Britney’s not alone: The sexist celeb interviews that should never, EVER have happened
Thankfully, things are much improved now but the early noughties were a turbulent time for women in the media and these old celeb interviews are extremely uncomfortable to watch.
2021 was a huge cultural awakening for the world. As interest in the #FreeBritney movement grew, we collectively began to realise the err of our ways and suddenly many past moments were being reevaluated under a modern lens… moments that were inexplicably accepted as being fine or normal at the time, but were nothing short of icky upon further inspection.
Ms Spears had been a particular point of interest in the last year, and public intrigue in her life skyrocketed as more and more details of her father’s conservatorship began to emerge. What some might previously have considered to be an overzealous fan conspiracy theory was soon proven to have actual legitimacy and we all watched on in horror as the singer publicly addressed the situation for the first time. How could we not have realised just how bad it was? Such was the power of the tabloids, I suppose. Articles about Britney’s “meltdown” and “downward spiral” were a dime a dozen and the web of lies convincing us she “couldn’t be trusted to make important decisions” had us all believing that this was for her own good.
Britney has literally been saying the same things since she was in her early twenties though. Did we all spontaneously forget songs like “I’m A Slave 4 U” and “Overprotected”? People chose to oversexualise these songs and label her all sorts of derogatory terms but it’s clear that we all completely missed the point. The 2003 Diane Sawyer interview that the star recently criticised only stands as proof of this. Speaking out about the infamous clip over on her Instagram, Brit certainly didn’t hold back when it came to saying how she really felt about it all.“What was with the ‘You’re in the wrong’ approach?? Geeze… and making me cry?,” she questioned.
Organised in the aftermath of Britney’s breakup from boyfriend Justin Timberlake, the controversial interview was supposedly the work of Jamie Spears, who pushed his daughter into addressing the degradation of her relationship on live television… despite the fact that she had no desire to open up about it to anyone, least of all Diane Sawyer. “Something that I never shared when I had that big breakup years ago was that I couldn’t talk afterwards,” Britney admitted. “I never spoke to anyone for a very long time, I was in shock. Pretty lame of my dad and three men to show up at my door when I could hardly speak… two days later they put Diane Sawyer in my living room. They forced me to talk. I was a baby… I was almost 22 and didn’t understand. But I f*cking know now.”
Aside from the Britney interview, fans are still upset with Diane Sawyer for many of the other celebrity interviews she gave too – including ones with Rihanna and Whitney Houston.
Britney has since deleted her original post, but it’s started an important conversation regardless… and she’s not the only female celebrity to have had to sit through such an insulting and derogatory interview either. Supermodel Brooke Shields opened up about her own experience just last week, telling Dax Shepherd on his Armchair Expert podcast that an interview she did with Barbara Walters when she was 16 was “practically criminal”. As was, and still unfortunately is, the case with many female stars, the media oversexualised Brooke and then blamed her for it.
She was asked highly inappropriate questions about her body and sexual history – ones that shouldn’t have been acceptable in any situation but especially given the fact that she was a young teenager at the time. She was poked and prodded about her 1980s Calvin Klein campaign (which many deemed overtly sexual) time and time again. People feigned interest in hearing what she had to say to “defend” herself, but the world had already made up their minds about Brooke Shields.
Earlier this year, a resurfaced clip of Jennifer Aniston speaking to David Letterman went viral online – and no, not for good reasons. The whole interview is disgusting to watch, though things really take a turn when Aniston recalls an anecdote about running into some fans in the steam room at her gym. “Are you naked?” Letterman asks, to which Jen confirms that yes, she was “butt-naked”. Cue unwarranted wolf whistles, audience applause, and a very creepy smile from Letterman. “These babes come in, they’re naked as well,” he interjects before questioning, “Oh, how many of ‘em were there?” and whether they were “all really sweaty” or not. I can only imagine how uncomfortable Jen is feeling at this point, but it does indeed get worse. Much worse in fact and Letterman later scoots his chair in behind the Friends star and actually starts sucking on her hair. Yes, really.
