In 1998, the mega hit "...Baby One More Time" was dropped on the universe and everything exploded. At least that's how I remember it. I was nine and completely obsessed. The opening three notes ignited something in my soul that made me feel electrified. I remember playing the flower-covered CD over and over again on my portable CD player. The leaflet folded out into a poster of a teenage girl who looked like me: long hair, denim skirt, sweet smile. She was amazing and I was hooked.
In 2000, three of the greatest albums of all time were released: Backstreet Boys' Millennium, N*SYNC's No Strings Attached and Britney's Oops!... I Did It Again. It was truly a #blessed time to be listening to music, especially if you were a preteen girl. For my twelfth birthday my mom paid for me to go to the Oops!... I Did It Again concert and it was incredible. I sang and danced and I was me. It didn't matter what anyone else thought.
Then I was a teenager. And it did matter what everyone else thought. It was no longer cool to listen to "teeny boppers" or "bubble gum music" (both terms borrowed from my mother). I bought Good Charlotte and Yellowcard CDs. "Remember how annoying this song was?" I probably said when Don't Let Me Be The Last To Know came on an easy-listening radio station.
Britney was going through a weird time too. She made out with Madonna onstage at the VMAs. She dyed her hair brown. She got married. Twice.
College was the pinnacle of my identity crisis. Everything that had ever been special about me was chipped away by mass numbers of people who could do those things better. My confidence dwindled and my taste in music had never been more boring. Obscure indie artists and German techno songs were random and hipster enough to garner appreciative nods from strangers digging through my iTunes. I called movies "films" and said things like "I'm not like other girls." Blech.
Britney was going through a tough time too. She shaved her head. She chased a paparazzo with an umbrella. She lost custody of her kids and control of her career. She was a fallen star, a perfect example of how fame can ruin a person.
Then one chilly November day I was browsing the new releases on iTunes. Amid the tiny icons of moody artists with bushy hair covering their eyes was a familiar face. There she was: Britney Spears looking the best she ever had. Long, blond curls cascaded down her shoulders and big red letters curved into a half-circle below. Circus, they said. I narrowed my eyes and double clicked the image to hear a 60 second sample of the song.
Just like hearing the first three notes of "...Baby One More Time" when I was nine years old, something stirred within me. The little girl that didn't care what people thought woke up. I didn't even know she'd been sleeping. She listened and she liked it. I cancelled an appointment with my statistics TA and went straight to Walmart. I bought Circus and listened to it the whole way home.
From there, my worries about what other people thought began to shake off one by one. When I told people I liked Britney Spears, I was occasionally met with sideways glances or derision. But more often I was seen as interesting and unique. A door was opened and I started exploring other things I genuinely liked and wanted.
I graduated from BYU in 2010. I still had lots of questions about who I was and what I wanted out of life, but a foundation had been laid. Friends helped me figure out how to treat others. Boys helped me figure out how I wanted to be treated. And Britney Spears helped me remember to regularly consult who I was before I cared what others thought.
In 2014 I went to Las Vegas to see her Piece of Me show at Planet Hollywood. I sang along to every word. We did it. We were grown-ups now. We had survived the murky, unattractive years of identity crisis. My inner child had never been happier.
I've bought all her albums since then. Some are better than others. But I've got her back. Because when I needed it, she had mine.