Musicians have been crossing over into film acting for decades. Crooners like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra acted, Elvis’s massive success was carried over into film, rock bands explored their art through celluloid in the ‘60s and ‘70s; by the ‘80s Michael Jackson’s aimless variety show Moonwalker embodied a transition. As time went by, the projects musicians acted in went from fictions unrelated to their discographies - albeit some were musicals - to custom-built vanity projects whose sole purpose was to further the empires of their stars, often at the expense of actual entertainment. Pop star movies of the 1990s exemplified this. The Spice Girls played themselves, stomping around a psychedelic bus and singing Gary Glitter songs with backup dancers in assless chaps; Mariah Carey’s ego received an always welcome inflation with the widely-panned Glitter. This trend would carry on into the 2000s a little, with S Club 7’s weird clone movie, before the cinema concert experience took over.
In Crossroads, Lucy (Britney Spears), Mimi (Taryn Manning) and Kit (Zoe Saldana) are childhood friends who bury a time capsule box and promise to return years later on prom night to dig it up. Well, the day arrives, and they have all taken very different paths in life, barely even acknowledging each other in the school halls. But for lack of better things to do, they do reunite, and have a laugh at how naive they once were. Mimi reveals she is planning a road trip to California to audition for a recording contract, and invites the girls along. They both accept, as they have their own questionable plans: Lucy will arrive uninvited at the house of the birth mother she never met, and Kit will arrive uninvited at the apartment of her supposedly loyal fiancé in LA. What could possibly go wrong?
They go through the motions expected of a road/buddy movie: first it’s fun, then they realize why they’re no longer friends, then they start to rebuild bridges and ultimately end up as close friends again. Along the way, they do all sorts of crazy things like earn money singing karaoke, bunk in crummy motels and get their asses bitten by bugs. But it is the release that they are all in desperate need of. In their own ways, the girls are each absorbed in overly-mature lives when they should be enjoying adolescence. Kit is tied down in a long-distance engagement, Mimi is impoverished and pregnant, and Lucy’s entire life has been focused on the long-term goal of a career in medicine. Because of their situations, they each overlook the fulfillment they could be experiencing, so it makes sense that a spontaneous road trip with friends they have long since stopped hanging out with would become the outlet they all really need.
Dan Aykroyd plays Lucy’s long-suffering dad Pete, a hard-working mechanic whose only child has been his main focus in life. He has spent years making connections and giving mates’ rates in order to facilitate his daughter’s entrance into the competitive world of medicine. So solid is his work ethic and desire for Lucy to have more in life than he has, that he doesn’t even recognize the importance of what she has missed out on, things like friends and football games. He is firm but loving, almost a throwback to Aykroyd’s much better role as Harry Sultenfuss in the My Girl movies. In a world that seems devoid of parental figures, he offers a stability that young people desperately need; he even steps in to give fatherly support to the other girls when their own parents aren’t there to do it. He shows how instrumental a proper support system can be in raising functional and emotionally healthy kids.
Years before Taryn Manning would become known as Pennsatucky, the reformed fanatic from the wrong side of the tracks on Orange Is The New Black, she cut her teeth on Crossroads. Granted, it seems that a certain amount of her real personality is thrown into every performance she gives - one might wonder to what extent she is really acting - but this is perhaps what makes Mimi such a raw and relatable character. She is depressed and hopeless, settled in the mediocrity of her life, a startlingly real figure. Where the ‘bad’ kid characters often swagger around with assurance, Mimi is clearly downtrodden, and offers a more realistic look at what sorts of adults can emerge from underprivileged upbringings.
Zoe Saldana, again some years before she really exploded on the scene, shows a remarkable propensity for comedy as Kit. She is the spoiled rich girl who is simply wrapping up the formalities of having to attend high school before becoming a kept woman living the high life in LA. She has no time for anything or anyone in her little podunk town, and is fixated on the fantasy existence she has concocted in her head, one that cold hard experience brings crashing down on her. Saldana pulls off the snippy Real Housewives style sass with brilliance and a keen sense of timing, creating a very believable character that LA is already overrun with. Her emotional range brings meaning to the humbling conclusion of her story, and of all the characters in the movie, she is the one who goes through a real arc, and emerges as a better person for it.
