Britney's Big Break
If Spears sounds like a bored young woman with plenty of time on her well-manicured hands, she admits as much. "I honestly don't know what to do with myself," she says. Which is just what she had hoped for in announcing an indefinite hiatus from recording and performing beginning this month. Of course, that won't prevent her from reading film scripts and appearing Aug. 29 on MTV's Video Music Awards. Still, says Spears, "I need this break to rejuvenate spiritually and to just play."
She may have playtime in mind, but tabloid editors are working overtime on Britney breakdown stories. Following her parents' divorce in May, her split from 'N Sync heartthrob Justin Timberlake in March, sliding record sales and a spate of public relations disasters from London to Mexico, she remains genuinely mystified by the public impression that she's imploding. "I'm taking a break, so people are writing that I'm having a meltdown," says Spears, in a midriff-baring T-shirt and bebe hip-huggers slung low enough to reveal a hint of pink lace. "I don't get it." As for hard living, Spears happily agrees to a spot check of the G-rated contents of her purse: Juicy Fruit gum, Pinkie's mints, vanilla perfume and a tiny bottle of the herbal supplement St. John's wort. Says mom Lynne, 47: "My daughter is doing beautifully. She's never, ever been close to a breakdown." Yet Spears admits that her fresh-scrubbed role-model days are over. "I never wanted to hide who I was," she says, "but until about a year ago I was trying to fit an image and trying to be someone I wasn't."
Translation: Sugar-and-spice Britney is out, fire-and-ice Britney is in. In the past few months she has been photographed with a cigarette ("This may sound really cheesy, but I was holding it for a girlfriend"), flipping her middle finger at paparazzi who swarmed her car in Mexico ("We couldn't move. They were shaking it") and cozying up to Leonardo DiCaprio at the Playboy Mansion. ("He looks hot these days. But all I remember is seeing a bunch of naked girls and thinking, 'I got to get out of here.' ") And despite her famous 1999 remark that she intended to remain a virgin until her wedding day, she isn't lobbying for sainthood. "Who really cares if I've had sex?" she says. "It's nobody's business. Trust me, I'm not going to have a press conference to announce it. If I mess up, I'm human. If I have a drink or I'm with someone, I'm human. I'm no different than anyone else my age."