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The Britney Spears Conservatorship, #FreeBritney, and How We Got Here

If you’ve been on Twitter over the past few months, you may have come across the #FreeBritney hashtag.

Since 2008, Britney Spears has been under a conservatorship, which we’ll get into more in a bit, but essentially means that she has the rights of a child in the eyes of the law. The conservatorship is currently permanent, but for the past year or so, fans have been rallying for the pop superstar to be set free and to have her full rights restored to her.

Now, because this all began in early 2008, we’re going to do our best to break it all down for you and help you understand exactly what’s going on in the world of Britney Spears.

2008 — Hospitalisations and the beginning of the conservatorship

It was January 4, 2008, when Britney was first placed under a 5150 hold, which is an involuntary 72-hour psychiatric evaluation. After a long night regarding a custody dispute with ex-husband Kevin Federline, paparazzi were on the scene to capture the heartbreaking photos seen around the world of Britney being wheeled out on a gurney and into the ambulance, which they followed to the hospital. Classy! Despite a 5150 being a three-day evaluation, Britney was released from the hospital the next day.

On January 31st, Britney was placed under a second 5150 — with rumours that her family had been working with the LAPD to get Britney back to the hospital — and while hospitalised, the courts placed Britney under the temporary conservatorship of her father, Jamie Spears. When Britney tried to hire a lawyer to resist the conservatorship, she was deemed mentally unfit to select her own attorney, although she does have a court-appointed legal advocate.

The conservatorship covers not only her business and financial matters but also all of her personal affairs, down to what she wears and who she dates. Basically? If Britney wants $20 of her $47 million estates, she has to ask permission. If her dad wants her to brush her hair before she leaves the house, she has to do it. If papa Spears doesn’t like Britney’s boyfriend, she has to dump him. She’s not allowed to drive, she’s not allowed to vote, she’s not allowed to get married or pregnant, amongst other restrictions. It’s a whole thing.

Two months after being placed under conservatorship, Britney made her first guest appearance on How I Met Your Mother, and by the time September’s MTV VMA awards rolled around, Britney became the most awarded woman of the night. In a highly-promoted return to the spotlight, promos of Britney with host Russell Brand ran on TV in the lead up to the event, with no mention of the quite literal elephant in the room.

The next month, the conservatorship — which had been due to end in December of 2008 — was made permanent.

In the lead up to the release of her Circus album, MTV aired a documentary titled Britney: For The Record, in which Britney spoke about her life being too controlled, and compared her situation to a life sentence without parole.

Britney celebrated her 27th birthday with the release of her album Circus on December 2, 2008, and by March of 2009 — just 14 months after her second involuntary psychiatric hold — she was back on the road with The Circus Starring Britney Spears world tour.

She did, however, make another bid for freedom and attempted to hire her own lawyer. In a leaked voicemail from Britney to a lawyer, Britney claimed that her father was using her visitation with her sons Sean Preston and Jayden James as leverage to get her to go along with the conservatorship. Under the conservatorship, she cannot have custody of the boys, but has been given extended visitation that amounts to at least a 50/50 split with ex-husband Kevin Federline.

The early 2010s, The X Factor and Jason Trawick

Throughout the early 2010s, fans began speculating that Britney — looking noticeably lethargic on stage and less-than-enthused when giving interviews — was being heavily medicated and essentially forced to perform when she didn’t want to.

Meanwhile, legal experts were questioning the star’s consistently heavy workload, and whether she still needed to be under conservatorship if she was able to maintain such a schedule, seemingly without trouble.

In 2011, Britney announced her Jamie-Spears-approved-engagement to Jason Trawick, who had joined her management team before their relationship became romantic in 2009. When the question of whether this would see the end of the conservatorship was raised, Jason was added as co-conservator of Britney’s personal affairs (but not her finances). When the couple split near the end of 2012, Jason resigned as co-conservator, making Jamie Spears the sole conservator once again.

Everything remained pretty much the same through Britney’s next album era and the beginning of her Las Vegas Piece Of Me residency, as she remained, for the most part, unenthused through the promotion of Britney Jean. A critically panned album that was heavily promoted as being her “most personal record yet”, many fans believe Britney Jean barely even features Britney herself singing, alleging instead that the majority of the album’s vocals are by Myah Marie, Britney’s backup singer.

A widely-circulated interview clip from the era, in which Britney ponders the notion of throwing herself off a cliff, has been used by fans as an example of her headspace at the time and desire for both freedom and control over her own life.

The Glory era, and the Las Vegas residencies

In 2015, however, Britney suddenly became reinvigorated, performing her Vegas shows with more energy than fans had seen in years, and seemingly having a good time. Notably, she also wore a top with the words “YOU DON’T OWN ME” bedazzled on it while performing.

This energy carried through to 2016’s Billboard Music Awards, where she performed a medley of hits and received the Millennium Award.

Things were looking up. Later in 2016, she would go on to release her ninth studio album, Glory, and appear generally happier and more relaxed than she had in years, both on stage and while doing the promotional rounds for the album.

While appearing on The Jonathan Ross show in the UK, fans in the audience reported that she spoke about the conservatorship in relation to her past music and how she had been “strategic” about making sure that this album was true to her vision. The talk of the conservatorship did not make it to air.

