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The Return of Our Perfectly Imperfect Pop Star

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I've been battling the patronizing (and ridiculous) "You like Britney Spears?" question since '98.

Perhaps I was still mourning the loss of Ginger Spice, but I was immediately hooked on a case of Britney (and I've got a mall-made "Britney's Slave" t-shirt and an MTV fan special appearance or two to prove it). What can I say: there was something about those flirty, fluttering lashes, the growling and cooing pop-tastic vocals, and the "...Baby, One More Time" video's break-out-and-dance-in-midriff-baring-school-girl-garb that I wanted to replicate — I mean, that I supremely enjoyed.

Pegged 2011-01-21-britlachapelle.jpg from the get-go as another here today, cover of Playboy tomorrow (See: Tiffany, Debbie Gibson), Britney always seemed destined for more to me than mall tours replete with back-flips and pigtail-whipping. Then, there was her first oh-no-she-didn't! David LaChapelle-shot Rolling Stone cover... I was right. 17 and coquettishly sprawled across her bed in her antique-doll strewn Kentwood, Louisiana bedroom, Britney got her Lolita on while cuddling a purple Teletubby and flaunting her teen dream curves with a mischievously ambitious look in her eyes; what I'd like to point out as an "It's Britney, bitch!" foreshadowing gaze. Just a few gyrating-with-a-python, Madonna-kissing performances later, and a pop icon was born.

I'm 24 now, and I must confess, I still believe (sorry, had to!) in the power of Britney Spears. And I'm not exactly the only one who still wants a piece of Brit Brit. Newsflash: Britney's explosive pop gem and imminent anthem for the Chelsea gays, "Hold It Against Me", raced to Numero Uno on the iTunes charts in 17 countries just last week, shattering records and beating out Kanye West and Jay-Z's mega duet. All massively impressive for Brit Brit considering she hasn't released new material since Lady Gaga's global takeover.

But even my 87-year-old grandfather with a Star magazine penchant realizes that Britney — 29, divorcee, rehab-tress and mother of two — is no longer Disney's trillion-dollar creation of a meticulous squeaky-clean, "virginal" pop princess with superhero abs and the most desirable pop star BF in the universe. Duh.

Probably the most photographed celebrity of the past decade, the world watched as the "Lucky" singer shredded (reminder: hair, panties, a little dignity) her seemingly perfect image in the ultimate image implosion. When I'm forced to look back at those dark, depressing days, I'm pretty positive I developed severe anxiety, fearing Britney was nearing a Judy Garland not-so-yellow-brick-road trajectory. But there was a crack of light in the darkness, and I'm not just talking about the brilliance that was her haunting, bass-heavy Blackout album... The world was introduced to Britney the human.

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Between the ubiquitous frappuccino runs, barefoot gas station breaks, and baby-carriage-pushing walks with her hair in messy rollers, Spears' not-so-glamorous daily life became its own jaw-dropping spectacle — a peekaboo into the life of a superstar who is in ways just like us! It's a sick and twisted obsession, but there's really nothing like watching the pop princess, who once was known for her 1,000-crunches-a-day fitness regime, puffing away at those Marlboro Lights while hitting up an In-N-Out burger drive-thru.

Every uber-fan satisfies their Britney voyeuristic appetite with a true treat: Britney's biggest fan website, Breatheheavy.com. Jordan Miller, who launched the site as a 16-year-old high school sophomore, explains: "I started out being interested in Britney because I was a fan of her music, but throughout the years of reporting on her, I've followed all the ups and downs and documented all the details."

Seven years later and now 22, Miller's still getting and giving his Britney fix -- to approximately 300,000 pageviews a day. "It's hard to explain, but something about her inspires me to write, be an artist and express myself." Well, going from being strapped to a gurney to readying her seventh buzzed-about studio album -- which boasts an a team of mega-producers like Dr. Luke, Max Martin and the rumored William Orbit (hello, Madonna's Ray of Light!) — is worthy of a little inspiration.

In today's dizzying mainstream music world saturated with pop starlets battling in a whose-drag-queen-costume-is-most-iconic, err, ironic competition, most with colorless music juxtaposed with 2011-01-21-brit2011.jpg blindingly confusing get-ups and unfortunate hair-dye/wig choices, I'm basically doing cartwheels in the streets in preparation for some Britney in 2011. I think it's safe to say we are ready for Britney; our Southern girl-next-door who makes headlines with her Walmart errands and disheveled extensions (and yes, she cleans up well too when it's show time...) — not for tripping in her S&M-friendly number at the airport like an ass-clown.

Let it be known that I think Gaga was necessary at the time -- she filled the pop star void, changed the game and performed CPR on the dying music video (and kept the pop throne lukewarm for Britney's return)... But in a sea of pop-stars-replicating-pop-stars-replicating-pop-stars, Britney stands out amongst the meat dress-wearing, whipped-cream-spewing-from-brassiere caricatures who occasionally sing.

Yep, it's perfect timing for the small-town girl-with-big-dreams-turned-pop-titan to make a "comeback" (Advice: Don't call it a comeback to hardcore Brit Brit fans). Because animal carcass dresses may expire, but having faith and loyalty in everyone's favorite pop princess never dies. And she's just like us, y'all.