Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Susie Banikarim (00:05):

I almost wish it had just been written like her chaotic captions on Instagram.

Jessica Bennett (00:09):

Yeah, I know. I was thinking that a bit too. I’m Jessica Bennett.

Susie Banikarim (00:15):

And I’m Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (00:17):

And this is in Retrospect where each week we revisit a cultural moment from the past that shaped us.

Susie Banikarim (00:22):

And that we just can’t stop thinking about.

Jessica Bennett (00:24):

This week we have a special episode, the long awaited memoir from Britney Spears has finally hit stands and Susie and I have stayed up all night reading it and we’re here to talk about it.

Britney Spears (00:37):

It’s Britney baby.

Jessica Bennett (00:39):

Okay. Give me your first impressions. I know you were up for a while last night, reading, delving into this memoir.

Susie Banikarim (00:46):

Well, my first impressions are a lot of the book has been covered in the last week or so, so a lot of the big surprises have already been revealed. It was sort of interesting to read it for yourself though, because I felt like in some ways it answers some questions, but there are still so many questions unanswered. I have so many questions that we can talk about as we go through some of the topic areas. In a weird way, it feels a little thin. I hate to say that because getting to hear from Britney herself after so long and after she felt like her voice had been essentially extinguished for so long is valuable. But in a weird way, I feel like I’ve learned more about her from following her Instagram than I did in this book because in some ways it feels very sanitized. It feels very much like it’s been polished for a mainstream audience.


And then they just dropped in some salacious revelations because they knew that’s what would sell the book, which isn’t entirely fair to Britney because she had a ghost writer. So there’s a lot going on here that goes into a book that isn’t just from the author. What were your first impressions?

Jessica Bennett (02:08):

Yeah, I mean, we know so much about Britney Spears for better or worse, I think a lot of us who have followed her case and the conservatorship and read the articles about it, and were fans back in the day, we just know a lot. And so to read a book, you’re kind of expecting to get things that you didn’t already know. And in fact, she does, I think, confirm a lot of things that were suspected. But like you said, it feels thin in parts, it’s pretty vague in some of the areas where I really wanted details. And I found myself a couple of hours in just frantically Googling who the ghost writer was. I wanted more information about that person.

Susie Banikarim (02:47):

What did you find? I’m actually curious.

Jessica Bennett (02:48):

He’s a journalist. There’s not much there. I don’t know. I don’t know. It’d be fascinating to hear from him because there were just lines in it where I was like, that just doesn’t sound like her. And who am I to say what sounds like Britney Spears? But as you said, we know so much about how she is today from her Instagram, or at least we think we do that, we kind of have this idea in our minds of what her voice sounds like, and it’s not quite as polished as I think the book is.

Susie Banikarim (03:17):

Yeah, it’s interesting she chose a man as the ghostwriter. I don’t think I realized that because I think the name is Sam something. It’s like a generic name that could be either way. And I assumed it was a woman just because so much of the book is about this tension in her life of, is she a child? Sort of the line from her song, Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman. This tension of was she allowed to grow up? Did she grow up too fast? Has she not grown up at all? So it feels like a woman might have handled it better. I don’t know. I mean, there are definitely lines where you’re like, Britney definitely didn’t say this. And then there are lines where it clearly is something that Britney said that he’s trying to infuse her voice in it.

Jessica Bennett (03:57):

Well, did you notice that? I swear to God, there was a lot of, I swear to God.

Susie Banikarim (04:01):

I swear to God, yeah.

Jessica Bennett (04:02):

Which I thought was cute.

Susie Banikarim (04:03):

Yeah. And then there was some repetitiveness that you felt had to have come from her, right? Because why would he just be repeating things if they weren’t from her perspective? I almost wish, I mean, this is one of those wishes that would never come true, but I almost wish it had just been written her chaotic captions on Instagram.

Jessica Bennett (04:21):

Yeah, I know. I was thinking that a bit too. Well, it’s interesting because one of the last big celebrity memoirs that we read, I think was Pamela Anderson’s, and she wrote that book herself. And it was really chaotic at times, there were these huge swaths of her poetry that would just come in the middle of chapters. That was a little strange, but it really felt like her and I was like, “Ah, I wish we were getting some long rambling for any captions in the middle of this.”

Susie Banikarim (04:47):

I almost feel like they could have just woven that in or something. Because we do know that’s her voice. We know her voice now. The one other thing I want to say, because you mentioned for those of us who followed her, we sort of know so much about her. And that’s true. I mean, I obviously followed Brittany. I was a huge fan. I am a huge fan. I don’t know if you know this about me, but one of my greatest accomplishments of all time is that Britney Spears follows me on Twitter.

Jessica Bennett (05:13):

That’s actually amazing.

Susie Banikarim (05:14):

It’s amazing. It’s less meaningful now that none of us are on Twitter. But I think the reason she follows me, I never figured out when she started following me. I just noticed one day she was and was like, this is it. I can retire now.

