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Britney Spears is one of the biggest music stories in the world right now, but it’s not because of her music.

The Ballad of Britney Spears



Britney Spears is one of the biggest music stories in the world right now, but it’s not because of her music.

It's to do with the saga of her controversial 13 year long conservatorship.

In 2019 the Free Britney hashtag and movement went viral. More recently we’ve seen a series of documentaries covering the issue, and the story has grown and grown.

Then, a few weeks ago, after years of silence, we saw Britney finally speak out publicly. 

She confirmed years worth of speculation regarding her conservatorship, and perhaps most importantly, the role her father Jamie Spears has played in all of it.

So could the 13 year battle to free Britney finally be coming to an end?

Guest: Editor of Music Junkee, Jules LeFevre

Show Transcript

Archival Tape -- News reporter:

“Britney Spears has just dropped a bombshell.”

 

Archival Tape -- News reporter:

“She came after everybody, her parents, her family, her managers, her handlers.”

 

Archival Tape -- News reporter:

“Britney Spears, clearly angry and upset, says she wanted the abusive and controlling behaviour to end.” 

 

Archival Tape -- News reporter:

“A bombshell report about Britney Spears. The superstar called 911 to report alleged abuse the night before that dramatic court testimony.

 

Archival Tape -- Protesters:

“What do we want? Free Britney! When do we want it? Now!”

 

OSMAN:

Hey there, I'm Osman Faruqi and welcome to The Culture, a weekly show from Schwartz Media, where we take a deep dive into the latest in the world of music, streaming, TV, film and everything in arts and entertainment

 

Britney Spears is one of the biggest stories in the world right now. 

 

But it's not really because of her music. She hasn't released a new single or a new record. She’s not announcing a new tour.

 

She’s in the news because of the saga around her controversial 13 year long conservatorship.

It’s not really a new story either, 13 years is a really long time. But for most of that period is really just hardcore Britney fans were talking about. 

 

Then in 2019 we saw the #FreeBritney hashtag and movement go viral. More recently We've seen a series of documentaries covering the issue, and the story has just grown and grown.

 

A few weeks ago, after years of silence, we saw Britney finally speak out publicly.

 

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“After I’ve lied and told the whole world I’m okay and happy, it’s a lie. I thought maybe if I said that enough I’d become happy because I’ve been in denial, I'm in shock, I am traumatised.”

 

OSMAN:

She confirmed years worth of speculation about her conservatorship, and perhaps most importantly, the role her father Jamie Spears has played in all of it

 

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“Ma’am, my dad and anyone involved in this conservatorship and my management who played a huge role in punishing me when I said… no... ma'am they should be in jail. Their cool tactics working for Miley Cyrus when she smokes on joints on stage at the VMA’s, nothing is ever done to this generation for doing wrong things. But my precious body whose worked for my dad for the past fuckin 13 years trying to be so good and pretty, so perfect when he worked me so hard, when I do everything I’m told and the state of California allowed my ignorant father to take his own daughter who only has a role with me if I work with him, they set back the whole course and allowed him to do that to me? That’s given these people I’ve worked for way too much control…”

 

OSMAN:

That court hearing proved to be pivotal. For the first time, Britney Spears been allowed to hire her own lawyer, who's vowed to pursue an end to the conservatorship 

 

So could the 13 year old battle to free Britney finally be coming to an end?

 

Joining me on this episode of The Culture, to chat about Britney’s journey so far and where it might go from here, is Jules LeFevre, the editor of Music Junkee. Jules, thank you so much for joining me on the show. 

 

JULES: 

Thank you so much Os. It's so great to be here. I'm a big, big fan. 

 

OSMAN:

That’s extremely kind of you, thank you so much. Um, Jules, take me to the beginning. Where does all of this start?

 

JULES: 

Yeah. God, there's, there's a lot to get into. But you're right that the Free Britney movement, I think, really entered public consciousness probably in early 2019. And it's not saying, as you mentioned, that fans have been advocating for this all the way back since 2009. 2009 is actually the first instance where we saw Free Britney as a phrase. And it popped up on a fan website called Breathe Heavy, which is run by just a Britney fan because he was concerned about these reports that Britney didn't have access to a phone. So this has been bubbling along for almost as long as the conservatorship has actually been going on. But in 2019, a couple of things happened. One was that she entered a mental health facility and postponed her upcoming Las Vegas residency, Britney Domination. 

