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Britney Spears was at one point described by ABC Primetime as the “most famous 21 year old on the planet.” Her music and image was internationally recognizable. But despite being on top of the charts, Britney had little control over her voice.
Starting in 2008, Britney was put under a conservatorship that restricted everything from her movement, to whether she could get off of birth control. In the last five years, the majority of information fans could learn about her situation was through a New York Times documentary titled “Controlling Britney Spears.” 2021 marked the first time fans could listen to her story through a recorded court hearing, which revealed the abuse and trauma she had endured as a pop star to the public. Only now, in 2023, can one read Britney’s raw and unfiltered voice in her latest memoir: “The Woman in Me.”
Valued at $15 million, the book deal for “The Woman in Me” is one of the largest in history, and it has had many people considering the newfound prominence of memoirs in popular culture. It’s no secret that memoirs are on demand at the moment.
Before Britney’s “The Woman in Me” came actress Jennette McCurdy’s “I’m Glad My Mom Died.” Politicians have also historically ventured into memoir territory, with the Obamas both writing multi-million dollar books about their journeys into politics. The high-profile nature of these releases calls into question the purpose of memoirs and whether they serve as compelling deep dives into famous figures or simple cash-grabs.
Memoirs have long been a staple in literature, and at their best, they can give individuals control over their own narrative. This is clear in the case of both Spears and McCurdy. Spears’s voice, long controlled and mediated by managers and the media, is now unfiltered. “The Woman in Me” gave Britney a chance to reclaim her story and tell her truth without any third parties getting in the way. In her book, Spears was able to discuss her struggles with being sexualized at a young age and having her finances and movement restricted under her conservatorship. She also spoke on issues she had not been public about before, like an abortion she had because Justin Timberlake was allegedly not ready for parenthood. Jennette McCurdy describes in her memoir how she was controlled by her mother during her time as an actress, and how she suffered from eating disorders while filming iCarly.
Despite their ability to share one’s story, it can’t be overlooked that many see the celebrity memoir as yet another commercial endeavor and money maker. Prince Henry’s memoir “Spare,” for example, has been criticized for painting Henry as a victim despite his privileged background. Additionally, the amount of celebrity memoirs being released has caused the genre to become oversaturated, with this rise in popularity leading many to question the authenticity of the books. Ghost writers are frequently used for memoirs, and this, combined with the pressure to make profits, could result in books that are not fully honest or fully authentic to the celebrity experience. Memoirs by high-profile figures are almost guaranteed to sell well, and publishers are keen to tap into this lucrative market. Still, many memoirs written with the help of ghostwriters can prove personal if the ghostwriter spends enough time listening to the celebrity tell their story.
The debate over memoirs also touches on the question of who gets to share their story. While celebrity memoirs are met with instant attention and fanfare, there are just as many incredible untold stories from people of underrepresented backgrounds that otherwise go unnoticed. This raises questions about the narratives publishing companies push, and why certain voices are seen as more valuable and marketable than others.
Britney’s memoir joins a long list of celebrity memoirs that provide insights into the stories behind the most famous people in the world. Through the freedom to express herself in memoir form, Britney finds liberation and a voice in an industry that often sought to silence her. Her memoir and others like it serve as reminders of the complex experiences behind the facade of a person’s public and curated image.
As the world grapples with celebrity culture and the rise of new forms of celebrities — such as influencers — memoirs will continue to remain a topic of fascination of debate. Ultimately, memoirs are mirrors reflecting the multifaceted nature of life, including the ups and the downs. As more celebrity memoirs come out, time will tell if they continue to have the success that they have now.
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