- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

NEW YORK — She's dressed like a junior version of Pamela Anderson, in a clingy tank top, tight blue jeans and zebra-print, stiletto-heeled boots, but when she talks, 20-year-old Britney Spears sounds like a sweet teen-ager of whom any parent would be proud.

Miss Spears flashes a look of embarrassment when discussing a love scene a very tame one in her film debut, "Crossroads."

"Actually, they wanted me to do a little bit more at first, but I would never be able to do a sex scene. It's awkward enough kissing someone," she says in her Louisiana drawl, sitting in a dressing room between rehearsals for a recent guest-host appearance on "Saturday Night Live."

"I read in some magazine that I wanted to take my top off" in the movie, she continues. "I would never, ever do that."

That mixture of girlish charm and vampy sex appeal has characterized Miss Spears' meteoric rise, which drove a teen pop craze and produced three multiplatinum albums in four years.

These days, she seems to be everywhere. Turn on the radio, and Britney is cooing her latest single, "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman." Turn on the television or go to the movies, and there she is pushing Pepsi in a multimillion-dollar ad campaign. Then there are the magazine covers, the MTV airplay, the tour and HBO special, the talked-about romance with 'N Sync's Justin Timberlake and, now, a film.

Although her core fan base is teen-age girls and younger, it now seems that everyone knows the blond, midriff-baring singer and has an opinion about her.

"People have a love-hate relationship with Britney Spears," says Tamara Conniff, music editor for the Hollywood Reporter. She attributes that to Miss Spears' ubiquity and her rapid evolution from doe-eyed schoolgirl to hot babe.

"That caused a lot of people to question, 'Is she too sexy to be a role model for little girls?'" Miss Conniff says.

In Spin magazine's March issue, readers named Miss Spears sex goddess of the year and also worst solo artist. When cleavage-baring posters for her HBO special went up all over New York City last fall, they were defaced with such venom that national media took notice.

Miss Spears' near-striptease was the showstopper of the MTV Music Video Awards in 2000; she returned as scene-stealer the next year too, singing "I'm a Slave 4 U" with a python writhing around her shoulders.

"Of course, not everybody's going to like me, and I know that," Miss Spears says. "It's human nature, and that's what makes the world go round."

She says she is bewildered by all the attention. When asked about her scanty outfits, she sighs.

"I'm on stage, I'm performing; Janet (Jackson) wears clothes like that, Destiny's Child wears clothes like that like everyone. And I was always pinpointed. I never understood that."

As for magazines that rank her among the sexiest pop stars, her eyes bug out and she scrunches her face in disagreement.

"I don't see myself that way at all. I mean, yeah, I dress up like we all do when I go somewhere, but" she stammers in a little-girl voice "I don't it's very flattering that they say that… (but) I don't think so."

Then there's the speculation about her sex life. Although she announced a couple of years ago that she was a virgin, her increasingly suggestive videos and her romance with Mr. Timberlake, with whom she lives in Los Angeles have made some people wonder.

"I kind of regret bringing it up," she says.

Tru Pettigrew, who does market research on the 12-to-24 age group for the Boston firm Y-Access, says Miss Spears' fan base initially consisted of teen-age girls and has actually become younger over time.

"And I will admit that she does have a certain sex appeal with older guys," Mr. Pettigrew says.

"Crossroads" director Tamra Davis acknowledges that people may expect more from Miss Spears because of who she is.

"I think that people will come in there pretty critical of her… especially kids. A lot of them are her fans, but a lot of them might be critical of her, too," Ms. Davis says.

"It was brave for her to do a film, and I definitely think she pulled it off."

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