Britney Spears has dominated headlines since 1999. The Princess of Pop's highs and lows have been endlessly dissected by fans and the media, from her cryptic smash hits to her infamous public breakdown in 2007. Now it's Britney Spears' conservatorship and the #FreeBritney movement that's center stage, with a new hearing on her conservatorship set to take place on Wednesday, July 22. And so #FreeBritney, once an online hashtag for the most devoted of fans, is back in the public eye, with Diet Prada and other blogs re-sharing details of her legal situation.
Despite the potentially alarming situation at hand, the legal intricacies and fan theories can be tough to sort through. So to help you figure out what's true and what's merely the stuff of speculation, we've broken down everything you need to know about #FreeBritney, so in the words of Brit Brit herself, you better work (or rather, read), b*tch.
How Does The Conservatorship Work?
Spears has been under what's known as a conservatorship since 2008, after the singer's tumultuous public breakdown. Basically, this means that the singer does not have control over her legal or business affairs. According to a 2016 report from The New York Times, Spears cannot make key personal or financial decisions without the approval of her conservators, her father, Jamie Spears, and lawyer Andrew M. Wallet. Despite fan speculation of what the singer is and isn't allowed to do on her own terms, the exact terms and restrictions of her conservatorship have never been made public.
Aside from the conservatorship essentially taking away much of Spears' autonomy, a major point of contention for fans is how Jamie has profited financially as her conservator. According to The Times, not only did he earn a $130,000 salary for his job, he was also awarded 1.5% of the gross revenues from her performances and merchandise sales connected to her Las Vegas residency, Britney: Piece of Me, despite his daughter being the one to put in work on stage.
The terms of Spears' conservatorship changed in September 2019, when Jamie requested to step down as her conservator "due to personal health reasons," People reported, following an alarming alleged physical altercation with Spears' son Sean Preston, 14. Wallet had previously stepped down from her case that March. The singer's longtime “care manager,” Jodi Montgomery, was temporarily approved to take over, but fans want more than just her father stepping down — they don't want anyone making decisions for Spears but herself. According to USA Today, as of October 2019, Jamie still had control over Spears' finances, with Montgomery stepping in to oversee her "security, visitors, and medical and psychiatric treatment." That same year, per The Times, the court appointed a lawyer, Samuel D. Ingham III, to review the terms of the conservatorship and act in Spears' interest.
What Does Spears Think Of Her Conservatorship?
Spears herself has rarely spoken of the conservatorship publicly, aside from her 2008 documentary, Britney: For the Record, in which she didn't specifically mention the conservatorship but seemed to be frustrated with her new situation. "I think it’s too in control," she said. "If I wasn’t under the restraints I’m under, I’d feel so liberated. Even when you go to jail, you know there’s the time when you’re going to get out. But in this situation, it’s never-ending."
Currently, it seems she has no official objections (legally speaking, at least). As reported by USA Today, Spears skipped a hearing on her conservatorship in September 2019, with her lawyer Samuel Ingham explaining that her absence meant she did "not object" to continuing the conservatorship.
How Did The #FreeBritney Movement Start?
Many fans have questioned the circumstances surrounding Spears' situation for a long time. In January of 2019, Spears' planned second Las Vegas residency, Britney: Domination, was canceled a month before it was set to open. At the time, Spears attributed the decision to her father's declining health, but TMZ later reported in April of that same year that Spears had actually checked into a mental health facility for 30 days. Neither Spears nor her team commented on the reports, but her former manager Larry Rudolph confirmed them in a later interview with TMZ in May.
When Spears addressed the news on Instagram, fans noticed that the singer used a text emoticon in the caption instead of her usual barrage of emojis. This, plus conflicting media reports about Jamie's health condition, raised suspicions about her situation and who was posting for her at the time.
The movement truly gained momentum thanks to the podcast Britney's Gram, which quickly turned from a tribute to Spears' iconic Instagram page into a full-blown investigation of her situation and well-being. On April 16, 2019, hosts and Spears super-fans Tess Barker and Barbara Gray received an anonymous voicemail from a man claiming to be a paralegal who worked for one of Spears' lawyers. Barker and Grey said they validated his profession and believed him to be a credible source, but did not disclose his identity. The man claimed that fans' worst fears had come true, insinuating that Jamie was forcing his daughter to take unnecessary medications and claiming that Jamie pulled the plug on Domination when Spears refused to take her prescribed medication. The claims have not been publicly verified by Spears or another source. Bustle reached out to attorneys for both Spears and Jamie for comment, but did not receive any immediate response.
