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What a difference a decade and a seismic shift in perspective make.
When you think about the mid-'00s Hollywood party scene, should you choose to go down that vodka-Red Bull-scented rabbit hole, you may have glimmers in your head of Paris Hilton dancing on a table. Or newly single Britney Spears getting out of a car. Or Lindsay Lohan hunkered down in the back of a car.
Or all three in a car together (though not by choice, according to Paris).
That trio at the height of their attention-grabbing ways is a snapshot of a very particular moment in time, one that burned fast and bright and then imploded in a haze of merciless paparazzi, blog headlines and legal consequences. And while society fell short of pillorying these examples of excess in the town square, the fascination with their lavish, devil-may-care ways combined with the equally insatiable appetite for their downfall was indicative of a culture that only recently has taken the lumps it deserved.
By the end of 2007, Lindsay and Paris had been to jail and Britney was in the throes of a mental health crisis, having lost physical custody of her young sons that October due to what the court commissioner determined was "habitual, frequent and continuous use of controlled substances." On Feb. 1, 2008, Britney's estate and personal affairs were placed under the control of a conservatorship.
The ups and downs of all three in the years since could fill volumes and have made for hours of programming, the most consequential of which—The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears and Controlling Britney Spears—premiered just this year. There's no need to trace every triumph and embarrassment, every "Oh, not again!" and "Good for her!" moment that each has experienced. Besides, what might be considered a public-eye negative ("Where is...?") could easily be someone else's positive ("Ah, so nice to finally be left alone...").
But we couldn't help noticing that Britney, Lindsay and Paris—joined together forever in pop culture infamy despite their ultimately divergent journeys—each just had a really momentous 2021. Finally, good news for all three, including a couple of milestones that were years in the making.
Lindsay just made some fairly out-of-the-blue headlines Nov. 28 in announcing her engagement to Dubai-based banking executive Bader Shammas, the actress captioning her diamond-flashing Instagram post, "My love. My life. My family. My future." Mom Dina Lohan, once one of the more talked-about celebrity parents, shared as well, "My heart is full #engaged #newbeginnings."
According to Lindsay's rep, the betrothed couple have been together for three years, meaning the duo successfully managed to fall in love in private—and doesn't she look happy?!
But the promising relationship development isn't even the news that jingle-bell-rocked Lilo fans' worlds this year. Rather, that announcement came from Netflix, which shared in May that Lindsay would be starring in a holiday-themed movie, her first major acting role in several years and first movie since the thriller Among the Shadows (which was shot in 2015 but didn't come out until 2019, unrated, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video).
And isn't a plum role for Lindsay all anyone ever wanted for Christmas? The one of the aforementioned trio whose career suffered the most from personal turmoil (though Britney of course has since disabused us of the notion that outward success necessarily mirrors what's going on behind closed doors), it's the what-could've-been that has most haunted her story, the opportunities lost, the offers never extended.
So here's hoping the still-untitled rom-com co-starring Chord Overstreet that started filming in November and is now slated for 2022 marks the start of a fresh chapter for the still only 35-year-old, full of whatever she wants her life to be. (And, for the record, she told Andy Cohen in 2019 that revisiting old feuds wasn't on her agenda, though she'll counter when pressed.)
Paris, who in recent years has branded herself as the original influencer (and, a little less convincingly though not entirely without merit, the co-inventor of the selfie), did indeed understand the power of supersaturating the marketplace with one's presence before it was fashionable, guessing correctly that enough people would champion her efforts to make them worthwhile.
Being a global hotel chain heiress certainly helped with the seed money, but the 40-year-old beauty and fragrance mogul, podcaster and Cooking With Paris host did end up building her own empire, having the last laugh at anyone who dissed her celebutante, famous-for-being-famous status.
But perhaps more important to Paris these days than anything else, on Nov. 11 she became Mrs. Carter Reum, the tech entrepreneur whom she started dating in pre-COVID 2020 having popped the question on a private island in February, a man who obviously knows his audience.
And at last her dreams of having a mega-wedding—multiple celebrations spread out over a long weekend, in this case—came true, lingering pandemic be damned.
The in-love-with-love socialite had been engaged multiple times, starting with Paris Latsis in 2005, but her interest in actually tying that knot steadily grew in recent years as she candidly expressed her desire to have a family of her own, especially after sister Nicky Hilton Rothschild had two daughters.
