(Photo: Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images)

Britney Spears releases her ninth studio album, Glory, today, marking 17 often-contentious, massively profitable years in the public spotlight. And while the folks over at Lifetime are getting ready to make a little bank of their own by peddling Spears’ life story to the masses, sans blessing or authorization, true fans know that all you really need to know about her ups-and-downs can be told through the weaves, dyes, and accessories that have sat atop and around her oft-photographed head.

That’s the thesis of a new piece by Vox writer (and occasional A.V. Club contributor) Caroline Framke, which uses Spears’ locks as the key to a nuanced portrait of the singer’s life and work. While the premise might sound a little glib, the piece itself is a nuanced, affectionate look at the different phases of Spears’ career—blonde Britney, Mermaid Britney, blonde Britney 2, Brunetteny—and a good reminder that if you ever see her coming at you in a pink wig, it’s time to get the hell out of her way.

“One detail of Britney’s appearance was a particularly solid indication that something strange was on the horizon: a hot pink bobbed wig, crumpled and frizzy, like she’d just fished it out of the bottom of a long-forgotten Party City sale bin. As one charming paparazzo told People then: ’When she puts on the pink wig, you just know something crazy is about to happen.’”

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