Archival Tape -- News reporter:

“Britney Spears delivered some heartbreaking news today, January 4th, announcing on Instagram that her new Vegas show Britney Domination will not be happening as her fathers health is ailing.”

 

JULES: 

And in April 2019, it was reported that she checked into a mental health facility, amid these reports that she was really struggling to deal with, with an illness that Jamie Spears had. 

 

Archival Tape -- News reporter:

“A source telling people that Britney Spears checked herself into a facility on Wednesday for a quote all encompassing wellness treatment. This comes after news of her father Jamie's declining health.”

 

JULES: 

But around that time, at the same month, this anonymous voicemail was, was sent to a podcast called Britney's Gram 

 

Archival Tape -- Britney’s Gram:

“Hi there, I cannot disclose who I am”

 

JULES: 

which is...was previously just a light-hearted analysis of Britney's Instagram posts. And Britney's Gram has since turned into, kind of, one of the foremost, you know, information hubs for the free Britney movement. And so this anonymous source claimed to have worked as a paralegal for, for a law office involved in the conservatorship and basically told the podcasters that Britney was admitted to this mental health facility against her will because she was refusing to take her medication. 

 

Archival Tape -- Britney’s Gram:

“And what's happening is disturbing to say the least. Britney was not taking her medication as prescribed, so Jamie said, ‘either you take this medication or the show is off and I’m pulling my support and you can't do it.’ He said verbatim, blame it on my illness…”

 

JULES: 

And so this obviously contradicted her previous statements about this. And at the time, it was, you know, it was an anonymous voicemail. There were a lot of questions about its legitimacy. But in a recent article in The New York Times, it was effectively, you know- was all but confirmed that it was true and that Britney had told the court that she had been forced to go into the mental health facility against her will. She apparently saw it as a punishment for making an objection, you know, during a rehearsal for her Las Vegas residency. Um, she said that she once performed with a 104 degree fever, you know, through one of these nights. So that really began to undo all of these sort of very anodyne public statements about her just being upset about her father's illness and her just being overworked. It really began this conversation that something was amiss. So it wasn't actually just this leftfield thing that, that someone was making up, like a conspiracy theory. It was actually quite true.

A couple of years later, we started to notice, you know, all these petitions that were happening and the court filings and there was a bit of a movement to remove her father, Jamie Spears, is a conservative of the person and replace him. And that obviously didn't happen. And so we. Basically, following this case, since kind of mid-2019, and of course, it's all just completely blown apart because a couple of weeks ago, Britney herself actually gave a public statement in court about it all, which is the first time ever that we have heard her speak about it. 

 

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“It’s been a long time since I’ve owned my money. It's my wish and my dream for all of this to end without being tested. Again it makes no sense whatsoever for the State of California to literally watch me with their own two eyes make a living for so many people and pay so many people trucks and busses on tour on the road with me, and be told I'm not good enough, but I'm great at what I do. And I allow these people to control what I do now and it’s enough.”

 

OSMAN:

Ok, that is an amazing summary. I think her fame, her wealth, the way that she's been treated by the media, by others in the industry, and her family...it's all such an important part of how she's ended up in this situation now. But with all of the hyper-focused media attention on the conservatorship, it can be pretty easy to forget just how significant an artist Britney Spears is, and was, and the enormous role she's played in the development of pop music over the past couple of decades. What was your first experiences with Britney? Do you remember when she first came onto your radar?

 

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“Baby One More Time.”

 

JULES: 

Well '...Baby, One More Time' obviously came out in 1999. So I was seven years old, so I was pretty young, but I vividly, vividly remember it, seeing it on Rage. 

 

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“Baby One More Time.”

 

JULES: 

It just seemed to be everywhere, you know, didn't it?

OSMAN:

Totally.
 

JULES: 

She was the first major figure that I remember of my life as being a pop star, maybe apart from N’SYNC or something like that, which is another topic that I'm sure we'll talk about. She emerged as just this archetypal female in a lot of ways. She was young, she was sexy, but she seemed to be smart and in control. She was dominating. You know, that film clip, '...Baby, One More Time' is very powerful, is very raw. And that was my first experience of Britney Spears. And she's just... from the releases onwards, she just seemed to be, she seemed to hold such a commanding position in pop stardom. And she still does.

