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21st Century Girl

If superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound, and Spider-Man can capture villains with wrist-spun webs, what, then, can Brit-Man do?

For starters, he, like Superman, seems to move faster than a speeding bullet as he follows Britney Spears around New York City. Ever since the pop star's stretch limo peeled away from MTV's Times Square studios (where she just finished cohosting Total Request Live with Melissa Joan Hart), Brit-Man has been chasing her on foot, dodging taxi-cabs and tourists while in hot pursuit. Six blocks later, a red light allows him to catch the star-and his breath. Barechested, witha a red T-shirt tied around his neck (that's his cape) and the word "Brit-Man" scrawled in black marker on his left arm, the twentysomething superfan peers into the limo's tinted glass. "I love you, Britney!" he shouts. "Roll down the window!"

"Lord!" says Britney, laughing. Her bodyguard, Robert Feggans-aka Big Rob-is not. "Give him an autograph," he advises. "Hopefully, that'll make him disappear."

When Rob cracks the window, Brit-Man is rendered speechless as he catches sight of his idol. "Hi," Britney says sweetly, signing the scrap of paper t hat Brit-Man has handed to Rob. Once finished, she hands it back to Rob, who gives it back to the shell-shocked fan. It's not until Rob rolls up the window that Brit-Man finally regains his voice: "I love you, Britney!"

A few days later, Britney is dining on southern cuisine (her favorite) at Virgil's, a Times Square restaurant not far from where Brit-Man got her signature. "The fans are even crazier in Canada," says the Kentwood, La., native. Don't misunderstand: She means that in a good way. The week before, on September 23, her People's Choice Favorite International Artist win at Canada's Much Music Video Awards was the event's biggest surprise. "They were announcing the nominees. They were madonna, Ricky Martin, Lauryn Hill...I was like, 'I'm not winning this! Whatever!'" she says. "But the crowd was screaming my name, which was really cool, and then [the presenter] said my name, and I was like, 'Oh my goodness!'"

madonna and Lauryn HIll have had tremendously successful careers, but it is arguable that no female solo artist rocked planet earth in 1999 like Britney Jean Spears. Released in Novemeber 1998, her first single, "...Baby One More Time," shot to No.1 in 15 countries, including the U.S. At press time, her debut disc of the same name has sold more than 9 million copies in the U.S. alone, placing her second in 1999 album sales only to her Jive label mates Backstreet Boys. In just a few months, the former Mickey Mouse Club kid became the darling of MTV (think schoolgirl uniform), fashion (think Tommy Hilfiger campaign) and the media (who could forget that Rolling Stone cover?). Concerta and publicity tours took the southern belle from Germany to Japan and back. In November, she broke the record for the most MTV Europe Music Awards won by a single artist (four); heard that she'd won four major 1999 Billboard Music Awards, including Female Artist of the Year; and expected to be nominated for a number of American Music Awards. By year's end, she was even immortalized in plastic, thanks to Play Along Toys, Inc., a company that has manufactured six different Britney dolls.

But that was last year. Can Ms. Spears possibly top herself in 2000? If she accomplishes half of what she has planned, let's just say we ain't seen nothing yet.

"I really want to do a movie," says Britney as she butters a biscuit. "There are, like, twenty scripts waiting for me-I get some really good scripts-but I haven't taken them seriously because I knewe I didn't have any time [to make a fiml]." Perhaps inspired by fellow former MMC stars Keri Russell-a Golden Globe Award winner for Felicity, whose film Mad About Mambo hits theaters sometime this spring-and 'N Sync's Justin Timberlake (his tentatively titled The Wonderful World of Disney TV movie, Cover Girls, airs February 20 on ABC), Britney will spend the first few months of 2000 looking for the perfect part. Just don't expect her to be the leading lady.

"To go all out and have the lead role-I'd be scared having that much pressure on me," says Britney (although she was the understudy for the lead in an official Broadway play called Ruthless when she was 10). "It would be fun to do a teen movie-maybe a good supporting role where I could show my acting ability."

With the competition for teen-oriented roles so hot and heavy that even twentysomethings want in on the action, you'd think a pop singer would have a hard time jockeying for position with full-time actors. Studio heads don't seem to see it that way, though. "Without ever having done a movie, Britney is on the Hollywood A-list," says Larry Rudolph, one of Britney's two managers ('N Sync's mentor, Johnny Wright, is the other). Rudolph adds that Miramax cochairs Bob and Harvey Weinstein want to have a meeting with her. "She gets asked to do every [teen] movie that the major actresses are being asked to make." That includes Scary Movie, a slasher-flick satire out later this spring, in which Dimension Films say it attempted to cast her, but her rigid 1999 tour schedule wouldn't allow it.

Judging by the reception Britney gets at the New York City premiere of the romantic comedy Drive Me Crazy, she's already a movie star. As a glittering Britney steps from her limo, fans (including the omnipresent Brit-Man) start hyperventilating and jumping the barricades while the paparazzi go wild. You'd think that Britney, and not Melissa Joan Hart, was the star of this film.