According to this source, a January incident where she reportedly drove to In-N-Out without permission led Jamie to involuntarily check her into a facility in mid-January, not April as was previously reported. Neither Spears nor her camp has commented on the allegations, and it is not publicly confirmed whether Spears is even prescribed medication, although her now-former manager Rudolph did tell TMZ that Domination was canceled in part because her "meds stopped working." But for fans who were concerned for her well-being, this was enough to start an entire movement. Bustle reached out to attorneys for both Spears and Jamie for comment, but did not receive any immediate response.
What Is #FreeBritney Trying To Accomplish?
Since the jaw-dropping podcast investigation, fans have been using the #FreeBritney hashtag online to raise awareness about Spears' conservatorship, even going so far as to publicly speculate about how the singer might be restricted in her day-to-day life. (There have been claims that Spears isn't in charge of her social media. Supporters of the #FreeBritney movement want the singer to be freed from the conservatorship, and for her to be able to make her own decisions — whether they be legal, financial, medical, or personal — without any outside interference. The online movement spilled over into real life on April 22, 2019, when fans staged a #FreeBritney rally outside West Hollywood City Hall.
After the conservatorship was instated in 2008, Spears released a new album, Circus, that December and embarked on a massive world tour just months later. Since then, she's been on two more tours, released three studio albums, served as judge on The X Factor, and completed her hugely successful, four-year Vegas residency. Fans argue that if she can handle those huge ventures, why isn't she capable of making the legal and financial decisions behind them?
What Does Spears Think Of #FreeBritney?
Spears only indirectly addressed the movement in April 2019, when she asked fans to stop spreading rumors and give her family privacy in an Instagram post. Similarly, her family and team have never directly commented on the movement or any allegations. But Spears' mom, Lynne, who divorced Jamie in 2002 and is not legally involved in her daughter's conservatorship, reportedly liked several posts with the hashtag, including an Instagram comment that read, "I really hope you are supporting Britney in trying to end this conservatorship. I really hope your ailing ex-husband isn’t keeping your daughter somewhere against her will," as per Rolling Stone. But public support for #FreeBritney has only grown, with the hashtag even being used by celebs like Paris Hilton, Miley Cyrus, and even Real Housewives Luann de Lesseps and Leah McSweeney. Most recently, celebs like Rose McGowan have also spoken out in support of the movement.
What's Next For Spears' Conservatorship And #FreeBritney?
Spears is currently posting freestyle dance videos on Instagram and uplifting messages amid the coronavirus pandemic, keeping up fans' spirits in the chaos that is 2020. But the #FreeBritney movement is picking up steam yet again in the lead-up to upcoming hearings about her conservatorship. Most recently, ET reports, Lynne filed paperwork asking for more involvement in her daughter's finances, requesting to receive notice on "all matters" concerning a trust that's in place to protect the singer's assets and secure her two sons' futures. Back in May 2019, she specifically requested special notice about Spears' conservatorship without formally specifying why, hinting that she's also concerned about the effects of her daughter's situation.
Additionally, Spears' former photographer Andrew Gallery recently went public with a letter that he claims was written by the singer in third-person, in which she reportedly opened up about the infamous 2007-08 period and expressed dissatisfaction over her conservatorship, saying that she "has no rights." Bustle reached out to attorneys for both Spears and Jamie for comment, but did not receive any immediate response.
Spears' previous conservatorship hearings in September 2019 were closed to the public due to the sensitivity of what was discussed, according to The Los Angeles Times, so the events that transpired were not disclosed. As of now, the temporary orders put in place on her conservatorship after Jamie stepped down have been extended until Aug. 22, 2020, with Spears' next hearing set for Wednesday, July 22. While there's no telling what will happen, or even if the public will receive information on the status of her conservatorship going forward, here's hoping that the results are to Spears' satisfaction — and only hers.