Of course, nobody expected Shakespeare when it came to Britney’s acting; her usual job was to lip sync to catchy songs and look pretty in low-rise jeans. However, the passion Britney felt for this project, and the opportunity it presented to prove her capabilities, are evident in her performance. As could only come naturally to her at that point, there is an awful lot of looking pretty in low-rise jeans, but when she’s not fluttering her eyelashes and breathily whispering to people, she actually gets some material to sink her teeth into. To the surprise of nobody but herself, the fantasy of turning up on her mother’s doorstep and being welcomed with open arms goes up in flames and Lucy retreats, defeated, to the motel room the gang are staying at. She promptly bursts into tears, her mother having basically told her she was a mistake. This is the scene that Britney grabs with both hands and makes her own. Lucy's heartbreak is palpable, and her vulnerability in the scene proves instrumental to her forming stronger bonds with the other characters.
Crossroads was a project that worked in everybody’s favor - well, short of its target audience’s. Britney had expressed interest in making a movie and her team were naturally thrilled at the idea, leading to a collaboration with Grey’s Anatomy showrunner Shonda Rhimes and music video director Tamra Davis. Spears turned down many film offers to do something she could really put her heart into, and now that she was beginning to shed her good Christian girl image, a coming-of-age movie could parallel the artistic and emotional maturity she was going through, and essentially validate the transition to her consumers. This pivot is underpinned by the movie’s use of Britney’s music, notably 'I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman,' and 'Overprotected,' two very on-the-nose songs about having to make mistakes in order to learn, and generally embracing the messiness of adolescence as a character-building exercise.
At this stage in her career, Britney was largely considered a kids’ brand, hence the outrage when she started shaking off her Southern Belle persona. Her target audience was around the ages of eight to twelve; by their mid-teens, many kids considered her music passé and not edgy enough, as it hadn’t yet hit the Toxic era of sex appeal. This is why the general maturity of Crossroads is so striking: if parents thought that Britney’s skimpy outfits were a bad example, just wait til they saw her drinking and having sex outside of wedlock on the big screen! The movie released within weeks of the announcement that Britney and Justin Timberlake were no longer a couple, further shedding her family-friendly double-denim image and striking out on her own. It certainly ruffled the feathers of parents and Christian outrage groups, but more than just one pop star rebelling against her typecast, it represented the pop star movie rebelling against its usually superficial constraints.
But just because the movie dares to explore some of life’s darker complexities, doesn’t mean it leans into the consequences of those complexities. If anything, it seems to shy away from them. Mimi’s future as a poor teenage mother with only a high school education no longer matters, because she loses the baby in a sad accident; Lucy’s little excursion jeopardizes the connections she has spent years making to facilitate a medical career, but it’s OK because she’s a pop star now, a vocation famed for its longevity! The girls go off with a man who is recently out of jail, but it’s OK, because he was basically innocent all along. The ends of the girls’ stories take on the unrealistically cheery facade required of a PG-13 rating. None of them, with perhaps the exception of Kit, has really had the chance to learn from their experiences, because a solution has fallen into their lap.
How will Mimi deal with the trauma of being raped and unexpectedly losing the baby she hoped might give her some direction in life? How realistic is Lucy’s decision to abandon her years of work to be a singer? Winning some talent show - as many of Simon Cowell’s victims will tell you - does not equal a stable, lifelong profession. Should she not look at ways to balance her career plan and her passion? Is it not shortsighted and somewhat selfish of her to put her long-suffering father through such an ordeal?
Although it fails to really explore consequences, and seems a little restrained by its certification and target market, Crossroads dared to be something different. It wasn’t looking to be a vanity project or marketing tool for an album - although it did serve these purposes to an extent. It wanted to tell a meaningful story that didn’t exist in the perfect pop star world that Britney’s image perpetuated. It may not be Stand By Me or a John Hughes flick, but it has more brains and more heart than star vehicle movies ever care to possess, and proved to be a very clever move for Britney Spears at a pivotal point in her career.
Source: LUNA GUTHRIE
Alim Kheraj tells the story of the track which has become the subject of many conspiracy theories and countless discussions among the singer’s devotees
On a typically sun-filled Los Angeles day in 2007, paparazzi filmed Britney Spears listening to demos from her then-unreleased fifth album, Blackout, while she was driving around the city in her convertible Mercedes. In the clip, filmed during a tumultuous period during the singer’s life when the tabloids were documenting her every move, Spears sits in the car pointedly ignoring the photographers’ intrusions as she cycles through three songs, none of which ended up making the final tracklist for the record.
