off/ Well get in line with the paparazzi/ Who’s flippin’ me off/ Hopin’ I’ll resort to startin’ havoc/ And end up settlin’ in court/ Now are you sure you want a piece of me?”
In what seems like a direct response to the media frenzy that resulted from Spears shaving her head in February 2007, “Piece of Me,” which was released just months later in November 2007, places scrutiny on the paparazzi, beating them at their own game.
The song’s chorus reads like tabloid headlines with Spears taking aim at the gossip rags for body shaming, among other nasty tactics: “I’m Mrs. Lifestyles of the rich and famous/ I’m Mrs. Oh my god that Britney’s shameless/ I’m Mrs. Extra! Extra! This just in/ I’m Mrs. She’s too big now she’s too thin.”
The song is an expert study in taking an unfavorable situation and turning it into something everyone can dance to — and, hopefully for Spears, something that she felt confidence in by fighting back.
“All eyes on me/ In the center of the ring/ Just like a circus.”
As the titular song from Spears’ first album released during the conservatorship, “Circus” is an electro-pop dance song on the surface, but its lyrics lean much darker.
Just the word — “circus” — gives a clear depiction of how Spears viewed her world at the time, though there can be different variations of understanding the song. It could possibly be alluding to the media “circus” that surrounded Spears, after being placed under the conservatorship, or she could be expressing how she views her life, as a mess of a circus. Whatever the intent was, once again, the pop star highlights the dark side of being a performer constantly in the center of attention — and thus, unable to escape the frenzy.
‘Kill the Lights’ (2008)
“All the flashin’, tryin’ to cash-in/ Hurts my eyes/ All the poses, out of focus/ I despise/ Eff me over, your exposure/ Not the best/ You want me bad, I want you out/ Release this stress.”
Also from “Circus,” “Kill the Lights” is another direct hit at the paparazzi and media, this time calling out how they profit from selling photos of her — particularly when they are unflattering. To put it into context, in the New York Times’ documentary, “Framing Britney Spears,” a former “Us Weekly” staffer admitted to spending around $140,000 per week on paparazzi photos. Spears calls out being viewed as a dollar sign rather than a human being when she sings: “Is that money in your pocket/ Or are you just happy to see me?” and “All the flashin’/ tryin’ to cash in/ Hurts my eyes.”
‘Unusual You’ (2008)
“Been so many things when I was someone else/ Boxer in the ring trying to defend myself/ In the private eye to see what’s going on (That’s long gone).”
Though “Unusual You” is a slowed-down love song, Spears alludes to her struggles in the limelight, alluding that she was once “someone else” and felt like a boxer, constantly defending herself to her critics — even though they don’t know what she’s really like in private.
‘Mmm Papi’ (2008)
“Stuck in/ The middle of it all/ Too many people around me/ Can you hear me call?”
“Mmm Papi” is a fun and flirty cut from “Circus,” but Spears tells her love interest several times to “make sure you come and save me” and “come take me away.” It almost feels like a cry or help, and in the song’s bridge, Spears infers that her life is hectic, singing: “Too many people around me/ Can you hear me call?” All of this implies that Spears may not have the authority to make the decisions that she wants in her personal life.
‘I Wanna Go’ (2011)
“Lately people got me all tied up/ There’s a countdown waiting for me to erupt/ Time to blow out/ I’ve been told who I should do it with/ To keep both my hands above the blanket/ When the lights out.”
Spears speaks once again to the dark side of fame and alludes to the prison she felt she was in by singing, “There’s a countdown waiting for me to erupt.”
But a lyric that rings differently, following her emotional June 2021 testimony is: “I’ve been told who I should do it with.” (During the hearing, Spears voiced that she would like to get married and have more children, but is unable to do so because the conservatorship prevents her from removing her IUD birth control.) Though no one can be sure how long this medical control over Spears has been in place, given that court documents are sealed, it’s possible that it could date back to when this song was released, or even earlier.
“Had to get used to the world I was on/ While yet still unsure if I knew where I belong/ Oh, that was then, like an alien.”
Sadly self-explanatory, “Alien” details Spears’ immense feelings of loneliness and isolation that can result from fame — but also, now we know, resulted from her conservatorship. Though Spears sings about feeling like an alien in past tense, when she mentions being “lost in the world” and feeling like a “stranger in the crowd,” the listener gets the inclination that she isn’t as “not alone” as she seems.
‘Hold on Tight’ (2013)
“I gotta make my way through the night/ Holding on with all of my might/ And when I’m lost, and I can’t find the way/ I feel the pieces breaking away.”
In “Hold on Tight,” Spears sings about a lover coming to her in a dream and her intense longing to see him in real life. The fantastical approach of the song evokes a feeling of loneliness, as Spears almost pleads: “Someone tell me I will be alright/ Hold on tight.”
‘Now That I Found You’ (2013)
“Lived a wasteful life in a hateful city/ There was no love, just pain and pity.”
Though “Now That I Found You” is a happy song dedicated to the euphoria of a new relationship, one line in particular sticks out: “Lived a wasteful life in a hateful city/ There was no love, just pain and pity.” No doubt, the “hateful city” part is referring to the City of Angels, and Spears’ talk of “pain and pity” could likely refer to her experience being vilified by the media, or perhaps even worse, the pain she has felt by being under a conservatorship.
‘Man on the Moon’ (2016)
“I can’t compete with the stars in the sky/ I’m invisible, invisible/ I open the window to clear up my mind/ But it’s difficult.”
Spears’ latest album, 2016’s “Glory,” is the world’s most recent peek into her innermost thoughts — well, aside from her Instagram posts, which fans are not certain are being written by the star herself.
On the album’s fourth track, “Man on the Moon,” Spears sings about feeling “invisible” and waiting patiently to be reunited with her love. Once again, the themes of patience, dreams and loneliness evoke a message that is starkly different from the song’s upbeat music.
‘Do You Wanna Come Over?’ (2016)
“Nobody should be alone if they don’t have to be.”
In perhaps her most straightforward lyric, Spears sings on the sultry track that she does not want to be left alone. It’s easy to take for granted being able to go anywhere you want and do anything you please — a daily luxury that Spears isn’t able to have under her conservatorship, according to the claims she made during both court dates where she addressed the judge with an emotional testimony. In a July 2021 hearing, Spears told the judge that she has always had “serious abandonment issues” and said that her conservators would leave her alone and she was not allowed to leave her house, despite knowing that she was “vulnerable.”
And for Spears’ fans, they certainly agree with the sentiment of this lyric — which is exactly why they want to #FreeBritney.