Britney Spears’ memoir has been one of the most anticipated new books of the year, and it’s easy to see why. In it, the beloved pop star reflects on her journey as a child performer, coming of age in the public eye (and under intense scrutiny), her relationships, and enduring a years-long conservatorship. These days, the most we hear from the music icon is through her occasional Instagram posts, but here, we get her story in full, through her own words. Below are some of our biggest takeaways from the book.
She discusses her father’s drinking and childhood trauma.
Spears’ dad was influenced by his own alcoholic and abusive father, which she says shaped him as an adult. “Even in my family, it was said that the Spears men tended to be bad news, especially in terms of how they treated women,” she writes.
Britney recalled a time when her father went “on a bender” and missed her brother’s first birthday. He pushed her brother in sports and would sometimes vanish for days at a time when they were younger.
She was offered a role in The Notebook.
Sometime after her 2002 film Crossroads, Spears was up for the role of Allie in The Notebook. She says the casting came down to her and Rachel McAdams, who ultimately got the job, “and even though it would have been fun to reconnect with Ryan Gosling after our time on The Mickey Mouse Club, I’m glad I didn’t do it,” Spears says. Instead, she recorded her album Into the Zone. (Her audition tape was released here.) She didn’t take many acting gigs after, but she regrets not pursuing a role in Chicago.
As for other fun celebrity tidbits: Keri Russell was in her Mickey Mouse audition group. Spears and Christina Aguilera didn’t make the cut at first, so she worked on Broadway to get more experience. Natalie Portman was an understudy for the same role as her when they were kids, on an off-Broadway show called Ruthless.
She knew Justin Timberlake was cheating on her.
Spears details her relationship with Timberlake, from meeting and becoming close on TheMickey Mouse Club to staying in touch afterwards and falling in love. (And even wearing denim-on-denim.) “It was weird, to be honest, how in love we were,” she writes. But it was not all smooth sailing.
“There were a couple of times during our relationship when I knew Justin had cheated on me,” she says. But she didn’t bring it up at the time. That includes an instance with a woman who’s “actually very popular and she’s married with kids now.” Spears doesn’t name her because “I don’t want her to feel bad.”
Spears admits that she cheated too—one time—with her choreographer Wade Robson. They went out to a bar together one night and danced. She says she “made out with him that night.”
While dating Timberlake, she had an abortion at home.
In the lead-up to the book’s release, a published excerpt revealed that Spears had an abortion after Timberlake got her pregnant while they were dating. He said they weren’t ready to become parents, and even though she didn’t want to, she terminated the pregnancy.
She elaborates further in the memoir, saying that they decided—which she now regrets—not to have the abortion at a hospital so that no one could find out. She didn’t tell her family. She remembers taking pills in the bathroom at home, with only Timberlake and her family friend Felicia Culotta present. “To this day, it’s one of the most agonizing things I have ever experienced in my life.” Timberlake lied on the bathroom floor with her, at times playing his guitar to soothe her.
Timberlake broke up with her over text.
While he was recording Justified, Timberlake sent Spears a breakup text while she was filming the video for the “Overprotected (Darkchild Remix).” She was so devastated she couldn’t speak for months. Timberlake later came to visit her in Louisiana and gave her a framed letter, which she still has under her bed, that ended with “I can’t breathe without you.”
The breakup was also hard because she felt connected to his family. She remembers spending the holidays with them and meeting his grandparents. For a time, she considered them home instead of her own family. Early on during The Mickey Mouse Club, Timberlake’s mom even lent her and her family money to fly home for her grandmother’s funeral.
She remembers the aftermath of “Cry Me a River.”
What made the breakup worse was that Spears was made to be a villain in the press. In Timberlake’s solo album Justified, she’s painted as a cheater. She remembers the “Cry Me a River” music video, which featured a Britney lookalike cheating on Timberlake.
“In the news media, I was described as a harlot who’d broken the heart of America’s golden boy. The truth: I was comatose in Louisiana, and he was happily running around Hollywood,” Spears writes. “May I just say that on his explosive album and in all the press that surrounded it, Justin neglected to mention the several times he’d cheated on me?”