Maybe the Letterman/Aniston interview was an isolated incident, you think. Wrong. The Letterman/Janet Jackson interview is just as bad. Explicitly telling the chat show host that she doesn’t want to talk about her performance at the Super Bowl (you know the one where Justin Timberlake exposed her bare breast to millions of people around the world), Letterman completely ignores her and continues questioning her about it anyway. “Tell us exactly what happened from the time you got up on Super Bowl Sunday to the time the episode took place during the halftime show,” he probes. “I don’t wanna relive any of that,” Jackson replies, to which Letterman responds, “You don’t mind if I ask you some questions about it, though?”
Clearly, she does mind, very much… not that he cares though. “You knew it was going to happen? It was not a stunt? It was not premeditated?” he continues, before adding “So, how did it happen? What exactly transpired?” Obviously exasperated at this point, Janet answers back by saying, “Dave, you’re gonna make me relive this, and I wanna put all that behind me – I truly do.” Ready for the real gut punch? “Well, not me,” Letterman notes, as if the singer’s apparent pain and discomfort is just another of his “jokes”. Paris Hilton had her own awkward interview with Letterman too. As did Lindsay Lohan.
Howard Stern is another culprit who should find himself in hot water. I could use any number of his past interviews as examples, but let’s look to the one with Baby Spice, Emma Bunton, for now. “Not sure what I’m getting myself into,” Bunton admits in a video showing her heading into the studio to chat with Stern. “There’s lots of rumours about him,” she laughs nervously. Emma’s apprehension was warranted and Stern is sexist and misogynistic from the get-go. Greeting her as “Hey, Baby”, he begins the interview by commenting on the photos of her that appear in her album insert. “It’s unbelievable. Sexy pictures. I didn’t know your body was that rockin’… You should have worn these little hot pants today.” The statements get progressively more graphic with Stern (and his co-host) actually making direct comments about certain parts of her body too. That’s without even mentioning the racist undertones – Stern actually asks Emma why “the Black kid” (referring to Mel B) is called “Terrible Spice”? Need I go on?
Stern’s interviews with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Anna Nicole Smith are particularly bad too. Both highly sexual in nature, he’s openly disparaging to the women and at one point even tries to make Smith step on the scales to weigh herself. “The way you dress and stuff, I don’t think you ‘re aware that you’re a heavyset woman… can you please get on the scale, and then we’ll [guess your weight]?” Smith obviously refuses, but that’s not the point. Such a thing should never have happened in the first place. It shouldn’t have happened and it definitely shouldn’t have aired either, but here we are all these years later with the video as proof.
In 2011, Lady Gaga sat down with Anderson Cooper to promote her Born This Way album. There to talk about her music and identity as an artist, conversation soon strayed to other topics and next thing you know Cooper is asking the performer why she hasn’t addressed rumours that she’s had a “male appendage”, that she’s a “hermaphrodite” (ie an intersex person, who has biological characteristics that not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies). Obviously not expecting to be asked whether she has a penis or not, Gaga proved herself to be a true LGBTQI+ ally and hit back by saying, “Maybe I do. Would it be so terrible? Why the hell am I going to waste my time and give a press release about whether or not I have a penis? My fans don’t care and neither do I.”
Looking back on these interviews, it’s hard to see how they were ever deemed appropriate in the first place. From inappropriate questions to biased journalistic opinions to situations that are just so wrong they should never have been allowed; there isn’t one redeeming factor that might make you think, “Ah, it wasn’t all bad”. It was all bad and though it’s great we’re realising that now, it also seems way too little too late. Britney underwent years of trauma before she was freed and the effects of that are not something that just disappears overnight. Janet Jackson is still lambasted for that Super Bowl performance while JT is lauded for it. It’s all just very icky.