Addressing a Los Angeles Superior Court judge via a remote connection, Britney Spears on Wednesday afternoon made her most public statement to date about her long-running conservatorship. For over a decade, the pop star's life has been ruled by an atypical court-dictated legal arrangement that removes practically all autonomy from her life. Until now, she has remained mostly quiet on the subject.
In a passionate statement to the judge, she pleaded for the conservatorship to end. According to tweets sent by observers on the scene, and some audio that was heard by NPR, Spears was sternly open and outspoken about her situation.
"I feel ganged up on, I feel bullied and I feel left out and alone," Spears said. "And I'm tired of feeling alone."
She detailed parts of her life that had been unknown. She said that she is being exploited and that she can't sleep, is depressed and cries every day.
Spears recalled one incident in which she didn't want to do an additional run of shows in Las Vegas. She felt relieved when her handlers said she didn't have to do the shows anymore but suspected there would be consequences. Days later, Spears said her therapist told her that he heard she was being uncooperative. She said he then changed her medication regimen.
In another shocking revelation, Spears said that she wanted to have another child but has been forced to keep an IUD in place.
Throughout her statement, Spears reminded the judge that it was her work financially supporting the people controlling her — namely her father, Jamie Spears.
"All I want is to own my money and for this to end," she said.
The plea may be Spears' final public say on the matter. Through her lawyer, Samuel Ingham III, she said that the statement was all she wanted the public to hear and suggested that proceedings from now on be sealed.
Jamie Spears, who has been in charge of Spears' conservatorship, said through his lawyer that he's sorry to see his daughter in so much pain and that he misses her and loves her very much.
The hearing ended without resolution.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny called Spears' remarks "courageous" and said Spears would have to file a formal petition asking for the conservatorship to end before she could render a decision.
Before Wednesday, after a recent New York Times and FX documentary, Framing Britney Spears, reignited interest in her story and the wider #FreeBritney movement, she had shied away from public comment, but did share some thoughts on social media.
"I didn't watch the documentary but from what I did see of it I was embarrassed by the light they put me in," she wrote in an Instagram caption in March. "I cried for two weeks and well .... I still cry sometimes !!!!"
On Tuesday, The New York Times, citing recently obtained confidential court records, reported that Spears has been trying to fight her conservatorship for years.
"She articulated she feels the conservatorship has become an oppressive and controlling tool against her," a court investigator wrote in a 2016 report. The system had "too much control," Ms. Spears said, according to the investigator's account of the conversation. "Too, too much!"
"Ms. Spears informed the investigator that she wanted the conservatorship terminated as soon as possible. "She is 'sick of being taken advantage of' and she said she is the one working and earning her money but everyone around her is on her payroll," the investigator wrote.
"In 2019, Ms. Spears told the court that she had felt forced by the conservatorship into a stay at a mental health facility and to perform against her will."
You can find more details about the history of her conservatorship here, but these are the broad strokes:
In 2008, Jamie Spears gained control of all aspects of his daughter's life after the singer publicly struggled with her mental health. (As the Framing Britney Spears documentary brought new attention to her case, it also started some soul-searching among media types who farmed her mental health issues for tabloid headlines.) Everything from her performances to her finances to her relationships with her two now-teenage sons was under her father's control.
The pop star's fans began to question the ethics and legality of the arrangement, and under the banner #FreeBritney, they have sustained a lengthy campaign to see it end.
During this time, Britney Spears continued working — putting out platinum-selling albums, doing TV gigs and mounting a hugely successful four-year residency in Las Vegas. She had no control over the financial arrangements of any of these projects.
In a 2020 court filing, Spears asked the court to suspend her father from his role as conservator and refused to perform if he remained in charge of her career. As a result, a wealth-management company became a co-conservator for her finances, but her father presently remains the main conservator for all other aspects of Spears' life.
An earlier version of this story mistakenly said Britney Spears wrote the Instagram caption in March 2020. She wrote it in March of this year.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Pop star Britney Spears has not been in control of her professional, financial or personal life for more than a decade. She's under something called a conservatorship, controlled mostly by her father, Jamie Spears. Her story got renewed attention after a recent New York Times documentary called "Framing Britney Spears" looked at her case. Now, Spears did not speak with the filmmakers. In fact, she has been mostly silent on the matter until earlier today, when she made her first public statements about it at a hearing. NPR's Andrew Limbong is here with us now to tell us more.
ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: All right. So this hearing was this afternoon. Can you just tell us what happened?
LIMBONG: OK. Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, fans and reporters trying to get in and listen, you know, to the court proceedings crashed the Los Angeles County Court website. So there had been some technical difficulties and delays to get in. You know, I myself didn't - only caught, like, quite the tail end.
LIMBONG: Some fan accounts have actually been able to get access to the stream and have been posting snippets of what she's been saying. You know, these are accounts like FreeBritney Live and Britney Law Army. And then outside the courtroom, there's, you know, a gaggle of people and fans and FreeBritney supporters who are reading some of these tweets out loud to the group as everybody sort of, like, cheers along for her.
CHANG: Well, what are these snippets of tweets saying?
LIMBONG: Well, so this is the most outspoken she's really been about her situation. You know, she says that she's - her life is being exploited and she can't sleep and she's depressed and she cries every day. You know, she's really lacking any autonomy in her life, in, you know, all aspects of her life. One of the more, I guess, gruesome details would be she said that she, you know, wanted to get married and have another baby, but she has an IUD in place. And under her agreement, she says that she's not allowed to take it out and have another baby.
CHANG: Wow. OK, well, just to give everyone some context here, Britney Spears has tried for a long time to get out of this conservatorship, right?
LIMBONG: Yeah, actually, for a bit, according to a New York Times article just published yesterday. You know, they got - they unearthed some confidential court records. She's been trying to get out as early as 2014. You know, according to The Times, Spears has been working in private with the court to try and get her father removed as her main conservator. She says that she was afraid of him and that the system had too much control over her life. There's another stunning detail in that reporting that says that she felt forced to stay at a mental health facility. And she also felt, you know, forced to perform against her will.
There was a - there's a small public move last year. Her lawyer stated in a court filing that she strongly opposed her father as a conservator and refused to perform if he remained in charge of her career. Now, you know, that didn't remove him from power, but it did add a third party - a trust management company - to sort of be a co-conservator to her estate, which, you know, I should add, you know, it's - her estate is worth a lot. She's worth a lot of money, and none of that is accessible to Spears herself.
CHANG: So interesting - she has had this huge fan base behind her...
CHANG: ...Rallying under the #FreeBritney hashtag. Tell us, what are you hearing from some of these fans or reading online?
LIMBONG: I think it's a lot to process. You know, it's a lot emotionally. But I do think that they are feeling somewhat, at least, vindicated or emboldened. You know, every pop star has their, you know, so-called stan army, but not every pop star has people like Cher tweeting out yesterday that she's making calls and trying to help free Britney.
LIMBONG: And I think this is a movement that, you know, it's fair to say wasn't taken super-seriously until relatively recently, and it's gaining all the more steam. And Britney herself - she's only sort of, like, winked at the movement, at the campaign. But, you know, just hours before her hearing, her boyfriend actually posted himself on an Instagram story wearing a FreeBritney shirt, so it's really gaining some attention.
CHANG: Fascinating saga - that is NPR's Andrew Limbong.
Thank you, Andrew.
LIMBONG: Thanks, Ailsa.
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