On Friday, a court in Los Angeles ruled to terminate the conservatorship of Britney Spears. The arrangement, which had been in place since 2008, severely limited the amount of control Spears had over her personal life and financial decisions.
“The time has come, after more than a decade, for the conservatorship to be terminated in its entirety,” Mathew Rosengart, Spears’ attorney, said during a short hearing. The judge agreed, ruling that “the court finds and determines that the conservatorship of the person and the estate is no longer required.” Spears’ legal rights were fully restored effective immediately, without the need to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
As has been the case at many of Spears’ conservatorship hearings, there was a Free Britney rally happening outside of the courthouse during the proceedings, with several hundred fans holding signs with slogans like “She’s not your property as from today” and “Eat a king-sized bag of dicks, Jamie!” referring to her father, who oversaw the conservatorship.
The road outside the courthouse had been temporarily closed off, and a stage was set up for performances and speeches. At one point, a singer named Zack Zilla performed a song called “#FreeBritney,” flanked by backup dancers dressed in iconic Britney outfits. (Some lyrics: “Queen of pop, we stan, our dream is to see you free again.”) Fans filled the time leading up to the hearing by setting up a pink Christmas tree in the middle of the road and chalking “Free Britney” on to the asphalt in six-foot letters.
When the news rippled through the crowd that the conservatorship had been terminated, people went wild. Some fans wept. Others screamed. A handful stared into space, stunned. The crowd sang and danced, as the songs “Till the World Ends” and “Stronger” blasted out of a loudspeaker and confetti filled the air.
“It honestly doesn’t quite feel real—it kind of feels like an out-of-body experience,” Spears fan Megan Radford told me. “I’m incredibly happy.”
Spears was placed in the conservatorship in 2008, after a series of mental health incidents that, thanks to some pretty intrusive reporting at the time, we’re all incredibly familiar with. The conservatorship was originally only temporary, but was made permanent by the end of that year.
Fans have long questioned the arrangement, with many feeling that a conservatorship, which is typically reserved for people who are unable to care for themselves, didn’t seem appropriate for a woman who was raking in millions of dollars by recording albums, performing concerts, and appearing as a judge on the X Factor. The term “Free Britney” has been floating around since 2009, and there have long been online rumors that Spears’ family and team were using the conservatorship as a way of controlling and exploiting her.
The movement exploded in popularity in 2019, after an episode of the podcast Britney’s Gram. In the episode, a person claiming to be a paralegal associated with Spears’ conservatorship claimed that Spears had been forced into a mental health facility against her will. (Britney's family and management have maintained that they acted appropriately throughout their time overseeing the conservatorship.)
Britney fans responded by organizing a small Free Britney rally in Los Angeles. This was followed by more rallies, waves of online support, celebrity endorsements, and multiple documentaries, each of which brought more attention to Britney's case and the efforts to “free” her. The media began re-examining the way it had treated Spears in the past, with outlets condemning their past selves for invading Spears’ privacy and heaping massive amounts of pressure on her, while arguably re-invading her privacy and heaping massive amounts of pressure on her.
Through this, it was never really clear how Britney, who had almost never publicly spoken about the conservatorship, felt about the situation.
This allowed conspiracy theories to flourish, which could make it hard at times for the wider public to take the movement seriously. At Free Britney rallies I attended, I met fans who believed that Britney was sending secret messages to fans through the photos she posted to social media, or even things like the number of Instagram followers she had (116, which is 911 turned upside down). One fan told me he believed that an image Britney had posted of a copy of Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby was one such cry for help, because the book contains themes of financial exploitation and a character who supports their entire family.
Public perception of the movement shifted in June of this year, when Britney addressed the court during a hearing relating to her conservatorship. In a horrific 20-minute testimony, Britney confirmed many of her fans’ worst fears. She called the arrangement “abusive,” and described being forced to take medication that she didn’t like, having no control over her daily movements, and being made to use an IUD against her will. She said she was depressed and cried daily. "I just want my life back," she told the court. "It’s been 13 years. And it’s enough."
Her fans felt vindicated by the testimony. “It started out [with people viewing the movement] as conspiracy theories and a joke,” said Spears fan Junior Olivas. “And now the whole world is watching.”
At the rally before the hearing on Friday, most fans I spoke with seemed pretty confident that the conservatorship’s days were numbered. “I’m expecting for Judge Brenda Penny to do the right thing and rule in favor of the termination of the conservatorship,” said one fan, Melanie Mandarano. Speculating on what might happen if the judge didn’t terminate it, she said that “a bunch of really bright and sparkly people might cause a riot.”
YouTuber Jakeyonce at the moment the judge's ruling was announced.
Spears, who was not present in court, was pictured on her boyfriend’s Instagram the morning of the hearing wearing a Free Britney tee shirt. Four days before the court date, she’d posted that “I haven’t prayed for something more in my life.”
Also present at the rally were representatives from various disability rights organizations, who had been invited by Free Britney campaigners as part of a broader campaign for conservatorship reform. “No matter what, if Britney Spears is freed today or not, I will be out here rallying for conservatorship abuse victims,” the YouTuber and Britney fan Jakeyonce told me. “It’s an overlooked issue and, luckily, a popstar is bringing awareness to it. It’s sad that that's what it had to take, but here we are.”
After the judge decided to terminate the conservatorship, Spears posted a video of the scene outside the courthouse and thanked her fans. “Good God I love my fans so much it’s crazy,” she wrote. “I think I’m gonna cry the rest of the day.” Spears’ lawyer has said that her legal team will continue to investigate the way Britney’s father, Jamie, handled her affairs.
I asked Radford, the Britney fan, what she’d say to Britney if she could meet her. “We love her and we’re so proud of her,” she said. “And we’re so honored to have stood behind her all these years.”
Britney's lawyer, Matthew Rosengart, exiting the court house.
A fan-made doll of Britney Spears as an angel.