Teen pop apocalypse
Celestial alignment brings stars together in Atlanta
Sept. 16, 2040. Welcome to C&L's "Biography," a look back at the people and events that shaped our lives and times. Tonight we take a look back at the summer of 2000, when the world shifted irrevocably, thanks largely to the efforts of two teenage pop singers: Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Those nubile pop princesses took the land by storm, forever changing the way the planet spins. Unexpectedly, it was at two shows in Atlanta, Ga. — held suspiciously close together, on Sept. 18 and 20, and in the same venue — where everything changed. On two balmy, Southern late-summer nights at a now-demolished amphitheater known as Lakewood (on the land that, incidentally, now houses the TLC-Land theme park and female wrestling arena), Spears and Aguilera transcended their music to connect with crowds of mostly female, teenaged fans in such a way that all of the young women left that night with a mission.
Of course, now we all know Britney Spears as the popular President of the United States and owner of Louisiana, but her beginnings were humble. Deep in the swamps of the American bayou, in the hamlet of Kentwood, La., Britney Spears was birthed in 1982. By all accounts, the young Spears was a born performer, spending hours singing and dancing in front of her television (a device that was popular in homes during the latter half of the 20th century). At the age of 11, Spears nabbed a spot on a television program popular among American teens known as "The New Mickey Mouse Club."
By 16, Spears had a recording contract with Jive Records. Her debut single was called " ... Baby One More Time," a slyly shaded song that mixed messages of innocent friendship with sultry sexual allusion.
This was during an era in which music videos were released to accompany songs, not the other way around, as we are accustomed to today. Though "... Baby" had a memorable melody, it was met with little fanfare on the radio airwaves since the song was very similar musically to the mechanized pop being cranked out by long-forgotten boy bands with homoerotic names such as the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync.
But Britney's video, which featured a bare-bellied Spears cavorting in a school hallway and wearing a tartan miniskirt, touched a nerve, propelling Spears' debut album to sales of over 12 million copies. She followed that up by releasing Oops ... I Did it Again in the spring of 2000, once again employing an enigmatic ellipsis to propel the album to the top of the charts.
Much like Spears, Christina Aguilera had her own pedestrian background before she rose to her current position as Queen of the United States of Great Britain. Born in New York in 1980, Christina's family relocated to Pittsburgh, Pa., where the young Christina sang the old American national anthem ("The Star Spangled Banner," which President Spears replaced in 2035 with "... Baby One More Time") at several sporting events. Like Spears, Aguilera joined the cast of "The New Mickey Mouse Club."
In 1999, Aguilera's self-titled album debut was released, spawning several hot pop singles, including "Genie in a Bottle" and "What a Girl Wants." Following Spears' lead, Aguilera filmed several sexy videos for her tracks, featuring her diminutive self in crop-top shirts singing her tiny lungs out, her bleached blond hair waving seductively in studio-generated winds.
By 2000, a rivalry appeared to exist between the teenage divas. A pecking order was established at the 2000 Grammy Awards, when Aguilera won the Best New Artist award over Spears, cementing herself as the more talented vocalist. But what Spears lacked in substance, she made up for in style, piecing to-gether a touring show jammed with dance moves. Aguilera, meanwhile, relied on her voice to bring audiences to their feet. By positing themselves as the polar opposites of teen pop, style versus substance, the duo snapped up the entire teenage market.
And so it was at their Atlanta shows of September 2000 that Spears and Aguilera first joined forces publicly, Aguilera coming out on stage during Spears' encore to join her in a rousing duet of "The Weight." Spears returned the favor two nights later, joining Aguilera to warble the Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney classic "Say, Say, Say." Experts were confounded, as the two purported rivals seemed to enjoy sharing stage time; Rolling Stone magazine devoted an entire special edition to the event.
The odd confluences continued throughout the fall; the two tours trailed each other around the country, occasionally overlapping for raucous encores. By 2001, amid swirling speculation as to their motives, the tours finally combined. And with Teen Spirit deodorant serving as a sponsor, Britney and Christina began playing stadiums around the country.
At first, the girls refused to publicly address their reasons for combining forces. They continued confounding critics by releasing, with no advance publicity, a collaborative CD called The Pink Album in the spring of 2001. The release consisted entirely of each artist singing songs made popular by the other artist.
By the year 2005, following several more top-selling theme albums, public outcry motivated Spears and Aguilera to sit for a live interview with Barbara Walters. They explained that they had first met back in the year 2000, late one night at the Waffle House on Buford Highway in Atlanta. Over a shared order of hashbrowns they realized they actually liked each other, and if they pooled resources, they could dominate the music industry, overthrow Eminem's chart eminence and assume rule over the editorial pages of YM.
Their plan revealed, audiences were drawn even closer to the newly humanized duo. They continued recording and touring together, consolidating their fans — the children of 20th century "Baby Boomers" — into a large, active and influential cultural force. Naturally, as they grew older, the two branched into socio-political arenas. Spears became a champion for kitten's rights, and was primarily responsible for the sweeping anti-kitten-harming legislation of 2017. Aguilera, meanwhile, admitted that she was a bleach abuser (her hair was actually brown), and became a powerful advocate for natural and organic cosmetics and dyes.
In 2020, Spears ran for president and won handily, beating former MTV host Carson Daly by the widest margin in electoral history. With Congress then filled by a majority of "Micky Mouse Club" graduates, all avowed Spears supporters, term limits were dropped and Spears began her current 20-year run as leader of the free world.
The charms and power of Aguilera, meanwhile, proved intoxicating for the largely ceremonial King William of England, who courted and married Aguilera, also in 2020. Quickly, Queen Aguilera was able to coax Prime Minister Geri Halliwell and Great Britain's "Spice" Parliament to join the United States as the ever-symbolic 69th state.
Now, in the year 2040, with the "teeny pop" generation now acknowledged to be the most socially conscious, wealthy and powerful generation ever, Spears and Aguilera continue their careers, shaping politics around the world and releasing classic pop albums. Spears' newest release, Who ... What ... Where ... Why ... How?, is a spoken-word journalism primer. Aguilera, meanwhile, is finishing an album of traditional Serbian folk music, the latest in her series of releases featuring music from cultures she has little or no connection to, which began with her Spanish-language release of 2000.
In retrospect, the rhythms of pop music at the turn of the millennium proved to be more than anyone bargained for. Two teenage girls, dismissed by most music critics, made the world stand up and take notice. And the end of the world as we knew it all started in Atlanta.
Britney Spears performs at Lakewood Amphitheatre, Mon., Sept. 18, at 7:30 p.m. Christina Aguilera performs at Lakewood Amphitheatre, Wed., Sept. 20, at 7 p.m. Tickets available through Ticketmaster.