Whether you’re a fan of her music or not, you know who Britney Spears is. She utterly ruled the airwaves in the early 2000s, dominating the front pages of nearly every tabloid and newspaper and starring in one of the most public struggles with mental health and the tribulations that accompany nigh-unfathomable levels of fame. The Princess of Pop, there was a time when seemingly everything she touched turned to certified diamond in the global music charts and everything and anything she did found itself under a lens.
But, someway and somehow, one of the most famous human beings to have ever lived managed to slip out of the public eye that seemed fixed on her like the Eye of Sauron. Where did the Princess of Pop go?
Where is Britney Spears Now?
Following a spat of incredibly public mental health troubles — from the notorious head-shaving/tattooing incident to her umbrella-wielding attack on a reporter’s car — and a pair of involuntary in-patient psychiatric evaluations, Spears was placed into a legal conservatorship under the purview of her father, Jamie Spears, and her then-lawyer, Andrew Wallet. Conservatorship in the United States is a legally-formalized relationship that places an individual under the guardianship of another person/persons, giving the latter rights and controls over much of the decision-making for that individual. Usually reserved for elderly people in cognitive decline unable to make sound-of-mind judgments over their own affairs, in the context of Spears’ case this gave her father power over her estate, whom she is allowed to meet with, and major business decisions made. It also meant she lost custody of her two children, the right to vote, marry or become pregnant.
The conservatorship, initially planned to last one year, was made permanent in 2009, making Jamie Spears and Andrew Wallet permanent co-custodians of Spears, her estate, and, for all intents and purposes, her life. Fans who’ve followed Britney from the early 2000s through the 10’s may remember that this marked the beginning of a lull in her career. Though she continued to tour, release albums, and make music, much of what she was produced with received critically — with many noting a seeming loss of enthusiasm in live shows from the singer whose extensive choreography earned her a prestigious Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award.
In the years following Spears regularly contested the conservatorship, though only ever in-court and through statements made by her lawyer — never directly to the public. What makes the continuation of the conservatorship unclear to those outside the Spears inner circle is that typically they are argued for on the basis of crippling dysfunction on the part of the individual and that they need the care and guidance of a decision-maker to ensure they can manage their affairs in a safe and healthy manner. This sentiment is, in some ways, difficult to parse with the image of a capable and award-winning, multi-talented performer that Spears regularly cultivates.
In 2013, Spears began her concert residency at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Los Angeles that would become an enormous success for the singer. Initially slated to run for two years, the residency was extended twice. In 2018 she announced her next show, which would become the flashpoint for the latest and most salient conflict in her life in recent years.
Domination & #FreeBritney
Her second concert residency, Domination, was scheduled to begin in 2019 and seemed to mark the continuation of a promising upward trend for Spears that saw her returning to the form that won her the title of Princess of Pop years before. Sadly, however, Spears announced, only days before Domination was set to begin, that the residency had been canceled.
On her enormously popular Instagram, the singer told her fans that her father had suffered a near-fatal colon rupture and she’d been forced to cancel Domination to focus on her family and help deal with the immense stress her father’s illness had placed on her. Shortly after, the singer was seen driving a car in Los Angeles — the first time she’d been seen behind the wheel since the beginning of her conservatorship over a decade before. And then, without warning, Spears seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth for three months. Apparently, the singer, who had been barred from driving by her father, had been subsequently placed involuntarily into a treatment facility against her will.
Shortly after, a paralegal who had worked with Britney during her earliest contest against her conservatorship spoke to the podcast, Britney’s Gram, and reported that the singer had stopped taking her medication during rehearsal for Domination and that her father threatened to cancel the residency if she continued to refuse treatment — and that that’s exactly what happened.
Months later, during the annual reassessment of her conservatorship, legions of fans turned out in protest against Spears’ father. The #FreeBritney hashtag had been circulating for weeks in response to the Britney’s Gram podcast and many of the singer’s fans were branding her father, Jamie Spears, as a captor who used his status as conservator to control the singer’s life for his own, personal gain.
The #FreeBritney Movement and Framing Britney Spears
In November 2020, the court ruled once again that Spears’ father would remain in place as her conservator, alongside Bessemer Trust — a financial planning organization that manages financial assets for wealthy families. This is despite a growing fervor from the “Britney Army” that continues to demand she be released from her conservatorship. Adding immense amounts of fuel to the #FreeBritney is the Framing Britney Spears documentary that just debuted on Netflix this past weekend. The documentary traces a narrative that paints Spears’ father as the very controlling, dictatorial figure that many of the #FreeBritney movement’s followers claim him to be.
Whether a renewed onslaught of media attention is what the singer, who for decades has been plagued by suffocating levels of fame, needs to finally be freed Spears from the iron grasp of a ruthless and uncaring father, or whether the movement is a misguided nexus of misinformation and rumor-monger remains to be seen. What is certain is that the singer has made it clear she does not support the continued conservatorship under her father, for whatever reason, and continues to protest against it — reportedly refusing to perform until she regains personal and financial independence.
So it seems that fans of Spears would do well to wait by the sidelines. It’s unlikely Spears will be coming out with any new music until she manages to find some semblance of stability in her long-turbulent life.
What do you make of #FreeBritney and the pop-stars current status? Do you see an end in sight for the Princess of Pop’s interminable legal battles or do you think the conservatorship is a benevolent guard against self-destructive behaviors?