There's something about 'cancel culture' that people seem reluctant to admit: it's kind of comforting.
Yes, it's often wielded far too hastily, too clumsily, and with disproportionate force. But there's also something reassuring in the fact that genuine injustices and transgressions are more readily exposed, that hoards of social media users band together to hold problematic people and ideas to account. Like a neighbourhood watch, but with career-ending hashtags.
Britney Spears certainly could have used that kind of protection. Her fame came 15-20 years too soon.
Watch: The treatment of Britney Spears was interrogated in the 2021 documentary, Framing Britney Spears.
As the biggest pop star on the planet around the turn of the millennium, Britney's entire life, her body, her relationships, even her virginity were reported on — and consumed — without reservation. The same happens to the stars of today, of course, but what was missing then was the balance, the websites and social media accounts criticising the press' treatment of her and offering alternative narratives.
There was the odd article or forum along those lines, but there were no hashtags or virality to carry them far beyond their usual audience.
Britney's loyal fanbase, led by the #FreeBritney movement, has done what it can to rectify that in recent years, resurfacing old interviews and articles and footage to highlight what she endured. But too much time has passed for their threats of cancellation to carry much weight.
And so, the media got away with it. With all the below, and more...
The Rolling Stone cover story.
In 1999, just months after the release of her debut single '...Baby One More Time', Britney Spears achieved a dream of many an up-and-coming recording artist; a cover story in Rolling Stone magazine.
The images were shot by legendary photographer David LaChapelle. On the cover, a teenage Britney reclined on a bed, wearing short, silk pyjama shorts, a black bra and an open shirt. She clutched a phone in one hand and a plush Teletubby toy in the other. Within the pages, she was photographed in high heels, short shorts, an open cardigan and bra, surrounded by dolls and soft toys.
The theme was clear. Britney, aged 17 at the time, was Lolita — precociously seductive.