Making new friends, staining your kitchen cabinets, offering energy drinks to employees—these are all decisions that you’d expect any 39-year-old to be able to make for herself.
Unless you’re Britney Spears.
Documents obtained by the New York Times offer a glimpse into the messy, repressive world that the pop icon has lived in for 13 years, ever since she was placed under a court-ordered conservatorship controlled by her father, James Spears. They also show that she’s been quietly trying to get out of the arrangement for years.
In 2007, Britney Spears was in the throes of a severe mental health crisis, amplified by overwhelming media scrutiny, rumors of substance abuse, and a custody battle for her two sons. Her father petitioned for a temporary conservatorship the following year, and despite Britney’s opposition, a judge determined that her father would be best suited to oversee it, according to the Times. It granted him broad control of her life, and her finances.
Conservatorships are a controversial tool that U.S. courts can impose in dire situations when someone is unable to look after themselves or attend to their most basic needs, typically in the cases of very elderly people or people with severe disabilities.
On Wednesday, Spears will, for the first time, appear before a Los Angeles court and speak publicly about the conservatorship, which has controlled almost every aspect of her life for more than a decade. It’s not clear what she will say. Last November, her mother, Lynne Spears, took steps to remove her ex-husband from his position as conservator of Britney, citing his “toxic relationship” with her daughter. According to the Times, he’d once referred to his daughter as a “racehorse who has to be handled like one.”
The other allegations made in the Times story are just as shocking: Her father is painted as a controlling man, prone to relapses of substance abuse, and outbursts of anger (including a physical altercation with her 13-year-old son, which resulted in a restraining order preventing him from seeing his grandchildren).
In a 2019 closed-door hearing, Spears stated that she had been forced into a mental health facility against her will, which she said was punishment because she’d stood up for herself during a rehearsal where she had been forced to perform while running a 104-degree fever, according to the Times. He imposed strict rules on tours, in one case banning all cast and crew from consuming alcohol or energy drinks.
Spears also wasn’t allowed to have control of her credit card, she asserted, and her father had told her she wasn’t allowed to repaint her kitchen cabinets, lest it cost too much money. She was given a weekly allowance of $2,000, while her father made twice that as his salary for being her conservator. The Times story noted that these disputes over spending and finances came as she was raking in millions of dollars from a residency in Las Vegas, of which her father received a cut.
In documents from 2016, when Spears was attempting to have the conservatorship terminated, one investigator wrote “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.”
Despite his ample salary, Jamie Spears currently resides in an RV on the outskirts of the small Louisiana town he grew up in, which is parked by a warehouse full of boxes of memorabilia from Britney’s career.
Even while Britney Spears was trying to free herself from her father’s control, she was dropping record-breaking albums, and going on worldwide tours.
The fact that she had almost zero control of her life was not even known until 2019 when she posted a string of bizarre Instagrams. These sent alarm bells ringing among her devoted fans, who went on to form the basis of the #FreeBritney movement, which was featured in a recent New York Times documentary.