Over the last month or so, Britney Spears (and her fans) have been making headlines, as her private struggles with mental health and well-being have become a public concern. This renewed obsession with Britney Spears and her mental wellness began in January, when Spears announced that her “Britney: Domination” residency in Las Vegas would be canceled indefinitely, but the story actually reaches back much further than that.
Throughout her 20-plus-year career, Spears has reached the highest highs and lowest lows, all with dizzying public scrutiny. Spears’ smash debut record ….Baby One More Time was released when she was just 17 years old, and her fame skyrocketed to a generation-defining level. She is one of the best-selling artists of all time, a Grammy winner, and one of the biggest household names among household names. But in 2007 and 2008, the young singer made headlines with reports of erratic and concerning behavior. Those events led to psychiatric evaluations, and eventually, a court-ordered conservatorship in 2008. The details and specific reasons for the conservatorship are unknown, but Spears’ father Jamie was appointed in charge of her finances and physical and mental health, and has remained in that role since 2008.
Fans’ concern for Britney’s well-being under her conservatorship is nothing new. In 2009, the Spears fan site Breathe Heavy began a “Free Britney” campaign under the belief that her finances, mental health, and physical well-being were suffering under the conservatorship. The campaign has been around for a full decade, but has exploded during the last couple weeks.
After 11 years in her father’s care, and rampant speculation of her unhappiness with the arrangement, it appears that Britney Spears has asked a judge to end her conservatorship. Most of this is happening behind closed doors, whether in court or among members of Spears’ family, so it can be hard to parse out what is fact and what is fan speculation. This timeline of the #FreeBritney campaign is an explainer on what’s fact, what’s fiction, and what’s still to come in the saga of Britney Spears’ conservatorship.
January 4 — “Britney: Domination” Canceled
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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.
In October 2018, Spears and her team announced that the singer would begin a new residency in Las Vegas, moving from Planet Hollywood to the new Park MGM’s Park Theater. But in early January, Spears said that the residency would be put on hold, citing her father’s declining health as the reason for her “work hiatus.”
Spears addressed fans in an Instagram post. “I had to make the difficult decision to put my full focus and energy on my family at this time,” she wrote. “I hope you all can understand.”
January-April — Social Media Silence
Following the postponing of her Las Vegas residency, Spears took a break from social media, adding fuel to the fire that something apart from her father’s illness might be amiss. In the past, Spears posted lighthearted videos to her Instagram account regularly — practicing dance routines, playing with her kids, singing a few bars. From January to early April, Spears posted only two photos to Instagram. Her post on April 3, a reminder to fans that “We all need to take time for a little ‘me time’ :),” attracted some fan scrutiny for her unusual inclusion of an emoticon smiley face.
April 3 — Hospitalization
Later on April 3, TMZ reported that Spears was checked into a mental health facility. According to TMZ, her father’s illness had taken a toll on the singer’s own health, and she checked in for a 30-day stay.
April 16 — Britney’s Gram
On April 16, Britney’s Gram, a podcast dedicated to analyzing Spears’ Instagram, released audio of a voicemail message from someone described as an anonymous paralegal who claimed to have been involved in the conservatorship before leaving the firm. The voicemail raised concerns about Spears’ well-being under the conservatorship. According to the source, she had actually been checked into the mental health facility earlier in 2019, contradicting TMZ’s claim that she had entered in April voluntarily. The podcast hosts, comedians Tess Barker and Babs Gray, independently vetted the source and found him to be credible.
The podcast episode has been streamed over 80,000 times on Soundcloud, attracting more public attention to the #FreeBritney campaign than ever before. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that not every fan was onboard with turning Spears’ mental health into a public spectator sport. The movement was gaining a lot of traction, but many fans wished it would slow down and consider Spears’ well-being more delicately.
April 22-23 — #FreeBritney Protest And Spears’ Response
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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 ❤️❤️❤️
On April 22, fans took to West Hollywood’s City Hall to protest for Spears’ freedom. With signs that said things like “Her MGMT Is Toxic” and “Truth Will Set Her Free,” fans who believed Spears to be unwillingly held in the mental health facility marched for her release.
Up until April 23, Spears had stayed mum on social media. But the day following the protest, Spears posted a short video to her Instagram. “I am trying to take a moment for myself, but everything that’s happening is just making it harder for me,” Spears wrote in the caption to the post. “Don’t believe everything you read and hear.”
Spears also referenced “rumors, death threats to my family and my team, and just so many things crazy things being said.” Here, she’s referring to the backlash her sister Jamie Lynn Spears got on her own Instagram account after defending her sister. Some fans are not taking Spears’ words at face value, though, believing the message was ghostwritten by someone on her management to distract from the real issue at hand.
April 25 — Release From Hospital
On April 25, TMZ reported that Spears would be checking herself out of the mental health facility where she was staying. But TMZ also reported that she was having difficulty adjusting her medication, which a source said she had stopped taking at one point. TMZ’s source said she was doing “a lot better” than when she checked in.
Since her release, Spears also resumed posting more Instagram content. On May 3, she shared a video of herself doing yoga to Cardi B’s “I Like It,” and last week, a photo with her boyfriend, model Sam Asghari. Fan frenzy over her mental state quieted a bit as she seemed to be smiling and dancing again.
May 10 — Court Hearing
However, on May 10, concern for Spears’ well-being was struck up again when the singer was spotted leaving a court hearing barefoot. According to court reports, Judge Brenda Penny ordered an expert evaluation of the case, likely in response to Spears’s reported request that her conservatorship end. The evaluation is speculated to include a psychiatric evaluation of Spears’ mental state, but since the meeting happened behind closed doors, anything about the nature of the evaluation is conjecture.
TMZ also reported that Spears alleged in court that her father committed her to the mental health facility against her will. The legal representation for mother, Lynne Spears, made the same allegation. But until the evaluation is completed, there will be no change in her conservatorship.
Meanwhile, Spears’ longtime manager Larry Rudolph confirmed with TMZ on May 15 that “Britney: Domination” has been effectively canceled. Rudolph also said that Spears may never perform again: “I don’t want her to work again ’til she’s ready, physically, mentally and passionately. If that time never comes again, it will never come again. I have no desire or ability to make her work again. I am only here for her when she wants to work.”
Spears’ next hearing is scheduled for September, and the results of her evaluation are pending. Wherever #FreeBritney goes from here, Spears and her fans are sure to continue making headlines.