Interviewer: Peter Robinson
Interviewee: Britney Spears (obviously)
Monday, August 8 2011. There are riots across London but in one small bit of it, at 10.30pm, Popjustice is on the phone being put through to Britney Spears. She is getting ready for a show and has agreed to talk to us for a few minutes.
During the course of organising the interview we have requested that, when she comes on the line, the first thing Britney says is ďitís Britney bitchĒ.
Here is what happens.
Britney, are you there?
Great. What most drives you to be brilliant - fear of failure or thirst for success?
Thirst for success. I constantly want to outdo the last thing I've done.
Have you learned that over the years or was that always there?
Over the years. Iíve always worked hard for whatever Iíve got but as time goes by I tend to want to outdo myself which I guess is a good thing.
How do you define success now? Is it album sales or ticket sales, or whether you personally like something?
Just by feeling accomplished in what Iíve done, you know? In the art that weíve done. At this point in my career I am making the music that I enjoy and the music I know my fans will love.
Even if youíre saying ďI am being totally honest with youĒ do you still think itís important for popstars to keep something back from their fans?
I think your personal life is your personal life, and that should stay private, but in the line of talking about my craft and what I do Iím willing to talk about those things.
That bit where it overlaps is complicated. What is it that keeps people on the outside from going over the line... I donít know what it is, is it respect?
It doesnít seem like those outside have too much trouble crossing the line...
And how much of the real you do you think we know? None, everything, half? 45%?
I would say half. I can be pretty guarded with my personal life and I've learned thatís okay.
Thatís quite a lot to know.
But itís also quite a lot not to know.
Yes! Sometimes itís our secrets that define us.
So now Iím wondering what the half I donít know is.
Yes. That's the point.
And itís your job to make sure I donít find out.
Thereís a question Iíve got written down here, which Iíll explain properly once youíve supplied me with an answer, and the question is: if you were locked in a room with only a saucepan, what would you do?
Iíd knock on the door with it.
The thing is, I remember reading something about some sort of behavioural study and during the course of the study they did a test where people were locked, on their own, in a room with only a saucepan. And apparently within five minutes of being in the room, more than half of the men had put the saucepan on their head.
What do you think that says about the difference between men and women?
How different we are!
I suppose so. Do you have any grey hairs?
If youíd never released a second single - so if Ď...Baby One More Timeí had been one massive hit with nothing else - what would you be doing now?
Raising my family. Being a mom.
Youíre kind of doing that anyway, if obviously in quite different circumstances... But what else would be different about your life, what else would you have done?
It would probably pretty much be the same because Iím very strong in the way I raise my kids and stuff, so it would probably be pretty much the same but career-wise Iíd probably be a teacher. I love kids and even in what I do now one of my favorite parts of my day is getting to meet my fans before the show. Especially the little ones. They are always so cute.
Is that something you were thinking of doing when you were younger?
Yes. My mom was a teacher.
What would be your specialist subject?
Iíd specialise in reading and history.
Whatís your favourite historical period?
Which fits in quite well with the Art Deco styling of your current artwork.
Would you let either of your kids become a popstar? Would the fact that youíve been one yourself change how likely youíd be to say Ďyes thatís a great ideaí or Ďno thatís not such a good ideaí?
Iíd definitely keep an eye on them, but if thatís what they wanted to do then Iíd let them go after it. I'd just be very protective.
Youíve been on the receiving end of quite a lot over the years - what would you warn your kids about?
Well, I wouldnít want them to go into it feeling fearful, and also nobody can really prepare you for this industry and what you experience, so Iíd just have to trust that they have the instincts to know whatís right and wrong and help guide them along the way. I think I have the experience.
The idea of following instincts is quite interesting... In the same way that you can give someone vocal lessons or dance lessons or whatever without them ever really being equipped to be a popstar, youíre saying that you canít teach someone how to react to what happens when you do become one?
Exactly. Every path is different.
Do you think youíve ever recorded a perfect song?
Do I think thereís any such thing as a perfect song?
Well that as well I suppose, but I was wondering if you think youíve recorded one...
Um... I donít know if thereís such thing as a perfect song. There are songs that Iím completely in love with, but songs are creative and they can be anything So I donít think thereís any such thing as a perfect song.
You see if someone were to say to me, Ďwhatís the perfect song?í, I might have a few examples but one of them is Ď...Baby One More Timeí.
Well thank you for the music Britney.
Well, thank you for listening Peter!
What do you look back on and go, Ďwell that was a bit rubbishí?
Um... (Miniature pause) Well I think that everything happens for a reason so I donít really think anything... Well, I think you learn from everything that happens, good or bad. But youíre talking about songs?
Songs, anything really. I just think itís really helpful if you want to get a sense of what an artist thinks about themselves, if you know how they actually rank their own work.
Making music is a creative process. I donít think you can rank that process.
So going at it from a different angle, you say that you learn a lesson when somethingís good or when somethingís bad - what lessons have you learned from things that havenít gone quite according to plan?
Um... [Get] everybody in check! (Laughs) And make sure that everybodyís on top of what theyíre doing. And if it doesnít happen the way you want it to happen, just donít take yourself too seriously, and move on.
Do you lead or follow?