 

OSMAN:

And so when you look back, tell me a bit more about her later work as well and if you've got a particular favourite record or a particular favourite moment or era of Britney, we weren't really talking about eras back then, but we can cast that, that lens and frame over it. 

 

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“Oops I did it again.”

 

JULES: 

I mean she was extremely prolific from the start. ‘Baby one more Time’ appeared in '99. ‘Oops...I Did It Again’ appeared in 2000. The self-titled Britney appeared in 2001. She really, you know, pumped them out quickly and became quickly just the highest selling artist of the time. 

 

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“Oops I did it again.”

 

JULES: 

And it was an interesting time in pop music because once she arrived on the scene, it was all about boy bands. You know, there was this view in the market that female artists, particularly female solo artists, just didn't sell. And Britney Spears absolutely changed all that. So she changed the charts. She changed the direction of the music industry. And you can see from, from later artists that came, you know, the Xtina's of the world, even someone like Jojo, you know, they can trace their their influences back to Britney Spears, my personal favourite album, which I think is, you know, a bit of a cult classic, is her fifth studio album, ‘Blackout’. It includes, of course, one of her best songs, ‘Gimme More’, ‘Piece of Me’, ‘Break the Ice’.

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“Piece of Me”

JULES: 

She's an incredibly intelligent pop artist, which I think is something that is lost in all of this conversation is her actually as an artist and her work. She's had such a massive influence on pop music that it's just hard to describe. You know, she's Britney. That's who she is. She just changed music. Forever.

 

OSMAN:

Changed music and changed our conception of pop and celebrity and everything. And it's so interesting to go back to that era between, you know, 99’ and 2005 and to see so much of what we will talk about on this show and so much of what the current narrative of what Britney is about, the seeds of that really being laid back then. And, and, and for me, I could not talk about this enough, because I think when you talk about Britney and Justin and you talk about their relationship, their break up and the media analysis and the music that came out of that, the first time I started thinking about that, it was just sort of this salacious moment, right? It's like, 'Oh, Britney and Justin have broken up' in 2002, Justin releases this song ‘Cry Me A River’, very clearly about the break up, featuring a Britney lookalike, where he is sort of, you know, claiming the moral high ground in that relationship. 

Archival Tape -- Justin Timberlake:

“Cry Me a River.”

 

OSMAN:

And at the time and even in the years since, it's like, 'Oh, this is, like, great drama, right? Like how cool that these two people have broken up and are making music about each other'. But when you go and look at all of that stuff again, it is very strange. And I mean, ‘Cry Me A River’ drops. It's about the break up.

Archival Tape -- Justin Timberlake:

“Cry Me a River.”

 

OSMAN:

Justin then embarks on this press tour where he’s asked a lot about the relationship. And it's so strange because we're talking about like young people that have known each other since they were children, dated when they were teenagers, and they're talking openly about their sex lives, or at least he's talking openly about their sex lives. Can you talk to me about that? 

 

JULES: 

 

You're right. It really is, looking back on it, the strangest periods in pop culture history. So he embarks on this press tour where he's asked, you know, jokingly all the time whether he took Britney Spears' virginity. You know 'Did you take it? Did you take it?' And it's kind of on these, these radio shows, if these other dudes that they're just sort of laughing about it, you know, that it's, it's this great joke. 

 

Archival Tape -- Reporter:

“Justin Timberlake is in the house, and I just wanna ask you one question, did you f*ck Britney Spears?”

 

Archival Tape -- Justin Timberlake:

“Oh man, okay yeah I did.. Haha no I’m kidding…”

 

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“It was a really weird time, they would talk about what we did together sexually and stuff, and I just felt very exploited.”

 

JULES: 

And at the same time, Britney Spears is also in interviews, asked about whether she lost her virginity, is asked about, you know, very specific details about her sex life. 

 

Archival Tape -- Reporter:

“I’m just wondering how you feel about constant speculation about your virginity. Are you a virgin or not?”