Two of those songs, “State of Grace” and “Baby Boy”, made their way onto the internet in a mega-leak that saw Blackout spread ahead of its release, along with a treasure trove of unreleased material. Such a leak, while large, wasn’t unprecedented, but the explosion of material fit with the chaotic energy that surrounded Spears at that time – in the same way her life appeared unfiltered, these songs provided a raw and uncompromising portrait of the once pure Princess of Pop.
Missing from this treasure chest, however, was a complete version of the third song Spears had blasted in her car that day. It’s a song that she teased fans with, allegedly against her label’s permission, by sharing a snippet on her website accompanied by an animation of her face transforming into a tiger. That song is “Rebellion”, and in the 16 years since, it’s become the subject of many conspiracy theories and countless discussions among the singer’s devotees. Despite everything we now know – or don’t – about the complexities of her life since her father placed her under the now-dissolved conservatorship in 2008, for Britney Spears fans, “Rebellion” remains their biggest white whale.
Along with the snippet Spears supposedly secretly shared on her website, various fan-made edits of “Rebellion” have made their way online. There’s even a tantalising 11-second, high-quality snippet, which teases a fully produced version of the song.
Yet what makes “Rebellion” significant is not its obscurity but its lyrical content. “Be wary of others / The ones closest to you,” Spears sings in the opening verse over a gloomy beat and claustrophobic strings, her voice quiet with paranoia. “The poison they feed you / And the voodoo that they do. But in rebellion / There’s a sparkle of truth / Don’t just stand there / Do what you got to do.”
This lyrical nugget is scarily prescient given the horrors that came to light during the reports and disputes about the controversial conservatorship that controlled the singer’s life for nearly 14 years. But “Rebellion” predates the conservatorship. It even arrived before the events of 2007 and 2008, which led up to its formations – including allegations that Sam Lutfi, Spears’s manager during that period, was drugging and manipulating her (Lufti denies these allegations). Instead, the song speaks to another form of control that Spears was battling against, one that perhaps coalesced with the players of the conservatorship and led to the singer’s imprisonment in her own life.
On December 30, 2004, Britney Spears appeared as a surprise guest on Los Angeles radio station KIIS-FM, where she debuted a rough mix of a new song called “Mona Lisa”. The track, recorded with her band while she was on tour, is about the demise of a famous woman, the consumption of her downfall as entertainment and her quest for freedom. “They want her to breakdown / Be a legend of her fall,” Spears sings in the second verse in another spine-chillingly prophetic lyric.
She told the radio hosts that the song was from her upcoming album called Original Doll. The singer’s label, Jive, later denied its existence. Speaking to BuzzFeed in 2014, Spears’s manager, Larry Rudolph, also dubbed reports of the album “a bullshit story with zero factual basis”. (Rudolph, who had managed Spears for over 25 years – aside from a brief period between 2007 and 2008 – resigned as her manager in 2021 amid the legal proceedings surrounding the dissolution of the conservatorship.) A reworked version of “Mona Lisa” later appeared on the EP Britney and Kevin: Chaotic.
Still, Spears talked about wanting to be taken more seriously as an artist, according to people who worked with her during that time. “She said nobody really listens to her,” songwriter Michelle Bell, who worked with Spears before the release of 2003’s In the Zone album, told BuzzFeed. “She just wanted somebody to say I believe in you beyond this pop machine.”
Spears also spoke about the restraints enforced by her label and those around her in a letter she posted on her website in 2004. “I’ve actually learned to say NO!” she wrote. “With this newly found freedom, it’s like people don’t know how to act around me. Should we talk to her like we did when she was 16 or like the icon everyone says she is?”
In the years that followed, the singer’s behaviour became more concerning, as did the media circus that grew around her. But she continued to connect with her fans via her website, sporadically posting letters where she chastised the tabloids, discussing motherhood and giving her side of the story. In one letter published at the beginning of 2007, around the same time that Spears briefly fired Rudolph as her manager, she spoke about “where I want to go with myself as an entertainer with absolutely no strings attached”. “I am now more mature and feel like I am finally ‘free’,” she wrote.
This brief glimpse of freedom, which made space for Spears to release her most adventurous and cohesive record yet with Blackout, was short-lived. Spears was placed under the conservatorship less than five months after the album’s release. Larry Rudolph returned to manage her, and by November 2008 she had a new album out and a world tour planned.
