WHETHER YOU KNOW IT OR NOT, 16-year-old Britney Spears was a star looong before you and I ever heard of her. Though most know Britney from her unfortunately titled single "Hit Me Baby (One More Time)," Brit's career has been long in the making and meticulously engineered to escalate her to superstardom. This is important to remember, especially for those social scientists interested in attending Brit's upcoming concert at the Mercer Arena. It's not often one gets to see a teen idol so ingeniously constructed that you forget where the performer ends and the packaging begins.

In her defense, Brit was born to entertain. From a very early age, Brit was knockin' 'em dead in her hometown of Kenmore, Louisiana, singing in church choirs and tap-dancing in malls. A seasoned veteran at the age of eight, she was ready to conquer the big-time, and auditioned for a new version of The Mickey Mouse Club. Though initially rejected, the plucky Brit refused to leave New York until she had an agent. After spending three summers in a respected school for the performing arts, Brit landed some commercials, a handful of roles in off-Broadway shows, and by age 11, was ready to return to Disney and show that goddamn mouse she had what it takes to be on his stupid show!

At the time, practically no one knew that being on the MMC was a springboard to becoming a teen idol. I didn't know, or I certainly would've tried out. Apparently, however, someone told Justin and JC from 'N Sync, as well as Keri Russell (star of Felicity), and Britney -- all of whom were MMC members and subsequently became wildly famous -- while I sit here writing snotty reviews of people who have achieved more in their pubescence than I have in 30 years.

Regardless, after two years of honing Britney's skills, MMC was canceled and Brit's career was in danger. After attending one year of public high school, Britney realized she wanted more out of life than sneaking cigs in the can and making out under the stadium bleachers. She wanted to reclaim her fame.

Snubbing her dreary high school for tutors, Brit (on the comeback trail at 15) began preparing demos, one of which caught the ear of Jeff Fenster, senior V.P. of A&R at Jive Records (home of the Backstreet Boys). Though not overly impressed with her voice, Fenster was struck by her "commercial appeal" (i.e., her ability to wear skimpy clothing). What follows is a quick primer for becoming famous these days. Those who choose to ignore this advice should learn to find solace in their obscurity.

1. Find a producer with a proven track record: In Brit's case, she hooked up with hitmaker/Swede Max Martin, the man who introduced the world to Ace of Base, Robyn, and the Backstreet Boys.

2. Set up a 1-800 number: While Brit recorded her hiphoppy debut, Jive Records established a toll-free number complete with snippets of Brit's songs and interviews. This was followed by a web page containing still more music and interviews with the superstar no one had heard of yet.

3. Hit the malls: Though Brit's single had yet to come out, there was enough word of mouth generated to send her on a nationwide "mall tour." 1980s teen pop diva Tiffany did these all the time, but Brit did her one better by singing AND giving out goody bags filled with girlie stuff and cassette singles.

4. First take Manhattan, then Berlin: After Brit's song hit the radio, she was given an opening tour slot with former MMC members Justin and JC of 'N Sync. After a quick swing of the U.S., Jive started pushing her internationally, including live performances and TV appearances in Europe and Asia. By this time, America fell in love with the video of "Hit Me Baby" -- a paean to lost love and Catholic-girls'-school uniforms -- which landed her a spread in Rolling Stone. And I do mean spread. (On the off- chance you didn't get that last joke, check out the following web address: http://members.xoom.com/britneyuk/. You'll see.)

Brit is now officially famous, and her current North American tour is leading her to our city. If you're searching for a performer of more than modest singing and dancing talents, then maybe you should pass. But if you're searching for a lost childhood that can only be regained in the charming high-pitched squeals of thousands of adolescents, then you should go. And you should definitely go if you're at all interested in witnessing a performer of pure, artificial creation. To me, that's fascinating, especially since I can never watch a Britney video without thinking, "Is this who Jon Benet Ramsey would've grown up to be?"

Support The Stranger