‘The Woman in Me’ Review: For Britney Spears, Music is a Sanctuary

In a since-deleted Instagram post in December 2021, Britney Spears proclaimed: “People have no idea…what I’ve been through.” She proves that statement to be true ten-fold in her new memoir, The Woman in Me. While jaw-dropping stories such as an abortion she had while dating Justin Timberlake, and the horrors she experienced in a 13-year stringent conservatorship under the control of an abusive team led by her father Jamie Spears, have been making headlines, there’s an often overlooked yet vital aspect of Spears’ story. It’s the unparalleled amount of hard work, dedication, and heart she poured into her music that has made her one of the most iconic pop artists of all time. 

Videos by American Songwriter

She sets up this narrative immediately in the prologue, recalling comforting childhood memories of walking alone through the woods in her native rural Louisiana, always ending the trip with a visit to her neighbor’s rock garden where she would lie down and look up at the sky thinking: “I can make my own way in life. I can make my dreams come true,” she writes on page one. “In the Bible, it says your sword is your tongue. My tongue and my sword were me singing,” she continues. “My whole childhood, I sang. I sang along with the car radio on the way to dance class. I sang when I was sad. To me, singing was spiritual.”

For the young Spears, singing and music were an escape from the turbulent household she was raised in where her father was an alcoholic who was allegedly verbally and emotionally abusive, her parents often getting into screaming matches in the middle of the night. But music gave her a sense of power and control as a child living in a toxic environment. “Singing is magic. When I sing, I own who I am. I can communicate purely,” she observes. “Music stopped the noise, made me feel confident, and took me to a pure place of expressing myself exactly as I wanted to be seen and heard. Singing took me into the presence of the divine.” 

Music serving as a source of healing and power is a consistent theme throughout The Woman in Me. That connection to music was also fostered through immense hard work. Spears recalls how she was three years old when she did her first dance recital and four when she sang her first solo at a Christmas show at her mother’s daycare center. She soon won a talent contest in nearby Baton Rouge and competed on Star Search, coming in second place. Around the same time, she and her mother were making frequent trips to New York where Spears landed an understudy role in the off-Broadway play, Ruthless! that introduced her to the thrill of performing for an intimate audience.

She eventually made it onto The Mickey Mouse Club, an experience she calls one of the most formative of her life. “Performing on that show ignited me,” she raves. “From then on I knew I wanted to do what I did there – singing and dancing.” She was soon put in touch with talent manager Larry Rudolph, who got her several auditions for record labels. “Larry took me around town, and I went into rooms full of executives and sang Whitney Houston’s ‘I Have Nothing.’ Gazing out at rooms full of men in suits looking me up and down in my small dress and high heels, I sang loud,” she asserts. 

Her audition earned a deal with Jive Records and she promptly went into the studio to record her first album, Baby One More Time, with pop mastermind, Max Martin. “I worked for hours straight. My work ethic was strong. I would never come out,” she professes. “I would stay in the studio as long as I could. If anyone wanted to leave, I’d say, ‘I wasn’t perfect.’”

Her passion for music and tireless work ethic carried her through even her most trying times, particularly when she recorded her 2007 album, Blackout. At this point, Spears had one infant son and was pregnant with her second, was under intense scrutiny from the media, and was mercilessly hounded by the paparazzi. One of the few places she felt safe was in the studio recording Blackout. “I always felt so happy and creative in the studio. Recording for Blackout, I felt so much freedom,” she shares. Noting how she got to “play” in the studio, she selected Danja as producer to give her a more EDM sound and affirmatively stated what she did and didn’t want for the album, coming into each recording session “focused” and “excited,” despite the chaos happening outside the studio walls.

“The album was kind of a battle cry,” Spears proclaims. “Blackout was one of the easiest and most satisfying albums I ever made…I needed to have more self-worth and value than I was able to conjure back then. And yet, even though it was a very hard time in just about every other way, artistically it was great. Something about where I was in my head made me a better artist.”

Music seemed to be the only source of freedom Spears had while living under the harsh reality of the conservatorship that ranged from controlling her diet to being sent to a facility against her will where she had to give blood weekly, couldn’t bathe in private, and was forced to take lithium, a drug that made her “lethargic,” among countless other frightening instances. Spears says that the conservatorship was “deadly” for her music and creativity and “crushed my soul.” But making her 2016 album Glory offered a reprieve from that. 

“I had a passion about it,” Spears remarks of Glory. “It was the only thing in the 13 years of the conservatorship that I really put my heart into. I worked hard on the songs, which gave me confidence.” She paints a picture of how the confidence she gained from writing and recording that album started to permeate across her life, particularly three years into her Las Vegas residency, Britney Spears: Piece of Me, started feeling more “passionate” about her performances. “As an artist, I didn’t feel able to reach the sense of freedom that I’d had before. And that’s what we have as artists – that freedom is who we are and what we do,” she professes. “Even though I might not have been doing my best onstage, there were pieces of me that began to awaken again. I was able to tap back into that connection between a performer and an audience.” 

[RELATED: 5 Times Britney Spears Fought Back Through Music]

Another important point that shines through in the latter half of the book is Spears’ connection to her fans. She says that she first learned of the #FreeBritney movement when she was locked in the rehab facility where a nurse showed her a video of fans chanting in the streets on her behalf, calling the video, “The most amazing thing I’d ever seen in my life.” “We have a connection, no matter where we are in space,” Spears remarks of her relationship with her devoted fans. “Even if you’re on the other side of the country or the world, on some level we’re bound together.” It’s clear by the end of the book that music is the lifeline between Spears and her fans, which she captures in the simple, yet powerful line: “What do we have except our connection to one another? And what stronger bond is there than music?” 

The Woman in Me is available now.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

5 Classic Paul McCartney Songs That Are Still Relevant Today

New Kids on the Block Announce Magic Summer 2024 Tour Featuring Paula Abdul and DJ Jazzy Jeff