 

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“I really wish I’d never said anything to begin with, because I;m kinda stuck in this little place where people are always asking me… but that’s just something that’s part of growing up and something we all have to deal with… so…

 

Archival Tape -- Reporter:

“So have there been any changes on that front?”

 

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“That’s a personal question….”

 

JULES: 

It was extraordinary. And interviewers were saying, you know, ‘What did you do to him? You know, he says you broke his heart. You know, how could you be that callous?’

 

Archival Tape -- Reporter:

“But you said, ‘I’ve only slept with one person in my whole life and that was two years into my relationship with Justin.’ And yet he’s left the impression that you weren’t faithful? That you betrayed the relationship? He’s gone on television and pretty much said that you broke his heart, you did something that caused him so much pain and so much suffering. What did you do?”

 

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“I think everyone has a side to their story, and I’m not technically saying he's wrong but I’m not technically saying he's right either…”

 

JULES: 

It was a completely bonkers thing to be happening. And looking back on it now, you do realise that we've come at least some way in talking about that kind of stuff and that would, you'd hope, would never happen now in a major celebrity interview? 

 

OSMAN:

Yeah, it’s, it's interesting. I mean, I think that there's a lot of problems that the media still have when they talk about women and sexuality and music and women artists in particular. But it does seem hard to see someone like Justin Timberlake emerging out of that narrative so successfully. Not only were there no consequences for Justin, he became the biggest male pop star of that era, as a result of this. He mined and exploited their relationship. He spun his own story. He went on those interviews and he made himself the hero and her the villain and traded that into immense celebrity status. It's just incredible.

 

JULES: 

Yeah, he absolutely weaponized the misogyny of the industry and he has apologised for it, um, only this year. And he also apologised to another woman who he did very badly by and that was Janet Jackson, of course, at the, at the Super Bowl.

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“In a statement posted to Timberlakes instagram on Friday the singer said that he is deeply sorry ‘I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism.’”

OSMAN:

And so the song that stands out for me, that Britney released in the aftermath of all of that, was ‘Everytime’, which was her response to ‘Cry Me A River’ and the entire narrative Justin was spinning.

 

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“Everytime”

 

OSMAN:

It was this big ballad. It was, you know, one of the first songs that she basically wrote herself. And the song itself I think is, is, is quite moving and quite beautiful. But when you go back and you watch that video, this is 2003. This is nearly 20 years ago. That is a video of a woman in an abusive relationship with a man who is physically and emotionally abusing her, a woman who is being terrorised by the media and the paparazzi. Who is seeking to escape both of these things that are clearly having an enormous impact on her mental health. And that was in 2003. That is before the media narrative of her, quote unquote, going off the rails even started. That is before her conservatorship was granted. That is before we heard her talk in a courtroom about how disastrous the last few years of her life have been. It is so strange and hard to watch now and say this woman is laying it all out there for us and did it two decades ago. This is like before the Iraq war. A lot of stuff has changed in the world since then. And it's like, we're only now finally coming to terms with what she was trying to tell us. 

 

JULES: 

Exactly. Yeah, you're exactly right. I think something that's missed a lot of the time in all of this, and a lot of the reports about this, is Britney Spears, the person what she’s actually like, her own agency. Britney Spears is a very intelligent person, you know, and she's always had, at least in the early parts of her career, very strong control over, over the creative decisions. You know, there was one snapshot where someone called her a diva, um, in a rehearsal and she hits back as, 'I'm not a diva. I just know what I like, you know, and I just know what works'. And you get this picture as you watch documentaries like Framing Britney Spears, that she was a very, a very sorted person. You know, she wasn't just a waifish kind of 'girl next door' figure that was being pushed and pulled around in the early part of her career. She was, she was calling the shots and she really knew what was going on. And that, I think is lost a little bit, as you know, as she has lost her agency time and time again. You know, we, we forget that this is a really intelligent person that wants to have control over a lot, that knows how she wants to run a career. And I think that has been lost. 

 

OSMAN:

After the break we’ll dig into exactly how Britney’s conservatorship came about.

