Britney Jean Spears was born on December 2, 1981, the second child of Lynne Irene (née Bridges) and James Parnell Spears. She is of English heritage through her maternal grandmother, who was born in London, and of distant Maltese descent. Her siblings are Bryan James and Jamie Lynn. At age three, she started to attend dance lessons in her hometown of Kentwood, Louisiana, and was selected to perform a solo at the annual recital. During her childhood, she also attended gymnastics and voice lessons, and won many state-level competitions and children's talent shows. Spears made her local stage debut at age five, singing "What Child Is This?" at her kindergarten graduation. She said about her ambition as a child, "I was in my own world, I found out what I'm supposed to do at an early age". At age eight, Spears and her mother Lynne traveled to Atlanta for an audition in the 1990s revival of The Mickey Mouse Club. Casting director Matt Cassella rejected her for being too young to join the series at the time, but introduced her to Nancy Carson, a New York City talent agent. Carson was impressed with Spears's vocals and suggested enrolling her at the Professional Performing Arts School; shortly after, Lynne and her daughters moved to a sublet apartment in New York. Spears was hired for her first professional role, as the understudy for the lead role of Tina Denmark in the Off-Broadway musical Ruthless!. She also appeared as a contestant on the popular television show Star Search, as well as being cast in a number of commercials. In December 1992, she was finally cast in The Mickey Mouse Club, but returned to Kentwood after the show was cancelled. She enrolled at Parklane Academy in nearby McComb, Mississippi. Although she made friends with most of her classmates, she compared the school to "the opening scene in Clueless with all the cliques. I was so bored. I was the point guard on the basketball team. I had my boyfriend, and I went to homecoming and Christmas formal. But I wanted more." In June 1997, Spears was in talks with manager Lou Pearlman to join female pop group Innosense. Lynne asked family friend and entertainment lawyer Larry Rudolph for his opinion and submitted a tape of Spears singing over a Whitney Houston karaoke song along with some pictures. Rudolph decided he wanted to pitch her to record labels, therefore she needed a professional demo. He sent Spears an unused song from Toni Braxton; she rehearsed for a week and recorded her vocals in a studio with a sound engineer. Spears travelled to New York with the demo and met with executives from four labels, returning to Kentwood the same day. Three of the labels rejected her, arguing audiences wanted pop bands such as the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls, and "there wasn't going to be another Madonna, another Debbie Gibson, or another Tiffany." Two weeks later, executives from Jive Records returned calls to Rudolph. Senior vice president of A&R Jeff Fenster stated about Spears's audition that "It's very rare to hear someone that age who can deliver emotional content and commercial appeal. For any artist, the motivation—the 'eye of the tiger'— is extremely important. And Britney had that." They appointed her to work with producer Eric Foster White for a month, who reportedly shaped her voice from "lower and less poppy" delivery to "distinctively, unmistakably Britney." After hearing the recorded material, president Clive Calder ordered a full album. Spears had originally envisioned "Sheryl Crow music, but younger more adult contemporary" but felt alright with her label's appointment of producers, since "It made more sense to go pop, because I can dance to it—it's more me." She flew to Cheiron Studios in Stockholm, Sweden, where half of the album was recorded from March to April 1998, with producers Max Martin, Denniz Pop and Rami, among others.
On January 3, 2008, Spears refused to relinquish custody of her sons to Federline's representatives. She was hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, after police that arrived at her house noted she appeared to be under the influence of an illicit substance. The following day, Spears's visitation rights were suspended at an emergency court hearing, and Federline was given sole physical and legal custody of the children. On January 31, 2008, Spears was committed to the psychiatric ward of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and put on 5150 involuntary psychiatric hold. The court placed her under temporary conservatorship of her father James Spears and attorney Andrew Wallet, giving them complete control of her assets. Spears was released on February 6, 2008. Her parents expressed disappointment and concern at the decision to release her. The following month, she guest-starred on the How I Met Your Mother episode "Ten Sessions" as receptionist Abby. She received positive reviews for her performance, as well as bringing the series highest ratings ever. In July 2008, Spears regained some visitation rights after coming to an agreement with Federline and his counsel. On September 7, 2008, Spears opened the MTV Video Music Awards with a pre-taped comedy sketch with Jonah Hill and an introduction speech. She won Best Female Video, Best Pop Video and Video Of The Year for "Piece of Me". A 60-minute introspective documentary, Britney: For the Record, was produced to chronicle Spears' return to the recording industry. Directed by Phil Griffin, For the Record was entirely shot in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and New York City during the third quarter of 2008. Main shooting began on September 5, 2008, two days before Spears' appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards. For the Record was broadcast on MTV on November 30, 2008 to 5.6 million viewers for the two airings on the premiere night. MTV reported that Spears' documentary garnered on average, the highest rating in its' Sunday night timeslot, in the network's history.