Moreover, Paris told Tamron Hall in August that opening up in her 2020 documentary This Is Paris about trauma she suffered as a teen and the various betrayals she'd encountered in past relationships helped clear the mental blocks that were preventing her from taking these steps in her personal life.
"I just feel with everything I went through, I didn't trust anybody and I had these huge walls around my heart and everything," she said. Once she tore down the walls, she offered, she met the man of her dreams.
In January Paris revealed that she had started the IVF process with egg-retrieval ("It was tough, but I knew it would be worth it"), though when speculation jumped the gun and a report circulated in July that she was expecting, she clarified that she was waiting until after her wedding to actually get pregnant.
"All my iPhones are blowing up, all five of them," she said on her This Is Paris podcast, "everyone wishing me congratulations and so happy for me. Heard from people I haven't heard from in years." But, for the record, she "can't wait to have children in 2022."
You can't rush the whole finding-Mr.-Perfect part of the equation, but it all came together for her in 2021, and we wish her well on that journey she's planning for next year.
Also in July, Paris told Entertainment Tonight that she was "so incredibly proud" of her longtime friend Britney "for being so strong, using her voice, standing up for herself. Just taking control of her life. I just love her so much and I am just extremely proud."
So were countless other people after Britney testified in court that month to the alleged indignities she had suffered while under the thumb of her co-conservator father, Jamie Spears, another key moment in as many months in what had become a years-long, slow burn of a fight to be released from the arrangement that had been in place since 2008.
The articles wondering "is this the year...?" never went out of fashion, but with Britney performing to sold-out crowds in Las Vegas starting in 2013, vacationing in Hawaii with her kids and doing other seemingly normal-for-a-pop-star stuff, many just assumed (or at least hoped) that the conservatorship was serving her well.
But it wasn't until this year that the #FreeBritney movement gained too much steam to ignore, first thanks to the February special Framing Britney Spears, about her rise to fame, the preposterously cringe-worthy way her career and mental health struggles were reported on back in the '00s, and the avid fans who'd taken up her cause as their own.
Even Paris weighed in, saying on her podcast, "It makes me really feel for her, because she's such a sweet girl and has such a big heart and I just can't imagine being controlled like that. You know, when you're an adult and you've worked your whole life for building this empire and then just to be treated like a child, it's just not fair." (She told Andy Cohen in September that she and Britney reunited over the summer for dinner, but they didn't discuss the conservatorship because Paris didn't want to bring up anything negative and make her friend uncomfortable. She reiterated how unfair she thought the situation was, though.)
Perhaps spurred on in part by the wellspring of new support, but definitely because she was just over it, Britney also started speaking up for herself in a more public fashion this year, first by calling into a court hearing in June and demanding that she be let out of the conservatorship.
"After I've lied and told the whole world I'm OK and I'm happy...I'm not OK," she declared. "I'm not happy, I can't sleep... "I haven't done anything in the world to deserve this treatment."
In court testimony in July, she accused her father of ruining her life and called for him to be charged with conservatorship abuse. (Jamie Spears has denied wrongdoing and making any decision he didn't think was in Britney's best interest. In June his attorney stated that Jamie was "sorry to see his daughter suffering and in so much pain. Mr. Spears loves his daughter and misses her very much.")
And the precarious structure continued to crumble, as Britney's famously cryptic Instagram posts became abundantly clear ("I'm not gonna be performing on any stages anytime soon with my dad handling what I wear, say, do, or think," she wrote July 17) and she went ahead and got engaged to longtime boyfriend Sam Asghari after previously alleging she hadn't been allowed to get married or even remove her IUD so she could have another child.
Jamie filed to terminate the conservatorship in September and his petition was granted on Nov. 12.
"What an amazing weekend…I felt like I was on cloud 9 the whole time!!!" Britney wrote on Instagram Nov. 15. "I actually got my first glass of champagne at the most beautiful restaurant I've ever seen last night!!!! I'm celebrating my freedom and my B day for the next two months !!!!!!!!!!!"
Suffice it to say, she had plenty to toast ahead of her 40th birthday on Dec. 2. But three engagements, a wedding, family planning, getting to make one's own choices again after 13 years...
Come what may, 2021 will remain the year when Paris, Lindsay and Britney celebrated life, love and finally getting exactly what they wanted.