Framing Britney Spears [Transcript]

Her rise was a global phenomenon. Her downfall was a cruel national sport. People close to Britney Spears and lawyers tied to her conservatorship now reassess her career as she battles her father in court over who should control her life.
Framing Britney Spears (2021)

In 2021, at the age of 39, Britney Spears remains under her father Jamie Spears’ control.

Framing Britney Spears re-examines the singer’s career, her rise to intense fame and personal struggles throughout her three decades in showbusiness.

Former Jive Records marketing executive Kim Kaiman explains how her image was cultivated once she signed a record contract, and describes Jamie as being disconnected with his daughter’s life early on. “The only thing Jamie ever said to me was, ‘My daughter’s gonna be so rich, she’s gonna buy me a boat,'” Kaiman says. “That’s all I’m gonna say about Jamie.”

Interviewers are shown at various times asking Spears sexist questions, and Diane Sawyer accuses her of “upsetting a lot of mothers in this country.”

The film argues that Justin Timberlake weaponized his heartbreak with Spears in the “Cry Me a River” music video and in a subsequent interview where he enthusiastically acknowledges having sex with her.

The documentary also explores Spears’s meltdown in 2007, and interviews paparazzo Daniel “Dano” Ramos who photographed Spears attacking his car with an umbrella. “She never gave a clue or information to us that, I don’t appreciate you guys, leave me the eff alone,” Ramos says.

Spears’s relationship with Sam Lufti — who then identified himself as her new manager — is speculated in the film to be a turning point for her father to first negotiate a conservatorship and is described as “attaching himself to celebrities, often at vulnerable moments for them.”

Spears’s longtime family friend and former assistant Felicia Culotta says she’s baffled about the conservatorship arrangement “especially for somebody Britney’s age and somebody capable of so much that I know firsthand she’s capable of.”

The film notes that Spears has publicly moved for her father to be permanently ousted from his conservator role and shows clips of her fans in the “Free Britney” movement demanding the courts fulfill the singer’s wishes.

At the end of the film, a list of names of those contacted for their contributions to this film but did not end up doing so is shown, including Spears’s family. It is also shown that Spears herself was asked to be interviewed, but it was never known if she received the request.

Episode aired 5 February 2021

ACTIVIST: What do we want?

ALL: Free Britney!

ACTIVIST: When do we want it?

ALL: Now!

ACTIVIST: What do we want?

ALL: Free Britney!

ACTIVIST: When do we want it?

ALL: Now!

ACTIVIST: What do we want?

This is “Free Britney 102,” where we explore issues related to the Free Britney movement. The Free Britney movement is advocating for the end of Britney Spears’ conservatorship.

I need everyone who is scrolling right now to stop and watch this video.

Britney Spears needs our help. Since 2008, she has been under something called a legal conservatorship by her father.

ACTIVIST: Now, a conservatorship literally gives someone else the control of your life. They decide what you can and can’t do, and it’s usually used for elderly people who don’t have the necessary brain function.

But a functioning woman that’s been working nonstop, it just‐it doesn’t make any sense.

Dear Britney, my name is Elizabeth Denon, and I’m 29 years old.

My name is James Miller, and I’m from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

My name is Jasmine. I’m 28, and I am a Scorpio from New Jersey.

Dear Britney.

Dear Britney.

Dear Britney.

I’m so nervous. I’m, like, sweating.

Your whole situation is consuming me now. I can’t believe that it’s just been this long and I didn’t know.

BRITNEY: When I first started, I didn’t know what I was doing, but every day you learn more, and you gain more wisdom from that.

Why is she still in this? Why is her dad making all of her decisions?

BRITNEY: I am where I am today‐‐ it’s because I do have control. You know, you have to. Otherwise you get sucked in by people.

I have always viewed the situation as something that I don’t think would have ever happened to a man in America.

BRITNEY: Trust me, there are days that I have‐‐ I struggle with myself.

I am familiar with the lawyers on the case. They care deeply for Britney.

I trust the system. I believe the law is aimed at actually protecting the conservatee.

