Southern Cultures 7.4 (2001) 81-97
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Up Beat Down South
"I'm Just a Louisiana Girl"
The Southern World of Britney Spears
Gavin James Campbell
"Pop's reigning queen is first and foremost a nice Southern girl"
--Teen People June/July 1999 [End Page 81]
Right now Britney Spears is the most popular southerner in the world. She has enjoyed chart success like almost no other artist from this most fertile of musical regions: her first album went twelve times platinum, and her second release sold 1.3 million copies during its first week. By now it's gone nine times platinum, and it stayed on the Billboard charts for more than forty weeks. The Louisiana native has appeared in concerts from England to Japan; her second album topped the charts in the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, Greece, Belgium, Sweden, and Norway; and her face has charmed us at grocery story check-outs on the covers of Elle, Cosmopolitan, People and Teen People, YM, Glamour, Forbes, GQ, TV Guide, Us Weekly, Rolling Stone, Allure, and innumerable teen magazines. She appeared in the 2001 Super Bowl halftime show, cohosted the 2001 American Music Awards, had her own television special from Hawaii, and last year made over $200 million. According to one survey of the Web's most used portals, her name was typed in more than 133 million times, making her the most searched-for celebrity on the Internet. Whether we like her music or not, any figure who can inspire criticism spanning from semi-literate rages, like "brtiney is a fat ugly puke!" to high-toned discourse, like "feminist and Lacanian theory allows us to see [Britney's] entrance into the Symbolic and the problems thereof," demands our attention. There's no escaping this daughter of Dixie.
Skeptics might doubt her claims to the region. After all, she lived part of her life in Orlando and, even more damning, spent some formative years in New York City. Yet both Britney's fans and detractors assume she's met the residency requirement. "I'm convinced she's an inbred hick," writes one Britney-hater on an Internet chat site, while another declares, "Well, what can you expect from her parents? (in a southern Hick accent) 'Gosh golly, ma dawters so a purrrty (Isa bees fangkin' cousin Henry for the inbred genes) . . . HYuk Hyuk! *snort*!'" "Britney Spears," writes one who intends to succinctly dismiss the whole matter, "herself is from Louisiana, she is a hillbilly." Admirers swiftly counter such criticisms with an equally powerful southern icon: "i'm glad to see," one male writes gallantly, "that some people still see her as the angelic, southern belle she is." The popular biographies aimed at her fans join the chorus, paying homage to what one calls Britney's "sweet Southern Miss" image. Britney herself pledges fealty to her southern heritage by telling the world "I'm just a Louisiana girl" and by liberally sprinkling her autobiography with "y'all." Thus, for those who post on the innumerable Britney Spears message boards, for the authors of popular biographies, and for Britney herself, the South is a central part of understanding just what the Britney Spears phenomenon is about. We cannot fully appreciate her [End Page 82] hold on American popular culture without acknowledging her skill at playing upon a national fascination with southern white femininity.
A native of Kentwood, Louisiana, Britney Spears was born on December 2, 1981. Her hometown, which sits in Tangipahoa Parish clutching the Mississippi border, boasts roughly 2,500 residents. Britney began performing as a very young girl, winning an appearance on "Star Search" in 1990, appearing off-Broadway in 1991, and snagging the Miss Talent, USA crown in 1992. The following year she began a two-year stint on the newly revived "Mickey Mouse Club." When the Disney Channel canceled the show, she returned to Kentwood anticipating living like other teenagers. Bitten by the show-biz bug, however, she remembers that she "wasn't happy just hanging around at...