The audio version of Britney Spears's book The Woman in Me, narrated by actress Michelle Williams, is earning rave reviews — and rightly so. The My Week With Marilyn actress dives into the memoir's various roles as she brings her voice down to a whisper, uses it for emphasis or even adopts different affectations when playing the singer and her family members, Justin Timberlake, Mariah Carey and more.
You can hear Williams smiling as she tells us that Spears's great-grandmother Lexie Pierce was "wicked beautiful." And you can feel the author's pain when Williams reads about the Louisiana native coping with her father's alcoholism during her childhood or problems in her relationship with Timberlake.
Speaking of the former NSync star, Spears shares intensely emotional stories, yes, but also a funny one that Williams elevates to hilarious. In a moment that's gone viral, Williams imitates him when he "tried too hard to fit in" with Black artists such as Ginuwine.
lol brit got my white sister michelle williams saying WHAT! https://t.co/1jFJpWSHqL
— Brittany Luse (@bmluse) October 24, 2023
nothing can prepare you for these 15 seconds of michelle williams doing a justin timberlake impression as written by britney spears pic.twitter.com/QCXnDmnQIL
— lucy (@heylucymay) October 24, 2023
This Britney Spears book is wild. Michelle Williams deserves an award for this part alone. 😆 pic.twitter.com/AEgUbgSWvU
— Nelson (@nelsonomicon) October 24, 2023
The highlight of my week has been Michelle Williams impersonating Britney Spears, impersonating Justin Timberlake’s blaccent when he met Ginuwine. https://t.co/zdZ437RdR7
— Steve Weinstein (@steveweinstein) October 27, 2023
Michele Cobb, the executive director of the nonprofit Audio Publishers Association, tells Yahoo Entertainment that a veteran, acclaimed actress like Williams was a good match for Spears's book.
"She understands how to inhabit and play different characters," Cobb says. "And when you are reading the book and you are reading all of the parts, you have to be able to play those different characters, have an emotional connection to those different characters and be able to — frankly, it's kind of an amazing thing — slide from one character into the next instantaneously."
It's that connection between the narrator and audience, she says, that makes for a successful audiobook in the growing industry. Publishers' revenue from audiobooks has seen double-digit growth for the past 11 years, including 10% in 2022, boosting it to $1.8 billion, according to a 2023 survey commissioned by APA.
Actors such as Williams have spent years doing precisely what is needed, and they regularly step in to narrate such works. "It's really very recent that celebrities have been narrating their own audiobooks... and it's not everyone's skillset," Cobb says. "It is hard to read an audio book. It's physically taxing. It's emotionally taxing, especially if it's your own story and you're dealing with some trauma. So having someone else read it who can be a little personally removed and a good performer could actually be a better listening experience."
In Spears's case, she gives a short introduction at the top of the book, in which she explains that "Reliving everything that you're about to hear has been exciting, heart-wrenching and emotional, to say the least."
That's why it's Williams and not the Grammy winner who delivers the other lines, some of which have been discussed on social media.
At one point, Williams makes her voice sassy when referring to Spears's estranged younger sister, Jamie Lynn Spears, as "a total b****."
Michelle Williams channeled Britney Spears for this line reading about Jamie Lynn pic.twitter.com/4dh8AslyGr
— Jarett Wieselman (@JarettSays) October 24, 2023
Williams also briefly portrays Mariah Carey, as Spears recalls taking a photo with the singer, who's gone on to become one of her supporters.
Michelle Williams needs an AWARD for this Britney audiobook okay?!
Her mimicking THE Mariah Carey has me weak okay?!
What has me more weak is this is also how I would feel too meeting Mariah Carey. pic.twitter.com/z4fMuciUAM
— Niccara. (@niccaracampbell) October 24, 2023
The Recording Academy, the organization that presents the Grammys, confirms that Williams is eligible for the category of Best Audio Book, Narration & Storytelling Recording at the 67th annual Grammy Awards in 2025. A win would put her on the path to securing an EGOT, since she already has an Emmy, and the other trophies aren't out of the question. The Dawson's Creek alum has received one nomination for a Tony and five nods for an Oscar.
The Woman in Me is available at bookstores or wherever you get your audiobooks.