Jessica Bennett (05:27):


Susie Banikarim (05:28):

I think it’s because when she did her speech to the court about her conservatorship, I had a tweet that went viral about how lucid she sounded and how much you could just tell that she actually was perfectly capable of managing herself. And I have to assume that’s why she started following me. But anyway, what occurred to me when I was reading all this last night is that, it’s easy to forget because she’s come to represent so many things beyond what she’s accomplished, just how insanely accomplished she was.

Jessica Bennett (06:00):

Yeah, I know. It was almost like she was going through, and then this album came out, and then this album came out. In these really short time spans, it almost was if she could have spent more time discussing that, it’s just incredible. Her production.

Susie Banikarim (06:15):

Yeah, I mean, honestly, she sold 150 million records worldwide. She’s sold 70 million in the US alone. She’s got 15 Guinness World Records. I [inaudible 00:06:25].

Jessica Bennett (06:25):


Susie Banikarim (06:27):

She has Grammys, she has MTV awards. She’s done all this stuff.

Jessica Bennett (06:30):

She could have filled the whole book just with her accomplishments.

Susie Banikarim (06:32):

Yeah. With just her accomplishments. And she is a genius in this arena. She, in many ways outside of Madonna, has come to be synonymous with pop music. So one of the things I feel a little sad about in the book is how much of the book is about all this other bullshit and how she doesn’t get to really be like, “I am amazing.” I mean, you definitely see that in her and you see her grasping for that. But she’s been made to feel small for so long that it’s almost, she just mentions it the way I mentioned graduating from college. You know what I mean? She like, “And then I won the Grammy, and then this unbelievable thing happened.” And I’m like, dude, that’s crazy.

Jessica Bennett (07:18):

Right, right. Some things that I didn’t know beforehand that I think the book really hit on. She really starts from the beginning, it’s sort of a narrative arc of her life chronologically. And she had a lot of trauma in her childhood, real trauma like abuse and violence and alcoholism and the death of a grandmother and starting drinking when she was, I think at age 13 with her mom. And so much of the stuff that it’s easy to see how there would be lasting effects of that.

Susie Banikarim (07:57):

Yeah, I mean, I guess we should have said at the top of this spoiler alert, because we are going to talk about some things in the book.

Jessica Bennett (08:02):

Spoiler alert.

Susie Banikarim (08:03):

And spoiler alert. So one thing I do want to mention in that regard, I was really shocked by the story about her dad’s mom. The book starts with this anecdote where her father’s mother died by suicide, and in this very dramatic way, she had lost a child. And she goes, and I think she shoots herself on the grave.

Jessica Bennett (08:25):

On the gravestone.

Susie Banikarim (08:26):

And so it really does set the tone for how traumatic her entire childhood would be, really at the hands of her father primarily. But also she has a lot of resentment about her mother and the way that her mother created an environment that was very chaotic and there was a lot of screaming. And so the first bit of the book is really about how she escaped into herself, into her music, that that’s how she found some freedom. And then pretty early on, she starts performing.

Jessica Bennett (09:01):

Right. Very early on. The other thing that was noteworthy is that, the mother who commit suicide was Jean, which is her middle name so she was named after her. But yeah, that really does set the tone at the very beginning of the book.

Susie Banikarim (09:16):

Yeah. There are two sort of central tensions in the book. One is, I mean, obviously the book is titled The Woman In Me. So this idea of being a woman is very central to the book. But the way it’s presented is this tension between not a girl, not yet a woman, is she a child? She talks a lot about regressing. She talks about Benjamin Button a lot, and how when things are hard or difficult for her, she ages backwards. She has this real sense that when she is vulnerable, she starts to feel like a child. And that just as she is becoming a woman, just as she is finally getting to the point where she might have been able to take ownership of her own life, this incident occurs, this period of time after her children, and then her father puts her in this conservatorship, and then she’s essentially infantalized for 13 years. So then she’s just literally not allowed to become a woman. But at the same time, she has had the adult responsibility of supporting her entire family since she was 15.


So it is this sort of thing that she keeps returning to. “Was I a child? Was I a ghost child?” At one point she says, “I felt like a ghost child. Am I a woman? What does it mean to be a woman?” It’s a very central theme of the book. Did that feel like it landed for you?

Jessica Bennett (10:59):

Yeah. I mean, I think that’s something that we’ve talked about prior to reading any of this. And just our observations is that there is this sense of she didn’t get to fully grow up. And there’s some ways about her that feel really frozen in time. She is still living in the early 2000s, and she does still feel much younger than she is. But like you said, in so many ways, she was adultified when she was so young. She talks about various interviews in the media. And who is the interview with the old guy Ed something?

Susie Banikarim (11:35):

Oh, you mean the story with Ed McMahon?

Jessica Bennett (11:37):

Oh, yeah, McMahon. Okay. Yes. So Ed McMahon on Star Search, I can’t remember exactly how old she is, but she’s very young. She’s not yet a teenager. And she goes on and they have this banter and he’s asking her if she has a boyfriend. First of all, it’s too young for her to be having a boyfriend, but then he’s like, what about me? And this is like a, I don’t know how old he was, I remember him having gray hair. But just little things like that that she touches on at various points where it’s like she’s being treated like an adult, but at the same time totally infantalized as she actually grows older.

