10 Surprising Facts About Britney Spears

Britney Spears performing in Germany in 2008.
Britney Spears performing in Germany in 2008.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

While it’s now well-known that Britney Spears got her start as a member of Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club, the show didn’t immediately catapult her to superstardom. Spears was still practically an unknown when she released her first single “...Baby One More Time” in 1998. Needless to say, that anonymity didn't last.

Spears quickly became the poster child for pop music at the turn of the century, redefining the genre with ensemble dance numbers, a not-that-innocent onstage persona, and the occasional Burmese python. From her brief stint on Broadway to her trailblazing Las Vegas residency, here are 10 facts about the star who inspired an entire generation of kids to choreograph dance routines during sleepovers.

1. Britney Spears was an Off-Broadway understudy at age 10.

In 1992, Joel Paley and Marvin Laird were busy auditioning hopefuls for Ruthless!, a spoofy Off-Broadway musical about a young girl willing to kill her competition for the starring role in a school production. They had already cast their leading lady—future Broadway heavyweight Laura Bell Bundy—and were worried an equally talented understudy would prove impossible to find. “And that’s when we found Britney Spears,” Paley told the New York Post. Spears, then 10 years old, was a triple-threat, complete with “confidence and a great mom.” She stayed with the show for about eight months, until the repetition started to bore her. Her successor was another future star: Natalie Portman.

2. Britney Spears went back to being a regular kid after the Mickey Mouse Club ended.

Spears first auditioned for The Mickey Mouse Club at age 8, but producers told her she was too young for the show. Her second tryout was successful, and she joined Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling, and a few other budding entertainers as Disney’s new class of Mouseketeers in 1993. But when the program ended two years later, Spears didn’t head to Hollywood. Instead, she went home to Louisiana and enrolled in high school.

“I was so bored,” Spears told Rolling Stone in 2011. “I was the point guard on the basketball team. I had my boyfriend, and I went to homecoming and Christmas formal. But I wanted more. I mean, it was fun while it lasted, but then I got the record deal, and I left.”

3. Britney Spears almost headed up a girl band.

Before she embarked on a solo career, Spears was briefly the frontwoman for a girl band called Innosense, which was created by Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC manager Lou Pearlman. The group—which also included Awkward star Nikki DeLoach—was originally meant to be America’s answer to the Spice Girls, but Spears left before the project got off the ground, and the band never amassed a very large fanbase. Innosense did, however, get to open for Spears at a few concerts in 2000.

4. The music video for “...Baby One More Time” was all Spears’s idea.

According to Jive Records president Barry Weiss, music video director Nigel Dick's original idea for the "...Baby One More Time" video envisioned Spears alighting from a spaceship and launching into a dance routine on the surface of Mars, which Spears vetoed immediately. Instead, she pitched a Grease-inspired scene in which a group of bored students dance around their school. Dick and the studio executives decided their teenage starlet probably had a good grasp on what would appeal to other teenagers, so they went with it. Spears also came up with the idea to wear school uniforms—Dick had planned to dress them in basic T-shirts and jeans. The director’s original idea did eventually make it off the cutting room floor; Spears’s “Oops!...I Did It Again” video, which was also directed by Dick, takes place on Mars.

5. Britney Spears auditioned for The Notebook.

Spears is no stranger to the screen. In addition to making memorable guest appearances on Glee, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Jane the Virgin, Will & Grace, and other shows, she starred in the 2002 romantic comedy Crossroads (written by Shonda Rhimes). Not long after its release, she was in the running to star alongside fellow Mouseketeer Ryan Gosling in 2004’s The Notebook. “She did an excellent job, actually,” Gosling said of her audition. The role of Allie Hamilton ultimately went to Rachel McAdams, who impressed Gosling and director Nick Cassavetes with her assertiveness and emotional range.

6. Britney Spears had a short-lived, long-distance dalliance with Prince William.

By Spears’s own account, reports of her romance with the future king of England hit quite wide of the mark, and the pair never actually met up. During an interview on The Frank Skinner Show in 2002, Spears admitted that Prince William was technically to blame for their missed connection. “We exchanged emails for a little bit, and he was supposed to come and see me somewhere,” she said, “but it didn’t work out, so that was it.” When Skinner expressed mock outrage that William stood her up, Spears demurred. “He’s a busy guy,” she said.