Her sixth studio album Circus, was released in December 2008. It received positive reviews from critics; according to the music review aggregation of Metacritic, it garnered an average score of 64/100. Circus debuted at number one in Canada, Czech Republic and the United States, and inside the top in many European nations. In the United States, Spears became the youngest female artist to have five albums debut at number one, earning a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. She also became the only act in the Soundscan era to have four albums debut with 500,000 or more copies sold. Circus became one of the fastest-selling albums of the year, and has sold 4 million copies worldwide. Its lead single, "Womanizer", became her first number one in the Billboard Hot 100 since "...Baby One More Time" and topped the charts in countries such as Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Norway and Sweden. It was also nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Dance Recording. In January 2009, Spears and her father James obtained a restraining order against her former manager Sam Lufti, ex-boyfriend Adnan Ghalib and attorney Jon Eardley—all of whom, court documents claim, had been conspiring to gain control of Spears's affairs. The restraining order forbids Lutfi and Ghalib from contacting Spears or coming within 250 yards of her, her property or family members. Spears embarked on The Circus Starring Britney Spears in March 2009. With a gross of U.S. $131.8 million, it became the fifth highest grossing tour of the year. She released her second greatest hits album, The Singles Collection in November 2009. "3" became her third number one single in the US, and was the first song to debut at the top of the charts in three years. Later that month, she released an application for iPhone and iPod Touch titled "It's Britney!". In May 2010, Spears's representatives confirmed she was dating her agent Jason Trawick, and that they had decided to end their professional relationship to focus on their personal relationship. Spears designed a limited edition clothing line for Candie's, which was released in stores in July 2010. On September 28, 2010, she made a cameo appearance on a Spears-themed tribute episode of American TV show Glee, titled "Britney/Brittany". Spears approved of the episode, although her appearances received mixed reviews from critics. The episode drew Glee's second largest audience, as well as the show's highest ratings ever.
In February 2011, Spears confirmed that her seventh studio album, Femme Fatale, would be released on March 29, 2011. Max Martin and Dr. Luke executive produced the album, with Luke stating that he wanted the sound to "get harder in some ways and maybe a little more deep into electronic." Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Bloodshy & Avant, Shellback, Benny Blanco, will.i.am, Fraser T. Smith, Stargate, and Darkchild all produced songs on the album. Its lead single, "Hold It Against Me," was released on January 11, 2011, and debuted at number-one on the Billboard Hot 100. This gave Spears her fourth number-one single on the chart, and made her only the second artist in history to have two consecutive singles debut at number-one, after Mariah Carey. A second single, "Till the World Ends," was released on March 4, 2011.Following her debut, Spears was credited with leading the revival of teen pop in the late 1990s. The Daily Yomiuri reported that "[m]usic critics have hailed her as the most gifted teenage pop idol for many years, but Spears has set her sights a little higher-she is aiming for the level of superstardom that has been achieved by Madonna and Janet Jackson." Rolling Stone wrote: "Britney Spears carries on the classic archetype of the rock & roll teen queen, the dungaree doll, the angel baby who just has to make a scene." Rami Yacoub who co-produced Spears's debut album with lyricist Max Martin, commented, "I know from Denniz Pop and Max's previous productions, when we do songs, there's kind of a nasal thing. With N' Sync and the Backstreet Boys, we had to push for that mid-nasal voice. When Britney did that, she got this kind of raspy, sexy voice." Following the release of her debut album, Chuck Taylor of Billboard observed, "Spears has become a consummate performer, with snappy dance moves, a clearly real-albeit young-and funkdified voice ... "(You Drive Me) Crazy", her third single ... demonstrates Spears's own development, proving that the 17-year-old is finding her own vocal personality after so many months of steadfast practice." Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic referred to her music as a "blend of infectious, rap-inflected dance-pop and smooth balladry." Spears later commented, "With ...Baby One More Time, I didn't get to show my voice off. The songs were great, but they weren't very challenging".
Spears became an international pop culture icon immediately after launching her recording career. Rolling Stone magazine wrote: "One of the most controversial and successful female vocalists of the 21st century," she "spearheaded the rise of post-millennial teen pop ... Spears early on cultivated a mixture of innocence and experience that broke the bank". She is listed by the Guinness World Records as having the "Best-selling album by a teenage solo artist" for her debut album ...Baby One More Time which sold over thirteen million copies in the United States. Melissa Ruggieri of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported, "She's also marked for being the best-selling teenage artist. Before she turned 20 in 2001, Spears sold more than 37 million albums worldwide". Barbara Ellen of The Observer has reported: "Spears is famously one of the 'oldest' teenagers pop has ever produced, almost middle aged in terms of focus and determination. Many 19-year-olds haven't even started working by that age, whereas Britney, a former Mouseketeer, was that most unusual and volatile of American phenomena — a child with a full-time career. While other little girls were putting posters on their walls, Britney was wanting to be the poster on the wall. Whereas other children develop at their own pace, Britney was developing at a pace set by the ferociously competitive American entertainment industry". 'Britney Spears' was Yahoo!'s most popular search term between 2005 and 2008, and has been in a total of seven different years. Spears was named as Most Searched Person in the Guinness World Records book edition 2007 and 2009. Spears has also become a major influence among many new artists, including Kristinia DeBarge, Lady Gaga, Little Boots, Selena Gomez & the Scene, Pixie Lott and Miley Cyrus who has cited Spears as one of her biggest inspirations and has also referenced Spears in her hit song "Party in the U.S.A.".