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When fans wonder whether Britney Spears ever mentioned her troubling experiences with fame in her early music, "Lucky" is usually the first song some bring up. They're eager to point out the narrative of a beloved starlet who "cries, cries, cries" behind closed doors. Or maybe they say "I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman," the seminal coming-of-age ballad in which Spears acknowledges through song that "life doesn't always go my way."
But neither of these songs, released in 2000 and 2001, respectively, offer a particularly personal understanding of Spears, given that they weren't written by her.
Spears' first meaningful songwriting credit came with "Everytime," the 2004 single from her fourth studio album, "In the Zone."
"Everytime" is a haunting ballad that was eventually paired with an even more unsettling music video - one that seems to depict the mental effects of being hounded by paparazzi and trapped in an unhappy relationship.
But the story around this Guy Sigsworth-produced song is even more dramatic than many Spears fans may have realized, given that Spears' cowriter - Annet Artani - said she was nearly erased from the song's history.
"I don't want to get crucified," Artani, a former friend and backup singer of Spears, told Insider during a recent call. "We all, at one point in our life, do something that is completely out of character. That doesn't mean that that's who we are."
Artani first spoke with Insider in 2019 before the Free Britney movement shone a spotlight on the singer's conservatorship, which she's been living under since 2008.
Our conversation at the time was focused on the untold story of how "Everytime" was written and the dramatic falling out the two had after Artani said Spears' team seemed intent on cutting Artani's name from the legacy of the song.
During that phone call, and again when we spoke last week, Artani expressed a variety of emotions that come up when she thinks back to how her intense friendship with Spears abruptly stopped.
"I mean, was I hurt? Yeah, I was a young girl," she said. "That was my first experience of my friend essentially trying to bully me out of getting credit for a song we sat next to each other and wrote with our hearts when we were sobbing over men."
She added: "It's one of the most significant experiences of my life, unfortunately."
The 45-year-old singer and children's book author was reluctant to dwell on her negative memories. Instead, Artani eagerly recalled the sweeping excitement of being in her 20s and landing the gig of a lifetime as a background vocalist for Spears' 2002 "Dream Within a Dream Tour."
The year leading up to Artani's friendship with Spears was a chaotic time for the pop star. While in the middle of the 69-stop tour, Spears, then 21, had a public breakup with Justin Timberlake, her equally famous boyfriend at the time.
Meanwhile, Artani had started a romantic relationship with the tour's musical director for the band, Dan Kenney, she said.
When the tour came to an end in Mexico City nine months later, Artani said Spears went out of her way to tell the backup singer what a cute couple she and Kenney made.
"I was like, 'Yeah, that's not going to last. He ditched me,'" Artani said she told Spears. "So she was like, 'Well, you can hang out with me.' I didn't expect her to actually hang out with me. But we did and we bonded."
After the tour ended, Artani was - as she predicted - freshly single, she said. The two singers exchanged phone numbers, and before Artani knew it, she was attending New York Fashion Week with the pop star, she said. Next, they flew to Italy, where the two spent several days at Donatella Versace's mansion on Lake Como.
"We were just doing silly stuff like making videos, dancing around to Madonna," Artani said during our 2019 call.
The two became so close spending virtually every day together, Artani said, that they even shared a bed at night.
"And then at the end of all of that, we get to her house in LA - and I've been writing songs since I was 6 years old on the piano - but I sat at her piano and started writing 'Everytime,'" Artani said. "She sat next to me, and we basically wrote the song together."
She added: "We cried through the whole process. It was cathartic and a bonding experience."
Timberlake wrote in his 2018 autobiography that he felt "scorned" and "pissed off" when he sat down to write "Cry Me a River" after his breakup with Spears. The single debuted in 2002 and it took no time at all for the world to notice the song's connection to Spears.
"That was such an important relationship for her," Artani said. "The magnitude of the press and him putting his first album out and basically trashing her - the way it went down was really infantile. So I know that it was really hurting her."
Spears wasn't actively working on an album at the time, and Artani said she had no expectations for the song to go anywhere. For her, it just felt like another thing she and Spears were doing together as friends, she added.
When "Everytime" was released two years later, many picked up on how it seemed to be Spears' own response to her split with Timberlake. But few knew the song's link to Spears' former friend.
Artani recalled going with Spears to a recording studio one day as the singer and her team began piecing together her upcoming album, "In the Zone." The pop star then asked Artani if she minded playing "Everytime" for other people, Artani said.
"In my mind, I'm like, 'She's crazy,'" Artani said. "And she was saying stuff like, 'Oh, my God, we should tour together. You could open up my tour,' and like I'm 24 years old, and you're saying this to me? I kept thinking, 'Holy crap, this is nuts.'"
It was important for Artani not to repeat what she saw many do in Spears' orbit that "bothered" her, she said.
"I didn't want to be there to be a yes man or to use her," Artani said. "I didn't like that about a lot of the people in her immediate world."
She added: "But it's the story of every person before her where everyone is on your payroll, and they all have to kiss your ass no matter what happens.
"That was really the beginning of the decline because you're not living in reality … She really was living in a bubble."
Artani said she and Spears parted ways after the team around the pop singer tried to erase her from the song credits of "Everytime." It didn't make sense to Artani, who said she never saw Spears "be mean to anyone." Artani said she believed someone - or multiple people - in Spears' circle was "manipulating her."
"I wasn't going to serve their purpose," Artani said during our more recent call. "So I was ushered out. Like I was part of a cog in a machine that was like, 'Yeah, you're not going to work for us, so we're going to X you out now.'"
