It’s been around since 2009, but if you’ve only recently gone onto Twitter and saw the barrage of #FreeBritney posts trending under pop culture conversations, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about — what controversy could the 2000s pop icon have met when she’s been out of the limelight for so long?
It’s a question that answers itself. That the pop star receded deeper and deeper into her privacy as the decade passed is the result of the repressive conservatorship that has taken control of her life. #FreeBritney aims to take it back, and it’s finally showing signs of succeeding.
What is a conservatorship, and why was Britney bound to one?
A conservatorship is a legal agreement where the court appoints an individual or organization to manage the financial affairs of and make the decisions for another who is deemed unfit to do so themselves.
Britney has been under such an agreement since 2008, where she is the conservatee and her father, Jamie Spears, and her lawyers are the conservator. But what exactly made her “unfit” steer her course?
It started in 2007, months after Britney filed for divorce with then-husband Kevin Federline. It was then when Britney went through a binge of breakdowns that she would endure for at least a year and a half.
In February, Britney checks into a rehabilitation facility. This comes after a drug-induced weekend that pushed her to shave her head bald, get new tattoos, and attack her paparazzi with an umbrella. According to Rolling Stone, she would on one occasion stay up for 48 hours straight while driving around, in fear that demons were following her and that her mobile phone charger was taping her thoughts. She would complete her program and leave the facility by March.
In August, Britney is charged with two counts of hit and run after she fled the scene of a car accident in California because she does not have a valid driver’s license. She would face similar charges two more times in October.
In September, her lackluster performance at that year’s MTV Video Music Awards gets lambasted by viewers. Critics accused the network of taking advantage of a clearly troubled Britney.
In January 2008, a nearly three-hour custody standoff ensued and ended with Britney being stretchered off to a hospital. Shortly after, she was put under a 5150 hold, a mandatory 72-hour mental detention.
In February, the court issued a restraining order against Sam Lutfi with the help of a comprehensive account from Britney’s mother, Lynne. She claims Lutfi had drugged the star, took control of her finances, and commanded the paparazzi “like a general” to take advantage of the pop star going downhill.
By the end of 2008, this tumultuous period in Britney’s life would be pacified with the implementation of her conservatorship. Since then, Jamie Spears and attorney Andrew Wallet have been in complete control of Britney’s estate and health.
What caused #FreeBritney to trend today?
On April 16, 2019, Britney’s Gram, a podcast hosted Tess Barker and Barbara Grey, who are themselves instigators of the #FreeBritney movement that started in 2009, posted an episode in which the hosts bared all that they discovered about the reason the pop star’s life went under the radar at the start of 2019, as well as developments in the star’s slowly devolving conservatorship.
Including a voice clip from an anonymous lawyer who used to work for the firm that oversees Britney’s conservatorship, the two hosts echoed the sentiment that, in the 12 years that the star has been a conservatee, her father’s supervision has seemingly done her more harm than good. The source seems to have confirmed themes of repression detailed in The New York Times’ report on Britney’s conservatorship.
After the episode’s premiere, the flames of the #FreeBritney movement sparked for a second time. This time, her fans were more eager to voice out their dissatisfaction over Britney’s ongoing conservatorship, claiming that, in the years when her father took over, the star has more than proven that she was able to manage her own assets.
In a 2019 video, fans are seen peacefully protesting outside of a courthouse where the extension of Britney’s conservatorship until February 2021 was being discussed.
Today, fans are more impassioned than ever to protect their idol, whom they believe is either being held against her will or being stolen from.
Where does the case for #FreeBritney stand now?
A couple of months following the release of the clamor-causing podcast episode, Britney reportedly requested that her mother be a crucial part of her conservatorship. Then, in August 2019, Jamie Spears stepped down as conservator, albeit not completely and only temporarily. Following his departure, Britney was vocal in her opposition to her father’s return as head of her conservatorship.
This month, the #FreeBritney movement rolls on, primarily due to the release of The New York Times’ documentary, “Framing Britney Spears,” which charts the comprehensive and controversial conservatorship.
As news coming out of the courtroom continues to favor Britney albeit at an underwhelming rate, the public, and all with whom the pop star was entangled in the cresting of her career, are simultaneously compelled to review their role in all of this. Justin Timberlake’s apology and Perez Hilton’s expression of regret are but a few results of this. Figures and entities who have previously ridiculed Britney for her erratic behavior — who hurled unsolicited remarks towards her mental health, sexuality, and single-parenting more than a decade ago — now come under strict scrutiny.
The controversy may have been largely legal, but all the rude remarks, invasive memes, and insensitive jokes made by the public about a troubled “2008 Britney” was the storm that left the star in shambles. To thwart the law that binds her is up to the pop star, but it’s up to us to stop spitting on celebrities’ private lives if we really want to #FreeBritney.