Britney Spears Joy of Pepsi 2001 Superbowl Commerical

Britney Spears 2001 “Joy of Pepsi” Superbowl Commercial — Let’s Talk About It

“Imagine if you had this kind of power,” the commercial whispered to me. “Imagine that men would set their grill stations on fire just watching you.”

Cassandra Violet
5 min readMar 10, 2021


If you were in high school when Britney Spears was at the height of her power, when her sexuality was weaponized enough to make straight male fast food workers set their grill stations on fire, this 2001 Super Bowl commercial is etched into your mind. Down on the Pepsi factory floor, Britney Spears, in a baseball cap and a baggy “Pepsi worker” outfit, rips off her suit and throws her baseball cap at the camera. She’s wearing a bralette and low-cut jeans with suspenders for some reason. She sports a belly ring that would lead a whole generation of young girls to get their own (and live with regret) as she shakes her blond hair and hits crisp choreography. In classic Britney fashion, after she nails a particularly sexy pose, she breaks character and laughs. This is the classic Britney dichotomy: impossibly fierce, untouchably desirable, and a total goofball who made it look effortless.

I loved this commercial, and idolized Britney herself. She was dazzling. She was incomparable. Her Wade Robson choreography was immaculate, and her low-rise pants only look good on her (regrettably, note to self). There is no one who was an adolescent in the early 2000s who did not understand this. There was a glittering orb surrounding her that dazzled everyone who looked. While watching, it was impossible to not live vicariously through her. “Imagine if you had this kind of power,” the commercial whispered to me. “Imagine that men would set their grill stations on fire just watching you.”

The commercial features various observers (mostly straight white American men) who are hypnotized by her: the fast-food worker, a female-led bowling league, and for some inexplicable reason, Bob Dole and his golden retriever, who barks at the screen and prompts Dole to say, “easy boy.” In hindsight, the objectification could not have been more destructive. As seen in the documentary “Framing Britney Spears,” her callous and misogynistic treatment by the media and the speculation about her body and virginity seemed cruel at the time, and is all the more shocking and inhuman in retrospect. Even in 2001, the tired trope of men as dogs and the sexual gaze could not be more ham-fisted, and yet I must admit, as an adolescent girl, it was impossible not to be compelled.

An outtake from Britney Spears’ 2001 “Joy of Pepsi” commercial.

When I think of this commercial, I think of its natural bookend: MTV’s documentary “Britney: For the Record,” which came out in 2008. At the end of the documentary, as “Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun” by M83 plays, her choreographer says, “The fire that was missing…I saw the fire again,” as pyrotechnics go off behind her. The seven years between 2001 and 2008 contain multitudes: 9/11, the end of my adolescence, a new presidency. During those seven years, the public that had been hypnotized and mesmerized by Britney had let their fascination turn putrid and dangerous. We were still watching, but only to contrast her with her most powerful and magnetic 2001 self and consider the difference. When had the proverbial fire gone out? Was it her knee injury? Was it her children getting taken away from her? Was it her being held in a conservatorship, usually reserved for the elderly and infirm, against her will by her father? There was no consideration of mental health, postpartum depression or the paparazzi hounding a woman in her twenties. Britney was different, and we were the culprits.

“If I have a lot of nervous energy, when I start dancing, it all goes away and I just feel emotion,” Britney says in the 2008 MTV documentary, and in retrospect it seems clear: her own small window of empowerment lay in the freedom and motion of her body, and her self-expression was her sharp, clean movements. Life in the public eye had robbed her of this freedom, and in that robbery, a little bit of the fire in all of us had gone out.

I’m a songwriter, and I often write from other people’s perspectives. After listening to many podcasts about Britney, I wrote a song called “Britney” from the point of view of the pop star herself. I wondered: if she could speak freely, what would she say to us?

In the song, I imagine her narrating her life for her audience: working hard since she was a little girl, dancing for the crowds as people chant her name, all the while wanting to be free. As her kids are taken from her and the public eye shames her mercilessly, the only place she can be herself is in the dance studio. And it is there she feels like herself, twirling and twirling, spinning round, fire burnished bright.

At the end of the Pepsi commercial, she laughs with Wade, looking carefree and effortless. Now, she posts seasonal closet makeovers and dances on her tile floors in flannel shorts on Instagram with vacant eyes. She proclaims to be happy, but something clearly seems wrong. What have we done to Britney? At the end of her 2000 single “Lucky,” she sings, “If there’s nothing missing in my life, then why do these tears come at night?” The #FreeBritney movement has seized upon her Instagram videos as proof that she has no agency in her life, and perhaps this is the truth. Britney deserves to have control of her life back, and to make decisions with her own free will.

We may never know what happened to Britney Spears, but we can reflect on our own horrifying cultural obsession with fame, and youth, and misogyny, and the expiration date on female sexuality. In my mind, no one can compare to the fame Britney experienced in 2001, and no one will be quite as famous ever again. She was held up as a goddess, but ended up being a human woman, and in the public eye, perhaps that was her greatest sin of all.