 

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OSMAN:

Jules let’s talk about how Britney’s agency and her control was lost. I mean, after this Justin Timberlake era is when things start to go a little bit sideways. And I really hate using terms like 'breakdown' or 'off the rails' because it seems to feed into these tropes of her actually...you know, something outside of her control happening to her. And then people needing to step in and save her seems less and less likely that that was actually the case. But that's certainly what the media framing at the time was like. So she, she gets married to her best friend from childhood, Jason Alexander. They get their marriage annulled just over two days later. She then gets engaged to Kevin Federline, one of her backup dancers. They have a reality show. They have a kid together, they have another kid together. And it's sort of around the time of their relationship breakdown that this narrative of her going wild, going crazy, being out of control starts to, start to be fed through. 

 

Archival Tape -- Confrontation with Paparazzi

 

OSMAN:

You know, she's photographed by paparazzi driving her car with a baby in her lap, which apparently leads to criticism from child welfare advocates. She says that she was jumping into the car in a hurry to avoid paparazzi. And so much of the push and pull of this era is Britney saying 'Every time you see me doing something that looks weird, that's because I'm trying to get away from you. You're breaking into my house, you're scaling my balcony. And I'm trying to avoid that. And then you take photos of that and you make me out to be a crazy person'. 

 

Archival Tape -- Reporter:

“What do you think it’ll take for the paparazzi to leave you alone?”

 

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“I don’t know.”

 

Archival Tape -- Reporter:

“Is that one of your biggest wishes?”

 

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“Yeah, you have to realise that we’re people. And we just need privacy and we need our respect, and those are things that you have to have as a human.”

 

JULES: 

Hmm. The narrative really shifts at this point from Britney being the, you know, slut shamed and, and ‘the heartbreaker’ and the kind of the evil woman into ‘the bad mother’, you know, and that's the road that the tabloids take. And that's the story that all of the magazines just follow.

 

Archival Tape -- Reporter:

“You saw the questions that were being asked: ‘Is Britney a bad mom?’ It’s not like ‘did Britney record a bad song?’ ‘Is Britney wearing a bad outfit?’,  ‘Is Britney in a bad marriage?’ … no it’s ‘Is Britney a bad mom?’”.

 

Archival Tape -- Britney Spears:

“That’s America for you.”

 

JULES: 

And it just crushes her, you know? At the end of, you know, when her and Kevin Federline divorced, there was kind of an inevitable, a very bitter custody battle. And there were, you know, certain incidents that happened at the time, you know. At one point she apparently barricaded herself or at least, or at least was in the bathroom with her children, kind of refusing to, to give them to Kevin as part of their custody agreement. And she was then, you know, strapped to a gurney and forcibly put into a mental health facility. 

 

Archival Tape -- Reporter:

“Amid a media frenzy, the 26 year old pop star was brought by ambulance to aLA hospital from her Beverly Hills home. Another chapter in her long running custody battle with ex-husband Kevin Federline over their two sons.”

 

JULES: 

And it was around this time that her father, Jamie Spears, stepped in and put in place the temporary conservatorship.

 

OSMAN:

And that is the moment where things change quite dramatically because that was, as you say, temporary. The idea was it wasn't supposed to last for very long. It was something that her father, Jamie, convinced her mom and other members of her family and people around it to do and say Britney's having a very tough time right now. We have to take care of running her business and a life for her while she can recover. 

 

But that was now 13 years ago and she's still under that conservatorship. So clearly, things went very, very, very, very wrong for her. Before we get to the current debate about why that conservatorship is now being re-evaluated, let's just talk about what that actually means, because I think, you know, in Australia, we don't use the term conservatorship. We use the term guardianship. But the principles are similar. People who reach a point in their lives, perhaps they're very, very old. Perhaps they have, uh, significant mental health issue that means that they are unable to make decisions for their life. They're unable to live their lives. Uh, courts can grant power to someone else to manage those affairs. They can manage their business affairs. But also just things as though like when you're allowed to leave the house, who you're allowed to interact with, how much money you're allowed to spend.

 

Archival Tape -- Reporter:

“Under a court ordered conservatorship, a conservatee - meaning Britney - requires permission to drive, vote, get married, have children, select and hire a lawyer, have unmonitored contact with another person or spend money.”

 

OSMAN:

Britney's conservatorship is pretty broad, right? There's not a lot she can do without permission from those people appointed by the court to be her guardians. 

