On August 31st, 1997, Princess Diana of Wales died tragically in a car accident. The accident itself happened as her driver was fleeing away from the paparazzi that chased her through a Paris underpass. This would conclude a very intrusive relationship that the British tabloids had with her. As if the press operates with a sense of ownership over people once they reach a certain level of status. We give you fame, and we take you in return, The Framing Britney Spears documentary begins as many childhood fame stories do. Born in McComb, Mississippi, we get to see the little girl who gleefully sang in home videos and Star Search. Her mother, Lynn Spears, struggled to make her dreams often come by hook and crook getting her to New York. Then, at 16 years old, she releases her first single, “Hit Me Baby One More Time’ on October 23rd, 1998. The single would sell 10 million copies and the rest would be, as they say, history.
“I didn’t then or do I now understand what a conservatorship is.” One of the eeriest things about the ‘Framing Britney Spears’ documentary on Hulu, which is a part of The New York Times Presents series is that it refers to her in the past tense. Former assistant Felicia Culotta did a small tour of her home and showed fan mail and plaques of Spears’ multi-million selling albums. In the end, she shows pictures of her and Spears on a trip to Paris during happier times. Spears’s latest album, Glory was released in 2016 and her Vegas residency was just in 2018. However, because of the whirlwind of events of her life, the glory days feel so far away.
A young 39 years old and under a conservatorship is usually reserved for older people who become increasingly mentally disoriented and incapable of handling their affairs. Pop music is the one genre where hits can come out nowhere and revitalize a career. There’s an insanity that we are talking about Spears as if her best days are behind her. Especially with the massive amount of fans that still play her music and that are invested in her wellbeing.
How did one of the most decorated artists in pop music history get to this point? How did a person who in a 2006 Dateline interview get reduced to tears when asked about her wishes for the press to leave her alone? Throughout time, it’s shown that the media has an almost parasitic relationship with the culture of celebrity. They love the ‘rags to riches’ stories that elevate unknown talent to show the masses that they can dream a beautiful dream. Then, as soon as they get too high, they crush them, spilling out all the dirty details like Sonic the Hedgehog losing rings on a spike. As enticing as telling the rise to stardom, there’s even more money in being there to chronicle the fall.
As we go further into the documentary, the once vibrant spirit of Britney Spears gets engulfed by the camera flashes and beckoning of the paparazzi. In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Spears is grilled about the breakup with Justin Timberlake. Even being asked about her trying hard drugs. There was a double standard against women in music that still permeates today that stopped not only with Spears. On October 22nd, 2002, Christina Aguilera released her sophomore album, Stripped, which was a considerable departure from how she is presented with her 1999 self-titled debut. Gone was the blonde hair and out was someone older who was comfortable with their sexuality. The video for ‘Dirty,’ got considerable backlash, much like the comments that are said by men in Framing Britney Spears. The word saw her as a ‘role model’ from a small town that has made something of herself. Surely, cannot get older and embrace different parts of all facets of themselves. A recent example would be the reaction Cardi B and Meg The Stallion‘s single, W.A.P. Sexually is something that women can’t embrace out in the open because it’s considered taboo.
However, in an interview with Barbara Walters, Timberlake is almost painted as a sympathetic figure. Then, performing an unreleased song named ‘Don’t Go’ (Horrible Woman). Who can forget the video for ‘Cry Me A River,’ which dawned a Britney Spears look-a-like? Timberlake has recently issued an apology to Spears after the documentary has come out. Spears’ love life was again another topic within Limp Bizkit‘s MTV Diary for the making of the Results May Vary album with lead singer Fred Durst. The double standard of who gets to be painted the hero and villain of having relationships was very apparent – to where Spears was often shown in the wrong.
Sadly, one of the hardest parts of the documentary to watch came from seeing the press relentlessly pursuing Spears while she was spiraling. A darling of the MTV TRL age where her videos would battle with the top boy bands and even rock bands like Korn was at the mercy of cameras. She couldn’t go to a convenience store without a barrage of flashes and would sit devoid of her cheerful spirit in her car. As they voraciously tried to uncover details about her marriage with Kevin Federline and divorce, what’s forgotten is that she was a mom of two young boys. Not just a singer, actress, or pop star.
Paparazzo Daniel Ramos stated, “She never gave a clue or information to us that, ‘I don’t appreciate you guys. Leave me the F alone.’ As if Spears shaving her head and attacking his car with an umbrella wasn’t clue enough. With stars, we ask ‘the why ‘way too late when we are contributors to the how. While Spears’ mental health was breaking down, it was the butt of the joke of many nightly talk show hosts and even a subject on Family Feud. I would love to think that this story which is still unfolding is a cautionary tale, but it isn’t. There’s no money in indulging in the good and curtailing the bad. As much as the media is in love with the ascension, it won’t be there to catch you when you fall. It might be there to take a few photos as your disheveled and disoriented, gathering yourself from the impact.
Photo Credit: Hulu