From Leave Britney Alone to #FreeBritney, we find out how the internet unraveled an apparent bigger conspiracy in the continuing conservatorship case of the legendary Miss Britney Spears.
Chris Crocker was right all along.
That isn’t a sentence one would have imagined saying, let alone think of, in 2007 following the brutal takedown of Britney Spears in the aftermath of her clunky VMA performance. “All I care about is Britney’s well-being. And Britney, all I want for you is to get well. That’s all I want. And what really bothers me is to think of those people out there who don’t see her as a person,” says the once-upon-a-time YouTube personality in a scathing diatribe back when the video-sharing platform wasn’t quite the pop culture zeitgeist it has become today.
“How fucking dare anyone out there make fun of Britney after all she has been through?…All you people care about is readers and making money off of her. She’s a human!”
Hindsight sure is 20/20, because after the malevolent maligning of the princess of pop as a mainstay of trashy tabloids and gossip fodder for most of her career, the world is now realizing the error of its ways. Whether intended or not, the audience was once complicit to the senseless smearing of Britney Spears. After all, the infrastructures of systemic inequalities and injustices have long been bolstered and fortified to encourage a superiority complex wherever it was possible. Unfair and unkind as the height of invasive paparazzi and celebrity culture was, there now exists a stream of consciousness as championed by the #FreeBritney movement.
The very core of the internet-born revolution? Leave Britney alone. Sounds familiar?
In the startling, shocking, and ultimately sobering documentary, Framing Britney Spears, the New York Times dissects the life and times of the enduring pop star. Well-edited, well-paced, and well-meaning, the exposition is thorough and thoughtful. For all its worth, it unpacks a mountain of trials and trauma that were once unknown to the general public. There isn’t any new information to uncover, especially if you have been following the legal drama for a while now. But in this context of clarity, it becomes unnerving how even with the best of intentions; we have inadvertently let Britney Spears down.
From her meteoric rise to fame to the extreme height of her career, Britney Spears was in command and in control. “I know all the ins and outs of what I’m doing…I’m not just some girl who’s listening to my manager,” she says in an interview in the early aughts. “That’s where I am today, because I do have control.”
But in a long-standing conservatorship, one that she has been placed under since 2007, it is a perceived lack of control that has become the shackles holding her down for 13 arduous years. In the same space of time, one where her conservators, compounded by unreleased psychiatric evaluations, have claimed her to be not mentally stable to handle her own affairs, Britney Spears proved capable of multiple TV appearances, full-length albums, world tours, and most importantly, a record-breaking residency in Las Vegas.
For all her life, even at her most vulnerable, she was being told what she could do and who she could be. Made worse in the circumstance of the conservatorship, which is legally defined as a court-appointed guardianship for the elderly or physically and mentally debilitated, the grip on her neck was understandably suffocating. Now, doesn’t that merit alarming concern?
Me Against The Music
Britney Spears hasn’t been free in a long while. This shouldn’t be surprising, especially if you comb through her iconic discography. A soundtrack to the lives of many generations who were coming of age just as she was, a manifestation of a trailblazing pioneer that many still continue to emulate to this very day, and a record-breaking success by all accounts necessary, her music is a study of someone trying to break free. Isn’t it laughably ironic, especially for someone painted to be a liberated irreverent pushing the envelope of her femininity and sexuality to an impressionable audience?
With the walls closing in on her from her personal life, as well as of an obsessive culture preying like vultures on the carcass of her public persona, Britney Spears found solace in her music and onstage. Produced to high-octane perfection, there tucked within her groundbreaking hits were the severity of her cries for help. Laced in the lyrics often glazed over for the circus of it all, these heavy breaths of truth were her much-needed exhale amid sparkling and saucy orchestrations—and everything else.
Try listening to Lucky, Stronger, Overprotected, I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman, Everytime, My Prerogative, and Piece Of Me, trust me, it hits different. But many have chosen to ignore all these, much like her life, which was made a spectacle by the media, the public, and while it may be hard to stomach, even by you.
For so long, Britney Spears took the jabs and even the fall, because at the peak of it all, what else was left for her to do?
The #FreeBritney Revolution
Forcing the iron-clad partitions of her contested legal battle open, the #FreeBritney movement has managed to do what many others haven’t been able to in year—look after the well-being and best interest of Britney Spears. Sure, it was met with suspicion and doubts early on, even made fun of as a mere group of obsessive fans who cannot seem to let things go. However, as revealed in Framing Britney Spears, it has brought attention to something people weren’t well aware of, such as the hybrid business model that the conservatorship has become. Even more impressive, this became the platform that helped accelerate the conversation of mental health and invasion of privacy, all of which were only sparsely brought to light in the intrusive mindset of celebrity voyeurism.
