Britney Spears has been a cultural icon since long before I was even born. Her influence on pop-culture through music and fashion is extensive, almost immeasurable. She’s not just a singer — she’s a performer.
From the height of her popularity in the mid-‘90s to her notorious public breakdown in 2007 (i.e. when she shaved her head) to her resurgence in the mid-aughts with her album Circus, which features chart-topping hits like “Womanizer,” Britney has demonstrated time and time again her true skill at producing music and performances relevant to whatever decade.
In 2019, though, Britney was dominating conversations on social media for an altogether different reason, with the hashtag #freebritney becoming prevalent on countless platforms. So, what does the hashtag signify and why does she need to be freed?
What Does #FreeBritney Want?
Before the original hashtag became a trending topic, it wasn’t common knowledge that Britney was under the conservatorship of her father Jamie, and later on, under her manager Jodi Montgomery and court-appointed attorney Andrew Wallet.
Britney’s dad has had complete control over her professional and personal life since 2008.
Conservatorship is implemented by a court when an individual is deemed not mentally healthy enough to make their own decisions, be they financial or otherwise. Conservatorship of Britney’s estate and assets — with her worth at an estimated $59 million — was put under the direct control of her father in 2008. But as fans have pointed out since then, it wasn’t just control of her financial assets that Jamie Spears had control over, but also her ability to produce music, to accept or decline certain performances and appearances, to vote, and even to marry again and have additional children, after her first marriage to rapper Kevin Federline ended in 2007.
The #FreeBritney hashtag has seen a resurgence in recent months. In May, Britney and her family returned to court to annually assess the conservatorship. Her father Jamie had stepped down as conservator due to supposed health concerns in January 2020, and even had a restraining order filed against him by Federline on behalf of his and Britney’s son Jaden. Now that the conservatorship itself has gained more attention in the public eye, its necessity altogether is being called into question, as well as Britney’s ability to make her own decisions — a movement spearheaded by her own fans.
The Original Movement
Britney’s very public breakdown in 2008 — during which she shaved her head and even smashed the windows of a paparazzo — lead to two separate stays in a Los Angeles psychiatric facility, during which her father was able to file for temporary control of her wealth...which was then extended for the next 12 years.
This year, Andrew Galley, a photographer who worked extensively with Britney during her comeback Circus days, shared a post on Tik Tok detailing a letter she had once written to him after her mental breakdown and subsequent deference to her father and manager with regards to all decisions in her public and personal life.
Britney’s photographer read a letter from her claiming she was forced to divorce Federline.
Galley alleges that Britney gave him the letter during the time they spent touring, which he managed to make a copy of before it was destroyed by the conservators. The letter, which Galley reads aloud, says that Britney was forced to divorce Federline in 2007 after three years of marriage, and that the consequences of her divorce and eventual breakdown were all a setup by her manager, which took a deeply emotional toll on her.
Whether this is the hallmark of a talented but deeply troubled and mentally ill woman has been left to fans to speculate, with the majority of them saying that while Britney is under the control of conservatorship, her true voice will never be heard.
The Movement Is Gaining Momentum
As Galley’s post took off, fans began to notice things within Britney’s own social media posts, namely her bizarre, erratic behavior and even posts back in February where she was speaking with a British accent.
A petition began circulating online, with many fans calling for, if nothing else, the conservatorship to be investigated. In doing so, a court would be able to observe if her basic, fundamental rights (which any person should be permitted to have, regardless of mental handicap) have been withdrawn through the control of her manager and attorneys and if her personal financial assets have been taken advantage of.
Fans have even begun to look into specific social media posts of Britney’s (posted only with the consent of her conservators, of course), even going so far as to assume that she might be asking for help in covert ways. For example, in one post, a fan asked her to wear a yellow shirt in her next post if she needed help. In the next post, Britney was wearing a yellow shirt. For many, this was confirmation enough that something serious needs to happen, and soon.
While Britney’s case is an unfortunate one, it’s sadly not uncommon. Many other celebrities, most notably Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame, were placed under conservatorship and consequently abused and manipulated by those with control.
If a person is incapable of caring for their children, or controlling or diligently assessing their finances, then stepping in to care for those things while they recuperate is one thing. It’s another thing entirely to seize control — and for years, no less — of their basic rights in where they go, what and with whom they perform, and the content they produce as a way of supposedly ensuring their security.
An artist, and a talented performer at that, should have at the very least the ability to decide what kind of music they want to create, and how they want to go about producing it. Not only does Britney not even have control over her own music, but she doesn’t even have it over her choice to vote, her income, or her own kids.