I definitely lead.
Is it hard work doing all that leading? It must be a lot easier to just sit around copying people.
No, itís not hard work, itís part of who I am. I love to strive to do things differently. Thatís part of why I love what I do - being in this industry because you can, you know, do so many different things, and that makes you who you are.
How do you feel youíre leading at the moment? So for example with the dubstep breakdown in ĎHold It Against Meí it felt like something that a global pop performer hadnít yet done, and it felt like an instance of you pushing things a bit... But I wasnít sure if that was you who was doing that pushing. And Iím wondering if there are any examples of things youíve done where youíve thought, Ďyes, Iím really proud to have done this firstí.
I had a definite idea in my head for the sound and direction of this album when we set out to make it and I think we nailed it. I'm really proud of this album. Also, in performances and stuff and in videos and in every craft that I do I always think up the storylines and just think about how to make it different and do stuff thatís never been done before. And, um, so it stands out, and so people are inspired by that and then you inspire each other. And thatís what weíre here to do.
You say, Ďthatís what weíre here to doí, but there are plenty of people who work in and around the industry youíre in and they don't think thatís what theyíre there to do. A lot of the time theyíre in the business to get as far as they can by keeping their head down and not getting rumbled. Do you think you operate in a different world from those people?
I think thereís a lot of us who lead and thereís a lot of us who follow and our worlds are different. I feel my world is different, even from other people who lead.
But everyone ends up in the same chart at the end of the day, even if theyíve come at pop music from quite different angles.
Which is quite exciting.
Yes. But I can only worry about me!.
What time do you go to bed?
How do you like your day to run?
On tour, I usually get up in the morning and I work out, and I spend time with my kids, and then itíll be time to go to the venue, and I have catering, eat dinner then get ready for the show!
Do you enjoy having structure to your day?
I really do. I love routine and I love structure.
Whatís the biggest mistake youíve ever made?
The biggest mistake Iíve ever made? (Thinks) To not trust my instincts.
So is it now your first instinct to, er, trust your instincts?
When did you learn that lesson?
Itís just about listening to your gut in different situations. I've learned to trust my instincts over the years but it definitely took time.
Youíre singing about The Club a lot these days. Perhaps this is part of the 50% of your life I know nothing about but it seems like youíre not actually going out to clubs. So this club you sing about - do you actually go there?
Actually no I donít. (Laughs) I never go to The Club. But I think itís fun to sing about it. And I have my own mini club at my house.
Yes. And I play a lot of music there!
Does the club at your house have a name?
Does it have a glitterball?
Yes, it has a glitterball. And we have catering and lights. Itís the whole setup.
Do you like being looked at?
I donít like being judged. But I, you know, I think itís flattering when people make comments that are nice. Particularly when itís something that inspires me to do better.
Thereís a fine line, especially these days when people can directly talk to you on Twitter or wherever, between taking what people say seriously enough because theyíre fans and of course you want to take what theyíre saying on board, and then separating that from the people who just hurl abuse. How do you divide the constructive advice from the shouting?
Well when people are screaming at shows and stuff itís the most flattering thing there is and it just inspires and motivates me to do a better show.
But these people are fans.
What about the people on messageboards or on social media. How do you ignore the bad stuff? A lot of people say they donít go online, but...
No, I donít. I never have. I'm not interested in the negative. Only the positive.
If you were 14 again now, and you were starting off in 2011, how would you get things moving?
Make good contacts.
I know what you mean by that and you know what you mean by that but letís say this 14-year-old kid doesnít find it as obvious as to just Ďmake good contactsí - how would you even start?
You know I think itís all about who your connections are with and the people you surround yourself with, so I think if I was doing it all again now Iíd do that but Iíd also take advantage of social media.
When a lot of artists hit a certain age - Usher, Justin Timberlake, whoever - they start bringing through protogees and launching label imprints and so on. So Usher had Justin Bieber, which panned out reasonably well. If you were to start your own label and a protogee of your own, what sort of popstar would you look for?
I think thereís a lot of people out there who can sing and dance but Iíd look for that somebody out there who has that something to stand out from everyone else. Someone who people are magnetised towards. I'm always looking for that person with that special quality. Itís hard to find....
And this goes back to what we were talking about earlier - itís not something you could teach someone.
Is there a style of voice or a type of music youíd be looking to work with?
Well, someone who loves music. Not just wants to be famous, you know?
People think that fame is always a good thing when, in fact, itís usually a bad thing.
What sort of demands are put on artists now that werenít there in the 90s? Whatís changed?
I donít really have that many demands on me. I genuinely do love what I do but I think albums are judged on sales, which is not good.
When you came out you were presented as the sort of popstar whoíd be judged by sales, though. The sort of popstar you were was someone who just sold records. And then maybe you became something else, but do you think youíve moved so far away from your 17-year-old self that record sales arenít important?
You know what, I make the music that I love and thatís what matters really. And I hope everyone else likes it.
When do you think the world will end, and what will the end of the world sound like?
(Laughing) That is one of the strangest questions I have ever been asked, apart from the saucepan one! I'm a positive person so i'm going to say never!
Do you think it would make a noise?
Of course! It would go snap, crackle and pop