This wasn’t a bunch of people with a misplaced sense of purpose. Here, the #FreeBritney movement would grow to become highly informed fans that proved to be a cataclysmic shift in the slow-rolling and long-drawn out battle for the liberation of Britney Spears. After more than a decade of benefiting from her suffering, the #FreeBritney movement, and perhaps now, the world has had enough.
Could this be where the perils of public possession and the funding of fame with the investment of intrusion ends? We can only hope so, because we’re not that innocent to what has become of Britney Spears. Today, she continues to struggle with the thorny implications of her legal woes, as if every step in her life is lined with barbed wire to keep her from simply living.
Off The Record
The cracks that have been there all along are starting to give way to an eventual crumbling of the system made to benefit everyone but the one at the midst of it all. In fact, the tireless crusade to #FreeBritney has not only made the cruel effects of a prolonged conservatorship a topic of conversation, but it has also compelled a culture to look inward and reflect on their own behaviors. Encouraging and exacerbating a mob of paparazzi hounding celebrities, villainizing women in the context of toxic misogyny (we are looking at you, Justin Timberlake), and kicking them when they are already proverbially grazing the concrete floor, we have, as a blinded society allowed this to happen.
What we do know, at least to some degree, is that she wants out of this deal, especially with her father in place as her legal guardian. (She has gone on record at the court through her court-appointed lawyer to say that she is “afraid of her father.”) In the 2008 MTV documentary, Britney: For The Record, she has said, “If I wasn’t under the restraints that I’m under right now, with all the lawyers and doctors, and people analyzing me every day, and all that kinda stuff–if that wasn’t there, I’d feel so liberated, and feel like myself.”
As if seemingly corroborating her claim, her brother, Bryan Spears, made a strong case for independence on the podcast, As NOT Seen On TV in July 2020. “She’s always wanted to get out of it…having someone constantly tell you to do something has got to be frustrating,” he says. “She’s wanted to get out of it for quite some time.”
Do Better, Be Better
Five days since the release of the unauthorized documentary focused on the #FreeBritney movement, the world as distilled on social media hasn’t stopped talking about it. From the hashtag of the valiant efforts of the campaign to liberate Britney Spears to “We are sorry Britney,” there is a stronger motion of acceleration as we speak. Nowhere true freedom, there have been little victories in the path of the movement. While Jamie Spears is still legal conservator over her finances, the court has allowed the appointment of independent firm, Bessemer Trust Bank, as a co-conservator of her estate. And just in time for a scheduled hearing on February 11, at the request through her mother, Lynn Spears, the judge approved the presence of a lawyer other the court-appointed ones for the proceedings.
While centered on Britney Spears, the #FreeBritney revolution is slowly becoming more than just the living legend. Heartbreaking and concerning as her life has become, especially in the trails of a very public unraveling in 2007, this is a wake up call to everyone who has let this pass for this long as just another day, another drama for Miss American Dream framed as Miss Bad Media Karma. A circus as it still stands to be, let this be a lesson learned and a reminder to choose better, too do better, and to be better.
Leave Britney Alone
“Each person has their story and their take on other people’s stories !!!! We all have so many different bright beautiful lives,” writes Britney Spears on Instagram and Twitter, days after the release of the documentary. While she doesn’t directly acknowledge Framing Britney Spears and what has become of the rah-rah-rah of #FreeBritney, the pop star assures her fans that at the very least, she is doing okay. “Remember, no matter what we think we know about a person’s life it is nothing compared to the actual person living behind the lens.”
Now we know, nothing is ever as it seems. At this point, her social media is the only window of access that we have to Britney Spears. Fascinating in its odd, but endearing curation, the random images, the sprinkling of rose emojis, and videos of her spinning and dancing are that glimmer of hope in what was becoming a harrowing and horrible chapter of her life. Here, she is finally in control again—not the tabloids, not the public, not her father. Britney Spears is telling the world about Britney Spears and no one else, finally.
“There’s so much more to her that everybody’s missing,” muses Felicia Culotta, a long-time friend and sometime assistant to Britney Spears. Perhaps alluding to what we have chosen to see and otherwise over all these years, she continues, “I know at some point she will tell her story, I know she will. I am so grateful for when that point comes, that she’ll be able to sit down and, you know, everything will fall into place.”
Until that time of elusive freedom comes, we have to leave Britney alone—for now.