2001–2003: Britney, Crossroads, and In the Zone
Spears released her third studio album Britney in November 2001. In the album, she assumed some creative control kwa co-writing five tracks. Although not as successful as her awali albums, Britney debuted at number one in the U.S. kwa selling 745,744 units during its first week. The album's success made her the only female artist in muziki history to have her first three albums debut at number one. The album fared well with critics such as Allmusic who gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars, describing the album's title tracks as being "pivotal moments on Britney Spears's third album, the record where she strives to deepen her persona, making it zaidi adult while still recognizably Britney." In contrast, Rolling Stone alisema of the album Britney "belabors the obvious: Spears is one mwezi away from entering her twenties and clearly needs to grow up if she's going to bring her mashabiki along." Britney's lead single "I'm a Slave 4 U" peaked at 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 making it the album's biggest hit. To help promote the album, Spears embarked on the Dream Within a Dream Tour in November 2001. The tour was forced to cut short in Mexico City due to bad weather. With the end to her tour, Spears announced she would take a six mwezi break from her career.
In early 2002, Spears's four-year relationship with Justin Timberlake ended. His 2002 song "Cry Me a River" and its muziki video, which featured an actress resembling Spears, caused speculation that Spears had been unfaithful; Timberlake, however, denied that his song was meant to portray her. June 2002 saw the opening of Spears's restaurant, Nyla, in New York City, which served Louisianan and Italian cuisine. However, she was pulled out of the business venture in November as a result of debts and management issues. Nyla officially closed in 2003. In the same year, Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst confirmed that he was in a relationship with Spears. Durst was also hired to help write and produce tracks for her album In the Zone, which were eventually scrapped.
Spears had her first starring role in the 2002 film Crossroads, in which she portrayed a high school graduate who travels to find her long-lost mother. The movie was poorly received, as was her performance; Spears received Razzie Awards for Worst Actress and for Worst Original Song. Nonetheless, the film grossed over $60 million worldwide, which was five times its budget. Spears also made cameo appearances in Austin Powers in Goldmember and Longshot. Footage of Spears appeared in the 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which samples a 2003 CNN interview about the Iraq War in which Spears stated that she thought "we should just trust our president in every decision he makes and should just support that".
Spears made her third consecutive MTV Video muziki Awards performance. While performing "I'm a Slave 4 U", she used caged wanyama as heshima and danced with a large albino chatu draped over her shoulders. Haki za wanyama organization PETA claimed that the wanyama featured in the performance were mistreated and cancelled plans for an anti-fur billboard that was to feature Spears. Her career success was highlighted kwa Forbes magazine in 2002 as Spears was ranked the world's most powerful celebrity, earnings of over $39.2 million . At a performance at the 2003 MTV Video muziki Awards, she appeared with Christina Aguilera performing the song "Like a Virgin", and was later joined kwa American pop singer Madonna, with whom Spears and Aguilera both locked lips; the incident was highly publicized.
Performing "Me Against The Music" at the NFL Kickoff Live 2003
Spears released her fourth studio album In the Zone in November 2003, jettisoning the Max Martin-produced synthpop of her earlier releases. The album took in lesser-known producers such as RedZone and big names including Moby and R. Kelly. Spears co-wrote eight of the album's thirteen songs and co-produced several pieces of her material for the first time. In the Zone reached number one in the U.S. charts during its debut week, selling over 609,000 copies. This made Spears the first female in the Nielsen SoundScan era to have her first four studio albums to debut at number one. The album had a mixed reception from critics. Stylus Magazine gave the album a D and blamed Spears's career choices kwa stating, "Ultimately, In the Zone suffers greatly from Britney's uneasy transition from teen tart to sexually powerful woman. Had Britney been in charge of her career direction instead of mercilessly prostituted kwa her management, she might have been able to produce something with some semblance of musical vision." The Guardian praised the album's melodies and her effort, giving it 4 out of 5 stars: "Unlike awali Britney albums, In the Zone has no filler and no shoddy cover versions, just 57 varieties of blue-chip hit-factory pop. There is southern hip-hop, deep house, Neptunes-style R&B, the ubiquitous Diwali beat and, most importantly, oodles of Madonna." The album spawned the hit single "Toxic", winning Spears her first ever Grammy in the category of Best Dance Recording.