BRITNEY: There are things out there that have been said about me that aren’t completely true.

We stand up for you, Britney Spears, and we won’t stop until you reach freedom.

BRITNEY: There’s a lot that people don’t know about me that I want them to know.


conservator
con-serva-tor | noun
1. one that preserves from injury or violation; protector
2. a person, official, or institution designated to take over and protect the interests of an incompetent


ACTIVIST: Growing up, I struggled with anxiety and depression, and Britney Spears is the one who made it okay to struggle with those things.

ACTIVIST: She gave me permission to be myself growing up as a gay boy in suburban Virginia, and Britney gave me the power to be who I am.

ACTIVIST: She even shaved her hair off. Hey, I shaved my hair off too because I didn’t want nobody touching me. And they still didn’t get it.

LIZ: Britney is in the midst of a legal battle right now. She’s been in a conservatorship for the past 12 years.

Free Britney!

Justice for Britney.

There’s been a lot of speculation as to whether this is in Britney’s best interests, and is this good for her? Is this what she wants?

All right, so today we have a conservatorship hearing for Britney Spears. Apparently, conservator of the estate is Jamie Spears.

ALL: Boo!

Jamie out! Jamie out!

LIZ: Her dad has been in charge of her money for the last 12 years, and a few months ago Britney’s lawyer said Britney wants someone else to be in charge of her money and wants Jamie, her father, to step down. Britney’s father so far has refused to step down.

But this time it just feels different. I’m so excited.

I feel‐I feel really hopeful.

Hey, guys, it’s Megan. The judge has not made any decisions yet, but we did wanna give you a quick update. Britney has told Ingham on multiple occasions that she’s scared of her father and that she refuses to work until he is no longer in control of her career.

LIZ: To understand where Britney is now, we should understand how she got here.

[objects thumping faintly]

Okay. These are letters to me from the fans. So if I got this many, you can imagine‐‐ oh, the ones that Britney got would fill up the entire room, would fill up the entire room.

[delicate music]

Yeah. Sorry.

[laughs]

That was pretty cool.

You know, I don’t know that I ever really had any definition on what I was supposed to do with Britney. For a long time they called me her chaperone, and then at one point they wanted to call me her partner, and we didn’t think that sounded right. I definitely was not her mother, and I wasn’t her big sister, so we settled on assistant.

♪ ♪

I wanna give you a tour of my tiny, little home. Britney’s mother helped decorate because she’s so proud of her sweet baby. 50,000 in Austria. This is 5 million at this point. These are more. [laughs] This is the first one I got, y’all. This is when “…Baby One More Time” was a multi platinum album. You have to sell a million copies in the United States for an album to be platinum. It can go platinum many, many, many times. This is 11 million copies.

[laughs]

To be honest, I didn’t then, nor do I now understand what a conservatorship is, especially for somebody Britney’s age and somebody capable of so much that I know firsthand she’s capable of.

She was a small‐town girl from Kentwood, Louisiana.

LIZ: Can you describe Kentwood, Louisiana?

FELICIA: Just a tiny, sleepy little town, very hospitable and humble, unpretentious. We are who we are. We’re not wealthy, but we’re wealthy in many other ways. We are definitely in‐‐right in the middle of the Bible Belt. Britney sang in the choir. She grew up going to church every Sunday. So I’ve known her since she was five. You know, by then we all knew her talent was just extraordinary. I will say the one reason that I agreed to do the interview is so we could remind people of why they fell in love with her in the first place.

From Kentwood, Louisiana, here is ten‐year‐old Britney Spears.

[cheers and applause]

[The Judds’ “Love Can Build a Bridge” playing]

♪ Love can build a bridge ♪

♪ Between your heart ♪

If you think about her coming from such a small town, you know, she clawed her way into the industry right from the beginning.

♪ Oh, anything ♪

♪ Keep believing in the power ♪

I noticed last week you have the most adorable, pretty eyes. Do you have a boyfriend?

No, sir.

Why not?

They’re mean.

