Anybody who has social media has inevitably seen the viral #FreeBritney movement: conspiracy theories, celebrity support, court cases and legal enforcements. Following the #FreeBritney movement is equivalent to falling down a rabbit hole, eventually landing in a messy, complicated, conspiracy rumour mill. In a nutshell, the movement is fighting for the release of Britney Spears from her conservator agreement. What is most difficult about this movement, beyond our own emotional attachment, is our powerlessness – no hashtag, video, campaign or protest can infiltrate through Britney’s the layers of legal ‘protection’, publicists, family and her social media façade. To Britney Spears’ ride-or-die fanbase, those who are currently campaigning for her release, this is simply an obstacle to overcome; outside of the movement, however, it reminds us how little we truly know about Britney and her lifestyle and, consequently, how wrong we could be.
Back in 2008, Britney momentously shaved her head. Followingly, the world went wild, memes were made, jokes were made, and even today photos from this moment circulate the internet as a pop-reference, for example ‘If I had to rate my stress, I’d say I’m pretty close to 2007 Britney’ and ‘If Britney can make it through 2007, I can make it through today’. Yet today we know this is an ignorant and insensitive joke, since Britney’s shaved head has since come to signpost her struggles with Bipolar Disorder and an episode of mania. It is this point which many fans pinpoint as the beginning of Britney’s conservatorship with her father (in 2008), one of the moments which led to the transference of Britney’s autonomy over her estate, assets and business affairs, to Jamie Spears. Notably, this was intended to be a temporary response to Britney’s declining mental health. However, to her fans, it is a red flag, an inhumane form of control, since Britney – now 38 – appears healthy, happy and in the prime of her life. But remember, this is through a screen: everything we know is from carefully contrived tweets, Instagram posts and TikToks and, although Britney is said to have freedom over her social media presence, we are unable to distinguish between the truth, the fabricated and the lies. Are we informed enough to make such strong judgements?
Fast forward to September 2nd, 2020, Britney’s lawyer fought for the legal proceedings regarding a conservator to be made public as opposed to hidden and undercover. Later in November 4th 2020, Britney filed an official motion to regain autonomy, removing her father as a co-conservator. Followingly, November 10th, 2020, the judge denied her request. Reading into these legal events, the #FreeBritney movement has gained both speed and legitimacy because it is difficult to conclude anything other than Britney’s unhappiness with her current arrangements.
When taking a look at Britney Spears’ TikTok and Instagram account, it is easy to see why people believe that something isn’t right; a childlike innocence is juxtaposed to somewhat erratic and unexplained behaviour. This is the fuel for the #FreeBritney movement. On the one hand, Britney reassures her followers ‘I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life’ in an Instagram video, but on the other, fans claim this doesn’t add up.
“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life“Britney Spears
On TikTok, her most viewed video – having been played 29.5M times – shows Britney twirling around with a bouquet of flowers, explained in her caption as a surprise from her florist which she ‘just had to SHARE’. Initially, Britney is glowing, smiling and dancing with the flowers however the video progresses so that we watch her walk back and forth, from left to right, on a continuous loop whilst posing at the camera. Expectedly, the comment section is wild and ranges from accusations of a mental health episode and secret clues and hints from Britney herself regarding what many deem her captivity. To watch the video is without doubt confusing, perhaps even uncomfortable, but what it neglects to tell us is the reason and purpose behind the video. It could be that the #FreeBritney movement is reading into something which isn’t there; it could be that the #FreeBritney movement is on point, and Britney does need helping. Perhaps it is both, and perhaps it is none: again, the difficulty is that we just don’t know.
More than 15 years later, The New York Times’ ‘Framing Britney Spears’ documentary has resurfaced the movement, as society is re-introduced to the private life of their forgotten sweetheart. In response, publications, celebrities and fans echo ‘We’re sorry Britney’, recognising their toxic part in Britney’s breakdown. On the 12th February 2020, we were told of the court’s denial of Jamie Spears’ request for additional control over Britney’s finances, insisting instead he shares the role with (court appointed) Bessemer Trust.
Although we may try to figure everything out, we cannot. No matter how many articles we read, videos we watch or posts we find, any viewpoints we might form will remain only a theory until we gain more understanding and access into the life of Britney Spears. Until then, it is important to remember that regardless of your view on #FreeBritney, the media must change to become more responsible and considerate. Britney Spears, undeniably, is only a human being: a woman who rose to fame as a vulnerable, impressionable 11-year-old. The ignorant unsensitivity with which the paparazzi, tabloids, gossip magazines and society treated Britney is perhaps the most prominent take-away to this story. Until this changes, the freedom of Britney – and her fellow celebrities – will never be possible.
Words by Hannah Emery