What's happening to Britney Spears and why is there a call to free her?
Amid the buzz of Super Bowl LV, a fan-led movement has resurfaced that clamors to allow the 39-year-old pop star Britney Spears to regain full control of her life after what is now over a decades-long court-sanctioned conservatorship.
The #FreeBritney hashtag has resurfaced following the release of The New York Times documentary called Framing Britney Spears, which fans say is a validation of the widely doubted movement that started in 2009.
Several celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker, Khloe Kardashian, Kacey Musgraves, Courtney Love and Andy Cohen tweeted their support for Britney after watching the documentary.
The movement was amplified even more when Miley Cyrus did a “We love Britney” shout out during her pre-game performance at the Super Bowl.
Britney’s career spanned almost three decades, and almost half of those years, she has been under a conservatorship.
In many US states, conservatorship is where a judge appoints an individual or an organization (conservator) to care for another adult (conservatee) who cannot care for oneself or manage one’s own finances. Here, Britney is the conservatee and her father, Jaime, a co-conservator, together with three other individuals outside their family.
Being in a conservatorship means Britney’s conservators control her finances, her estate, and health and career decisions.
In 2008, Britney, 26, was placed under conservatorship following her infamous string of public meltdowns; including the time when she had her head shaved in a salon and attacked the paparazzi with an umbrella. Because of those mental breakdowns and other instances, she was placed under a 72-hour lockdown at a hospital for mental evaluation.
The #FreeBritney movement
Fans started the movement in 2009 and launched Freebritney.net to bring attention to the irregularities in the conservatorship. The movement was also her fans’ way to express their concern that Britney is being controlled against her will, a claim that, to date, still remains unverified.
“Britney's conservators maintain that she is too disabled due to dementia to care for herself despite an active career and personal life. During the 13 years of Spears' conservatorship, she has repeatedly toured the world, released multiple albums, and worked on a variety of television shows,” the site says.
It was in 2019 when the movement kicked up a notch, when Britney checked in a mental health treatment facility for some “me time,” after the news of her father’s health issues.
Rumors circled social media that Britney was being held against her will, which made the fans troop to the West Hollywood City Hall to demand the release of the pop star from the treatment facility.
Suspicion of fans continued, even though Britney had assured them all is well in a short clip she posted on Instagram. “My family has been going through a lot of stress and anxiety lately, so I just needed time to deal. But don’t worry, I’ll be back very soon.”
Fans have staged rallies during Britney’s conservatorship hearings, even amid the pandemic, to express their support.
Unverified claims surrounding the movement abound
Britney Spears’ Instagram and TikTok accounts have been her fans’ way of looking out for her, most of the time checking for cryptic clues on her posts to see if something was off, especially during the pandemic when Britney started posting videos of her dancing, which people in the comments section usually think is an S.O.S. (Britney’s social media manager has clarified that “there’s not some secret agenda” behind her social media posts.)
As unverified claims surround Britney’s situation and conservatorship, some believe that the movement is a “conspiracy theory,” including Britney’s father.
In an interview with the New York Post, Jamie called the movement organizers “conspiracy theorists” and that the movement was “a joke.”
“All these conspiracy theorists don’t know anything. The world don’t have a clue,” he said. “It’s up to the court of California to decide what’s best for my daughter. It’s no one else’s business.”
He also denied allegations that he is siphoning off money from Britney’s estate, saying, “I have to report every nickel and dime spent to the court every year. How the hell would I steal something?”
In November 2020, it was reported that Britney wanted her father “suspended immediately” from running her estate and removed as head of her conservatorship but it was rejected by the Los Angeles superior court. She and her father have reportedly not been in speaking terms since August.
With all these, what does Britney have to say about the viral movement?
There is only one known instance when Britney acknowledged (indirectly) the #FreeBritney movement, and it was through a legal note of a court filing last year, where she expressed appreciation for the fans.
"Britney's conservatorship has attracted an unprecedented level of scrutiny from mainstream media and social media alike. Far from being a conspiracy theory or a 'joke' as James reportedly told the media, in large part this scrutiny is a reasonable and even predictable result of James' aggressive use of the sealing procedure over the years to minimize the amount of meaningful information made available to the public," the filing states.
"Whatever merits his strategy might have had years ago when Britney was trying to restart her career, at this point in her life when she is trying to regain some measure of personal autonomy, Britney welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her many fans.”