For Britney Spears’ debut single, “Baby One More Time” her label originally suggested an animated music video to accompany the song. But Britney had a different vision. One that included a high school location and a school uniform, with the shirt tied up just above the belly button.
“They had this really bizarre video idea, this animated Power Ranger-y thing. 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,” Spears told Rolling Stone in 1999. “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.”
Arguably it was 16-year-old Britney’s video concept that catapulted the single to the top of the charts and broke Britney into stardom. And yet from the beginning, society painted her as a puppet who was told what to do and what to wear in order to sell records.
In a new documentary titled “Framing Britney” a backup dancer and tour director who worked with Britney from 1999-2004 Kevin Tancharoen says,
“[Britney] was definitely in control of a lot of decisions. That idea that Britney is a puppet who just gets moved around and told what to do is incredibly inaccurate. She was the one who knew what she wanted to do and she would make that happen… She was the boss.”
But despite her high level of self awareness and autonomy, the industry and society put constraints on Britney from the beginning. She had to walk the line of being in command of her fanbase, but also be demure and accommodating.
From USA Today's article "Framing Britney exposes a problem bigger than Britney": “Culture held Spears up as an all American girl, but had her walk a tight line: ... be articulate but never opinionated.”
And Britney played that part well. Perhaps too well. Dismissed as a puppet and disregarded as a “true” artist, inevitably the documentary shows a bleak outcome. Today not only has Britney’s musical and artistic legacy been questioned, but she’s also been ripped of her mental credibility and her physical and financial autonomy due to a long standing court ruled conservatorship under which almost all aspects of her life are controlled by others.
But unfortunately Britney’s story isn’t all that unique. In fact, it’s a tale as old as the record industry. A few examples: