While it’s now well-known that Britney Spears got her start as a member of Disney’s The All-New Mickey Mouse Club, the show didn’t immediately catapult her to superstardom. Spears was still practically an unknown when she released her inaugural 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 12 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. She went back to being a regular kid after The Mickey Mouse Club ended.
Spears first auditioned for Disney’s The All-New Mickey Mouse Club (the then-newest iteration of 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. 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. She 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. 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. She often travels under an alias.
As one of the 21st century’s preeminent pop stars, 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. 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. Her “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.
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.
11. Spears’s 13-year-long conservatorship ended in 2021.
In January 2008, Spears was involuntarily hospitalized twice amid a custody battle for her two sons with ex-husband Kevin Federline. The following month, a California judge appointed Spears’s father, Jamie Spears, as her conservator—a person designated to oversee the finances and/or personal affairs of someone deemed incapable of doing so themselves. (Attorney Andrew Wallet served as co-conservator until 2019.) From that point forward, Jamie Spears managed virtually every aspect of his daughter’s life, career and otherwise.
“Too sick to choose my own boyfriend and yet somehow healthy enough to appear on sitcoms and morning shows, and to perform for thousands of people in a different part of the world every week,” Spears wrote in her 2023 memoir. “Security guards handed me prepackaged envelopes of meds and watched me take them. They put parental controls on my iPhone. Everything was scrutinized and controlled. Everything.”
Though court records show that Spears’s attempts to remove her father as conservator began around 2014, fear of losing access to her children prevented her from pushing back in earnest for years. Finally, in 2021, Jamie Spears was suspended as conservator, and a California court terminated Spears’s conservatorship altogether shortly thereafter.
12. Her memoir was an instant bestseller.
Since the conservatorship ended, fans have enjoyed a new candor from Spears on social media. On October 24, 2023, the floodgates burst open in the form of a no-holds-barred memoir, The Woman in Me, which contains revelations about everything from her relationship with Justin Timberlake to the time she wore a pajama top to a movie premiere. Unsurprisingly, it became an instant bestseller—moving roughly 1.1 million copies in a single week in the U.S. alone. That total includes the audiobook, narrated by Michelle Williams.
A version of this story ran in 2020; it has been updated for 2023.