Susie Banikarim (12:09):

Yeah, it’s funny. Because I mean, honestly, I used to watch Star Search. I guess we’re going back to the narrative of how much TV I watch. I think he was trying to be charming. It’s like a banter, “Do you have any boyfriends?” And she’s like, “Boys are gross or boys are mean,” and he like, “I’m not mean.” And he thinks it’s sweet. But another tension in this book, which is I think the second central attention is this idea that she craves attention. She wants to perform, she wants to be on stage, she wants attention, but also when it happens, it terrifies her.


She literally goes backstage after that moment with Ed McMahon, and she weeps. And she constantly talks about wanting the spotlight, but then needing to get away from it. And then it gets worse, the spotlight keeps getting harsher and harsher. As time goes on, it’s like the attention gets crueler, it gets more aggressive, it becomes physically violent with the paparazzi. And so she’s constantly dipping her toe out and then running away, dipping her toe out and running away. And now she is again in this situation where she has to decide how much is she going to return to public life? She sort of said after the conservatorship that she wasn’t going to do that. She’s just going to chill for a bit. But this book is a return to public life. So there is this feeling that you get that she can’t quite decide what she wants her relationship to be to attention.

Jessica Bennett (13:41):

Well, and it was interesting too, I didn’t know that she had social anxiety. And so she talks about that in the book, and she names it as such, and she describes how, yeah, of course she could go on stage and she could perform for 1000s of people and do it well. But then in small groups, she would have a lot of anxiety and get really self-conscious and be really embarrassed about what she would say. And that too is interesting tension. I mean, there’s a lot of these tensions and sort of juxtapositions in the way that she is or has come to be. And I feel like that was another one.

Susie Banikarim (14:16):

Yeah. The other thing that’s interesting is she mentions that when she became a judge on Fear Factor many years later, she hated it. She hated the pressure of it. She didn’t like judging other people, she-

Jessica Bennett (14:27):

Which was so surprising. Because you think of her as such an amazing performer.

Susie Banikarim (14:32):

Another way in which this comes out is the way she describes this Diane Sawyer interview as so horrible for her.

Jessica Bennett (14:37):


Susie Banikarim (14:38):

Let’s back up for a second and explain what that is. So there’s the whole Justin section. We’ll get into Justin and all of that. But after her breakup with Justin Timberlake, her father essentially forces her, her father and her team, force her to do this interview with Diane Sawyer, who was-

Jessica Bennett (14:55):

Susie’s former boss.

Susie Banikarim (14:56):

My former boss, and who was literally one of the most famous women in the world, another one of these big name interviewers. And she describes this interview as really a breaking point for her. She had a horrible time. She felt like it was so harsh. And what’s so interesting is when you watch it, because of course I rewatched the whole thing over the weekend, is she’s actually handling herself with enormous poise. She is actually totally on it. She seems incredibly smart. She comes across as in control of the situation she’s in. And yet what she’s feeling is all this anxiety, all this pressure. And so it’s interesting that she does have this ability to mask, which I think is very common of people who come from traumatic childhoods, that you kind of have to have a public persona, because otherwise everyone knows all the crazy things in your house. So you just put on this mask, and you go out there and you pretend like everything’s fine. And then the minute you’re alone again, you can kind of fall apart. And that’s kind of what she describes that interview as.

Jessica Bennett (16:01):

Right. And I mean, I imagine that’s such a big part of being a performer too. You have to put on a brave face, and you have to look good while doing it. And so you go out there and you do it, and whatever’s festering underneath the surface stays there until you get backstage. And she does at many different points throughout the book, describe weeping backstage.

Susie Banikarim (16:20):

Yeah, actually, did you see that Katie Perry clip that went viral? That’s like-

Jessica Bennett (16:24):

I don’t think so.

Susie Banikarim (16:25):

It actually went viral recently, but it’s from an old documentary about her where Russell Brand breaks up with her. He’s telling her he’s divorcing her either over text or he calls her. It’s like it’s horrible. And she’s literally about to go on stage and she’s weeping, and then she shakes herself off, and she literally gets onto one of those lifts that’s going to pull her up on stage. And the next thing you know, she’s just snapped into it and she’s performing. And that’s what I kept picturing when Britney was describing that. So the interesting thing about the Diane Sawyer interview is, honestly, I did not, I don’t know if you’ve watched it recently. I don’t think the questions are so cruel.


There are definitely some questions you just wouldn’t ask. Now, you would just acknowledge that she was like, I think she was 20 or 21 at the time. So there are just some questions like an adult woman wouldn’t ask what is essentially still a child about her love life or her virginity, which is crazy. So there are definitely some things that feel dated, but she is trying to be empathic. I mean, I just know when Diane is being harsh and when she is trying to connect. To me, it was very clear that she was trying to connect. So it’s also interesting what a divide there is from what I think Diane was trying to do and how Britney received it. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that she sort of says, “I was so raw. I was so vulnerable. I had just gone through this breakup with Justin and I wasn’t ready to have it mined.” And there’s this part where she cries, and you can see she’s so upset that she’s crying. She literally says, “Ew, ew.”

