How 'The Little Mermaid' Predicted Britney Spears' Entire Life

Photo: Emmanuel Hapsis

This piece was inspired by an episode of The Cooler, KQED’s weekly pop culture podcast. Give it a listen!


We all have our daily rituals. There's the universal: brushing teeth, going to work, eating avocado. And then there's the idiosyncratic. For me, a day does not pass without texting at least one friend about the latest charmingly odd thing that has popped up on Britney Spears' Instagram.

Yesterday's text conversation was in honor of the following:

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To the unimaginative masses, who have lost all innocence and ability to recognize magic in the world, it's just a photo of a chess board. To Britney, it is a curiosity waiting to be explored, an invitation to transform.

Most of Britney’s Instagram posts are dedicated to random curiosities, such as miniature puppies sitting in heels in front of the Eiffel Tower, creepy children, rainbow unicorn kittens, body positive memes, mood illustrations featuring Sailor Moon, lazy kittens relaxing in hammocks, reminders that's she Christian, random, unattributed, but valid words of wisdom, cats wearing backpacks, feminist North West jokes, Sex and the City screenshots, throwbacks to when she and a gang-signing Leonardo Dicaprio hung out, Albert Einstein fangirling, weirdly sexual lion art, lust for bearded models, troubling watermarked art, gratitude for hot bread, and nods to all-denim relationships of yore.

Britney's Instagram feels like a cyber manifestation of Ariel’s cave of wonders and knick-knacks, so as a joke, I texted a friend: "Britney is Ariel before she left home.” But the more I think about it, the similarities between Britney and The Little Mermaid’s protagonist are actually pretty uncanny.

Let us count the ways:

Both Ariel and Britney are known for their voices. In the first few minutes of The Little Mermaid, an audience is wildly disappointed by Ariel's failure to show up to a gig.

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Similarly, many leave Britney shows disappointed, due to her insistence on lip-syncing, another form of not showing up (don't @ me, Britney stans; I love her dearly, but facts are facts).

Almost everything Ariel does in The Little Mermaid is in direct opposition to the limits her father places on her freedom of movement and expression. Similarly, the major theme in Britney's life has been fighting against an overprotective father and management team, a struggle that continues to this day and inspired this bop:

Both Ariel and Britney have a habit of fawning over and seeing possibility in ordinary objects that bore everyone else.

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Both Ariel and Britney are followed around by a protective, risk-averse family friend whose sole purpose is to remind them that all of their impulses will most likely lead to devastation. For Ariel, it’s Flounder. For Britney, it’s Felicia, whom you might remember as the teacher in the "...Baby One More Time" music video.

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Flounder and Felicia are both known to accidentally rat their girls out.

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Both Ariel and Britney are also followed around by a micromanager hired by their fathers to convince them that a controlled environment free of choice is better than the unknown of a life of their own choosing. For Ariel, it's Sebastian. For Britney, it's her current manager Larry Rudolph.

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When Ariel fails to show up to the show at the beginning of the movie, Sebastian says, "This concert was to be the pinnacle of my distinguished career. Now thanks to you I am the laughingstock of the entire kingdom!" Swap out "entire kingdom" for "entire music industry" and it's easily something that could come out of Larry Rudolph's mouth.

Every time Ariel and Britney sneak away from the pressures of being the princess of the sea and the princess of pop, they are hounded by sharks and the paparazzi, respectively.

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The first time Ariel sees Prince Eric, he's dancing and she's feeling his moves.

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The first time Britney laid eyes on future husband and baby daddy Kevin Federline, she was equally feeling it. Federline was a backup dancer for Michael Jackson, Destiny's Child, Pink, and none other than Justin Timberlake, Britney's ex. (Kevin is the one with the cornrows and sleeveless jacket.)

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Triton didn't like Ariel's taste in men. And Britney's dad didn't like hers either. This convo between Ariel and Triton is something that probably happened in the Spears household:

Ariel: Daddy, I love him!

Triton: Have you lost your senses completely? He's a human (backup dancer), you're a mermaid (pop superstar)!

Ariel: I don't care!