“Rebellion” lingered on in the background, the song’s paranoid lyrics playing out in real-time. Concern among fans about the validity and necessity of the conservatorship grew, especially as Spears herself had expressed her desire to terminate the arrangement. And so “Rebellion” took on further significance, becoming emblematic of the situation that fans believed Spears now found herself in.
In 2010, one producer involved with “Rebellion”, Christopher “Notes” Olsen, sadly died. After his death, his sister, Angelica, gave an interview with Spears fansite Breathe Heavy about the track that added flames to the fires of conspiracy. According to Notes’s sister, Jive pulled the snippet of “Rebellion” Spears allegedly uploaded to her website; Rudolph also sent Notes an email saying that the song wasn’t the direction the label wanted to go for with the album. All this, some fans speculated, demonstrated that Spears was not only being suppressed in her personal life, but artistically, too.
There were other curious circumstances that affected those involved with the song. Co-producer Scott Storch would later struggle with substance abuse and financial issues, while Notes’s manager was murdered. Another producer allegedly involved with the song, Jeff Dandurand, also spoke several times about trying to gain the rights to the song but was “shot down four times with various cease and desists”.
Of course, all of this is surely a coincidence. But along with the fact that “Rebellion” remains as much an enigma as Spears is herself, these events have provided fertile ground for conspiracies, one of which suggests that Spears was a prisoner in her own life, her every move controlled by those involved with the conservatorship. As we know now, this turned out to be true.
What is unknowable is the level of control that was exerted over Spears by her management and record label before the introduction of the conservatorship, although her letters certainly seem to signify that there was discord. Fans believe that they may find clues in the Original Doll album and with the full version of “Rebellion”. So much so that someone on Reddit has even put a bounty on the track (although it stands at a measly $100).
This dogged pursuit of “Rebellion” is evidence of the obsessional fan behaviour that could have only sprouted in the internet era. While there have been musical white whales in the past (the Beach Boys’ SMiLE, Jimi Hendrix’s Black Gold, Prince’s Dream Factory, and even Lady Gaga and Kanye West’s cancelled Fame Kills tour), “Rebellion” arrived at the dawn of the digital era. Social media and camera phones meant that information was disseminated so widely that even passing reference to something could take on mythical status (who else remembers the talk of Artpop 2?). Likewise, the internet allowed fans from all over the world to congregate in great numbers, pushing discussions, debate and speculation on fan forums into overdrive.
Similarly, greater transparency by artists on social media about the machinations of the music industry has also led to a bigger sense of distrust between the consumer and the machine. Artists like SZA, Doja Cat, Tinashe, Kelly Clarkson, Megan Thee Stallion, Charli XCX, Kesha and Raye have all spoken about, or alluded to, the difficulties they’ve had with their record labels, producers or management. Taylor Swift’s fractured relationship with her former label Big Machine has even led to her re-recording all her old music in order to take ownership of her masters, an exercise that likewise highlights the insatiable appetite fans have for previously unreleased material.
For Spears fans, this period was full of activity. Along with the singer’s apparent artistic discontent, her seemingly erratic behaviour, speculation in the media about nefarious outside interference and the subsequent secrecy surrounding the workings of the conservatorship provided the perfect breeding ground for conspiracy and conjecture about how Spears was being suppressed. The song at the heart of it was “Rebellion”.
When the conservatorship was ultimately terminated in 2021, cries for the song to be leaked online spread again. On Instagram, Spears began exhibiting her own rebelliousness, sharing topless pictures, often-deleted diatribes about her family and the conservatorship, posts about drinking champagne and eating cakes, and living her life without constraints. For the first time since who knows when, Britney Spears is living without outside interference.
The myth of “Rebellion”, meanwhile, lives on. Despite people’s best efforts, it remains elusive; there’s even debate whether a full version even exists. Either way, the song has also become symbolic of something deeper – along with the #FreeBritney movement, the unrelenting speculation about “Rebellion” gives validity to the power and passion of fans. With “Rebellion”, fans are now searching for answers to questions they have about their favourite pop star and what led to a situation where they were gaslighted by those involved in the conservatorship into complicity. But as Spears sings, in rebellion there’s “a sparkle of truth”. Looking at her Instagram, perhaps she’s now ready to give it to us.
Did you mean “Free Britney”? Or “Free Britney to entertain me”?