Pop Culture

Who will be pop's next princess?

Britney Spears, a has-been at 22? Her “Greatest Hits: My Prerogative” is scheduled to hit stores in November, but for most of the over-12 set, Britney’s life is much more entertaining than her actual music. And with her marriage to backup dancer and two-time Baby Daddy Kevin Federline, she’s well on her way to a second ex-husband, a Playboy centerfold (ala former teen queen Tiffany) and a spot on the “Surreal Life 2010.” And now she’s taking a show-biz break while she settles into married life.

Bad move, Britney. Fidel Castro didn’t take a breather after breaking his arm and knee last week for fear of being usurped. Already two up-and-comers are grabbing headlines once reserved for Britney’s cigarette-smoking, virginity-losing, matrimonial antics. Ashlee Simpson was busted lip syncing on “Saturday Night Live” when her backup track played the wrong song. And party-hearty Lindsay Lohan was recently hospitalized with a high fever of undisclosed origin.

The girl who inherits the Teen Diva mantel should have enough potential drama in her future to provide both the quantity and quality of gossip fodder we’ve come to expect from Britney. We need another blonde for the bonfire.

Most likely, our next pop obsession will come from someone already in the spotlight. We’ve got poor little Ashlee, 20, and her big sis and fellow MTV reality gal, Jessica Simpson, 24. Consider Disney darlings, Lindsay, 18, and her arch nemesis, Hilary Duff, 17. And from across the pond, our darkhorse — British soul singer Joss Stone, 17. Here, we evaluate each young lady using a scientific Britney-based five-point system.

1. Madonna/Whore Complex
As in, like a virgin — yet skanky. Former Mousketeer Britney won our hearts with her naughty schoolgirl saving-it-for-marriage shtick. But she lost her charm somewhere between Justin Timberlake and risqué paparazzi photos with class-act Federline.

Unlike Britney, Jessica stayed true to her word and waited for her honeymoon. Maybe she married former 98 Degrees member Nick Lachey just to score. But married as she is, virginity is no longer a question.

Sister Ashlee, who spent two years on the bible-thumpin show “Seventh Heaven,” insists she’s keeping her sex life to herself. “If I do [have sex] or already have, I would never tell the world,” she told YM magazine in September.

Hilary, who hit the spotlight as star of the Disney Channel’s “Lizzie McGuire” series, still keeps it buttoned up and squeaky clean both in her videos and her latest movie, “Raise Your Voice.”

But check out the video to Lindsay’s single, “Rumors”. Writhing against walls and inside a giant birdcage, the star of Disney’s “Herbie: Fully Loaded” is definitely sending mixed signals.

On her second album “Mind, Body, and Soul,” Joss sings with a voice so sensual and self-assured, we assume she knows everything there is to know about sex, whether she’s had any or not.

2. Breasts of dubious origin
Whether Britney’s breasts are “real” is the topic of many an Internet discussion. One Web site offers photographic evidence of a bosom that moves mysteriously from A-cup to B to C, and back to A.

Peter Kramer / Getty Images North America
NEW YORK - JULY 16: Singer Haylie Duff makes an appearance on Good Morning America Summer Concert Series July 16, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Haylie Duff

Jessica is a bit more obvious. A series of images on Goodplasticsurgery.com suggest both breast implants and a lift for Mrs. Lachey.

The most the Internet suggests for Hilary is weight gain. As she told the New York Times recently, growing up doesn’t mean “having boobs pushed up to my chin.”

That seems to be exactly what it means for Lindsay, whose sudden increase in chest size is the subject of public speculation. She insists her new assets are the result of puberty and not paid for. Awfulplasticsurgery.com suggests otherwise.

Ashlee went from blonde to brunette, and appears to have had an eyelift and minor rhinoplasty. While her nose is still adorably large, her chest — not so much. Joss seems to be keepin’ it real for now, too.

3. Loser boyfriends
Britney’s love life is the stuff of “Jerry Springer” shows — the ugly breakup with Justin, the quickie Las Vegas marriage/annulment with childhood pal Jason Alexander, frenching Madonna, and now this Federline guy.

