In 2007, a then-19-year-old sat in front of a camera and recorded a plea that would become a cornerstone of pop culture. One of the first videos to truly go viral, “Leave Britney alone” was a fan begging the world to consider how much pop singer Britney Spears had gone through and, well, leave her alone.
“Do we really want to see a 25-year-old woman leave behind two children and die?” the YouTuber asked. “Have we learned nothing from Anna Nicole Smith? I know it’s hard to see Britney Spears as a human being, but trust me, she is. She’s a person.”
Initially, it was a meme — really before memes had a name. But in recent years, it’s almost as if the tearful cry foretold how we’d regret how we treated celebrities like Spears.
Spears, in 2007, was newly divorced from Kevin Federline and had recently shaved her head at a salon in Tarzana, Calif. In October of that year, Spears lost custody of her two sons. After a second trip to a mental facility in January 2008, her father, Jamie, stepped in and become her conservator.
Smith, who is referred to in the “Leave Britney alone” video, died in February 2007.
Since then, the #FreeBritney movement has changed the outlook on Spears during the mid-2000s and given the video a sort of redemption arc.
we all owe the LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE guy an apology; he was right and we were jerks
— Erin Foretold By A Wizard Ryan (@morninggloria) June 23, 2021
The video’s creator, now known as Cara Cunningham, is 35 years old and has 54,000 followers on her new TikTok account, which she started on Feb. 18. Cunningham began her transition in August 2021 after years of identifying as both male and female.
Occasionally, Cunningham will answer questions about the “Leave Britney alone” video from TikTok commenters — including one that has seemingly been on everyone’s mind in the past 16 years: “Why were you under your bed with a bed sheet when you filmed Leave Britney Alone?”
Cunningham even recorded the answer in the same room where the original video was filmed in Bristol, Tenn.
“I was never under a sheet or under a bed,” she explained. “Back then you didn’t have backdrops if you did vlogs or whatever. So I took [the curtains] and put this behind me and then used it as my backdrop.”
The curtains have been updated since the 2007 video.
“I just sat the camera right here, on the windowsill thingy, so that that way I had good lighting,” Cunningham continued. “Maybe I was ahead of my time, y’all, I just needed good lighting.”
“Everything abt your leave Britney alone vid was ahead of its time,” one commenter agreed.
“i spent this entire time thinking you were so distraught that you hid under your blanket,” another person wrote.
According to Cunningham, the changing tide toward Spears did not become the “I told you so” moment some people may have assumed it would. The attention and ridicule Cunningham faced in 2007, while still a teenager, led to a diagnosis of complex PTSD.
In addition, Cunningham still sees similar behavior toward other celebrities today. In an NPR interview from 2019, she said, “it proves that the dehumanization of people and celebrities [is a problem]. Because they think that [because] they have money and that their lives are perfect and they’re a part of some super elite groups, it makes their problems go away. It doesn’t.”
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