On February 21, 2008, the first of two Rolling Stone covers starring Britney Spears that year hit newsstands. Using a portrait of Spears taken in 2004, it invited readers "inside an American tragedy," by way of a nine-page story by then-contributing editor Vanessa Grigoriadis.
Unable to secure a sit-down with her troubled subject, the journalist's contact with Spears, "a perfectly-proportioned porcelain doll with a nasty weave," was limited to distant encounters as she tagged along with paparazzi from Hollywood.tv. (Grigoriadis would later cite the website's founder, Sheeraz Hasan, as her primary source.)
"The Tragedy of Britney Spears" seemed to confirm several longstanding rumors about Spears—that she'd had, and swiftly removed, breast implants in her late teens, and had consummated her relationship with Justin Timberlake long before publicly proclaiming abstinence—and suggested that she'd been abusing pills prior to her first hospitalization on January 3 of that year. It painted her, not as a young woman in the throes of a mental health crisis, but as a chain-smoking "inbred swamp thing," "arrogant, anxiety-ridden and paranoid."
Below, eight of the story's most illuminating and/or sensational passages.
"In person, Britney is shockingly beautiful—clear skin, ruby lips, a perfectly proportioned 26-year-old porcelain doll with a nasty weave.
"She rifles the racks as the Cure's 'Pictures of You' blasts into the airless [Betsey Johnson] boutique, grabbing a pink lace dress, a few tight black numbers and a frilly red crop top... Then she ducks into the dressing room with [then-boyfriend Adnan] Ghalib. He emerges with her black AmEx.
"The card won't go through, but they keep trying it. One of the shopgirls runs to Britney's dressing room, explaining the situation through a pink gauze curtain.
"A wail emerges from the cubby—guttural, vile, the kind of base animalistic shriek only heard at a family member's deathbed. 'Fuck these bitches,' screams Britney, each word ringing out between sobs. 'These idiots can't do anything right!'"
2. Crucible of Fame
"If Britney was really who we believed her to be—a puppet, a grinning blonde without a cool thought in her head, a teasing coquette clueless to her own sexual power—none of this would have happened. She is not book-smart, granted. But she is intelligent enough to understand what the world wanted of her: that she was created as a virgin to be deflowered before us, for our amusement and titillation. She is not ashamed of her new persona—she wants us to know what we did to her."
3. Family Ties
"She has pushed away her family: her brother and father ('It is sad that all the men in my life do not know how to accept a real woman's love,' she explained); her sister Jamie Lynn, whom she speaks to on the phone and sees rarely; and, most important, her preening, difficult mother, Lynne, whom Britney considers poisonous... Ironically, it may be Britney's family who succeeds in retaining control of her now, in collaboration with doctors who are advising that she remain in a hospital setting as long as legally possible."
"Lynne retained a minor management role over the years, but she disappeared from Britney's side, enjoying her newfound wealth and laying the star-machine groundwork for Jamie Lynn. Jamie was not in the picture. 'It was upsetting for Britney to be around her dad,' says a friend. 'He came backstage one night, and he was wasted. She was devastated.' Britney would tell friends that her father was emotionally abusive."
4. Growing Pains
"The first big blow to Britney's golden-girl image was her breast implants. According to a source, she and Lynne had made the decision for her to get them, on the assumption that the culture demanded it, but the press leapt on her scornfully. 'When Britney saw the papers, she was crying in the bathtub uncontrollably, asking Why is everyone being so mean to me?' says a friend. Britney regretted the implants, particularly because her chest was still growing, and when her natural breasts became larger, she had the implants removed."
5. 'Meat Pole'
"Kevin Federline (nicknamed 'Meat Pole') gave Britney license to fully embrace her white-trash side... But he liked the high life, buying a $250,000 silver Ferrari with monogrammed rims and getting stoned in their home recording studio while cutting his rap album. He made her feel a lot of her old insecurities—loneliness, fear of abandonment—and she started partying and spiraling downward, attributing her crying jags to postpartum depression."
6. Just Like Anna Nicole
"[Britney] had to go to rehab: Eric Clapton's Crossroads, in Antigua, but she stormed out one day later, flying to Miami and then coach-class to Los Angeles to see her family. She arrived at Federline's house for her babies, but he had joined forces with Lynne and [Larry] Rudolph, and wouldn't talk to her until she registered at Malibu rehab center Promises. She circled his house three times, furious at having to concede to their demands, before pulling into a random hair salon in the Valley and taking her hair off in big clumps, less as a penance than a liberation. Then she stayed up for forty-eight hours straight, driving around, sucking down dozens of Red Bulls, afraid that she was being followed by demons, or that a cell-phone charger was taping her thoughts, and obsessively listening to the radio for news about Anna Nicole Smith's death earlier that month. That was her fate, she declared—she was next."
"For the past few years, Britney has begged friends to help her run away, to leave everything behind and become a stylist or schoolteacher, or move to an island where she can work as a bartender. Ghalib helps her achieve her goal, evading the paparazzi for weeks on violent, terrifying chases. The relationship is just starting to build when Britney is taken to the hospital for the first time, and as soon as she comes out, Ghalib absconds with her to criss-cross the West Coast, making stops in Palm Springs and Mexico with his buddy, a paparazzo who would shoot the two of them for exclusive sale by Ghalib's then-agency."
"'You must understand something about Britney,' Ghalib says, in arguing her side of the story. 'People turned on her. They were only there when the getting was good. She has become very Columbo-esque—she acts a certain way so that people don't think she's intelligent, and then people volunteer information, and she is able to put together what is going on... She knows that the people who had a responsibility to support her bailed out and is very hurt by their actions.'"
"'Look at George Foreman: He's the oldest heavyweight champion ever,' says Ghalib. 'That's what Britney's going to be. She said it best to me: She refuses to live her life anymore reflected in the eyes of others.' Then he gets very quiet. 'Be gentle to her,' he says. 'That's a personal request.'"
Full story at the source.
Shout out to frejasface, whose "Notorious" series inspired this post!