Britney Spears is finally free. A judge from California’s Supreme Court ruled to end the singer’s 13-year-long conservatorship shortly before her 40th birthday. She celebrated her first weekend of freedom by drinking champagne for the first time in over a decade, announcing her pregnancy, and getting engaged to Iranian model Sam Asghari.
It’s been a long and lengthy process, with an international #FreeBritney campaign and judicial proceedings. It was all triggered by a New York Times article which revealed, among other things, that the pop princess’s father had installed security cameras in his daughter’s bedroom and was gathering hundreds of hours of private footage.
Britney was denied all of her civil rights for over a decade. She couldn’t use her credit card, nor spend any money without permission. She didn’t have agency over her artistic career and was forced to perform, sometimes even against her will.
Everything Britney created and earned (sums of over 60 million dollars) was controlled by her father, who even forced her to get an IUD implant to stop her from getting pregnant. But as well as being violated from a financial perspective, Britney also endured harassment from the media and struggled with her mental health.
Britney Spears’ breakdown happened in 2007, after years of being chased by paparazzis while the rest of the world passively, and somewhat complicitly, watched on. By that point, Britney had already become an icon of the LGBT community. Although at the beginning of her career she was considered more demure in comparison to other stars at the time, such as Madonna or the Spice Girls, she became increasingly sexualised with time. Of course, when she shot to fame with the famous single One More Time she was only 16 years old.
Later came the hits Oops… I Did it Again, I’m a Slave 4U and Toxic, which was declared as one of the best songs of the millennium. The music video, released in the wake of the anthrax attacks, was considered very daring as Britney sings while poisoning passengers on an airplane.
The singer shaved her head so that people could bear witness to the extent of her suffering. It is unclear whether she suffered from bipolar disorder, manic depression, or something else. Ambulances began joining the convoy of photographers’ cars and motorbikes that constantly chased her, and had to treat her on several occasions.
She went around with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. Daily news on platforms such as TMZ or Perez Hilton’s blog referred to her as Madame Lithium. Public awareness surrounding mental health was null, and at the time Britney had nobody she could confide in. She began dating one of the photographers who chased her around. Society was on the point of killing off Britney in the same way as it did Amy Winehouse.
The year Britney hit rock bottom was also the most important for her career, artistically speaking. It was in this fateful year, 2007, that she released Blackout, an album that wasn’t a huge commercial success but received excellent reviews. It’s her masterpiece, and she hasn’t made anything quite like it since. Blackout was groundbreaking, because at that point in time it was the work that best adapted avant-garde electronic sounds to the pop mainstream.
The general impression is that Britney was unaware of the album she was making, and an erratic performance of the song Gimme More at the MTV awards raised alarm bells. Her mental health problems led to the conservatorship that shocked the world and prompted political reflection across the United States.
Fortunately, little by little, awareness regarding mental health is growing, and as a society we are becoming increasingly sensitive. But that doesn’t refute the fact that we have spent years dehumanising celebrities simply for being one. Hopefully Britney can recover and release the album that we are all waiting for. Or, at least, hopefully she can be happy.