“When Justin began making his first solo album, Justified, he started being very standoffish with me. I think that was because he’d decided to use me as ammunition for his record, and so it made it awkward for him to be around me staring at him with all that affection and devotion.”
She saw the breakup message while filming the music video for the “Overprotected” remix by Darkchild, then went back to work. “I had to go back out and dance.”
“For as much as Justin hurt me, there was a huge foundation of love, and when he left me, I was devastated,” she writes. “When I say devastated, I mean I could barely speak for months. Whenever anyone asked me about him, all I could do was cry. I don’t know if I was clinically in shock, but it felt that way.”
She writes that Timberlake’s family had been “the only real, loving family I had.” Elsewhere in the book, she mentions Timberlake’s mother, Lynn Harless, loaning her and her mother money to fly home for Spears’s grandmother’s funeral during the Mickey Mouse Club days. “It was something family would do, and the kids and parents on that show became family.”
“I was shattered,” she writes of her post-breakup state. Meanwhile, Timberlake released a video for “Cry Me a River” with a Britney lookalike skulking around and cheating on him, and played a song called “Don’t Go (Horrible Woman),” which Spears writes “seemed to be about me” for Barbara Walters on 20/20.
She was booed whenever she went out, she said, framed as “a harlot.” At the same time, Timberlake’s album soared.
“The thought of my betraying him gave the album more angst, gave it a purpose: shit-talking an unfaithful woman. The hip-hop world of that era loved a storyline with the theme ‘Fuck you, bitch!’ Getting revenge on women for perceived disrespect was all the rage at the time. Eminem’s violent revenge song ‘Kim’ was huge. The only problem with the narrative was that, in our case, it wasn’t like that,” she writes.
“‘Cry Me a River’ did very well. Everyone felt very sorry for him. And it shamed me.”
“I felt there was no way at the time to tell my side of the story,” Spears continues. “I couldn’t explain, because I knew no one would take my side once Justin had convinced the world of his version.”
“I don’t think Justin realized the power he had in shaming me. I don’t think he understands to this day.”
In 2021, after a documentary about Spears aired and Timberlake was criticized for how he spoke about their sex life, he posted an apology on Instagram acknowledging the misogyny of the music industry and writing, “I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others.”
Though she says now that she “didn’t handle things well” in the aftermath of the abortion and eventual split, Spears writes that the relationship caused ripples through her life.
“Justin framed our time together with me as the bad guy, and I believed it, so ever since then, I’ve felt like I’m under a sort of curse.”
Vanity Fair has reached out to representatives for Spears and Timberlake for comment.