In a sense, she is. Hoping to tap into the singer's enormous fan base, Twentieth Century Foxe, changed the tile of the film from Next to You to Drive Me Crazy, after the album version of Britney's hit song, not long before the movie's opening weekend. In return, Britney helped promote the film, appearing with new friend Melissa-who makes a cameo in Britney's music video for "(You Drive Me) Crazy (The Stop Remix!)"-on TRL and at Crazy's New York City premiere.

With her feature-film debut still to come, Britney has already begun making inroads on the small screen. Recently, she was scheduled to film at least one episode of Dawson's Creek, her favorite show (back when she had time to watch TV). "I'm not going to be playing myself," says Britney, who already did that last fall on Melissa's series, Sabrina, The Teenage Witch. Though she hasn't seen a script, she hears that she may be playing, "um, Dawson's love interest."

Actually, shse admits, "I have no idea what I'm going to do. There was talk of me being a dork and Katie Holmes wanting to make me over, then all of a sudden I'm beautiful-that's when Dawson starts to like me." At press time, Columbia TriStar, which produces Dawson's Creek, said that the show's writers have yet to develop a plotline for her.

For all her acting aspirations, Britney wants her fans to know that making and promoting her sophomore album will be her main focus in the first year of the new millennium. Last November, she traveled to Sweden to reteam with producer Max Martin (Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion), who cowrote and produced both "...Baby One More Time" and "(You Drive Me) Crazy." But don't expect a soundalike sequel. She wants the follow-up to be daring and different-starting with the CD jacket. "I hated the [first] album cover," she says of the girlish shot taken at one of her first promotional photo sessions back when she was 15. This time, she ays, "I have all these ideas." One possibility might be to hire photographer Herb Ritts, who is famous for his ultrasexy black-and-white celebrity portraits. "He's done Madonna and he did Janet Jackson-remember when she made her comeback?" she says, alluding to Janet's makeover, which was orchestrated by Ritts when he directed her "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" video.

Like her idol, Madonna, Britney understands the importance of an ever-evolving image. So she's making one big change, effective immediately. "I'm over the belly," she says. "I don't ever want to show my belly again. I read in a magzine 'Britney shows her belly in every interview.' I was like, No, I don't!' I don't show my belly in everything!"

As she lunches at Virgil's, Britney learnes that her friend Melissa Joan Hart is in the gossip pages for showing her belly-and more-on the recent covers of Maxim and Bikini magazines. The photos are said to have incensed the company that owns the rights to her Sabrina character that they said they would call for her removal from the show unless she issued a public apology.

"Did anybody say anything about Jennifer Aniston when she was on the cover of In Style [nearly nude]?" Britney asks, getting angry. "Melissa is 23. She can do what she wants. She's a woman, and she's trying to be sexy."

"I've been through this with Rolling Stone," she continues. "That wasn't me, that's not my personality. It was like a girl playing dress-up, you know what I mean? When I saw the pictures, I was like, 'Wow!' Then all this [negative] stuff came out about it, and I was like, 'Well, that's their opinion.' I'm a Christian. I go to church. But my mom taught us, 'Don't be ashamed of your body. It's a beautiful thing.'

"My heart goes out to [Melissa]. She has to be true to herself. She's a strong person; she'll be fine. She knows the pictures were beautiful. They were tastefully done.

Britney is a much stronger, much more vocal young woman than she was when this TEEN PEOPLE reporter first lunched with her pre-"...Baby One More Time" fame back in the summer of '98. The then 16-year-old was so shy that she could barely speak or look up from her plate. These days, Britney has self-assurance to spare. And you get the feeling that this is just the beginning. Could it be because her 18th birthday, which falls on December2, is almost upon her?

"I think eighteen is a big deal for some reason," she says. "you are an adult when you're eighteen." Some may say Britney has been an adult for some time now, especially when she's on tour. She may be younger than all of her dancers, who are in their 20s, but she commands a respect that's unusual for someone her age, according to Boyz N Girlz United singer Robbie Carrico, 18, whose gropu opened for Britney last year (and who escorted her to the Drive Me Crazy premiere). "She's the person they could all come and talk to," he says. "Before a show, she would always lead us in prayer."

Britney's proving to be a leader on the charity front too. This summer, the tentatively named Camp Britney will celebrate its inaugural season. A sort of Fame-style training ground for underprivileged teens, Camp Britney's goal is to attract top choreographers, acting coaches and other entertainment-industry professionals to New York State for a few weeks during the summer. Britney hopes that teens can develop confidence and a stronger sense of self through the arts.

Lord knows she has. "The critics can talk about my hair, my boobs, and everything," she says dismissively. "[But] when they start talking about my singing and my perfomances and my dancing..."

Then what? Easy: then she'll fight back with her music and hit them, baby, one more time.