[laughter]

Boyfriends? You mean all boys are mean? I’m not mean. How about me?

Well, it depends.

[laughter]

HAYLEY: Of all the things that she could be asked about, because what else could we possibly talk to a woman or a girl about? There’s so much more to her that everybody’s missing.

[light dramatic music]

NANCY: Her parents reached out to me by letter, and the letter said something like, “We have no idea what to do with this child. Help us. What do we do?” I replied and said, “Well, I would love to meet her in person.”

They took the train from Louisiana to New York ’cause I don’t think they could afford to fly. Her parents were working people. Her mom was just so sweet, so proud of her daughter, and her dad too was very proud of‐‐proud of Britney, and he was more concerned with the financial aspect of it. How was he gonna be able to make this happen? Could he make it happen? But I know he wanted to make it happen for her. And we came up with a plan. Lynne and Britney would come to New York for a period of time. Britney could study voice in New York, and study dance in New York, and do some acting and audition. She was a funny, sweet, wonderful little girl. I‐I loved her. I love her still.

♪ And I ain’t had no loving since God knows when ♪

NANCY: Jamie visited from time to time and was anxious to see this time be worthwhile so that he could justify the money that it was costing to do this.

There was a time where you were struggling to really make ends meet, and you saved all the money you could to get singing lessons for Britney. How did you manage to do all of that?

It was really hard. A lot of times we would rob from Peter to pay Paul. You know, it was really hard.

NANCY: All this led to “The Mickey Mouse Club” audition, and she nailed it.

We’ve got a girl that enters a strange dimension of sight and sound as she crosses over into the Teenage Zone.

♪ I know a place, and nobody ♪

Britney just loved it, and when it ended, it was devastating.

BRITNEY: After “The Mickey Mouse Club,” I went home for, like, two years, and I was completely normal. I went to high school, and I did‐‐I played basketball. I was just, you know, really involved with my school.

NANCY: And we started looking for auditions, but it‐‐financially, it would have been very difficult for them to come back and forth to New York. It was a tough time. It was a tough time, and it was really, “What are we going to do now?” And I know that the idea of singing was interesting to her. I remember her making a demo tape.

FELICIA: Before I worked with Britney, I was a nanny in New York. Lynne called. She said, “Well, Britney and I are gonna be in the city, and we’d love for you to have dinner with us,” and I said, “Oh, that sounds great.” And Lynne said, “Felicia, I had an ulterior motive for inviting you to dinner,” and I said, “What?” She said, “Britney got a record deal today, and I can’t travel with her ’cause Jamie Lynn’s in the first grade, but‐‐can you travel with her?” And I said, “Oh, my gosh, Lynne, well, I quit my job yesterday. I guess I can, but I’ll do it for three months,” and that was, mm, about 23 years ago.

[light music]

KIM: She had plans to come to New York to meet people at the label. She came into my office with her chaperone. Her parents were in Louisiana. She had a younger sibling that was still in school and had to be taken care of, so Felicia was really sitting in for the parents. I remember Britney came in, and I was really impressed with the fact that she was so serious and so focused, and I thought, “This is the style. This is a girl that’s coming from strength, your friend that you kind of idolize a little bit, but that at the end of the day has the same kind of hopes and dreams that you do.”

Mama, come here. Aww, y’all look so pretty. This is my mom right here. And this is my brother’s girlfriend. This is my little sister.

LIZ: Jamie, Britney’s father, wasn’t around very much when Britney was growing up. We know that Jamie was struggling with alcohol, and he later goes to rehab. He drifts in between construction, being a cook, tries to open a gym business that didn’t work out, and later ends up filing for bankruptcy. He doesn’t seem to be a big presence in her life.

KIM: Her mother would do whatever it took, personally and for the family’s sake, for Britney to be a star. Lynne supported Britney. I wanna say Lynne because I never talked to her father. The only thing Jamie ever said to me was, “My daughter’s gonna be so rich, she’s gonna buy me a boat.” That’s all I’m gonna say about Jamie.