Jessica Bennett (18:05):

Oh, I remember watching this. Yes, yes.

Britney Spears (18:07):

Oh my goodness. Hello, Ew [inaudible 00:18:13].

Susie Banikarim (18:14):

And in that moment you see that she’s like doesn’t want to be mined in this way, that she’s trying to protect herself, but that just by virtue of being here, that’s impossible. And I think that’s also something that’s changed in culture. Now, you would just release something on Instagram, you wouldn’t need to do that Diane Sawyer interview.

Jessica Bennett (18:35):

I mean, the other thing that is so horrowing to read about is just how much control her father had over her life. I mean, obviously we knew that that’s what the whole conservatorship was about. But even with this interview, which was before the conservatorship, he shows up with the whole team and basically demands that she’s going to go on the show. She has no prep time. She doesn’t want to do it, but he says what goes.

Susie Banikarim (19:00):

Well and she’s also, she says a lot about how she’s a people pleaser. So she also has a hard time saying no, even when she doesn’t want to do something, a different star might have said like, “No, get out of my apartment, I’m not doing it.” But that she does have this, I think she described it like a southern desire to be a good girl, to please, not to say too much, but I think it’s probably worth actually backing up and explaining why she’s doing this interview. Because it’s essentially because Justin Timberlake has broken her heart and is waging a publicity battle against her. So let’s talk about the Justin parts of the book because they are a lot.

Jessica Bennett (19:54):

So most of us know that Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears dated, they had met years earlier on the Mickey Mouse Club. And then they began seeing each other. And at a certain point, they were living together while I believe on their respective tours. And she talks in the book about how he cheats on her multiple times, and she pretty much knows this at the time, but doesn’t say anything. She then cheats on him. Anyhow, it’s volatile in some ways, but she still very much loves him. And then ultimately, he breaks up with her in a text message while she is filming one of her videos.

Susie Banikarim (20:33):

Unfucking believable.

Jessica Bennett (20:35):

So I imagine that was another one of those moments where she’s having to put on a face and go out and perform while inside she’s just reeling. And so what happens next is she’s completely broken. I remember that feeling of being that age and being in love and having your heart broken, and she just is devastated. So she goes back to her hometown she’s comatose, she’s in Louisiana. He at one point comes to visit her, I believe. But then what happens is he goes on his solo tour, he puts out the song Cry Me a River, which has the video that I remember, and I’m sure you do too, Susie, from that time where there is an actress who looks like her in the video. Who-

Susie Banikarim (21:19):

Dressed like her.

Jessica Bennett (21:20):

Dressed like her, and is cheating on him in the video. And so suddenly it was like, oh, poor Justin. Britney cheated on him. Britney’s such a villain. And essentially he pushed that narrative forward and she became the villain in this breakup.

Susie Banikarim (21:37):

So I think what’s so interesting is, a lot of this was known. Before the book, we knew that they had had this relationship and that he had framed it as her having cheated on him. And a couple of years ago when there was a bit of a reckoning around her, he did put out this apology. But the one thing in the book that we did not know is that she had had an abortion, and that Justin had really pushed her into that abortion. And in fairness to him, he said, “I’m not ready to be a father.” And she didn’t want to have a kid with someone who didn’t want to be a father, but she describes it as one of the most agonizing things she ever had to experience. And there’s this really sad scene where they decide because they don’t want it to leak, that she has to do a self-administered abortion. She takes pills, so she’s not under a doctor’s care. And she says it’s just excruciating, and she’s just lying on the floor in the bathroom. And then this detail, I just can’t get passed-

Jessica Bennett (22:34):

The strumming.

Susie Banikarim (22:36):

Yeah. Yeah. Thank you so much for knowing exactly what I’m talking about. Because I was like, literally, this is my worst nightmare. She says, at one point, “[inaudible 00:22:46] thought music would help. So he went and got his guitar, and he laid there with me, strumming it.”

Jessica Bennett (22:54):

See, I don’t know. I was like, they must have been so, they were so young. She’s in so much pain. She’s lying on the floor. He must’ve just been desperate to try to comfort her in some way. That was my interpretation.

Susie Banikarim (23:09):

Such a sweet interpretation, because my interpretation was, when I was in my twenties and a guy pulled out a guitar to [inaudible 00:23:18] it was always horrible. So the idea that while I’m lying on the floor bleeding, he’s like, “Hey, baby, I have a song for you.” Just the image in my mind is, I mean, what you’re describing actually is probably more accurate and probably more sweet. But I just picture this douchebag with his guitar, and it’s hard not to picture him as a douchebag because there’s this whole other scene she describes of him. When they’re walking around in New York and they run into Genuine.

Jessica Bennett (23:47):

Genuine, oh God, I… That’s actually the one thing in the whole book that I screenshotted. Because it was so cringe.

