Spears' career comeback hinges mostly on the music

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LOS ANGELES, Oct 3 (Reuters) Drugs, drink, disasters -- the pop industry is more forgiving than most of performers whose lives turn into train wrecks.

But Britney Spears' planned comeback, just as her life hurtles out of control, will depend on the music and her ability to get back on the road, pop culture experts said yesterday.

''The music field can withstand a lot of controversy -- drug abuse, falling down on stage, being an idiot,'' said Tony Potts, the host of celebrity TV show Access Hollywood..

''If the music is good, that's all people care about. If the debacle continues for a long time and the music suffers, then I think she'll have a problem,'' Potts told Reuters.

In her most tumultuous year since shooting to fame in 1999 at age 17, Spears has got divorced, shaved off her hair, been to rehab and been dumped by her management company. This week, she lost custody of her two children to her ex-husband Kevin Federline.

Her dazed performance at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMA) in September was widely panned and shocked fans who remembered her as the hot teen who could dance up a storm -- even if she was lip-syncing to the hits that helped sell 70 million records worldwide.

In the early 2000s, Spears was the world's top-selling female artist. But when she slept-walked her way through the VMA performance ''millions of people around the world could actually see what had been rumored for months,'' Potts said.

IN TRANSITION Despite that disaster, Spears' new single ''Gimme More'' is topping the iTunes music download list and is expected to enter the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart today.

But the real test of whether she still has a pop career will come when she releases her new, as yet untitled album in November -- her first since 2003.

Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of the concert industry magazine Pollstar, said Spears would have had difficulty relaunching herself even without the personal problems.

''Britney is an artist in transition. She was a star of largely a preteen audience and many of those artists are not able to make the transition to an adult audience,'' he said.

Spears, who has been more talked about in the past year than since she last toured in 2004, may be the celebrity to disprove the old adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity.

''If you want to be a Paris Hilton type celebrity, that's one thing,'' said Bongiovanni.

''If you want to be a musical artist that people are going to pay 80 or 100 dollars to see -- that requires a pretty significant investment on the public's part. Until she actually mounts a tour, no-one will really know for sure whether there is demand.'' Some industry watchers say the November album launch could be postponed if Spears's record label feels media coverage of her personal life is working against her.

Even then, Billboard senior analyst Geoff Mayfield said he doubted the new offering would sell at the level of her first three hit albums, mostly because sales for all artists are falling because of competition from digital downloads.

''The headlines need to be more about Britney as a performer and not about her personal life. The best way to do that is to really step out of the limelight, take care of yourself and then when you do come back, do it with music people have to hear,'' Mayfield said.

Reuters PD DB0924

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