 

JULES: 

Yeah, absolutely. There was a report that came out in 2016, you know, from The New York Times that basically said that Britney is not allowed to go to Starbucks and buy a coffee without it being approved, you know, so that gives you an indication of how strictly her life is controlled. In her statement the other week, you know, she said that she was forced to go to therapy three times a week. You know, every single decision, you know, she doesn't make a decision, actually, that's a ridiculous sentence. You know, every single thing she does in her life is decided by another person. It's a very extreme circumstance. And you're right, it's only meant to be temporary and it's only meant to be put in place for someone who is seriously incapacitated, you know, to make their own decisions. The idea of a conservatorship lasting 13 years for someone that is, you know, pretty young and healthy and productive and a performer is very, very, very unusual. 

 

OSMAN:

Yeah, I want to talk about that because it's not as though she's, you know, she's not allowed to leave the house and have certain relationships without permission from the trustees of the conservatorship. But it's not as though she's actually housebound. Throughout this time, it's been perhaps the most productive era of Britney, in terms of performing, doing residencies, like doing a lot of work. Can you tell me a bit about what she's been up to over the past decade? 

 

JULES: 

Absolutely. It's actually been a very lucrative time of Britney's career. I think her, her entire estate and wealth has reportedly grown by about 20 million dollars, and it's, you know, a significant amount of money. You know, she had, of course, that Las Vegas residency, uh, ‘Piece of Me’ which ran from, I think 2013 to 2017, which I think grossed somewhere in the area of, of about one hundred and thirty/forty million dollars, a huge amount of money. You know, she's released singles, she's released albums. She has been doing a lot, you know, and even up until as I mentioned earlier, you know, up until 2019, she was meant to start another Vegas residency. It's not like she has been shut up in a house and locked away. You know, she's been out there performing, you know, on stage every night in Vegas, twice tonight in Vegas. At times when she apparently was very well, she said at that time she didn't really want to do these residencies either. But that's another issue altogether. She has been working, you know, every single day and a lot of people have been making a lot of money while she's been doing so. 

 

OSMAN:

And the thing that gets to me about this situation she's in is that how can she simultaneously be well enough to perform for days and weeks on end, to go out there, to perform, to make money, to interact with people, to, to do rehearsals to- like, it's an enormous amount of work that puts an enormous physical and mental strain on someone. How can she simultaneously be able to do all of that, have the capacity and ability to do that? But apparently she can't actually decide whether or not she wants to go to a cafe or who she's allowed to be in a relationship with? Those two things just don't seem to reconcile for me.

 

JULES: 

You're exactly right. And that's the entire question at the point of this discussion, is that how can she be behaving so well, she can be out there performing every night, but then apparently unable to go to Starbucks and get a coffee? It just doesn't make any sense to anyone, which is why we're here talking about it. 

OSMAN:

We’ll be back after this break

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OSMAN:

So according to a recent New Yorker article by Ronan Farrow and Jina Tolentino, Britney’s only been allowed a court-appointed lawyer, up until very recently, or a lawyer appointed by her conservatorship trustees. And these were the same lawyers that she’s had to rely on to try and resist her conservatorship, is that right?

 

JULES: 

So Britney has really resisted the conservatorship from the start. And in fact, her lawyer, Samuel Ingham, was described as being very loyal to Jamie Spears from the start and being, you know, kind of not really on Spears' side. You know, if I can, if I can say that. So, no, you know, and- and Ronan Farrow and Tolentino use an analogy that even an axe murderer technically has more legal rights in this situation than a conservatee, because you can appoint, you know, your legal counsel as an axe murderer. You can represent yourself. But if you are Britney Spears in this situation, you can't. And that is a really, really stark problem with these kind of arrangements.

 

OSMAN:

So that leads us to the legal challenges that have become an increasing part of the public discussion around Britney Spears. It feels like, it sounds like, from what you've said, that a lot of this stuff was happening in the background almost since the start of this. But a couple of weeks ago, we actually saw one of the most extraordinary courtroom scenes involving, you know, a pop star that I can remember in, in recent history, where Britney spoke herself, cause so often this has been playing out through lawyers, through spokespeople, through anonymous, uh, quotes in gossip mags and in other publications. But we heard Britney speak for the first time about what impact this conservatorship was having on her and just how tightly her life was being controlled. What was it like to hear that as someone who's followed Britney's career and the last few years of her life so closely?

