In July 10 2020, a Facebook post appeared about the #FreeBritney movement (evidently aimed at liberating Britney Spears), becoming hugely popular within just a few days:
The Text of the Post
The post — which was lengthy and full of details — began with an interpretation of Spears’ purported signals for help:
PSA on Britney Spears and the #FreeBritney movement for anyone that needs or wants more information on what is going on with her. It’s a fucking rabbit hole, so buckle up.
A little backstory first. Britney was a child star starting at the age of 4 years old on Broadway, and then worked her way to the Mickey Mouse Club, and eventually the solo career we know today. Her career has been on autopilot her entire life. If you look back at her music, she’s been telling everyone for years she’s too controlled and treated as a product if you listen to the lyrics of most of her hits. Examples include: Lucky, Overprotected, My Perogative, Circus, Piece of Me and Gimme More. Her music videos, social media posts, tour props and photoshoots regularly show her in a cage or in chains. If anyone has ever seen videos of her when she was younger, you’d know her REAL singing voice is very similar to Christina Aguilera’s. Her record label didn’t like it, as they were both on the Mickey Mouse Club and about to release their debut albums at the same time. So they had her voice retrained to sing in the baby voice we all know today because they believed it to be more iconic and would create a brand and career for her instead of her real voice. It’s unhealthy, and it’s been destroying her voice over the years, thus why she is known for lip syncing. She wanted to make an acoustic type pop album in 2006 titled Original Doll and reinvent herself using her real voice. The album was shelved and cancelled once her label realized she would be singing in her real voice. She isn’t allowed to sing live because she will either fail terribly, or she’ll have to sing in her deep voice that she isn’t known for. Her entire career she has been treated like a product meant to sell.
A subsequent section added the “real tea,” describing the events leading up to “the 2007 meltdown” and the legal quagmire which followed:
Leading up the meltdown Britney was going thru a public divorce, had two children under the age of 2 at the time and was VERY much the focus of the public. We all saw her on every magazine cover. We all also saw the photo of her with one of her kids on her lap while driving. Go on YouTube once and look up ‘Britney Spears paparazzi’. You’ll watch her be chased and followed by hundreds of them, even trying to get into a public restroom to photograph her, videotaping her in tears asking them to leave her alone, and even filming her thru the windows of an ambulance while she was naked being taken away for her final mental health hold.
After the public meltdown, shaving her head, locking herself in her home with her children, speaking in a british accent on regular basis, wearing the imfamous pink wig everywhere, and shopping naked, she was hospitalized twice. After the hospitalization, her father petitioned the courts to be a TEMPORARY conservator to her until she was mentally stable and for only one years time. 2 months after her hospitalization she did a guest appearance on How I Met Your Mother. 6 months after her hospitalization, she drops the Womanizer video and starts to promote her new album Circus with its worldwide tour that grossed $131.8 million. If she’s so unwell, why did she start working right away?
Her father after one year petitioned the courts for the conservatorship to become permanent due to her ALLEGEDLY having EARLY ONSET DEMENTIA in her TWENTIES. It passed and has been that way ever since. For 12 years to be exact.
Finally, the poster described the purported terms of Spears’ conservatorship, and legally-binding restrictions it placed upon her:
Britney Spears is a now 38 year old woman who is not allowed to do the following without her fathers permission or he can legally lock her up in a mental health facility:
• drive a car
• get married
• have children
• spend HER OWN MONEY
• see how her money is being spent
• see her children (she has 30% custody of both of her boys due to her dad assaulting one of her sons)
• leave her home
• hire her own lawyer
• have any control over her career
• speak about the conservatorship publicly
• do interviews that aren’t scripted and all final cuts are approved by her father as well
• use a cell phone without being monitored
• use social media unmonitored
• contact ANYONE without being monitored or having them extremely vetted. (Iggy Azalea allegedly had her house searched for drugs top to bottom when they collaborated on a song together)
• go shopping
• go for a walk
• get Starbucks
After several more paragraphs about Spears’ life under the terms of the conservatorship, the post’s author implores readers not to mock Spears:
So, when everyone sees her on Instagram walking up and down her hallways like it’s a fashion show. That’s all she is allowed to do. She has NEVER had control over her life. I don’t care if you personally like her or her music, NO ONE DESERVES THIS. All this woman wants is to see her children, make the music she wants to make, and go get a frappuccino in her car. She is a light of sunshine in this world, and we must protect her at all costs. So please, do not make fun of her, support the Free Britney movement, and send good vibes her way. She has a court date this month to review the conservatorship and decide if it is abusive or will continue to be in place. There are so many details to this that i left out that would make this post entirely much longer than it is, but a simple search will show you what else is out there. Spread this far and wide. ❤️ Free Britney
The ‘2007 Meltdown’ and Subsequent Events
A reverse chronology of Spears’ so-called “meltdown” published by CBS News in February 2007 began on February 6 2006, describing Spears’ visit from child protection officials after paparazzi photographers captured her driving with her son on her lap:
DCFS officials visit Spears’ home after publication of photographs showing the 24-year-old singer driving a sport utility vehicle in Malibu, Calif., with then 4-month-old Sean Preston in her lap, rather than in a car seat, as is required by law. She first blamed a “horrifying, frightful encounter with the paparazzi,” but later said it was a “mistake.” No charges were filed.
