Why Are Fans of Britney Spears Still Hoping to #FreeBritney?
Britney Spears rose to superstardom in the late 1990s and is commonly referred to as the "Princess of Pop." Her career initially began at a young age when she joined the cast of The All New Mickey Mouse Club alongside other future superstars like Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. The singer’s phenomenal success by the time she reached her late teens brought a lot of stress with it, leading to some mental health issues.
With the media and the tabloids questioning and ridiculing her every move, Britney eventually experienced a public meltdown in 2007 that led to closed door legal proceedings that placed the star in a conservatorship governed by her father, Jamie Spears. Now, more than a decade later, the almost 40-year-old entertainer still can’t make any decisions for herself without the permission of the conservator. Is that type of restriction still necessary? Fans that started the #FreeBritney movement certainly don’t seem to think so.
The Original Justification for a Conservatorship
By the mid-2000s, the stress of superstardom and constant public scrutiny had taken an emotional toll, and Britney's life started to spiral out of control — much to the delight of the paparazzi. Suddenly, her mental health became the lead story as tabloids posted photos of Britney in less than flattering situations, including an outburst that led to the star damaging a photographer’s car as well as images of her shaved head. With the world seemingly pitted against her, she checked into a mental health facility and ultimately lost custody of her two sons with ex-husband Kevin Federline.
Additionally, Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, petitioned the California courts to take control of Britney’s personal, financial and medical decisions via a conservatorship in 2008. The court-approved mandate made the pop star a ward of her father's, who was granted control of her $47 million estate and her personal and professional activities. After six months, the temporary conservatorship became permanent. The documents have always remained sealed, so the exact reasons for the decision are unknown.
In the 2008 MTV documentary "Britney: For the Record," Britney compared conservatorship to incarceration — only worse. "Even when you go to jail," she claimed, "there's the time when you're going to get out. But in this situation, it's never-ending."
The Rise of the #FreeBritney Movement
As early as 2009, fans of Britney started the #FreeBritney campaign to demand her release from the conservatorship. They argued the star had been forced into treatment, and they lobbied hard for its termination. Britney returned to the studio not long after leaving treatment to record her sixth album, Circus, and then she appeared at the MTV Video Music Awards and went on tour. It didn’t make sense to fans that someone suffering from debilitating mental health challenges could return to business as usual.
However, a lawyer claiming to represent Spears — who she couldn’t have hired herself under the terms of the conservatorship — failed to get any restrictions removed. The judge declared it would be a "travesty of justice" to award her autonomy due to her "remarkable" improvement under the guidance of the conservator.
In the years that followed, Britney began a four-year Las Vegas residency while continuing to release new music and tour. Her father has maintained complete control of her financial, personal and professional decisions. She is closely monitored by handlers and doesn't have access to email. Britney can’t file her own tax returns or "pursue opportunities related to professional commitments," including "performances, music recording, music videos, tours, TV shows and other similar activities" without the consent of her medical team.
Outside of her performances, Britney has mostly stayed out of the public eye. She had been preparing for a second Las Vegas residency, and fans have continued to push for the end of the conservatorship based on her seemingly positive state of mind and many years without any alarming incidents. As time has passed, the fans’ public rallies and #FreeBritney social media campaigns have grown larger.
But the Opponents of the #FreeBritney Campaign Have a Platform of Their Own
As the Washington Post reported on May 17, 2019, "Sources close to the singer are pushing back on the #FreeBritney narrative, emphasizing that Spears is in the conservatorship for a reason — long-term mental-health issues that they would not specify. They know #FreeBritney is born out of fans' love for her, they say, but insist that fans don't understand the details of Spears' condition and the logistics of the legal arrangement, which is monitored closely by medical professionals and the courts."
Her manager, Larry Rudolph, said, "The last thing any California state judge wants is to do something incorrectly and inappropriately and be the subject of a story about a judge that has done something wrong to Britney Spears." He goes on to insist the conservatorship isn’t like jail, because it "helps Britney make business decisions and manage her life in ways she can't do on her own right now."
After her father became ill with a life-threatening colon condition, the personal components of the conservatorship were transferred to Jodi Montgomery, a longtime employee dubbed Britney’s "care manager." Britney's manager says she didn’t handle her father’s illness well, so doctors allegedly altered her prescription medications during this process. The combination of her father's illness and her adjusted medication schedule caused Britney to become "rattled and destabilized."
As a result, she started to miss rehearsals and finally conceded she wouldn’t be ready for her second Las Vegas residency. In early January 2019, she posted an announcement on her website: "This is so tough for me to say," she wrote. "I will not be performing my new show ‘Domination.' I've been looking forward to this show and seeing all of you this year, so doing this breaks my heart. However, it's important to always put your family first, and that's the decision I had to make."
As the Years Go On, The #FreeBritney Movement Rises Again
Millions of dollars were already invested in the Las Vegas residency, so the decision led to a surge in theories and conspiracies about the cancellation. One key point of interest was that the original attorney working with Jamie Spears resigned only a few months after requesting a raise. In April 2019, People claimed that Britney "checked into a facility for 'all-encompassing wellness treatment’ and needed to focus on herself."
Some criticize the #FreeBritney movement's outspoken proponents because they lack first-hand knowledge of the situation, but her die-hard fans stress that they don’t speculate on Britney’s mental health. They merely focus on the potential corruption of the conservatorship. They want to expose the people who continue to financially benefit from Britney's career while she is allegedly incapacitated.
Throughout the summer of 2020, Britney began posting awkward videos and photos on Instagram, reigniting the #FreeBritney movement as fans again started to worry about the situation. Supporters believe the beleaguered singer could be sending out a cry for help.
In mid-August 2020, Britney’s attorney requested a substantial amendment to the conservatorship, which was set to expire on August 22. Despite Britney’s opposition to her father's continued control and his request for a co-conservator, a judge extended Jamie Spears' control until February 2021.
Without knowing all the details of this real-life drama, it's impossible to know whether fans are right in supporting the #FreeBritney movement. Transferring all control back to the star could be a disaster if she isn’t mentally capable of handling it, but then what does that say about her conservator — her own father — if he allowed her to continue to work and rake in millions when she was so mentally impaired that she couldn’t manage her own affairs?
It’s hard for fans to support a conservatorship that completely controls the life of an almost-40-year-old woman who supposedly can’t take care of herself — yet is totally capable of pulling off complex million-dollar performances. Based on the questionable optics, fans are likely to continue their rabid support, but the U.S. legal system will ultimately have the final say in whether it's time to #FreeBritney.