Shortly after the end of Britney’s Piece of Me residency, the long-rumoured next residency, Domination, was announced. From there, it seemed like it was all systems go. Britney was posting clips from her high energy dance rehearsals where she seemed in good spirits, until out of the blue, she announced the cancellation of the entire show, citing her father’s ill health.

View this post on Instagram

I don’t even know where to start with this, because this is so tough for me to say. I will not be performing my new show Domination. I’ve been looking forward to this show and seeing all of you this year, so doing this breaks my heart. However, it’s important to always put your family first… and that’s the decision I had to make. A couple of months ago, my father was hospitalized and almost died. We’re all so grateful that he came out of it alive, but he still has a long road ahead of him. I had to make the difficult decision to put my full focus and energy on my family at this time. I hope you all can understand. More information on ticket refunds is available on britneyspears.com. I appreciate your prayers and support for my family during this time. Thank you, and love you all… always.

A post shared by Britney Spears (@britneyspears) on

Okay, we’ve made it this far, and this is where things get really confusing.

Three days after announcing the cancellation of Domination, Britney was spotted driving through a drive-thru. A reminder: one of the conditions of the conservatorship is that Britney isn’t allowed to drive.

Following this, Britney went off the grid, both figuratively and literally, with no posts being uploaded to her Instagram between January 13 and April 4 in 2019.

#FreeBritney begins

Britney’s return to Instagram was prompted by the podcast Britney’s Gram. Hosted by comedians Tess Barker and Barbara Gray, the podcast received a voicemail from a man who claimed to be a former paralegal who worked on Britney’s conservatorship case and was concerned for her wellbeing.

He alleged that Britney had stopped taking her medications at some point during the rehearsals for Domination, which prompted Jamie to offer an ultimatum: Take your meds, or I’ll cancel the show. She refused, so Jamie cancelled the residency.

Although news broke in April that Britney was in a mental health facility, the podcast’s source claimed that she hadn’t been there for a week, as was being reported, but rather, that she had been institutionalised in mid-January 2019 after the photo of her driving with boyfriend Sam Asghari surfaced.

With #freebritney trending and Britney’s own mother, Lynne Spears, liking comments from fans stating that Britney had been hospitalised against her will, Britney returned to Instagram in a short video.

Assuring fans that all was well, Britney called the rumours surrounding her hospitalisation “out of control” and said that she “just needed time to deal”.

View this post on Instagram

I wanted to say hi, because things that are being said have just gotten out of control!!! Wow!!! There’s rumors, death threats to my family and my team, and just so many things crazy things being said. I am trying to take a moment for myself, but everything that’s happening is just making it harder for me. Don’t believe everything you read and hear. These fake emails everywhere were crafted by Sam Lutfi years ago… I did not write them. He was pretending to be me and communicating with my team with a fake email address. My situation is unique, but I promise I’m doing what’s best at this moment 🌸🌸🌸 You may not know this about me, but I am strong, and stand up for what I want! Your love and dedication is amazing, but what I need right now is a little bit of privacy to deal with all the hard things that life is throwing my way. If you could do that, I would be forever grateful. Love you ❤️❤️❤️

A post shared by Britney Spears (@britneyspears) on

At an annual hearing regarding the conservatorship last May, Britney allegedly asked the judge to “consider ending” the conservatorship. With fans picketing the hearing outside the court, both Jamie and Lynne attended the hearing, and Lynne filed a motion to be kept up-to-date with everything regarding Britney’s medical situation.

Meanwhile, Andrew Wallace, one of the lawyers working on Britney’s conservatorship case resigned in May and asked that he be removed from the case ASAP, writing: “Substantial detriment, irreparable harm and immediate danger will result to the conservatee and her estate if the relief requested herein is not granted on an ex parte basis.”

A source close to Britney told CNN that it’s not the first time Britney has asked for the conservatorship to end, but said that it wasn’t surprising, either.

“Of course she wants it to end, because she’s not of the right mental state to understand her issues,” they said. “She has a mental illness and that doesn’t mean she needs to be locked up. It puts her somewhere in the middle. She’s working on it. It’s a struggle on a daily basis.”

This source — who is in favour of the conservatorship — maintained that Britney entered the mental health facility in late March of her own free will.

“When her dad got sick, it really affected her,” the source explained. “She couldn’t focus on her tour and she started to miss doses of her medication. Anyone who knows anything about taking prescription medication knows that you can’t just get on and off of it.”

Cut to August, when Kevin filed a restraining order against Jamie on behalf of his sons, alleging that Jamie physically assaulted his eldest son. The request was granted, and a revised custody agreement left Britney with 30% unsupervised custody.

After Judge Brenda Penny’s May order to have an expert evaluate the conservatorship case, there was a follow-up hearing in September, which fans also picketed, and it was around this time when Britney made some cryptic comments about her love for freedom on her Instagram.

Although the conservatorship remained in place, Jamie Spears requested that he temporarily be replaced as conservator of Britney’s personal wellbeing, citing his own ill health as the reason. The request was granted, and Jodi Montgomery — Britney’s longtime care manager — was made conservator of Britney the person (Britney’s finances remained under Jamie’s control). This temporary shift expired at the end of January, and Jamie is once again Britney’s primary conservator.

After a brief hearing at the end of January 2020, the court decided to push the full hearing back to April 23, 2020, with the full conservatorship staying in place until then.

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