The timeline continued with successive reported visits from the same child welfare officials to Spears, who was pregnant at the time. The gossip column stories culminated in a June 16 2006 interview of Spears with former Today show host Matt Lauer.
Lauer asked her if she cried about all of the attention paid to her parenting. “Oh, I’ve wept, yeah,” she said. “I’ve definitely wept, with the world — how judgmental they are. But I know what kind of mom I am.” Spears, whose second child is due in September, told Lauer that she’s an emotional wreck.
“Not in a bad way,” she said. “Just, you know, I’ll start laughing hysterically, and then I’ll just start crying. It’s my hormones, so it’s nice to have my husband there to keep me company.”
The timeline then covered the birth of Spears’ second child, her split from then-husband Kevin Federline, and increasing media attention on her social life. Based on the 2007 timeline, it seemed Spears’ visits to nightclubs prompted additional scrutiny from state child protective services:
The New York Post reports [on December 6 2006] that the L.A. Dept. of Children & Family Services has been trying to set up a meeting with Spears. The calls start after a recent bout of bizarre public behavior,” a source told the newspaper. The Post reports that Spears’ family is also worried about her new party lifestyle – and antics with the paparazzi.
One day later, Spears was quoted as saying:
“Every move I make at this point has been magnified more than I expected, and I probably did take my newfound freedom a little too far. I look forward to a new year, new music and a new me!”
On February 17 2007, Spears’ movements again became fodder for a nascent internet gossip industry — resulting in widely-seen images of Spears shaving her head and visiting a tattoo parlor:
Spears is seen at a hair salon in Tarzana, Calif., shaving her head. Later, she was seen at a tattoo parlor getting inked on her hip and wrist. The “makeover” came the same day as reports on TV and Web sites that Spears, who has drawn criticism for her recent partying and sloppy behavior, had briefly checked into rehab at a treatment center in Antigua. Hair purportedly clipped from her head is now for sale on eBay.
Spears’ divorce from Federline remained acrimonious, and in October 2007, CBS reported:
A judge on [October 1 2007] ordered Britney Spears to turn over custody of her two children to ex-husband Kevin Federline [that] week.
Superior Court Judge Scott M. Gordon ruled that Federline will take custody of Sean Preston, 2, and Jayden James, 1, beginning [October 3 2007] “until further order of the court.”
The order stemmed from an unspecified oral motion made by Federline’s attorneys and was handled in a closed-door hearing. The judge’s order did not state the reason for the change in custody and he ordered all transcripts of the proceedings sealed.
Spears Is Involuntarily Committed, and the Conservatorship Begins
A Fox News biography of Spears covered the period during which she was placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold, and the beginning of the conservatorship at the heart of the #FreeBritney movement:
On Jan. 3, 2008, Spears was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center by paramedics after police were called to her home because of a dispute involving her two sons. Britney reportedly refused to hand them over to Federline.
An officer at the scene said Spears appeared to be “under the influence,” but subsequent reports said Spears is suffering from mental illness, not substance abuse.
At an emergency hearing the following day, a court commissioner suspended Spears’ right to visit her sons. The commissioner also gave sole physical and legal custody to Federline.
On Jan. 31 , Spears’ parents, psychiatrist and LAPD all reportedly worked together to once again commit Britney to the psychiatric ward at UCLA Medical Center.
