For a fallen pop princess, the climb back up to the throne will be long and hard.
With her recent activities, Britney Spears has made clear that she's no longer the doe-eyed, pigtailed girl of yore. After multiple flashes of her private parts, countless nights on the town, allegations of drug and alcohol abuse and -- the latest twist in the months-long saga -- a New Year's Eve "collapse," Spears has turned off even her most devoted fans.
Now she -- and her record label, Jive -- want to win them back.
Jive says a new Spears album is a certainty. Today, Spears reached out to her fans through her Web site with a statement saying, "The last couple of years have been quite a ride for me...I am now more mature and feel like I am finally 'free.'...I look forward to coming back this year bigger and better than ever, and to also reaching out to my fans on a more personal level."
But even if her songs sound as catchy as her breakout hits, even if her body gyrates as seductively as it once did, the question remains whether Spears' music career can repair itself in the wake of her shattered image.
Despite persistent rumors that Jive isn't pleased with Spears' latest recording sessions and might want to drop its former golden child, the label asserts it's standing by the pop star.
"Contrary to media reports, Jive's relationship with Britney Spears is fine," a Jive spokesperson said. "She continues to be one of our biggest worldwide artists, and we remain 1000 percent committed to Britney's career. She is currently in the middle of recording a terrific new album that we are very excited about releasing it in the second half of this year."
According to music industry experts, Jive's support and the quality of the album may be irrelevant if Spears can't clean up her image.
"With every passing week that there's some kind of embarrassing event with her, the chances she has of reaching the heights she was at gets smaller," said Rolling Stone associate editor Brian Hiatt. "No one thinks of her as some kind of musical genius but she used to be really good at being a pop star. It's hard to see her the same way, it really is."
Hiatt cited the shutting down of Spears' popular fan site WorldofBritney.com as proof that she's lost her appeal.
"She's definitely alienated some of her fan base. Look at the guy who ran the World of Britney site and shut it down saying that Britney's over. It's not clear that she particularly cares, so she may have to try to make new fans or win the old ones back," Hiatt said.
If Spears keeps her skirt down and belts her heart out in the studio, she stands a chance of reviving her career.
"I think the American public loves nothing more than a redemption story and certainly, Britney is poised for one of the great ones of all time," Billboard magazine's deputy editor Bill Werde said.
Werde suggested Spears go back to her Louisiana-bred, girl-next-door roots.
"If I was offering Britney Spears advice, it would be to take two or three steps back in her career and go back to working on a slightly more wholesome image," he said.
With the right team of people backing her songs and her music videos, Spears could reclaim her status as the envy of teenage girls and the fantasy of adolescent boys.