Over the past few weeks, the #FreeBritney movement has been gaining traction across social media as fans of Britney Spears speculate about the star’s wellbeing and freedom. As of July 30, the hashtag had over 108,000 posts on Instagram and 153.1 million views on TikTok; over 243,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org calling for Spears to have the right to hire her own lawyer, so she can exit the conservatorship she’s been held in since 2008.
The #FreeBritney movement is not a new development. Some cite the Breathe Heavy fansite as the origin of the hashtag, saying it began in 2009. Others credit Tess Barker and Barbara Gray for starting the movement on their podcast, Britney’s Gram, in 2017. Regardless of when the movement began, the more important question is why? And why is it trending again now?
Whether #FreeBritney began on a fansite in 2009 or a podcast in 2017, the driving force behind the movement has always been concern over Spears’ conservatorship. In the state of California, where Spears resides, “a conservatorship is a court case where a judge appoints a responsible person or organization (called the ‘conservator’) to care for another adult (called the ‘conservatee’) who cannot care for himself or herself or manage his or her own finances.”
The conservatorship was put in place after several instances of Spears’ erratic behavior that took place between 2007 and 2008. Many of her breakdowns were in public, and they were extensively covered by paparazzi and tabloids.
Vox outlines the events that led to Spears’ conservatorship, describing how she yelled at the paparazzi in a British accent, shaved her own head, attacked a car with an umbrella, was in and out of rehab and was placed under a psychiatric hold twice. The culmination of these events was Spears’ father petitioning for conservatorship in early 2008. His request was granted, and as of July 2020, Spears remains under her guardians’ control.
Since the performer was initially placed under conservatorship, fans have spoken out against it and repeatedly called for the singer’s freedom. When you look into why conservatorships are typically used, it’s easy to see why people are concerned Spears’ guardians are abusing their power over her.
Conservatorships, which are also known as guardianships in some U.S. states, are most often used for older adults who suffer from dementia or another age-related mental disorder. They are occasionally used for people suffering from severe mental illness, but that’s much less common. According to Forbes, to obtain a conservatorship in California, the person has to be unable to provide for their own basic needs, incapable of making medical decisions and unable to manage their own financial affairs.
For Spears, her conservatorship means that for the past 12 years, control over many aspects of her finances, career and personal life has been passed between her father, her ex-attorney, Andrew Wallet, and her care manager, Jodi Montgomery.
Spears has been wildly successful since 2008. Since being placed in the conservatorship, she has released several albums, worked as a judge on “The X Factor,” embarked on four world tours and held a concert residency in Las Vegas, yet she doesn’t have control over any of the money she has earned from her various endeavors.
In fact, her father profits from acting as her conservator with a yearly salary of $130,000 in addition to 1.5% of the gross revenue from Spears’ Las Vegas residency. In 2018, Spears’ other conservator, Wallet, was approved for a raise that brought his salary to $426,000 for his role in managing Spears’ estate.
People behind the #FreeBritney movement argue that Spears’ successful career over the past 12 years proves she no longer meets the requirements for conservatorship. They speculate that she is being manipulated, controlled and even held captive by her conservators and others in her life.
Spears’ recent social media posts have caused the resurgence of conspiracy theories regarding her freedom. On June 26, she posted a TikTok dedicated to her LGBTQ+ fans in celebration of Pride Month. The video’s top comments include “Save Britney 2020,” comments that she looked like she had been drugged and one comment asking Spears to “wear a yellow shirt in your next video if you need help.”
The comment asking Spears to wear yellow eventually gained over 210,000 likes and, sure enough, in her next video she appeared wearing a yellow crop top. The video was posted less than a week later and features Spears awkwardly walking on and off camera to the sound of The Weeknd’s song “Blinding Lights.”
The comments are a mix of people making fun of the video and people who appear genuinely concerned for Spears’ wellbeing, but all of them acknowledge how uncomfortable and perplexing the video is, which is why members of the #FreeBritney movement have viewed it as a cry for help.
On July 10, Andrew Gallery posted a series of TikTok videos that also fueled the newfound concern for the singer. In the videos, Gallery mentioned that he used to work with Spears in 2008 and 2009. He read from a letter supposedly given to him by the singer during that time. The letter claims that Spears has been “silenced to speak about anything that’s really going on,” and a portion of the letter that had been crossed out appears to say that “if she speaks up she is threatened” with having her children taken away.
After finishing the letter, Gallery said he was unable to speak out about it before due to being under a contract, but he was inspired to reveal the letter now because of his concern for Spears. In the last video, Gallery includes photos of the original letter. Comments from fans claim that although the letter is written in the third person, it’s clearly in Britney Spears’ handwriting.
On top of Spears’ concerning posts on social media, the speculation that she included coded messages asking for help and the letter about the conservatorship revealed by Gallery, the enthusiasm behind the #FreeBritney movement was prompted by the fact that the next court hearing regarding Spears’ conservatorship was scheduled for July 22.
Fans planned a #FreeBritney rally for the day of the hearing, and dozens of supporters appeared outside of a Los Angeles courthouse with signs calling for Spears’ freedom and the end of the conservatorship.
Unfortunately, the July court date didn’t result in any new decisions about Spears’ situation. The singer was scheduled to appear for the hearing virtually, but according to The Blast, she never showed up — apparently due to technical difficulties. The new hearing is supposedly scheduled for Aug. 19, so it seems like the world will have to wait a little longer to see if Spears is finally freed from her conservatorship or not.