The following day, Court Commissioner Reva Goetz ruled that Spears needed someone else to take over her personal and financial affairs. Spears’ father, James, and her attorney, Andrew Wallet, were granted conservatorship.
In early February , her stay at the hospital was extended for two weeks under a section in state law that allows patients to be kept for medical treatment if they are found to be gravely disabled or a danger to themselves or others, a person close to the pop star told The Associated Press.
Originally, the conservatorship was set to expire in December 2008. But in October of that year, Spears’ father was awarded indefinite or permanent control of nearly all aspects of her life:
In the public eye Britney Spears seems to have made a remarkable recovery, but behind-the-scenes it seems she still needs to be under conservatorship – permanently.
Lawyers for the pop princess asked that the temporary co-conservatorship (which was due to end on Dec. 31) be made permanent on [October 28 2008] and Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Riva Goetz granted the request.
Britney’s father Jamie will now have long-term control over her assets, estate and business affairs and Spears’s mental health will be closely monitored by a team of experts. The order will remain in tact until the 26-year-old has made a full and stable recovery.
Attorneys for Spears declined to comment on her current condition or how she feels about the status change.
The Advent of the ‘Free Britney’ Movement, Through 2019
The first mention we located of an effort to liberate Spears from the conservatorship was a December 2009 tabloid article describing Spears’ purported wish to end the restrictive arrangement:
… according to US reports Spears wants the courts to end her dad’s ‘conservatorship’ which he gained after she suffered her highly publicised meltdown at the beginning of last year.
Insiders claim Brit’s legal team have been gathering momentum and are set to have an evaluation of her progress made since her rehab woes.
Father Jamie was reportedly planning to release his strangle hold once the star’s touring is over but now he wants it to end ‘when the time is right’.
But Britney’s lawyers have been meeting with the LA commissioner in his chambers and the decision of her legal freedom is set to rest in the hands of a psychiatrist – or a ‘capacity expert’ – who is chosen by the court …
Spears’ father reportedly holds two ‘conservatorships’ over his famous daughter, 28, including one controlling her personal life and the other controlling her business brand.
In April 2013, a popular post shared to Reddit’s r/todayilearned discussed the issue:
TIL that Britney Spears is under a conservatorship which is reserved usually for people mentally ill or in vegetative state. Britney has reportedly stated that she wants to quit showbiz but she can’t make any personal or financial decisions of her life and is forced to continue. from todayilearned
That post linked to an April 2011 blog post about Spears’ heavily restricted life, addressing appearances in which Spears appeared disengaged from her role as a performer:
Yeah, we could blame Britney’s disinterest on drugs or nerves or stupidity or just being spoiled, that’d be easy — or you could blame her psychiatric meds (I promise, it’s totally possible to take Seroquel AND dance). But that’s not what seems to be going on here.
Britney Spears is over it.
The only problem? She’s not allowed to quit or even change her style because Dad’s in charge and Britney’s not legally allowed to make those decisions on her own anymore.
Britney is 29 and will turn 30 in December , which makes her about two months younger than me. Maybe that generational bond explains why so many of my peers are obsessed with Britney despite a general overall aversion to celebrity culture/pop music. And at 16, everybody wanted to be Britney Spears at least a little bit, including, hopefully, Britney herself, but now we’re older and wiser and things have changed and people have grown and it kinda seems like, at 29, most of us have lost interest in being Britney Spears, including, it would seem, Britney herself.
The post went on to make a case for ending the conservatorship, describing the entire situation in incredulous terms:
This is all the doing of Jamie Spears, her (allegedly) emotionally abusive recovered-addict father, who finally succeeded in his wrestle for Brit-Brit Control in February 2008. That was the year Britney’s public trainwreck (detailed poignantly in this Rolling Stone article) bottomed out and, while Britney was in the hospital, Jamie’s lawyers arranged the conservatorship that granted him exclusive rights to Britney’s personal life and financials. It was supposed to be temporary, just ’til she got back on her feet.
But when Britney got healthy, Jamie’s lawyers actually pushed for greater authority and, on October 28th of 2008, Jamie secured a permanent conservatorship. PERMANENT! So HE OWNS HER FOREVER!
Jenny Eliscu, who wrote Britney’s 2008 Rolling Stone cover story, said it’s “very rare for a young adult who is not extremely ill to have their rights assigned to a conservator.”
