All bets are on for the Britney Spears comeback of 2006.
The timing seems right. It has been 2½ years since she released a record of new material, son Sean Preston is 6 months old, and she has suggested in interviews that she’s ready to get back to work.
“She will have to find a way to reinvent herself, and the public is ready for that,” says Janice Min, editor in chief at Us Weekly. “People are fascinated still, and there is a way for her to capitalize on that.”
Spears’ comeback started Jan. 29, when she took a surprise stroll down the red carpet at a Screen Actors Guild awards after-party. A sit-down with People magazine followed in which she cooed about “that feeling of being on the stage, knowing it’s your best. I love that!” Then there was a live appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America Feb. 28.
Britney Spears is the only female artist to have four consecutive albums debut at No. 1, but her record sales have declined:
There’s more: Spears appears tonight on NBC’s Will & Grace, and in April her third perfume, In Control, will be available. Also in the works: an album planned for November.
But can she endure? And if she does, as what? Her options:
•Icon. After years of Spears-Madonna comparisons, Cher is now noted as a model Spears could follow. “That does seem to be the way things are going for Britney,” says Trent Vanegas, who writes the online celebrity blog Pink Is the New Blog. “People dress like Britney for Halloween, and lots of drag performers love to do Britney. I can totally see that, especially as she gets older.”
But not quite yet, Min says. “After Britney has a fabulous comeback now, she could have another comeback later as the gay icon.”
•Pop star. The music industry is optimistic. “She is an underrated artist,” says Craig Marks, editor in chief at Blender magazine. In her corner: a history of being a hard worker, an instantly identifiable personality and a huge fan base. She also still has what Marks calls “the juice” to pull in pop’s cream of the crop in terms of songwriters and producers.
It’ll take just “one hit single and video — one that does not involve Kevin or being a mom — to salvage her music career,” Vanegas says.
•Celebrity for celebrity’s sake. Love her or hate her, Spears has an indescribable appeal that sells. “Britney gets a lot of crap,” says Gary Janetti, executive producer of Will & Grace, “but we’ve always been on her side. Something makes you want to protect her, since she got so famous so young.”
Says Vanegas: “I wish there was a way I could grab her and say, ‘Let me help you!’ ” Comments posted on his blog, he says, are nearly evenly split between those appalled at her behavior and those who champion her spirit.
Part of Spears’ allure is her “all-American success story,” Marks says. After years of record-breaking accomplishments, “she still seems out of place in moneyed society, so we become fascinated with images of her walking around barefoot.”
Says Larry Hackett, managing editor at People: “I get why readers find it so entertaining. Props to her! She keeps coming back for more, and she doesn’t hide. … You have to admire that chutzpah.”
•Sex kitten. It worked for several years, but at 24 and married with a child, it’s not a likely comeback scenario. “She has to move beyond the pop-tartlet phenom,” Min says. “Her fan base has grown up and moved on.”
•Sitcom actress.Will & Grace is Spears’ first foray into character acting, and the show’s creators say she did a surprisingly good job. “Will & Grace is a great move,” Vanegas says. “If she would just keep doing these kind of things … instead of just hanging out with Kevin and doing whatever (the basis for her reality TV flop Chaotic). That’s what will lead to a time when people don’t care anymore.”
The role is a “very good way to get her chops into comedy,” says Tim Brooks, co-author of The Complete Directory of Prime-Time Network and Cable TV Shows. Especially since the part is “very out of type. She’s not just playing herself as a celebrity.”
•Movie actress. Audiences didn’t embrace Spears’ role in the semi-autobiographical film Crossroads in 2002, and her meeting with executives for the role of Daisy Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard didn’t pan out. Bad releases aside, Spears’ stint on Will & Grace may be a “demo that she’s presenting to the public and entertainment industry,” say Larry Brody, author of Turning Points in Television. But she needs a “Big Britney Movie with everyone making sure — even if it takes 50 takes — it’s great.”
Britney’s US Sale Record:
Baby One More Time, 1999, 10.5 million
Oops! I Did It Again, 2000, 9.2 million
Britney, 2001, 4.3 million
In the Zone, 2003, 2.9 million
Greatest Hits: My Prerogative, 2004, 1.2 million
In the Mix: The Remixes, 2005, 74,000
Source: USA Today