Their lives began as parallels: blonde nymphs in the Disney cult hit The Mickey Mouse Club, a kind of kid's musical variety show aimed at preteens with little interest in Mickey himself, and a whole lot of interest in Justin Timberlake's dreamy eyes.
They both scored recording contracts in the name of Bubble Gum Pop; they were the new front girls for a genre of music that was to possess the nation and its youth with raunch masked as sweetness.
But that's where their paths diverged.
There's no doubt that Britney is the more famous of the two; she's had more hit records, and is way more of a paparazzi and tabloid target than Christina. But she's also the craziest, the most loved-but-hated: the one who gets in trouble with the law and feeds her kids Cheeto's and shaves her head and goes to gas stations barefoot. Britney's reputation has been forever tarnished by a slew of unnecessary events that signal some kind of mental collapse. Was she always prone to this kind of behavior, or was it the pressure of constantly being in the spotlight that caused her to deteriorate? And why hasn't Christina been crippled in the same way?
I'll tell you why. Because Christina always embraced the fact that she was dirty, while Britney was cast as a stunted little girl, a virgin, a madonna. Sure, the "Baby One More Time" video was a little sex-kittenesque, and she always did have an affection for belly shirts and body glitter. But we have to remember how she was marketed. She was the Hannah Montana of 1998. The good girl, the southerner, the Christian, the virgin: she was supposed to be all of these things, as symbolized by the shy, reluctant sexuality in songs like "Sometimes."
Christina was always upfront about her sexuality. She was the whore to Britney's madonna. Everyone knew Christina was raunchy, even before she released "Dirrty." The truth is, it didn't even matter that Britney frequently and chronically lip-synched, while Christina had the pipes of a goddess. Christina was the poor man's Britney, but at least she had no delusions about it.
So what happened when Britney grew up, threw off the shackles of her branding and decided to show the world that she wasn't a little girl anymore? That she had previously been "Overprotected," and was now ready to break free?
Well, she went a little crazy. Hello identity crisis. While Christina married and had a baby and continued to release hit records and grew into a classier version of herself, Britney spiraled downhill, feeding off the paparazzi, marrying and divorcing, then losing custody of her children. She could not reconcile between what the industry had branded her as and what she really was. She had lied to us all, and now, like karmic clockwork, it was coming back to haunt her.
Because it was Christina who had an oiled-up girlfight in a wrestling ring, and as hard as Britney tried, she couldn't top that. We still saw her as America's Sweetheart, even when she was flashing her vag all over Hollywood. The public's refusal to see her as the new Britney, coupled with her inability to understand why we couldn't just accept that she was grown up and sexual now, eroded at her image until she became this thing: this paparazzi hungry, mildly overweight, umbrella-wielding, non-singing/non-dancing thing.
And Christina, while still raunchy, cleaned up her act with a baby and a little red lipstick. But Britney was too far gone; if she had made a "comeback" at the VMA's, as slotted to, we would have accepted her back into our hearts. But still as the Old Britney. The one we remembered fondly, with whimsy, and sometimes perhaps, in the dark of night while driving along those back roads listening to her Greatest Hits Album, we shed a single, lovely tear for.