Spears also points out a sexist double standard: “There’s always been more leeway in Hollywood for men than for women. And I see how men are encouraged to talk trash about women in order to become famous and powerful. But I was shattered.”
“Cry Me a River” went on to become a hit single, but Spears says it “shamed” her. “I don’t think Justin realized the power he had in shaming me. I don’t think he understands to this day,” she writes.
She appreciated that Justin told the press that they were having sex.
Despite being shamed in the press, Spears acknowledged that Timberlake publicly discussing their sex life helped her shed her virgin image, which had become frustrating to upkeep. She was glad that she didn’t have to “come out” as not a virgin; Timberlake helped point out that she’s a woman.
“To be honest with you, I liked that Justin said that. Why did my managers work so hard to claim I was some kind of young-girl virgin even into my twenties? Whose business was it if I’d had sex or not?”
Madonna was a mentor.
Spears says Madonna “modeled a type of strength that I needed to see.” The icon helped her see that she could have power in her own voice and vision. “She’s right that the music industry—really the whole world—is set up more for men. Especially if you’re ‘nice,’ like me, you can be completely destroyed,” Spears writes.
When they performed together at the VMAs, Spears says it was her idea to kiss on stage. During rehearsals, they would just air-kiss, but she had an idea to top her last VMA performance (with the notorious snake). “With the kiss, should I just go for it?!” she remembers thinking.
Another memory with Madonna? “At one point, she did a red-string ceremony with me to initiate me into Kabbalah, and she gave me a trunk full of Zohar books to pray with.”
Her Diane Sawyer interview was a turning point.
At this stage, Spears was already getting irritated and feeling anxious by what was said about her in the press, on top of her continuing to deal with the aftermath of her breakup and abortion. Spears calls her sit-down with Sawyer “completely humiliating.” She was vulnerable and sensitive, and pressed with invasive questions about the Timberlake split.
“That interview was a breaking point for me internally—a switch had been flipped. I felt something dark come over my body. I felt myself turning, almost like a werewolf, into a Bad Person.”
Paris Hilton was a good friend to her.
When Spears felt lost after her divorce, Hilton was one of the few friends who could reach her. “She saw that I had babies and that I was suffering from the breakup, and I think she felt sorry for me. She came over to my house, and she helped me out so much. She was just so sweet to me.” Hilton encouraged her to get out and have fun. This lead to the beginning of the press calling her out for being a party girl and an unfit mother.
Adderall was the only medication she found helpful.
While much of the world believed that Spears was on drugs, the only thing she was taking was Adderall. “Adderall made me high, yes, but what I found far more appealing was that it gave me a few hours of feeling less depressed. It was the only thing that worked for me as an antidepressant, and I really felt like I needed one of those.”
In 2008, her Adderall use increased to a dangerous level as she dealt with feeling betrayed by then-husband Kevin Federline.
Her relationship with Jamie Lynn remains fractured.
Spears has harsh words for her sister, who she believes took advantage of the things she gave her and showed little appreciation in return. She saw her becoming spoiled as she grew up, noting that her mother waited on Jamie Lynn. “And my little sister—well, when I tell you she was a total bitch, I’m not exaggerating.”
She acknowledges that Jamie Lynn has had her own struggles, and that she was a child while her parents were divorcing—something that Spears avoided. But Spears also mentions that she dealt with poverty when she was young, which Jamie Lynn was spared through the money that came in from Spears’ career.
“I felt betrayed by how Jamie Lynn had changed. I’d bought a house for Jamie Lynn to grow up in. She was not exactly grateful for it.”
Spears accuses Jamie Lynn of benefitting from the pain her conservatorship caused her, by writing a book that took advantage of the situation and spreading negative stories about her to the media.
“Shouldn’t sisters be able to confess their fear or vulnerability to each other without that later being used as evidence of instability?”
Erica Gonzales is the Senior Culture Editor at ELLE.com, where she oversees coverage on TV, movies, music, books, and more. She was previously an editor at HarpersBAZAAR.com. There is a 75 percent chance she’s listening to Lorde right now.
Adrienne Gaffney is the features editor at ELLE and previously worked at WSJ Magazine and Vanity Fair.