The news of Britney Spears' split with Kevin Federline was met with squeals of delight from many of her fans.
Divorce is seldom happy news, but devoted followers hoped that the move would mean the return of Classic Brit: the hit-making, trend-setting pop starlet who could do no wrong — who set and stayed ahead of trends, who seemed set for a long, successful career. The image of a well-polished Britney on "Late Show With David Letterman" — and even on the streets of New York in the days after the news broke — suggested that brighter times lay ahead.
And then, well, this: The cigarettes, the gum-chewing, the cut-up fishnet tights ... a parade of late-night public displays and a blogosphere filled with photos of more than fans ever imagined they'd see of their beloved Brit.
"Get a grip," commented one MySpace friend. "Think of your kids," wrote another. "Wear underwear," said yet another. And most disturbing: "You're losing a lot of your fans."
What gives? Linda Thomas, a corporate-image adviser for Powerful Appearance, speculated that getting back at Federline is a reason for Brit's recent behavior. "She must be totally disappointed in the time and energy she put into Kevin and trying to start a family," Thomas said. "If she wants to have custody of her children, people are going to be looking at her behavior. It seems like she's trying to one-up Kevin instead of being with her kids and spending time with them.
"She needs to be reassured that she is still attractive and valid in the industry, but the more she behaves like Kevin, the more people are going to put her in the same boat."
Obviously, matters of custody make the stakes much higher. "The courts are very conservative, judges are very conservative, and she needs to start acting like a mother," Thomas said. "Her challenge is that in the entertainment industry, the more skin you show, the more excitement you create. But in the conservative world of being responsible and raising children, you have to cover up your skin so people can focus on what's at hand. If she's showing lots of skin and her nether regions, they won't respect her or honor her."
With all of that in mind, we're going to exercise a little tough love and make a dozen gentle do-and-don't suggestions that can help Britney get her groove back.
1. Don't hang out with Paris Hilton
She might be fun to party with at a nightclub, but Britney will only encounter more drama by kicking it with "The Simple Life" star. Some old friends from Kentwood, Louisiana, might make better party pals, or even Christina Aguilera, who has come back from her own acting-out phase with class and a first-class album. "She should take advice from Christina," Thomas said. "Christina is making good decisions as a businesswoman as well as an entertainer. Most importantly, her talent is coming across stronger than her personal life."
2. Don't chew gum or smoke in public
Perception counts for a lot where child-custody is concerned.
3. Do ditch the dollar-store extensions
The sophisticated blonde bob Brit rocked on "Letterman" was a glorious reminder of what a class act she can be.
4. Do show off musical talent
Gwen and Fergie moved into Brit's turf while she was on maternity leave — here's her chance to reclaim the throne. "I think she needs to get back to the old Britney we've known and loved since the beginning," said Trent Vanegas, founder of Pink Is the New Blog. "She knows what the pulse of pop culture needs. And she can be a cool mom and still be relevant and sexy. Britney needs to say, 'I took a break for a while — and now I'm back.' Follow Gwen and Christina's lead."
5. Do update the Web site
It's a direct line to fans — and we're tired of that growling tiger.
6. Do get a publicist
Paris Hilton would be the first to admit that she'd be lost without constant companion/spinmaster Elliot Mintz.
7. Do wear designer clothes
The Wal-Mart look was funny for a minute, but why keep it when fabulous designers like Tracy Reese, Nicole Miller, Roberto Cavalli, Giorgio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana are just a phone call away?
8. Do consider a sleigh ride with Mr. Rudolph this Christmas
Larry Rudolph — with whom Brit parted company in 2004, shortly after she married Federline — began managing Britney when she was 15, and played a huge role in making her the star she is.
9. Do work with Pharrell and/or Timbaland
On record, the right company counts for a lot — just ask Mariah. "The world is her oyster," Vanegas said. "She has a lot of friends and a lot of people that would die to work with her. And if she makes the right decisions and partners up with the right people, I think she definitely has a shot at blowing up again."
10. Do reach out to Max Martin
He crafted many of Britney's early hits — and gave Kelly Clarkson one of the best songs on her last album. If Larry Rudolph's back in the game, why not Max?
11. Don't try to one-up Kevin
"She is still focused on getting back at Kevin," Linda Thomas said. "But she has to realize that the legal world is a different world. You need to have time to settle down and get your head clear. I think people really care about her and want to see her recover from her mistakes. I think everyone is rooting for her, but if she has a month or two of this behavior, that's bad."
12. Do stay away from Las Vegas
The place to cut loose is the place where the paparazzi aren't.