Susie Banikarim (23:56):

He’s literally like fooshes fooshe [inaudible 00:23:58] what’s happenings?

Jessica Bennett (23:58):

Like hey, homie. Yeah, he, yes.

Susie Banikarim (24:01):

Yes. And she’s just mortified for him. So he does seem so douchey in this whole thing. He does not come off well. But yeah, in fairness, he’s pretty young too. But really where I think he is the villain is the Cry Me the River thing, which you’ve talked about. It’s like he really leans into this idea that she has betrayed him. He uses it to promote the album in large part, it’s why it sells so much. He goes on a radio tour, he talks about her sex life. He reveals that she’s not a virgin, which for whatever reason her virginity had become, her team has pushed this idea of her being a virgin, which she wasn’t, even when she met Justin Timberlake. That’s another revelation in the book. He essentially uses her. She says he’s the first love of her life. He’s her first kiss, and then he completely betrays her setting the tone for all the betrayals that are yet to come.

Jessica Bennett (24:52):

And that too, I think is another theme of the book, is all these betrayals by men largely. So the next significant romantic relationship she has is with Kevin Federline, the father of her children. And the thing that really stuck out to me and that I just felt for her so much in her descriptions of that relationship is when I believe they have one of the kids, and she may be pregnant with another, and he is on tour because Kevin Federline is now K-Fed, and he’s trying to establish his rap career and is getting some small success and is really feeling himself. And he goes on tour and won’t speak to her. So she flies to New York to talk to her husband, and the security guards turn her away. He literally will not see his wife who’s pregnant with their child, and then she flies to Vegas to try to talk to him there and the same thing happens. And I was just thinking to myself, can you… You’re trying to talk to your partner, the father of your children, and he just won’t even speak to you.

Susie Banikarim (25:59):

Well, and also by the way, a man you are supporting completely, she’s paying all his bills. This music career in quotes, is entirely funded by her, and yet he’s suddenly treating her like garbage. And I will say she did get a shot off on this at one point when she was talking about him being a rapper. She was like, “Bless his heart.”

Jessica Bennett (26:18):

Yeah, I love that part. I love that part.

Susie Banikarim (26:21):

I love that part.

Jessica Bennett (26:21):

That was the one part where it was like she was clearly doing a sarcasm line, whether that was her or the ghost writer. It worked.

Susie Banikarim (26:28):

Yeah, it really worked. And he just is such a scumbag. He comes off so poorly, and actually she doesn’t go in on him as much as I expected. And I think in large part, that has to do with the fact that they are always in this ongoing custody issue with their kids, even though now the kids are older. But, my takeaway from that is that Kevin essentially used those kids as a weapon. And from what we know now, he essentially has never worked since. He has used those kids to support him and his entire family. He has another family, other kids, and a wife, and he has never worked since then and has just completely lived off of her. And he used those kids like a cudgel to make sure that he could have access to her money.


And that is so depressing too, because the passages are so touching. How much she wanted to be a mom, how much those children meant to her, how much she just loved to be around them. And then they’re so young when they get taken away from her, they’re like five months and 17 months, I think. And that’s what leads to the very famous head shaving incident, which she does address in the book.

Jessica Bennett (27:36):

Yeah. That was one of the parts where I felt like she did give a little bit more description and context than had been out there. And so I really appreciated reading about that. But she was grieving, she was grieving the loss of her children, and she was out of her mind in pain, in sadness, in panic, in fear that she would have them taken away permanently. And so now, you can really understand somebody in that state. She’s absolutely out of her mind with grief about losing her children.

Susie Banikarim (28:09):

And also her aunt, one of her closest relatives has just died of cancer. She has postpartum. It’s this perfect storm. Everything is falling apart around her, and now she’s being told she can’t see her children, and it’s in the midst of that, that she goes to try and see them, and she’s turned away. And that’s what leads up to the moment where she goes into the hair salon and takes the shaver and shaves her head.

Jessica Bennett (28:34):

Yeah. Which of course became the cover of every tabloid in the world. And we’ve all seen pictures of, it’s like, you don’t even need to describe it because we all know it, but she describes a bit about what that was and how in some ways that was just a fuck you to everyone who had tried to infantalize her, who tried to adultify her, who tried to sexualize her, who tried to make her pretty, who tried to make her into a good girl, who tried to make her into someone who followed the rules, that was the ultimate thing that she could do to be screw you. I am going to now be ugly.

Susie Banikarim (29:09):

In fact, I think I have a quote from the book, which is, “I’d been eyeballed so much growing up. I’d been looked up and down and had people telling me what they thought of my body since I was a teenager. Shaving my head and acting out were my ways of pushing back.” And she says later on, “I’d been the good girl for years. I’d smiled politely while TV show hosts layered at my breasts, while American parents said I was destroying their children by wearing a crop top. While executives patted my hand condescendingly and second guessed my career choices, even though I’d sold millions of records while my family acted like I was evil, and I was tired of it.” It does feel like this moment of rebellion, there’s almost a little bit of catharsis in it. And then of course, it’s immediately turned against her.

