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“By 2004, Britney’s grip on her world was starting to slip — or maybe more accurately, Britney started to slip from the world,” writes Vox’s Caroline Framke.
“Forces within both her own circle and the salivating music industry were pulling the sweetly dorky Louisiana girl in a thousand directions, and it was only a matter of time before she broke.” Britney was treated as a passive agent in her own life, to be presented in whatever manner her management thought would be most profitable: as an avowed virgin in a tiny Catholic schoolgirl uniform, begging her listeners to hit her one more time; as a sexpot writhing around a snake.
“Sure,” he said, laughing, when Barbara Walters asked him if Britney Spears was actually a virgin.
(In 2002, it was apparently okay to publicly speculate about the virginity of pop stars.) Then he played his song “Horrible Woman” — which, for what it’s worth, he denied was about Spears — singing, “I thought our love was so strong / I guess I was dead wrong / But to look at it positively, hey, girl / At least you gave me another song about a horrible woman.” As Spears’s public image imploded, Timberlake’s only became more sympathetic.
She continues to record and release new music — the latest of which, 2015’s she released on her own independent label — and last year, she wrapped a well-received world tour.
But she had to climb her way back up to those heights after plummeting in 2004, and it took years for her to come anywhere near that level of cultural capital again.
“The world has always been full of Madonna wannabes,” he said.
But Timberlake’s uncontroversial white male hand, the hand that actively disrobed Jackson, went unremarked-on and unpunished.
She was packaged as a sex object, emphasis on the , and she reacted by spiraling out of control and becoming a figure of public mockery.
Timberlake, meanwhile, built his breakup with Spears into a salable image: She was the whore who claimed to be a virgin, he implied, while he was the steadfast and betrayed lover.
And immediately after their 2002 breakup, both were riding high.
In 2003, Spears released , one of the most celebrated albums of her career.