If you’re like me, then you’re totally new to the #FreeBritney movement. If it weren’t for FX Networks recent mini series, The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney series, I would have been totally naive to it all. But, once I watched it, I could never unsee it.
Britney Spears is a pop icon like no other— seriously. She is the prime example of what it means to be a teen sensation. Spears went on to sell nearly 100m records worldwide since the birth of her career, navigated her growth from young girl to grown woman under public scrutiny, and has proven her longevity with a career that has already spanned almost three decades.
But, in recent months, the 38-year-old Mississippi native has faced several setbacks: the cancellation of her second Las Vegas residency, her father Jamie Spears’ ill health and frantic speculation from fans that the latter’s guardianship of the singer had become overly imposing, apparently leading her to send coded messages for help via social media. It has fueled the resurgence of the #FreeBritney movement, whose supporters ask that the restrictions currently imposed on her personal and professional life be lifted. As the story continues to unfold, i’ve rounded up everything i’ve learned so far.
What is the #FreeBritney movement?
Britney Spears’ die-hard fans are concerned about the pop star’s wellbeing, particularly in relation to the legal conservatorship which, they believe, has effectively imprisoned her for more than a decade. Since coming into place in 2008, following her infamous public breakdown, it has allowed various court-appointed guardians to oversee Spears’ life and finances. Chief among them was her father, Jamie Spears, who held the role of her conservator for 11 years before stepping down in September 2019 due to “personal health reasons”. Jodi Montgomery, the singer’s care manager, was then appointed as his replacement. The #FreeBritney movement seeks to release Spears from this arrangement, in hopes that it will restore her personal and financial autonomy.
Wtf is a conservatorship?
A conservatorship is a form of legal guardianship. When a person is deemed to be unable to care for themselves, an adult with a relationship to that individual can petition a county probate court for control over their affairs. Such arrangements are often reserved for people who are elderly, disabled or extremely ill (this is where shit gets weird). Many of the details of Spears’ case have been kept private, but filings have cited an undisclosed mental illness and substance abuse as the reasons for her conservatorship. Proponents of the #FreeBritney movement, however, argue that Spears’ work over the past decade—from the release of multiple studio albums to tours and her first Las Vegas residency—demonstrates that she is a functioning adult who is able to make her own decisions. So why on earth is she being treated as a person who is literally incapacitated?
Reasoning Behind Britney’s Conservatorship
Okay. For all my 2000’s babies here’s a quick history on our beloved, “Baby One More Time,” singer. In 2007, Spears faced a series of personal crises: she finalized her divorce from Kevin Federline, reportedly checked into a drug rehabilitation facility for less than a day, shaved her own head and attacked a photographer’s car after her pleas for privacy were overtly ignored. She eventually lost physical custody of her two children but refused to relinquish it in 2008, after which she was placed in psychiatric care. Her father, Jamie Spears, then petitioned LA County Superior Court for an emergency temporary conservatorship—an arrangement that was soon made permanent.
The details of Spears’ conservatorship have never been made public, but under the agreement, her guardians have control over her assets and welfare (exactly. the money). According to the Los Angeles Times, “court documents show that Jamie Spears has the power to negotiate business opportunities, sell her property and restrict her visitors. He can file for restraining orders against those he believes threaten his daughter’s stability [and] every purchase she makes must be logged in annual court reports of her spending.” The newspaper spent three months investigating the conservatorship and its impact on Spears. Although no one from her inner circle responded to requests for comment, it found “no independent evidence that Spears was being harmed by the arrangement. (Which we all think is….well, bullshit.)
How Did #FreeBritney Start
In 2008 we got to see a documentary Britney: For the Record, in which the singer said: “If I wasn’t under the restraints that I’m under right now, I’d feel so liberated […] I never wanted to become one of those prisoner people. I always wanted to feel free.” Upon watching it I think we can all agree that the pop start has been crying out for help and no one has listened:
As per The New York Times, the phrase #FreeBritney originated in 2009, when the pop news and Spears fansite Breathe Heavy started a campaign of the same name that was critical of the constraints of the conservatorship. Jordan Miller, the site’s owner, even reported receiving a call from Jamie Spears threatening to have it taken down. Speaking to the newspaper in 2016, Miller said he understood the lengths her family went to, adding: “It was a really volatile situation and they were trying to protect her.” But, over the next decade, the movement he founded continued to gain traction.
So, here we are now. #FreeBritney 2021
In 2019 Spears took an indefinite work hiatus and her Instagram account, usually crammed with selfies and dance videos, went dark for almost three months. After she returned in April 2019, with a cryptic post about taking some “me time”, TMZ reported that she had checked into a mental health facility because she was distraught over her father’s illness. Things got even weirder when the podcast Britney’s Gram, which is dedicated to dissecting Spears’ posts, released a voicemail message from an anonymous source who claimed to be a paralegal with knowledge of the conservatorship. It raised serious concerns about Spears’ wellbeing and her ability to make her own decisions.
So, now in 2021, thanks to the power of streaming services we’ve all gotten an even further look at whats been going on behind closed doors. The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney documentary features interviews with key insiders, including:
- A lifelong family friend who traveled alongside Spears for much of her career
- The marketing executive who originally created Spears’s image
- A lawyer currently working on the conservatorship
- And the lawyer Spears tried to hire in the early days of the conservatorship to challenge her father
The new mini series, on FX and Hulu, also explores the ever growing fan base that is convinced Spears should be liberated from the conservatorship, and re-examines the media’s handling of one of the biggest, most prolific pop stars of all time. I will warn you though, once you see it you simply can’t unsee it. I too feel the responsibility now to help the iconic singer find her voice again.