Both Ariel and Britney rebelled against their fathers' strict rules by hanging out with the wrong crowd. For Ariel, it was Ursula's henchmen, Flotsam and Jetsam. For Britney, it was Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan:

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Desperate to take control of their lives, both Ariel and Britney turned to a Svengali figure, who took advantage of them in their time of need. For Ariel, it was Ursula. For Britney, it was Sam Lutfi, a super shady dude who popped out of nowhere to enable her and try to make a buck off the situation by becoming her manager. He did something similar with Amanda Bynes and, as recently as last summer, allegedly kidnapped and robbed Frances Bean Cobain's husband.

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As a consequence of Ursula's meddling, Ariel literally lost her voice. Britney lost hers in a more figurative sense. As a response to Britney running around with Sam and getting into trouble, Britney's dad and Larry Rudolph probably had a conversation similar to this one between Triton and Sebastian:

Sebastian: Why, if Ariel was my daughter, I'd show her who was boss. None of this flitting to the surface (da club) and other such nonsense. No, sir. I'd keep her under tight control.

Triton: You're absolutely right, Sebastian. Ariel needs constant supervision.

Sebastian: Constant.

Triton: Someone to watch over her, to keep her out of trouble.

Sebastian: All the time.

Triton: And YOU are just the crab (manager) to do it.

This is where Britney's conservatorship comes in, a legally binding document, much like the one Ariel signed with Ursula, which robbed Britney of her voice in the sense that she could no longer make her own decisions in terms of her life, her business, what songs she recorded, and basically everything else.

Sebastian sings a whole song called "Under the Sea," trying to convince Ariel that she should just stay home and not do anything her father wouldn't approve of. Change the title to "Under the Conservatorship" (or "Under the C," for short) and you basically have the same thing.

Conservatorship Day 1:

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Ariel's big hit is "Part of Your World," in which she laments that, despite a life of privilege and spoils, there's still a deep loneliness inside her:

Look at this stuff
Isn't it neat?
Wouldn't you think my collection's complete?
Wouldn't you think I'm the girl
The girl who has everything?

This idea of having it all but still being unhappy is also present throughout Britney Jean Spears' life, and infused in one of her most iconic songs, "Lucky":

She's so lucky, she's a star
But she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart, thinking
If there's nothing missing in my life
Then why do these tears come at night?

Here's another overlap. Ariel sings:

I've got gadgets and gizmos aplenty
I've got whozits and whatzits galore
[You want thingamabobs? I got twenty]
But who cares?
No big deal
I want more

You know who else wants more? Britney!

"Part of Your World" could also be about Britney's desire to just be a regular person who can go to a Starbucks:

I wanna be where the people are
I wanna see
Wanna see 'em [sippin' grande lattes]

Or a beach:

What would I give
If I could live
Outta these waters?
What would I pay
To spend a day
Warm on the sand?

Or anywhere else, without being hounded by paparazzi:

Up where they walk
Up where they run
Up where they stay all day in the sun
Wanderin' free
Wish I could be
Part of that world

One of my favorite parts of "Part of Your World" is when Ariel gets super feminist:

Betcha on land
They understand
Bet they don't reprimand their daughters
Bright young women
Sick o' swimmin'
Ready to stand

Britney also has a song all about being ready to stand up and claim her agency:

Eventually, after hitting rock bottom...

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...both women find their way to a more-or-less happy ending.

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Triton and Britney's dad both realize that it might be a good idea to let their adult daughters be in charge of their own lives.

Sebastian: Well, it's like I always say, Your Majesty. Children got to be free to lead their own lives.

Triton: You... always say that? [sighs] Then I guess there's just one problem left.

Sebastian: And what's that, Your Majesty?

Triton: How much I'm going to miss her.

Triton grants Ariel legs so she can live above sea level and marry Eric. And, last year, Britney was freed to get back to making her own decisions in terms of her music career. She was able to call all the shots and have complete control over her last album, Glory, and it's her best album since the conservatorship was put in place.

These are just some of the reasons why I believe The Little Mermaid predicted Britney's entire life. Not completely convinced yet? Here are a few last parallels:

Dogs love them:

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Both have been known to deeply feel themselves in a bad look:

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And both have replicas that look nothing like them.Screen Shot 2016-10-10 at 6.37.27 PM

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I rest my case.

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