How Pop Culture Built and Destroyed Women’s Careers in the Early 2000s


Emma Van Winkle, Staff Writer

The early 2000s produced many females in the entertainment industry, including Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Lindsay Lohan. Spears and Lohan hit their peak in the 90’s-early 2000’s, while Gaga hit it in 2012, being nominated for awards, on the top charts for songs and taking the world by storm with their talent. But what many people didn’t realize at the time was that how they lived and even how their talent was used was not in their favor; the industry and media controlled their lives. The media portrayed these women as unstable, having various mental health issues and overall not good role models

Social media was just getting started back then and now it’s even more than anyone would expect, but with the growth of media comes the boundaries. Today there is still paparazzi and articles being written about recent events of the industry. 

According to Jessica Bennet from The New York Times, “Gossip magazines ruled during this time, which meant the paparazzi did too. They photographed under skirts, chased cars down winding roads, competing, often dozens at a time, for images that could fetch millions.” 

This type of attention was even worse for female popstars, Bennet says: “But the race for the most salacious shot was never an equal opportunity game. It was not young men who appeared in photos with their bra straps showing and their makeup smeared…”

From the start of her career, Gaga faced negative criticism, hatred, and bullying. Accounting these events in her life, Brightside media writes, “When Lady Gaga was in college, her ‘fans’’ made a community on a social media outlet that was called ‘Stefani Germanotta you will never become famous.’ And now, if you look back at her life, it becomes clear that there are true emotions behind her very provocative image.”

Much of the extreme criticism and bullying that happened back then has died down because gossip magazines aren’t as popular. At the time, though, these women were seen as play things for producers, managers, fans, media and even their own families. 

To the world this seemed to be a normal thing, that it was perfectly fine that the media was doing this to them. Danyel Smith, former editor in chief of Vibe magazine and podcast host of “Black Girl Song,” said “I lived through Britney on television, and when she shaved her head, I remember thinking at that time, ‘Why is everybody acting like she’s OK? Like how is this funny to people? How is this presented as entertainment?’”

Mental health is something that affects the lives of many, yet for the longest time it wasn’t widely talked about. Because popstars’ lives are often under a microscope, when something big happens, everyone knows about it. So when Spears had her public mental health crisis, she was seen as unstable and someone who just needs to grow up instead of as a struggling person in desperate need of help. When Lohan got hit by a motorcycle and blogger Perze Hilton wrote “Lindsay Lohan is the queen of drama – she finds or creates it where she goes.” 

This type of pressure is what led many of these women to avoid the media and press.  Gaga needed some time to find herself and figure out what she wanted to do next with her career. For Lohan she knew what she wanted from the start. That was to be left alone, trying to pick herself up piece by piece after the media decided they were done playing a game of cat and mice with her.

After Lohan’s DUI, drug addiction and violating probation, life was hard for her and the media made it into a joke, blasting her personal news everywhere. Lohan had decided she was finally done with everything, packed her things and moved. 

Scaachi Koul, a writer for BuzzFeed News, wrote an article on Lohan and what had happened with her life and career. “… she’s constantly struggled to gain more control: control over her career, public image, her future and the media coverage around her,” Koul writes. “For years, Lohan tried to change the narrative about her, and when that didn’t work, she stepped away from the Hollywood stardom and the relentless attention that came with it.”

In February of 2021, Hulu released a documentary titled “Framing Britney Spears” that goes in depth about how her career started with a talent agent in New York helping her to stardom. Taking odd jobs here and there until her big break on The Mickey Mouse Club on Disney channel, it would jump start her career. The biggest thing the documentary focuses on is conservatorship, after Spears had a very public mental breakdown; her father took matters into his own hands, getting a conservatorship: a legal concept used in the United States where a guardian or protector is appointed by a judge to manage financial affairs and or/ daily of another due to physical or mental limitations or old age. 

He controlled everything, from her career with what jobs she took and what songs she would produce, to her financials and even her daily life. Where she could go, who she could see, what she could do, nientert picking it down to what she ate for her meals. 

Spears got the worst of these women in the industry. While Lohan and Gaga were judged by the media and seen as mentally unstable, they were able to build themselves back up; for them that meant hiding in the shadows, staying away from the media and even their careers. Spears, on the other hand, would be under constant watch by the media because of the conservatorship, especially since she was only 27 years old, far younger than what conservatorships are designed for.

It’s quite ironic that Gaga starred in the movie A Star is Born, and sung a song titled Shallow, the movie itself helped jumpstart her career once again. When speaking to the students at Centre for Emotional Intelligence at Yale School of Management, Gaga said, “I’ve had to make decisions like, ‘Why am I unhappy? Why is it that you want to quit music – two years ago?’ … Wasting my time spending days just shaking people’s hands and smiling, taking selfies – it feels shallow to my existence. I have a lot more to offer than just my image.” 

Lohan, Spears and Gaga all experienced mental health issues and struggles with addiction. The media turned their struggle into entertainment for the rest of the world, and made these women into a complete joke. Causing them to literally move to a different country, stop their career and even be put into a conservatorship at the age of 27. 

These ladies are just the tip of the iceberg; women all over the entertainment industry have been plagued by the media and caused them to just vanish out of the industry. Slowly but surely the media has been changed, along with society becoming more accepting and less judgemental. 

As we see growth, we also see amends being made and people apologizing for what they did to these women.“These days, that view (women are collateral damage) is more widely held. Abuse and discrimination are now generally seen as systemic issues, and those who endure it are lent more credibility and sympathy,” Bennet says. “ And social media has enabled stars to take back some control… Now, entertainment journalists who worked through the tabloid era are looking back on their coverage through a critical lens; some are expressing regret and even issuing apologies.”