7. Britney Spears often travels under an alias.

Ms. Alotta Warmheart departing a Manhattan hotel in 2002.Arnaldo Magnani/Getty Images

As one of the most preeminent pop stars of the 21st century, Spears incites a media frenzy with virtually every move she makes. To give herself a little anonymity, she doesn’t always book hotel rooms under her own name. But her pseudonyms, which she often invents on the spot, don’t exactly fly under the radar. Spears divulged to James Corden during "Carpool Karaoke" that she’s been Alotta Warmheart, Anita Dick, and Chastity Montgomery in the past. Biographer Steve Dennis alleged that she has also used Mrs. Diana Prince (a nod to Princess Diana), Mrs. Abra Cadabra, and Queen of the Fairy Dance.

8. Britney Spears inspired a Barry Manilow album.

The paparazzi have ruthlessly documented Spears’s personal life in a way that many consider shamefully exploitative. Witnessing her battle for privacy escalate in 2007 actually inspired Barry Manilow’s 2011 album 15 Years. “She couldn’t have a life without [the paparazzi] pulling up next to her car and following her and driving her crazy," Manilow told the Los Angeles Times. “We all looked at it in horror, and [my collaborator Enoch Anderson] and I said, ‘Is this what happens these days?’ So it seemed like a thing to be writing an album about.”

In another section of the entertainment industry, screenwriter/director Shana Feste was watching with similar horror, which inspired her to develop the 2010 film Country Strong. In it, Gwyneth Paltrow plays a country music star navigating the many pitfalls of fame.

9. Britney Spears's “Do Somethin’” music video was banned in France.

In 2005, Spears released a highly imaginative video for her single “Do Somethin’” in which she and her friends fly through the clouds in a bright pink Hummer. They also evidently imagined that Louis Vuitton would take no issue with said Hummer’s upholstery looking suspiciously similar to Louis Vuitton’s Cherry Blossom pattern. Unfortunately, the Paris-based brand sued the record label. “We don't make dashboards,” a spokesperson said. The case was settled, but Sony BMG had to pay more than $117,000, and France was banned from airing the music video. In the version currently on YouTube, there’s nary a cherry blossom in sight.

10. Las Vegas dedicated a day to Britney Spears.

Britney on her eponymous holiday in 2014.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Before Celine Dion came to town at the height of her career, the Las Vegas Strip had a reputation as the place “where musicians go to die,” i.e. where aging musicians can perform an entire concert series without all the tiresome travel necessary for a tour. Spears upped the ante in 2013 with a dynamic, high-budget residency complete with a fire ring, acrobatics, giant hamster wheels, and plenty of other gasp-worthy effects. The spectacle drew a younger crowd than usual and set a new precedent for Vegas shows; since then, the city has attracted performers who are currently ruling the charts, like Lady Gaga, Drake, and Cardi B. To acknowledge Spears’s impact and express gratitude, Las Vegas declared November 5 “Britney Day” in 2014. Spears was given a key to the city, and the first 100 people named “Britney” to arrive at the celebration got free tickets to see her show.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

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7 People Killed by Musical Instruments

On occasion, a piano has been a literal instrument of death.
On occasion, a piano has been a literal instrument of death.
Pixabay, Pexels // Public Domain

We’re used to taking it figuratively. One “slays” on guitar, is a “killer” pianist, or wants to “die” listening to a miraculous piece of music. History, though, is surprisingly rich with examples of people actually killed by musical instruments. Some were bludgeoned and some crushed; others were snuffed out by the sheer effort of performing or while an instrument was devilishly played to cover up the crime. Below are seven people who met their end thanks to a musical instrument.

1. Elizabeth Jackson // Struck with a Flute

A German flute.The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments (1889), Metropolitan Museum of Art // Public Domain

David Mills was practicing his flute the night of March 25, 1751, when he got into a heated argument with fellow servant Elizabeth Jackson. A woman “given to passion,” she threw a candlestick at Mills after he said something rude. He retaliated by striking her left temple with his flute before the porter and the footman pulled them apart. Jackson lived for another four hours, able to walk but not make sensible speech. Her fellow servants decided to bleed her, a sadly ineffective treatment for skull fractures. “Her s[k]ull was remarkably thin,” the surgeon testified at Mills’s trial.