Many of the linked sources were no longer functional in July 2020, but one led to an October 2010 PsychCentral post questioning how the conservatorship had lasted as long as it had at the time:
Does anyone know why Britney Spears is still under conservatorship? I mean, besides Britney, her judge, and her dad?
So, I guess what I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around is why Judge Goetz thinks she still needs the conservatorship? It’s been nearly three years.
Of course, we only know what Britney or the media report (but let’s face it – if there’s some wild drama going on, the media’s gonna be on it), so maybe there are enough behind-the-scenes issues going on to make the judge hesitant … For now, all we know is that Britney Spears seems to be doing well and, even though she’s still under conservatorship, I think we can safely assume it won’t be for too much longer.
Interest in the terms of Spears’ conservatorship crested and waned over the years, before peaking again in the spring of 2019. At the time, a popular r/OutOfTheLoop post on Reddit addressed the #FreeBritney hashtag and its popularity at the time:
A top-level answer summarized the ongoing controversy:
Allegedly, Britney Spears is being held against her will in a mental health facility since mid-January that has some relations to her conservatorship, which she was put under in 2008 following her mental break. This information has come from the podcast, BritneysGram. More specifically, they had allegedly got a voicemail from someone they say could verify that they worked as a paralegal at a law office connected to Britney’s conservatorship.
Britney apparently wasn’t taking her meds any longer, refusing to use them, which then led to her Vegas residency being canceled and her being forced into the facility. Fans started #FreeBritney to try and make her gain freedom again – both in the sense of being free of the facility but also not being under the conservatorship any longer. Under the conservatorship, she wasn’t allowed to drive, date, own a phone, etc. She didn’t even own her own career – this feeds into the “baby voice” conspiracy as well as her Vegas residency being canceled last minute.
Here’s a Twitter thread going in-depth about her conservatorship, including sources and stuff so it’s not just hearsay either.
Edit: while not an official confirmation, Britney’s mother has been liking comments on both Facebook and Instagram in regards to Britney being forced into a mental health facility, which people are believing is her confirming the allegations.
A Twitter thread was linked in the reply, but it was initially inaccessible due to the suspension of the Twitter user. We located an archive of the thread, which alleged the conservatorship was corrupt and “incredibly shady & fraudulent.” It’s not clear why the account was suspended, or if the suspension had anything to do with the claims in the viral thread.
May 2019, Spears’ Case is Re-Evaluated and Social Media Interest Continues
On May 11 2019, the Associated Press reported on a hearing regarding Spears’ conservatorship — during which “about 20 Spears fans protested with signs that read ‘Free Britney’ and ‘End the conservatorship now.'”
That reporting emphasized the secrecy surrounding the hearing:
After hearing Britney Spears and her parents speak in a rare and secretive joint court appearance [in May 2019], a judge ordered an expert evaluation in the conservatorship that for 11 years has put control of much of the 37-year-old singer’s life in the control of her father.
Only the few left inside know what the three said in the courtroom that was closed to public and media shortly after the hearing began. But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny wrote in an order afterward that all had agreed on a so-called 730 expert evaluation, a process usually used to determine the mental health and competence of a parent in a divorce case.
For years, Spears has been publicly silent about the severe restrictions on her decisions put in place by the conservatorship established in 2008, when she was having serious personal and psychiatric struggles, many of which played out in public.
Conservatorship, known in many states as guardianship, is an involuntary status usually reserved for very elderly or very ill people who are suffering from dementia or otherwise incapacitated and unable to make decisions for themselves.
Rarely is it used for people as functional as Spears, who despite further problems — she has said in interviews that she struggles with bipolar disorder — has seen her career continue to thrive.
Clearly, Spears was not “freed” during those proceedings. In October 2019, USA Today reported that the situation was still under review and a matter of debate. That reporting heavily framed the conservatorship as not just tolerated by Spears, but desired:
“Everybody looks at conservatorship as a terrible thing foisted on her. I look at it as a success story,” [Los Angeles lawyer Troy] Martin says. “Britney was in a downward spiral, there were 5150s (involuntary temporary psychiatric holds) filed on her as a possible danger to herself or others. Her life was a wreck. … By all appearances, things are a heck of lot better now than they were in 2008.”
