Voices: Before you write off Britney Spears, consider this

·4-min read

Britney’s back! After a six-year-long absence, the original Princess of Pop has made her long-awaited return. In a Cinderella-esque comeback, when the clocks struck midnight on 26 August, Britney reaffirmed her place in music history.

“Hold Me Closer”, featuring Elton John, is the summer anthem we didn’t realise we were missing. The duet, which samples Elton’s “Tiny Dancer”, “The One” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, is a musical powerhouse that will surely define the 2022 music scene.

Although undoubtedly sensational, and worthy of much praise, what’s most inspiring about this story isn’t the song itself, but the strength it took Britney to get here.

When the star was seen shaving her head and behaving erratically back in 2007, instead of prompting concern, the star was ridiculed. I remember being in secondary school and everyone sharing the photos of her shaved head; gaggles of students poking fun at the expense of someone’s suffering.

Granted, the response was indicative of a time when mental health was treated as a joke, but let’s not pretend society still doesn’t poke fun at mental illness. In a twisted way, society thrives off of seeing someone’s “demise”, and in the Noughties the fall of a pop princess amassed a lot of traction. Such is the ugly reality of fame.

For fans of Britney, the apparent decline in her wellbeing was hard to watch, as was her subsequent conservatorship – she went from being viewed as a danger to herself to a spectre. The name that once dominated music with a string of hits virtually disappeared. When she did make an appearance, it felt forced.

Quick criticism of her fall from grace was rife, forever dominating the story. Instead of questioning the way her life was being ruled by others, a lot of people put it down to “Britney being Britney”; she was a kooky enigmatic law unto herself. Ignorance shaped her legacy, stripping her of her accolades so that all we saw was a woman to laugh at. People can try to deny it, but Britney was the punchline for many years.

Even when it was revealed just how traumatising her conservatorship was, and the fight for #FreeBritney began in earnest, people still found alternative ways to condemn her. Condemnation that so swiftly followed an exhausting legal battle that dragged up years of abuse. After suffering for so long, it seemed fair that the singer should celebrate in her own way. Yet, when a series of nude selfies were posted on Instagram, sympathy slipped away, quickly replaced with targeted trolling.

The moment those photos went live, all that support for Britney evaporated – she was once again labelled “embarrassing”, the sport of trolling Britney too enticing for many to ignore. Arguably, it’s because some wanted to see her fail, for her to be the problem her father and the media had claimed. If she was in control, able to govern herself, that posed no fun for those who relish a broken woman.

Let’s be honest, plenty of people waited for her new song to drop hoping it was bad. They wanted – no, needed – it to disappoint. That anticipation of failure was so palpable that Elton John commented on it himself, while discussing their time in the recording studio. “Everyone was saying they don’t think she can sing any more. But I said, she was brilliant when she started so I think she can. And she did it, and I was so thrilled with what she did.”

To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here

This is why Britney’s comeback is so sensational, yet poignant. Why #WelcomeBackBritney is a chorus sung from every corner of social media; not because she’s returned in style, although that is satisfying, but because she ultimately never stopped giving the middle finger to haters. Despite being written off so many times, this woman has forged a path for herself through some truly dark moments.

Right now, Team Britney is stronger than ever. The Princess of Pop has transformed into a queen, finally able to take her rightful place back on the musical map. Even though we know this is ushering in a new era for Britney’s music, the undeniable nostalgia she brings with her return can’t be ignored or underestimated.

I, for one, hope the future continues to be just as bright for her as it is right now. The world has sorely missed out on years of unashamedly catchy pop songs, the kind that burrow in your ears and persist for days. Finally, she’s free to create, and we are a captive audience.