Why PETA Came After Britney Spears’ Iconic Python Dance

Britney Spears dances with a snake.

Getty Images Britney Spears performs with a snake draped over her shoulders at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards 06 September, 2001, in New York.

Britney Spears‘ performance at the 2001 MTV VMAs was one of the most iconic of her career. However, the act caused a negative reaction from animal activist group PETA. According to Yahoo! Entertainment, PETA was “outraged” after seeing Spears carry the yellow Burmese Python on her shoulders as she sang her hit single, “I’m a Slave 4 U.”

Given what the organization stands for, it’s no surprise that Spears was on their naughty list following the performance.

“PETA opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview, and focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time: in laboratories, in the food industry, in the clothing trade, and in the entertainment industry. We also work on a variety of other issues, including the cruel killing of rodents, birds, and other animals who are often considered “pests” as well as cruelty to domesticated animals.”

Here’s what you need to know:

Spears Has Been on PETA’s Radar for Years

Following Spears’ VMAs performance, which also featured a caged tiger, she heard from PETA. According to The Guardian, PETA asked Spears to “take into account ‘the plight of captive wild animals caged and forced to tolerate bright lights, crowds and frightening levels of noise.'”

After receiving the complaint, Spears responded. She ended up joining forces with PETA, inking a deal to become a part of their anti-fur effort. She was featured in the “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign, and she told PETA that she would “drop the act,” according to the report.

In 2008, Spears released her Circus album. Given the title of the album, it wasn’t surprising to see Spears performing with animals again. This time, an elephant that was featured in the music video for the album’s namesake single and PETA was furious. A blog post ripped Spears for her return to the use of animals in the entertainment industry.

“But man, how quickly America’s sweetheart fell from grace. And it wasn’t pretty. Now, at the bottom of the barrel, she’s sporting elephants dressed in circus attire for her new video titled—what else—’Circus.’ As Britney is such a victim of the paparazzi and always complaining and crying about how she hates to be held up in her guarded house and can’t feel free, she of all people should be able to relate to the horror that captive animals go through when they’re used for entertainment. Except Britney chooses to perform, and the lifestyle just comes with it. Animals are ripped away from their mothers at a young age, kept in chains, and prodded with electric shock devices to make them perform. That doesn’t sound so voluntary to me,” the post read in part.

PETA Sent out Letters to Several Performers, Including Spears, Following the Popularity of ‘Tiger King’

Spears hasn’t been using animals in her acts in recent years, but she was still on PETA’s contact list. Just this year, thanks to the popularity of Netflix’s Tiger King, Spears supposedly received a letter from the organization.

“We have a special request while Netflix’s Tiger King is trending and the public is realizing now more than ever that animals suffer when forced to interact with the public. Will you please take this opportunity to make a public pledge never to pose or perform with wild animals in the future?” the letter read, in part, according to Billboard.

Other celebs included in the mailing were Cardi B, Janet Jackson, Calvin Harris, Ashanti, and Diddy.

READ NEXT: Inside Why Britney Spears Refuses to Perform