Britney Spears turns 40: See the pop icon's life and career in photos

Britney Spears, who turns 40 on Dec. 2, 2021, is a pop icon. But where have the years gone? To celebrate her milestone birthday, we gathered photos from the star's two decades in the spotlight: from her “Baby One More Time” debut to her successful battle for independence from her 13-year-long conservatorship overseen by her father. Scroll through to see her through the years.

Look at that baby face! In 1999, Britney Spears was just a gal from Louisiana with a hit on her hands that would change the world.

In October 1998, Britney dropped “…Baby One More TIme” on us, and the pop world was never the same.

Things when rather well for Brit after that. She followed up the mammoth success of her first album, which sold over 10 million copies, with 2000's  “Oops I Did It Again.” And so the spangled aughts were born.

2000 was a very Team Britney or Team Christina kind of year.

The aughts also gave us one of pop music's most famous relationships. Britney and Justin Timberlake may no longer be together, but we'll always have this denim on denim look to remember them by.

Perhaps one of Britney's most iconic stages was the Super Bowl halftime show in 2001, where she joined Aerosmith, NSYNC and Nelly onstage.

This was also the year that brought us the Performance with the Real Snake at the 2001 VMAs.

Who can forget when Brit Brit joined Michael Jackson on stage at Madison Square Garden? M.J. was celebrating his 30th anniversary as a solo artist.

Britney Spears charmed Jay Leno in 2003 with a look at her new tattoo.

In 2003, it was quite the moment when Madonna kissed Britney on stage at the VMAs, and then Christina Aguilera, who were both dressed in bridal lingerie.

Britney looked smokin' during her Onyx Hotel tour in 2004.

Which brings us to the Kevin Federline years. Here, the two are pictured in 2006 at a Grammys party.

Britney married K-Fed in 2004. They attended the premiere of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” together in 2005 when she was pregnant with their first son, Sean.

Britney and Kevin had another son, Jayden, in 2006, but the couple split after just two years of marriage.

Britney entered a troubled period from 2006-2008, but by early 2009 she was picking up the pieces again with a new album, Circus, and a healthier outlook.

In 2010, she delighted “Glee” fans by making a cameo in an episode entitled “Britney/Brittany.”

By 2016, Britney was back in full control, with a popular residency in Las Vegas and commanding performances at shows like 2016's Billboard Music Awards.

Here, Britney performs at the iHeartRadio Music festival in 2016. In 2017, Spears was named the 8th highest earning female musician by Forbes magazine, earning $34 million that year.

Cut to 2018: At 36, Britney just wrapped her latest “Piece of Me” tour in England. 

She accepted the Vanguard award at the GLAAD Media Awards in April 2018.

In January 2019, the pop superstar announced she was going on an indefinite work hiatus. 

But she still attended the premiere of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” on July 22, 2019. She struck a pose on the premiere red carpet.

She attended with her beau Sam Asghari, who played her love interest in the “Slumber Party” video. They have been together since 2016.

Spears and Asgari announced their engagement on Sept. 12, 2021. “I can't (expletive) believe it,” Spears wrote on her Instagram account below videos showing off the four-carat ring with shocked expressions. The ring has a four-carat round brilliant stone in a platinum cathedral setting and is engraved inside the band with “lioness,” Asghari's nickname for Spears, the company Forever Diamonds NY told USA TODAY in a statement.

It was quiet for Spears until a revelatory new documentary, “Framing Britney Spears” from FX and The New York Times, hit Hulu on Jan. 5, 2021. The doc got fans and celebrities once again talking about the past media treatment of her and the years-long conservatorship that controls her finances and other important life decisions. As the conservatorship battle continued more interest in Spears' case launched more documentaries to air from Netflix and CNN. 

Britney's 13-year-old state-imposed guardianship incited a fan-led #FreeBritney movement. Here, supporters gather outside the County Courthouse in LA during a hearing in her case on June 23, 2021. She was freed from the conservatorship on Nov. 12, 2021. The star celebrated the judge's decision on Instagram writing: “I think I’m gonna cry the rest of the day !!!! Best day ever … praise the Lord … can I get an Amen.”

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