Jessica Bennett (29:51):

Well, and the other thing that I found, I don’t know, just sort of horrowing, is that she talks about how her mom couldn’t even look at her with her shaved head. Once her long beautiful hair was gone, which was so much a part of her identity and which is so much a part of, I think, pop star identity in general, her mother actually couldn’t look at her.

Susie Banikarim (30:11):

Yeah. She literally says, yeah.

Jessica Bennett (30:12):

And that was so sad to me. So it’s at the same time you’re reading this and you’re thinking like, oh, it’s so great to hear it in her words, I’m hearing you read that quote and I’m like, it doesn’t sound like her. It’s a little heavy-handed. It’s like parroting the talking points of this empowerment, reclaiming of your identity moment back to the reader. So I don’t know. It’s hard, it’s like I’m a little bit torn on how to interpret some of this stuff because, while I think it’s so important to hear from her perspective, I think that there are parts that feel pretty heavy-handed.

Susie Banikarim (30:48):

I will say the thing about this section that really stayed with me, this is the time where you really begin to understand how terrifying the paparazzi was to her. If there’s one thing in the book that becomes very clear, it’s really how afraid of them she was, how aggressive they were with her, how much of her life was controlled by their presence, and how much she had to evade them or try and get away from them. She wouldn’t be able to stay places for very long because the longer she stayed more would arrive. And I thought that was interesting because it’s changed so much. Now there are more safeguards in place, especially with children, but was before any of that occurred.

Jessica Bennett (31:27):

So people were saying, why won’t you let us have access to photograph your children? And she and Kevin were having to figure out how to put blankets over their heads so they could still breathe while carrying them out of the house because they didn’t want them photographed, which actually it seems like a very sane decision.

Susie Banikarim (31:44):

But looks crazy when you’re doing it.

Jessica Bennett (31:46):

Right. Exactly. And back then, the thinking was, well, why is she hiding her kids?

Susie Banikarim (31:51):

She just genuinely does not know how to get away from it, and for all that her father is trying to control her. He’s not doing anything to protect her, nothing.

Jessica Bennett (32:00):

Right, right, right. For all these supposed safeguards in place, there are none as it pertains to this.

Susie Banikarim (32:06):

And then that obviously leads to the head shaving leads to her being-

Jessica Bennett (32:10):


Susie Banikarim (32:10):

Institutionalized very briefly. She’s put on a weekend hold and then sent home early and then again, and then that leads to the infamous conservatorship, which it’s been talked about a lot. I don’t know that we have to get into all the details, but I do think the thing that was most interesting to me about this is, I really have so many questions about how she got out of it. I still don’t understand.

Jessica Bennett (32:34):

That was one of the parts where my editor Brain was like, “Ah, details, details, details.” Where are the details? How did you literally change lawyers? How did you argue this? What exactly was the argument made when you made that 911 call to report your father for conservatorship abuse? What was the response on the other line? What then happened? Did the police come to your house? Anyway, I have so many questions.

Susie Banikarim (32:57):

I have so many questions about this section too.

Jessica Bennett (32:58):

And I have to wonder if some of the sanitizing is for legal reasons, but even… It’s like I wanted names. There’s a whole section where she describes, again, being institutionalized against her will this time, much later toward the end of the conservatorship for a number of months. And this is the point at which the fans, the free Britney fans start to notice that she has gone away and they start to get suspicious, and this is when they start galvanizing to push the questions forward about what is really happening with the conservatorship. But I’m like, what is this institution? What is the name of the institution? How [inaudible 00:33:38] she couldn’t check herself out. I guess not because the dad is a conservator, but what was really going on there? And was this a facility for mental health? Was it a facility for drug abuse? What-

Susie Banikarim (33:51):

But she calls it a rehab, which is weird. Because they’re not actually accusing her of taking drugs. She says she was taking natural supplements and that’s what caused them to send her. But I feel like also, the thing that was really confusing about this section for me is that up until this, you really have a clear sense of how controlled her life is. At one point, she describes her father bugging her house so that he can overhear her conversations. He decides what she eats, he decides when she sleeps, he decides every, it’s like the most infantalizing thing.

Jessica Bennett (34:20):

She can’t have caffeine. She’s not allowed to have a sip of alcohol. If she wants to have a boyfriend, they have to submit to a blood test.

Susie Banikarim (34:28):

Blood test. So you get the sense that she’s under this enormous control, but then all of a sudden she’s able to escape from it, and we don’t actually hear how that happens. Suddenly she’s just like, “And then I’m meeting with lawyers, and then I’m calling the police.” And you’re like, but how are you meeting with lawyers? You are in this prison, essentially. So it feels like I’m missing like, a big missing beast. And I really just, Britney, please call me, I need to ask you these questions.

Jessica Bennett (34:53):

Those are the details. And I mean the whole scene, when she’s institutionalized toward the end of the conservatorship, it really, I mean, it sounds like girl interrupted the modern version. She describes a woman who hears voices, and there’s all these people who are really, really unwell. And then they’re force-feeding her lithium, which makes her totally lethargic and confused about time and unable to speak clearly. All of these things that sound like some Sylvia Plath 1950s shit.