Kevin Winter / Getty Images North America
BURBANK, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Singer Ashlee Simpson appears on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" at the NBC Studios on September 22, 2004 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Ashlee Simpson

Everyone’s looking for cracks between MTV’s “Newlyweds” stars. But according to Vanity Fair, Jessica and Nick plan to renew their vows in Hawaii — off camera. Nick, however, does make out with witchy Alyssa Milano on “Charmed.”

Lil’ sis Ashlee has two breakups under her belt. The first, with singer Popstar 2’s Josh Henderson, happened on camera during the first episode of MTV’s “The Ashlee Simpson Show.” The second was with singer Ryan Cabrera. But he was there for her via telephone to offer words of comfort the night of the SNL “incident.”

Joss also met her boyfriend, musician Beau Dozier, through the business — he’s the son of Motown songwriter and “Mind, Body and Soul” contributor Lamont Dozier. One fan site points out that Beau is five years older than teenaged Joss.

Arch rivals Hilary and Lindsay began their famous feud over singer Aaron Carter, who dated them both. Lindsay currently has her own age-inappropriate boyfriend, Wilmer Valderrama, 24 (Fez on “That 70s Show”). It’s said the two enjoy spending time together club hopping, chain smoking and fighting in public.

4. Scandalous behavior
Britney smokes, pops diet pills and presents her middle finger to photographers. And again, that Federline guy.

Jessica confuses tuna with chicken and shills beauty products on QVC. Joss performs barefoot and recently dumped her mother as manager.

Ashlee lip-syncs, but all the kids are doing it. Her scandal is getting caught after telling Lucky magazine, “Personally, I’d never lip sync. It’s just not me.” According to her manager-dad, Joe Simpson, it was her acid-reflux disease. Ashlee’s throat was sore, and she needed the extra vocal support  — just this once.?

“You’re the queen of superficiality,” Hilary sings on “Haters,” from her self-titled new album. Fans are certain it’s about Lindsay. But Hilary told Blender magazine “I just want us to be friends — that’s all.”

When she isn’t convalescing, Lindsay may be too busy clubbing with pals Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, or on one of her notorious shopping sprees. ($80,000 Chopard watch, anyone?) The scandal sheets love Lindsay. According to the National Enquirer, the tan-in-a-can redhead was almost axed from “Herbie: Fully Loaded” after too many sick days. Movie production has stopped since her hospitalization. This alleged mean girl is also rumored to snap at waiters and stiff on tips. They say she even threw a temper tantrum in a bakery fresh out of blueberry muffins. When a child offered her own blueberry muffin, Lindsay took it. (Kids, you’re only encouraging her behavior.)

5. Talent
Talent? No, really. Britney’s a pop star and those prefab songs don’t sing themselves — well, maybe on stage they do, but they still don’t lip-sync themselves. Just ask Ashlee.

Laurent Gillieron / KEYSTONE
British jazz singer Joss Stone performs at the Miles Davis Hall during the Sweet Monday of the 38th Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland, late Monday, July 5, 2004.(AP Photo/Keystone/Laurent Gillieron)

The littlest Simpson did her best to push past her SNL gaffe with a “real” live performance at the Radio Music Awards. Ashlee began her set with a self-deprecating joke, “You guys are playing the wrong song! Just kidding!” But her unsupported vocals fell short of mediocre. Ashlee also dyed her hair brown, and our goddesses must be blonde.

According to the Simpson parents, Jessica has a five-octave singing range and a 160 I.Q. (My parents say I can fly!) She snatched the much-coveted Daisy Duke role from Britney in the upcoming “Dukes of Hazzard” movie. But at 24, Jessica is a bit long in the tooth — destined to be Jayne Mansfield to Britney’s Marilyn Monroe.

Have you heard “Fell in Love With a Boy,” Joss’ version of the White Stripes song? If Teen Diva was about unearthly talent, this student of veteran singer Betty Wright knocks it out of the park. Unlike our other contenders, she wasn’t genetically engineered for stardom.

Take for example, tween queen Hilary. Kids love her movies and her music, but if she doesn’t grab a grownup role soon, she’ll wind up this generation’s Debbie Gibson. Lindsay is the most interesting by far. She checked into the hospital with a mysterious illness. Her hair is red, but sometimes blonde. She acts, she sings, she takes pastries from small children. If this triple-threat party girl isn’t the next Britney Spears, then certainly she’s the next Courtney Love.

Helen A.S. Popkin lives in New York and is a contributor to MSNBC.com.

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