However, Martin was not involved with Spears’ case at any point. A Los Angeles Times piece a month earlier made similar claims, after a podcast about Spears’ conservatorship caused #FreeBritney to trend on Twitter earlier in 2019:
“The fact that she’s been under conservatorship for a dozen years should tell you something about the state of her mental impairment and her vulnerability,” said [lawyer Adam] Streisand, who specializes in high-profile wealth disputes. “The courts will do everything they can to ensure that a person is not conserved unless they really, really need to be.”
From late 2019 onward, interest in the #FreeBritney hashtag continued, as Spears conservatorship was extended once again on April 22 2020. An anonymous June 18 2020 post to Reddit’s r/legaladvice, since deleted, was interpreted by some fans to be from Spears:
Given the prominence of rumors about Spears as of June 2020, it was definitely possible the thread — “Conservatorship + Cosmetic Surgery – Please Help!” — was written by someone other than Spears attempting to draw attention to her alleged plight. An archived version of the post revealed it was submitted by u/uncertainsobelle, and it read:
Hi. I’m hoping you guys can help me understand my legal rights in my current situation. I live in the state of California and have been in a legal conservatorship for some time, I have two different conservators assigned to me, one for my personal affairs and the other handles my money and my business. I have had to do what they say in regards to doctors and treatments for a long time but now they are pushing me to get a cosmetic procedure that I do not want. They are telling me I ultimately have no rights or say in this decision and I’m really scared that they are right. Can anybody please tell me what to do or who I can speak to to report this? Thank you so much in advance for your help I am so grateful.
TikTok Users Get Involved
Interest spiked again in June and July 2020 — particularly creating discourse around Spears’ decision to wear a yellow shirt in a video. Purportedly, a commenter on a previous TikTok post by Spears urged her to wear a yellow shirt if she required help:
On July 2 2020, Spears posted a TikTok video in which very little occurred other than her wearing of a yellow shirt:
@britneyspears HOLY HOLY CRAP 😍 !!! My florist surprised me today by making the flower arrangement all different colors 💐 … just had to SHARE 🌸⭐️ !!!!♬ Blinding Lights – The Weeknd
A Redditor responding to the thread said of the “yellow shirt” element of the rumor:
There was a tik tok video she posted and the comments asked stuff like “wear a yellow shirt if you need help” and then in her most recent video after that one, she pointed out in her caption “… I’m so excited I just had to wear my yellow shirt”. She was talking about something else but yeah something is going on 🙁
The comment and video were the subject of a separate and very popular Facebook post on July 7 2020. On July 9 2020, a Facebook user claimed Spears again followed the colored shirt direction, this time with a blue shirt.
This was good enough for the internet. A petition started on July 9 2020 and titled “The conservatorship and civil liberties of Britney Spears” received nearly 30,000 signatures, and it read:
Since 2008 Britney Spears has been in a conservatorship that gives her conservator full control over her personal life & finances/estate. Conservatorships are typically used for those that are SEVERELY mentally ill. Since ‘08, she has been on 3 world tours with dangerous flying & fire stunts. It’s safe to say she is sane enough to feed and cloth herself. With this conservatorship she is unable to properly fight for her freedom as she isn’t legally allowed to hire her own lawyer. We need this petition so that Britney can hire her own lawyer and live a normal life as a 38 year old woman with two kids.
She has tried over the years to fight, attempts were shut down. Please look into this case. Every American deserves civil liberties.
On July 11 2020, photographer Andrew Gallery shared five videos to TikTok, purporting to share information about Spears and the conservatorship. The videos were broken up into five parts, all titled “my time with Britney Spears.” The fifth and final video was also titled “the letter”:
@andrewgalleryPART 5: MY TIME WITH @britneyspears ##freebritney ##britneyspears♬ original sound – andrewgallery
Gallery shared three blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pages of a letter he attributed to Spears, which we screen captured:
Although the #FreeBritney movement seemed to exist in some form as early as 2010 and 2011, it didn’t really pick up until the spring of 2019, when a podcast caused the hashtag to go viral on Twitter. Fans of Spears maintained that the conservatorship controlling her life in some form or another since 2008 was improper and possibly abusive. The very active user base of TikTok revived interest in the rumors in June and July 2020, primarily after Spears wore a yellow shirt in a July 2020 video and a commenter claimed that they had advised her to wear a yellow shirt if she needed help. As of July 2020, Spears remained under conservatorship.