Susie Banikarim (35:24):

Yes. And then the next thing that happens, it’s so quick, that section. It’s almost like we speed through the section of how she suddenly breaks free from these chains that seem really hard to break free from. But then suddenly we’re in the section where she is giving her statement to the judge in the famous statement she gives that helps free her from the conservatorship.

Jessica Bennett (35:47):

I was like, how did she get there? Like how did they argue you to get that. And then she had to ask for it to be open to the public. How did that work? Anyhow, yes, we have questions.

Susie Banikarim (36:01):

Yes. And so the testimony though is really compelling. I highly recommend going to listen to it. You can find it on YouTube. We can play a little bit of it for you just so you can hear her voice.

Britney Spears (36:09):

I also would like to be able to share my story with the world and what they did to me instead of it being a hush hush secret to benefit all of them. I want to be able to be heard on what they did to me by making me keep this in for so long is not good for my heart.

Jessica Bennett (36:25):

I mean, I remember hearing that when she testified and thinking it was so powerful. And then reading about it in the book, I mean, again, it’s like how did she write it? What was the thinking? Did she rehears? I don’t know [inaudible 00:36:41].

Susie Banikarim (36:41):

She did a lot of drafts of it. But you don’t really get a sense of where, I mean, I will say the thing about the statement that I love is that it is very much in Britney’s voice. It is obvious she has written it for herself. A lot of times with something like this, the lawyers would’ve just written it and she would’ve read it. This feels like it is Britney start to finish. It’s in her own words. Sometimes it’s a little circular, sometimes it’s a little chaotic, but it’s super strong, you get the sense that she’s completely capable of managing her own life. In fact, it’s just sort of shocking, and she brings us up a lot in the book, but I feel like the need to repeat it, which is it is crazy that she is literally doing world tours. She is supporting everyone in her family, plus like a cottage industry of other people, and she’s literally being described as incapacitated, unable to make a single decision for herself.


She is clearly more than capable of running her own life. Is she quirky? Is she weird? Is she sometimes dealing with mental health issues? Sure. But no more so than a million other celebrities who go through these things and then just come out the other side and don’t have their family essentially steal their entire adulthoods so that they can just turn them into a cash machine, which is very clearly what happened here. So she says in the book, after the conservatorship, she says, “I’d been taught through the conservatorship to feel almost too fragile, too scared. That’s the price I paid under the conservatorship. They took a lot of my womanhood, my sword, my core, my voice, the ability to say fuck you. And I know that sounds bad, but there’s something crucial about this. Don’t underestimate your power.” And while this sounds nice, I do feel like the ending of the book is a lot about her trying to figure out what that means. How does that work now that she’s free?

Jessica Bennett (38:36):

I mean, notably, a lot has changed since the book was edited and she and her husband have split. He’s referenced in the book as her husband, they didn’t have time to edit it. I mean, things have shifted and what does that look like for her? And it’s interesting too, what you were saying at the beginning, I mean, she’s dipping her toe in and then she’s not sure, but now she’s put this book out, which has put her very much in the public eye again. And is that where she wants to be? And will she go back to performing? I don’t know.

Susie Banikarim (39:07):

Well, also there’s the interesting thing that, did you read the Instagram post she just posted? Being like, “I don’t like what I’m reading about the book.”

Jessica Bennett (39:13):

Oh, I didn’t.

Susie Banikarim (39:14):

Yeah, you and I both know how a book works. I mean, book publishing works. The publisher or her press people have clearly been releasing excerpts of the book on people. And they have been doing that in a very strategic way. Actually, I think I said to you at some point last week, they’re doing a great job with the release because every day it was a new set of headlines. Every day was like another small information.

Jessica Bennett (39:38):

Right. A little bit of information.

Susie Banikarim (39:39):

A little bit of information,

Jessica Bennett (39:40):

Leaked out.

Susie Banikarim (39:42):

But it does make you wonder how much she’s aware of what her team is doing as per usual, because then she put out this statement on October 20th, and she said, “Before the book was out, my book’s purpose was not to offend anyone by any means. That was me then. That is in the past. I don’t like the headlines I’m reading. That’s exactly why I quit the business four years ago.” So it’s like, you don’t like the headlines you’re reading, that’s what’s selling your book. Your book is through the roof presales, and this is why. So it’s an interesting thing. Again, she has this relationship with the process. She doesn’t like the way fame works, and yet it is the way it works. It’s like she’s going to have to either decide that she wants to really run away from it, or she wants to be part of it, and if she’s going to be part of it, I do think she hasn’t yet figured out what that looks like, what she’s okay with, how much she’s willing to give away for it.


And I think her Instagram is such a great example of this. She is constantly shutting down her Instagram and then coming back. She wants the attention of the Instagram, but then something happens, it makes her mad and she leaves. And in fact, right after she posted this Instagram about not liking the book headlines, she shut down her Instagram and then she was back within a day. It’s like this perfect microcosm of her larger relationship with attention. And there was that incident recently where she was dancing with knives. Do you remember this?

