Celebrate Britney Spears' 30th Birthday With a Look Back at Crossroads

crossroads_britney300.jpgNews flash, people: Britney Spears is 30 years old today. Oh, how the years (and ruined relationships and children and countless bags of Cheetos) have flown by! In honor of the pop princess's milestone birthday, let's flash back to the year 2002, a time when Brit-Brit was not a girl, and not yet a woman. When she debuted her first starring turn, the start of a promising career as a serious dramatic actress! When Zoe Saldana was just that girl from Center Stage! Let us return to Crossroads.

I've always had a soft spot for Crossroads -- moreso than I do for Britney herself -- and that has everything to do with timing. The spring of 2002 was the height of youth pop culture fandom for anyone who grew up watching Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera on The New Mickey Mouse Club: Britney was the golden girl of post-MMC stardom, had already topped the charts and earned a Grammy nod, and she was dating Justin Timberlake OF 'NSYNC FAME.

But just as she'd morphed from bubblegum tunes and schoolgirl uniforms of "Baby One More Time" to the coy, latex-ed Euro-pop of "Oops... I Did It Again," Spears was ready for another transformation. Enter Crossroads, which combined with the python-accessorized "I'm a Slave 4 U," announced that Britney was all grown up, kinda.

Directed by Tamra Davis and penned by a pre-Grey's Anatomy Shonda Rhimes, Crossroads followed three high school graduates (Spears, Saldana, and Taryn Manning) on a road trip to Los Angeles. Each young heroine had an objective of her own -- travel, find an estranged mother, see a fiance -- but only Britney got to sleep with Anson Mount and discover her inner rock star while singing "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" for tips at a roadside karaoke contest.

Side note: Points for the pre-zeitgeist love for karaoke, but no karaoke joint I know collects tips for random amateurs warbling cover songs, bare midriff or no. And anyone who actually sings "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" at karaoke should be paying the audience, not the other way around.

Double side note: I once sang "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" at a karaoke bar because Anson Mount was there. He left before my song came up. I did not receive tips.

Anyways, I digress. For a widely-panned and fairly vanilla teen roadtrip vanity project, Crossroads was surprisingly charming. An instant guilty pleasure! It predated the wave of tween idol vehicles that followed, although fellow songstress Mandy Moore beat Britney to the punch by a month with the Nicholas Sparks weepie A Walk to Remember ("Aaaand I lift my hands and praaaay...") , but that's a BMWL candidate for another conversation. And again, it was timing.

Crossroads fared decently, all things considered -- $61 million at the box office on a $12 million budget, plus years of royalties in karaoke renditions of "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" (see above) -- but it marked a turning point for Spears. Within months of the film's debut, her split from Timberlake went public. The following year at the MTV Music Awards she shook tongues with Madonna. Then came her first marriage, her second marriage, the K-Fed years, the babies, rehab, and her comeback... all before the age of 30.

So take a bow, Britney! You've lived (and then some). But I'll always remember you as that plucky bucket hat-wearing, GAP sweatpants-clad goody two-shoes from Crossroads, and not as the pop idol whose name once became synonymous with her own ladyparts.

Join me, readers! Name your favorite/most notorious Britney moment below.