Much like cell phones, the internet, and Starbucks, it’s hard to imagine a world without Britney Spears. The pop superstar slammed onto the music scene at the height of the MTV era in 1998 with her debut single “…Baby One More Time,” and pop culture hasn’t been the same ever since. With her signature pigtails, flawless dance moves, sensual voice, and unforgettable schoolgirl get-up, Spears showed the world she was ready for success, and seemingly revitalized teen pop overnight.

For those reasons alone, Spears deserves a seat at the table of celebs who’ve completely changed the game, and made doing so look easy. But that was just the beginning of her ascent to mega-stardom, and she’s been breaking records and slaying the red carpet ever since.

From pop sensation to paparazzi target to mother of two, Spears has continued to evolve and shape-shift over the years — and with every new album and tour, she has proven that she has staying power in spades. Never one to stay out of the spotlight for long, Spears has grown into a lucrative brand unparalleled by anyone not a member of the celebrity elite. Read on to witness the stunning transformation of Britney Spears.

Born a wholesome southern belle

Although Britney Spears looks like everyone’s dream girl next door, she actually does have her own origin story. She was born on December 2, 1981, in McComb, MS, according to Lifetime. The daughter of a second grade teacher and a caterer, Spears grew up in Kentwood, LA, an hour north of New Orleans, with her parents and siblings. So she’s a southern belle by birth, and by the sound of everything, the world she came into was super wholesome.

From the age of two, it was obvious that Spears loved singing, as she would hog the bathroom and sing with great gusto into her hairbrush. “I was in my own world,” she recalled in an interview with Rolling Stone. “I found out what I’m supposed to do at an early age.” Her mother confirms that she did this, too. “She was always singing — she would never hush,” she explained.

And of course, this was to the chagrin of her older brother, who remembered her singing and dancing to Madonna in front of the television. “It was very annoying,” he added. Maybe it was then, but it all paid off today, obv!

Her talent was apparent from the start

Spears didn’t sing in the bathroom forever, as she had the ambition and talent to showcase her abilities to the world. To that end, she won her first talent show when she was six. “When people see things on TV that they can’t do,” she shared in an interview with Rolling Stone, “that should make them want to go out there and make something of themselves. That’s how I looked at it.” That’s a pretty mature attitude for a little kid!

That confidence and skill continued to pay off, too. By the age of 10 she was a champion on Star Search in 1992, which was a pretty big deal at the time. But even then, she was already looking for the next big thing, as talent shows were no longer interesting to her. “Those little competitions got really old,” she continued, showing just how ready she was for fame and fortune. Look out, world!

A mousekateer in Mickey’s club

One year later in 1993, Spears would again appear on television at the age of 11 in The All New Mickey Mouse Club. She had previously auditioned for the show when she was 8-years-old, according to Rolling Stone, but execs at the time decided that she wasn’t old enough to be a cast member. But she secured an audition for herself a second time, and this time she landed it, fair and square. “Her parents were not pushing her at all,” said Jeff Fenster, Jive Records’ senior vice president of A&R, who later signed her to the label. Girl was after her own destiny!

Spears wasn’t the only person on the show who went on to have a successful career in entertainment. Other famous alumni from that incarnation of the program include Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, and Ryan Gosling, according to Variety. And if you didn’t catch them lighting up the screen the first time around, you can see Spears and Timberlake busting a move on the show on YouTube, when Spears’ ascent to super-stardom was just beginning.

Success was simply her destiny

After The All New Mickey Mouse Club was cancelled, Spears returned to Kentwood — but not for long. Larry Rudolph, an entertainment lawyer, got her an audition with Jeff Fenster, Jive Records’ senior vice president of A&R, shortly thereafter, who was immediately impressed by Spears’ abilities. “It’s very rare to hear someone that age who can deliver emotional content and commercial appeal,” he confessed in an interview with Rolling Stone. She was thus signed to Jive Records, where execs were even more impressed when they heard her collaboration with her producer-writer, Eric Foster White. After that, her development deal was increased, and she embarked on a 26-destination mall tour in 1998 and recorded an album.

Fenster recognized that Spears was hungry for success on her own terms. “For any artist, the motivation — the ‘eye of the tiger’ — is extremely important,” he continued. “And Britney had that. This is clearly a self-motivating person from a very young age.” Our girl knew what she wanted, and seized every opportunity in order to get it. Clearly success was simply her destiny.

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