Jessica Bennett (41:09):

Yes, I do.

Susie Banikarim (41:10):

She’s dancing with the knives. And so then her fans call the police and have them do a welfare check on her. And so it’s like she can’t, even in the [inaudible 00:41:20].

Jessica Bennett (41:19):

Oh, so they weren’t real knives. She clarified-

Susie Banikarim (41:21):

She says they were prop knives. I mean, even if they were real knives, they weren’t dangerous. There was nothing dangerous about her dance routine. But she does address that in the book. She addresses the way people react to her Instagram because there’s also a lot of nudity in her Instagram, and her children have complained about that, or I don’t know if it’s her children or Kevin Federline or whatever, but it has been said that her children don’t like that, and it’s very provocative at times. At some point, she got a stripper pole, and I think people don’t really know how to respond to it. And she says something about it.


She says, “I know that a lot of people don’t understand why I love taking pictures of myself naked or in new dresses, but I think if they’d been photographed by other people thousands of times prodded and posed for people’s approval, they’d understand that I get a lot of joy from posing the way I feel sexy and taking my own picture,” which I don’t… Does that totally make sense? I don’t know why it didn’t totally make sense to me as an example.

Jessica Bennett (42:15):

I mean, I think because there are hints of a ghost writer or an editor saying the thing that they know needs to be said to justify the behavior in a way that’s palatable to the reader.

Susie Banikarim (42:28):

Yeah, I was confused by that.

Jessica Bennett (42:31):

I don’t know. I mean, I guess it doesn’t have to make sense, but, I mean, the thing that makes me so uncomfortable about Britney in a lot of ways is that everyone thinks they know, and nobody really fucking knows. The fans don’t know the free Britney. People don’t know. I mean, maybe the ghost writer knows, but the ghost writer has an agenda to make the book palatable and make it so that there’s not legal issues and make it so that she’s not getting criticized for X, Y, and Z. And being the right amount of mean when she calls Jamie Lynn, her little sister, a real bitch. But also making up for in the end. So it still is like everyone has an agenda. I mean, everyone-

Susie Banikarim (43:21):

Has an agenda.

Jessica Bennett (43:21):

It’s like, the critics have an agenda. The publicists have an agenda. The ghost writer has an agenda. The book editor has an agenda. So it is hard to tell.

Susie Banikarim (43:32):

I mean, even some of the fans. Even some of the fans, some of the free Britney movement was attention for fans and gave them purpose and meaning. And so some of them haven’t been able to let it go. There’s all sorts of conspiracy theories online.

Jessica Bennett (43:45):

Well they think know what it’s best for her.

Susie Banikarim (43:46):

For her. Yeah.

Jessica Bennett (43:50):

And it’s tough too, because the free Britney movement was right. They did actually draw attention, and she writes about it in the book to the fact that she was trapped in this thing, and she actually thanks them in the book for that. But by the same token, there seems to be this sense that everyone knows what’s best for Britney Spears, and I don’t know that any of us know what’s best for Britney Spears.

Susie Banikarim (44:15):

I think that’s right. And actually, this is a good place to end it because there was a quote from the book I pulled, which I felt like to me was the essence of the book. So I will read it and we can end on that note.

Jessica Bennett (44:25):


Susie Banikarim (44:26):

Which is on page 248 she says, “I guess what I’m saying is, that the mystery of who the real me is, is to my advantage because nobody knows.”

Jessica Bennett (44:38):

That’s funny, that’s self-aware and she wrote it.

Susie Banikarim (44:41):

You’ve read this whole book and you still don’t know about me.

Jessica Bennett (44:45):

That is a good place to end, I mean, yeah, the reality is we don’t know, but we will all still keep talking about it.

Susie Banikarim (45:14):

This is In Retrospect. Thanks for listening. Is there a cultural moment you can’t stop thinking about and want us to explore in a future episode? Email us at [email protected] or find us on Instagram @inretropod.

Jessica Bennett (45:28):

If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. If you hate it, you can post nasty comments on our Instagram which we may or may not delete.

Susie Banikarim (45:39):

You can also find us on Instagram @jessicabennett and @susiebnyc. Also check out Jessica’s books, Feminist Fight Club and This is 18.

Jessica Bennett (45:47):

In Retrospect is a production of iHeart podcast and The Meteor. Lauren Hansen is our supervising producer. Derrick Clements is our engineer and sound designer. Sharon Attia is our researcher and associate producer.

Susie Banikarim (46:00):

Our executive producer from The Meteor is Cindy Leive. Our executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stumpf and Katrina Norvell. Our artwork is from Pentagram. Additional editing help from Mary Dooe and Mike Coscarelli. Sound correction and mastering by Amanda Rose Smith. We are your hosts, Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (46:18):

And Jessica Bennett. We’re also executive producers. For even more, check out inretropod.com. See you next week.