"Things just changed," she said in 2019. "Her phone number changed. She left me a really weird message saying, 'See you around.' It was bizarre."
The way Artani spoke about being "ushered" out of Spears' inner circle was similar to other people's stories that have become public in the past few years.
Felicia Culotta, the pop star's longtime assistant, was once the singer's close companion. In The New York Times' Hulu documentary episode "Controlling Britney Spears," Culotta said she "wasn't allowed to have a conversation" with Spears "without having other people present" after the conservatorship was in place.
In a recent Netflix documentary, "Britney vs Spears," a director named Andrew Galley (who worked on an MTV special with Spears in 2008) also said it seemed like his close friendship with the singer was deemed unacceptable by the team in charge of her day-to-day life.
"This was coming after I was her date for her brother's wedding," Gallery, who hasn't spoken with the singer since 2009, said. "We had developed, I think, just a good trust. Shortly after that, I got removed."
Artani told Insider: "I don't think that they ever wanted her to have anybody truly, truly close to her that could be a good influence."
While Artani's experience happened several years before Spears' conservatorship was enacted in 2008, Artani said even in those earlier years, she felt Spears was "very much like a young girl who doesn't have a lot of freedom to just do whatever she wants."
Artani recalled a manager, Andrian Adams, who was representing various producers working on Spears' album, told her there was an issue with her writing credits.
"He said to me, 'Well, the good news is it's going to be the third single, and it's going to end the album,'" Artani said. "'But the bad news is she says you didn't write it.'"
Artani continued: "I went into complete shock. I said, 'I don't believe you.' I was friends with this person. We spent months on end together.
"My parents only knew where I was because they saw me in Star magazine paparazzi photos. We basically lived together. We cried together over these breakups and we bonded."
Artani eventually got Spears on the phone to talk about what happened, but the background singer said the conversation - that she's "not going to repeat" - was so bad she "was literally bawling on the phone." She added that Spears felt like a person she didn't "know or recognize."
"I didn't ever really want to believe that she would not want to give me credit for cowriting the song," Artani said during our most recent call. "I didn't believe that that's who she was - at all."
Artani said she told Spears that she didn't care about the money, something she reiterated to her manager. After that, the background singer let the managers and executives sort out the crediting.
"In the end, they gave me my credit," she said.
Reps for Spears didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Throughout our conversations, Artani repeatedly said she had no desire to "trash" Spears and mused about the various reasons that her onetime friend had such a change in attitude when it came to the song's official release on her album.
"To be clear, even after all these years, after all of that, I don't believe in my heart of hearts that it came from her," Artani said. "Even though the words were coming out of her mouth that were threatening, I don't believe ... because I saw her be really manipulated by so many people."
Artani added that "it's clear in retrospect" that Spears was slowly starting to act unlike herself - or at least unlike the person Artani had met and befriended.
Still, "Everytime" was officially released as a single in spring 2004, several months after Spears' "In the Zone" album hit shelves.
Artani's short-lived friendship with Spears soured any initial enjoyment she might've gotten out of hearing her song played on radio stations around the world, she said.
"I used to cry when it would come on the radio because I couldn't handle it," Artani said. "I was just so upset by it."
Artani said she was "broke" at the time, living in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and a cat in a small apartment.
"I had no money at all, and then I got my first publishing check for it," Artani said. "I literally had no car, and I was on Sunset Boulevard just crying. My parents just said, 'Get over it and get yourself a car.'"
And when "Everytime" came on the radio inside her recently purchased Hyundai Sonata, Artani said she cried all over again.
Now, Artani has been slowly reading reports of what Spears' life has been like while living under a conservatorship. She had stayed away from engaging with news of the pop star, instead choosing to find her own path to success in a music career, which included representing Greece in the Eurovision Song Contest.
Artani, who now lives in New York City with her husband and son, said while watching shows like Hulu's docuseries on the singer or Netflix's documentary "Britney vs Spears," she's reassembling the versions of the pop star she knew - as well as those of the people she had seen in her orbit. When she had a friendship with Spears, the singer's mom and little sister were always around.
"When I found out that her dad was a conservator, I was like, 'What, why?'" Artani said recently. "He wasn't even in her life like that at all. I never saw him, honestly, and I heard nothing but negative things about his alcoholism."
A rep for Spears' dad, Jamie Spears, didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment. But according to court documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Spears was the one who urged her father to seek help for his drinking.
Last week, Spears won a major legal victory when a judge ruled that her dad would be immediately suspended from her conservatorship after accusations of abuse.
What would Artani say to Spears now, if she had the chance?
"I was hurt, obviously, at the time, but I believe in my heart of hearts that she's a good person and a kind person," Artani said. "And I feel like she has been influenced by a lot of people in her life that were not necessarily looking out for her best interests."
She added: "I really regret that I couldn't just be there for her."
"Everytime" was written just before Spears' public image began to crumble as tabloid headlines and paparazzi frenzies chipped away at it.
The lyrics she and Artani wrote together ("Every time I try to fly I fall/Without my wings I feel so small") tell the story of a young woman in pain - pleading and penitent and in need of compassion.
"I genuinely cared about her," Artani said. "I loved her as a human being. And I continue to support her. I just want her to get her life back. ... She seems to be in a better place. I'm glad for her - she deserves that."
Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect that the name of the musical director for the band on the "Dream Within a Dream" tour was Dan Kenney, not Kevin Antunes.
If you once had a professional or personal relationship with Britney Spears and wish to share your story, you can contact entertainment correspondent Kim Renfro at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read the original article on Insider