 

JULES: 

I don't think you can overstate, um, how incredible a moment this was. You know, in entertainment history,
 

Archival Tape -- Britney’s Court hearing:

JULES: 

one of the most famous people in the world, one of the biggest pop stars ever, you know, coming out saying that she is in an abusive situation, that this conservatorship is abusive, that it has traumatised her. You know, she's opened by saying, you know, I have a lot to say, so bear with me. You know, I don't think I was heard on any level when it came to court last time. You know, she said that she just felt dead whenever she was in court before like she didn't exist...

 

Archival Tape -- Britney’s Court hearing:

“I will be honest with you, I haven't been back to court in a long time because I don't think I was heard on any level when I came to court last time.”

 

JULES: 

She called nine one one the night before this testimony on the twenty third to report her conservatorship being abusive. 

 

Archival Tape -- Britney’s Court hearing:

“Ma’am I’ve worked since I was 17 years old, you have to understand how thin that is for me every morning I get up to know that I can’t go somewhere unless I meet people I don’t know every week in an office identical to the one where the therapist was abusive to me. I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive, and we can sit here all day and say oh conservatorships are here to help people, but ma’am there are a thousand conservatorships that are abusive as well.”

 

JULES: 

You know, and she said she'd lied and told the whole world that she was OK. That she's traumatised. She told a really shocking story that she wanted to have kids and that she wasn't allowed to remove her contraceptive IUD. Which was a startling revelation that kicked off these discussions about reproductive coercion in conservatorships and all of that kind of stuff. 

 

Archival Tape -- Britney’s Court hearing:

“I’d like for my boyfriend to be able to drive me in his car. I would like to progressively move forward, I wanna have the real deal. I wanna take the ID out so i can have another baby but the so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to take it out because they dont want me to have children.”

 

JULES: 

You know, and she just said there's something that just broke. It really broke my heart - that she just said, I just all I want is to own my own money and for my boyfriend to drive me in his fucking car. 

 

And there was this desperation and fury. But also she was incredibly lucid. You know, this was not a rambling kind of rant by any means. You could tell that she had been thinking about this for a while and she was furious and she wanted her voice to be heard. 

 

Archival Tape -- Britney’s Court hearing:

“I feel open and I’m okay to talk to you today about it but i wish I could stay to you on the phone forever because when I get off the phone with you all I hear is all these no’s and all of a sudden I feel ganged up on and i feel bullied and i feel left out and alone. I deserve to have the same rights that anybody does by having a child, a family, any of those things.”

 

JULES: 

It's also worth noting that lawyers for her conservators tried to argue that the court was sealed, that none of this would be publicised, and she interrupted them and said they've done a pretty good job of exploiting my life. I feel like it should be an open court hearing. They should listen and hear what I have to say. And listening to these things, you know, again, as we were talking about before, this doesn't sound like someone that isn't in control of themselves. And that was what's extraordinary about it, is that the only things we've kind of seen of Britney over the last few years are these strange, kind of, Instagram videos. You know, the weird tik toks, they're the kind of things that you're like, oh, gosh, you know, what's what's going on? It doesn't seem OK. So to hear her speak like this was really extraordinary and it just floored basically everyone.

 

OSMAN:

And does it seem like it will have any kind of impact like this saga has gone on for so long, it feels like momentum is growing, you know we've heard Britney's voice now, does it feel like there's momentum or is this just a, because it's a legal dispute in one court in California? Is all of this public pressure irrelevant to her life? 

 

JULES:  

Sometimes it does feel like that definitely. A few things have happened in the last couple of weeks. Obviously, Ingham, her lawyer, has resigned. Bessemer Trust, who is in a co-conservatorship arrangement with Jamie Spears for her estate, they've also resigned. There are a few things happening that indicate that people want out of this situation. And the other thing that's key to all of this is Britney apparently said that she did not know that she could petition the court for this conservatorship to end. And it didn't appear that her lawyer had told her that this was an option, even though we know that she's wanted this to end for a long time or that she or at least that she doesn't want her father to be involved in this. 

