Britney Spears has been well served by her principal biographies by Sean Smith and Steve Dennis (both to be reviewed on this site) who clearly found her a fascinating and sympathetic subject. Although it was published as long ago as 2008, I’m reviewing Christopher Heard’s version for the sake of completeness. And it’s not without interest to Britney scholars.
The overall impression is of a careful sifting through and compilation of contemporary press comment, but Heard did do some personal research and interviewed some people with knowledge of Britney, her family and her history. He’s a good writer, and he imposes a consistently attractive style on his material. It’s easy to read, with no grammatical outrages, and the pages pass quickly.
The obvious benefit of his own research is that some aspects of Britney’s life are covered extensively. But, perhaps not surprisingly, these are her early years, when ordinary quotable people were close to her and her family. Here we find, for example, longer than usual accounts of the role of Reg Jones in the Spears family, the family’s financial struggles, and life in the MMC.
On the other hand, when a more contentious issue arises, such as the “growth spurt” in Britney’s breasts, he mentions the allegations of implants and moves on as if that were an undisputed fact, without digging any further. Yet nothing was either admitted or proved, her breasts look natural, and the frequent apparent fluctuations in their size have fascinated fans for years!
Heard’s coverage of Britney’s later years is largely a compilation of neatly stitched together second or third hand celebrity magazine and website articles. There is much to choose from, some leaning towards the good and some the bad – but mostly sensationalist – but he has chosen an easy path, never pushing back against the common view, and avoiding many of the more interesting wrinkles. There are few attributable quotes, little granularity and no unexpected insights.
This dependence on celeb gossip has led to imbalance, with far too much time devoted to B’s flings with Colin Farrell, Fred Durst and (allegedly) Columbus Short and to any available salacious tales of (alleged) diva behaviour. Too little time is allocated to fan traumas such as her seemingly deliberate self-destruction following her calamitous knee-injury on the “Outrageous” video shoot, the character and influence (and deeds) of Sam Lutfi, and on the disturbing tactics of the custody battle with Kevin, in which a one-sided smear campaign featuring every dirty trick in the book was used against her.
Indeed, Kevin Federline emerges from this book with scarcely a black mark against his name. His behaviour towards Shar Jackson is glossed over without comment. There is some mildly critical comment on his performance as a husband following the birth of Britney’s second child, but even that is neutralised by a pal’s friendly character reference. Heard offers no clear reason as to why Britney chose the drastic option of divorce. We, as fans, were receiving a daily dose of stories about Kevin’s complete neglect of Britney in her nightmare of post-partum depression, and of his endless “playa” behaviour in Vegas. Most of the fans hated him!
But this is clearly not a book written for the fans. It’s pretty obvious that the author had little idea about what kind of artist Britney is (or was), or about the kinds of music she has performed at the various stages of her long career. The only description he offers is “bubblegum” for her first two albums. He seems to have little clue about any of her albums from “Britney” onwards. One might have expected some kind of analysis and evaluation of her music, if only as a counterpoint – or accompaniment – to the changing patterns of her life. It’s annoying, too, to find massive gaps in her musical history – for example, Kierulf and Schwartz are never mentioned in the book, despite the number of great songs they wrote for Britney, nor is her songwriting “apprenticeship” with them. Bloodshy and Avant are also absent, despite their sizeable impact on her musical career.
Heard also has a tendency to back his own favourites. I’ve already mentioned Federline, but Heard also sees no fault in Jamie Spears, where other Britney biographers would strongly differ. And every time the name of Christina Aguilera comes up, she’s presented in the most flattering way – as the all-singing, all-dancing “Latin firecracker” and purveyor of mature music – to the extent that, in referring to the notorious “Madonna kiss” episode, he talks of her getting the moves down where Britney flounders, and claims that Christina’s Madonna kiss was the more spontaneous and powerful. That is not what I saw!
Heard has a habit of providing precise dates for the events he describes. One may suspect that this is an attempt to gain spurious credibility for a biography that is mostly gossip. But, on the good side, it does tie the gossip down with a sense of chronology. And that’s a good thing, because reading the book at this distance from the events does bring feelings of affectionate nostalgia.