2. Louis Vierne // Exhausted by an Organ Recital

Louis Vierne plays the organ of St.-Nicolas du Chardonnet in Paris, France.Source: gallica.bnf.fr, Bibliothèque nationale de France // Public Domain

Reputed to be the king of instruments, the organ requires a performer with an athletic endurance—more than 67-year-old Louis Vierne had to give during a recital at Notre Dame cathedral on June 2, 1937. He collapsed (likely of a heart attack) after playing the last chord of a piece. With a Gallic appreciation for tragedy, one concertgoer noted the piece “bears a title which, given the circumstance, seems like fate and takes on an oddly disturbing meaning: ‘Tombstone for a dead child’!” As Vierne’s lifeless feet fell upon the pedalboard “a low whimper was heard from the admirable instrument, which seemed to weep for its master,” the concertgoer wrote.

3. James “Jimmy the Beard” Ferrozzo // Crushed by a Piano

The exterior of the Condor Club in 1973.Michael Holley, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Getting crushed by a piano is usually the stuff of cartoons, but what happened to James Ferrozzo is somehow even stranger than a cartoon. “A nude, screaming dancer found trapped under a man’s crushed body on a trick piano pinned against a nightclub ceiling was too drunk to remember how she got there,” the AP reported the day after the 1983 incident. The dancer was a new employee at San Francisco’s Condor Club (said to be one of the first, if not the first, topless bar). The man was her boyfriend, the club’s bouncer. And the trick piano was part of topless-dancing pioneer Carol Doda’s act—a white baby grand that lowered her from the second floor. During Ferrozzo’s assignation with the dancer, the piano’s switch was somehow activated, lifting him partway to heaven before deadly contact with the ceiling sent him the rest of the way.

4. Linos // Killed with a Lyre

A student and his music teacher, holding a lyre—potentially Herakles and Linos.Petit Palais, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

One of the greatest music teachers of mythic Ancient Greece, Linos took on Herakles as a pupil. According to the historian Diodorus Siculus, the demi-god “was unable to appreciate what was taught him because of his sluggishness of soul,” and so after a harsh reprimand he flew into a rage and beat Linos to death with his lyre. Herakles dubiously used a sort of ancient stand-your-ground law as a defense during trial and was exonerated. Poor Linos: an honest man beaten by a lyre.

5. Sophia Rasch // Suffocated While a Piano Muffled her Screams

Pixabay, Pexels

No one better proves George Bernard Shaw’s quip that “hell is full of musical amateurs” than Susannah Koczula. “I have seen Susannah trying to play the piano several times—she could not play,” 10-year-old Carl Rasch testified at Koczula’s 1894 trial. Susannah, the Rasch’s caregiver, distracted little Carl, sister Clara, and their neighborhood friend Woolf with an impromptu performance while a gruesome scene unfolded upstairs: Koczula’s husband tied and suffocated Carl and Clara’s mother, Sophia Rasch, before making off with her jewelry. “She banged the piano,” explained Woolf. “I heard no halloaing.”

6. Marianne Kirchgessner // A Nervous Disorder Acquired Playing the Glass Armonica

According to one doctor, Ben Franklin's instrument caused "a great degree of nervous weakness."Ji-Elle, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Benjamin Franklin invented the glass harmonica, or armonica, in 1761, unleashing a deadly scourge upon the musical world. “It was forbidden in several countries by the police,” wrote music historian Karl Pohl in 1862, while Karl Leopold Röllig warned in 1787 that “It’s not just the gentle waves of air that fill the ear, but the charming vibrations and constant strain of the bowls upon the already delicate nerves of the fingers that combine to produce diseases which are terrible, maybe even fatal.” In 1808, when Marianne Kirchgessner, Europe’s premiere glass armonica virtuoso, died at the age of 39, many suspected nervousness brought on by playing the instrument.

7. Charles Ratherbee // Lung Disease Possibly Caused by Playing the Trumpet

A valve trumpet made by Elbridge G. Wright, circa 1845.Purchase, Robert Alonzo Lehman Bequest (2002), Metropolitan Museum of Art // Public Domain

One summer day in 1845, Charles Ratherbee, a trumpeter, got into a fight with Joseph Harvey, who rented space in a garden from Ratherbee and was sowing seeds where the trumpeter had planned to plant potatoes. When confronted, Harvey became upset and knocked Ratherbee to the ground with his elbow. Two weeks and five days later, Ratherbee was dead.

Harvey was arrested for Ratherbee’s death, but a doctor pinpointed another killer: An undiagnosed lung disease made worse by his musical career. “The blowing of a trumpet would decidedly increase [the disease],” the surgeon testified at Harvey’s manslaughter trial. When asked if he was “in a fit state to blow a trumpet” the surgeon replied bluntly, “No.” Harvey was acquitted and given a suspended sentence for assault. The trumpet was never charged.