 

Another thing to note is that there are a lot of people making a lot of money, you know, through this arrangement as a conservatee, you know, Britney Spears has to pay for her conservators expenses, has to pay them a salary, has to pay for office space, has to pay for legal fees. You know, there are reports that Jamie Spears has been paid at least five million dollars before taxes since 2008. And his lawyers from the period of October 2020 to February 2021 billed Spears, nearly nine hundred thousand dollars for only four months of work. 

 

Archival Tape -- Britney’s Court hearing:

“Once you see someone, whoever it is, in the conservatorship, making money, making them money and making myself money and working. That whole statement right here the conservatorship should end. I shouldn't be in a conservatorship if I can work and provide money and work for myself and pay other people. It makes no sense, the laws need to change.”

 

JULES: 

And so you...you know, I'm not going to speculate, but you can, you can take from that kind of what you will. 

 

OSMAN: 

I'll speculate. That's outrageous. Like you were talking about the amount of money she made from one residency over one hundred and thirty million dollars. And her net worth is like less than half of that.

Archival Tape -- Britney’s Court hearing:

“I’ve done more than enough, I don’t owe these people anything. Especially me who has roofed and fed hundreds of people on the road. It’s embarrassing and demoralising what I’ve been through…”

OSMAN:

It's just so obvious how much like this is a story about control, about exploitation, about the narratives the media tells about women in particular. But it's also a story about just ruthless exploitation of someone's finances and wealth and greed. You know, I mean, I don't know if Jamie Spears is going to listen to this and sue me or something, but bring it on. That's outrageous. 

 

JULES: 

Yeah, well, that's what I was saying...seeing as you jumped in the water, I’ll jump in with you. Yes. It's very clear that there are a lot of people that are milking this for all it's worth. And are making a very, very comfortable living off the situation continuing. And I think that kind of speaks for itself. And it kind of echoes a lot of situations throughout pop culture history. Look at someone like Avicii, you know, whose managers pushed him and pushed him and pushed him to keep performing because he was their breadwinner. You know, he was the one paying their salaries. And if he stopped performing, as he wanted to, because he desperately needed medical and mental help, suddenly their paychecks would dry up. It happened with Amy Winehouse as well. You know, this has been a narrative that is repeated again and again and again, not not 50, 40 years ago. You know, in the last 10, 20 years! This is a very common narrative that these pop stars pay the cheques of the people around them. And that is such a weird imbalance of power, particularly if someone is fragile like Britney Spears was in 2008. And suddenly she's now in this situation where she is paying for all these people to take care of her. And it's just a little bit of a living nightmare, isn't it? 

 

OSMAN:

And Jules, do you think when, when you look back on this story, you know, the things that we've talked about, we talked about the way that she was covered in the media, the way that her art was devalued because she was a woman, the way that her story was taken from her, the way that she was portrayed as a bad mother because she was trying to flee the paparazzi. All of this stuff has obviously laid the groundwork for a narrative that has led to this conservatorship and for it to go on as long as it has. 

 

Do you think that things are different now? Do you think that we won't do this again, or do you think that's wishful thinking? Do you think perhaps it's easy for us to look at what happened to Britney and say, ‘Oh, thank God, you know, things aren't like that now, so let's free Britney and just get on with it’? 

 

JULES: 

I think that would be a very optimistic thing to say, because I think what's happening to Britney now is still very much happening. So while we may understand this in Britney's context, we don't seem to be able to apply this logic to other situations. We are still hearing female pop stars to pieces. We are still holding them to impossible double standards that no one could reach. We are still doing exactly the same thing. And I don't think we've quite reached the level where we're taking these key learnings... to use the corporate jargon … and applying them to other pop stars and other people out there. 

 

OSMAN:

Jules, thank you so much for chatting with me today.

 

JULES: 

Thank you so much Os.

 

OSMAN:

Thanks for listening to the show, The Culture will be back in your feeds next week, as usual.
 

The Culture is a weekly show from Schwartz Media.

 

It's produced by Bez Zewdie and Atticus Bastow, Our editor-in-chief is Erik Jensen, and our theme music is by Hermitude.

 

I’m Osman Faruqi, see ya next week.

 

Host

Osman Faruqi is a journalist and the editor of 7am, Schwartz Media’s daily news podcast.

Guest

Jules LeFevre Editor of Music Junkee