Hi, I’m Britney Spears, and I’m so happy to be here today in Langhorne, so thanks for coming out. The name of this song is “Thinkin’ About You.”

KIM: There’s a lot of work that goes into the preparation for an album release. Kids go to school. Kids go to the mall, so how do we reach those kids?

Hi, what’s your name?

And this next song is my first single, and it’s called “…Baby One More Time.”

FELICIA: We’d be in the middle of the mall, and people would slowly stop and gather and watch, and then when it was over, we would go shopping.

[Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” playing]

♪ Oh, baby, baby ♪

♪ ♪

But then as she became a little more popular…

“…Baby One More Time.”

[crowd screaming]

People really started coming to the malls to seek out where we were.

♪ That something wasn’t right here ♪

♪ Show me how you want it to be ♪

WESLEY: The video shows up. Quite famously, she is in a schoolgirl’s uniform. She owns the hallways at this school, and the song is‐‐ is obviously sexual in nature.

Teen singing sensation Britney Spears.

♪ ‘Cause I need to know now, oh, because ♪

WESLEY: If you’re 12 or 13 years old, you’re seeing a person who reminds you in some ways of you. It isn’t the sex part that seems cool. It’s the control and command over herself and her space that seems cool.

She’s so cool. I love her. I love the way she moves and she grooves.

KIM: She just captured that dichotomy so well of what a teenage girl is. Teenage girls wanna be adult women, but they also are kids.

BOTH: We love Britney!

REPORTER: Well, congratulations. Your single is exploding.

BRITNEY: Thank you.

KIM: There’s no bigger star in pop music than Britney Spears.

BRITNEY: It’s so exciting. It’s really exciting. I’m very flattered.

INTERVIEWER: Are you even surprised at how fast this has happened to you?

Oh, my goodness, yeah. It’s, like, all of a sudden, you know? O‐‐it seems like overnight, just boom, you’re just‐‐you’re famous. It’s weird.

FAN: Britney! Britney!

KIM: You have to remember one really important thing. This is boy band time. This is not about girls. Girls don’t sell. So it really was a phenomenon.

FELICIA: We still were those people from Mississippi, Louisiana. We were fresh, and everything was new. She was so humbled by everything. One of the first things that she did when she just was getting famous was she‐‐ we were home for Christmas, and she wanted to go get $10,000 in $100 bills, and she just drove through Kentwood and gave out $100 bills, and it wasn’t, “Hi, I’m Britney Spears. It was, “Merry Christmas.”

I’m joined now by the one and only Britney Spears. Dave Holmes is outside with just, uh‐‐just a boatload of some of your biggest fans, I can imagine.

Oh, my God. Everyone say hi to Britney.

ALL: Hi, Britney!

Britney played MTV, 1999, perfectly. She was in the studio for “TRL” a lot. She produced excellent videos.

These are my best friends, and they travel with me.

DAVE: She seemed very approachable to the audience, so they could really connect with her in a way that has never really been severed.

♪ Ooh, baby, baby, oops, I did it again ♪

INTERVIEWER: You sold over 20 million copies of your last album.

ANNOUNCER: Pepsi has a new voice…

ANNOUNCER: Britney has Got Milk, Clairol, and Polaroid.

BRITNEY: I know all the ins and outs of what I’m doing. I know about all the contracts and all the deals I’m about to do. I’m not just some girl who’s listening to my manager.

♪ Oh ♪

ALL: ♪ I’m not that innocent ♪

MICHAEL: I mean, I know she’s aiming for the little kids market or whatever. She needs to back off and put a pair of blue jeans on, no shoes, and just sing, you know?

INTERVIEWER: To many, you are a contradiction. On the one hand, you’re a sweet, innocent, virginal type. On the other hand, you’re a sexy vamp in underwear.

I wouldn’t say in underwear.

WESLEY: I mean, the thing that I find fascinating about Britney Spears’ arrival at this moment is that she comes in the midst of the Clinton‐Lewinsky scandal.

ANNOUNCER: President Clinton had an affair with…

ANNOUNCER: A sexual relationship with a former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

WESLEY: And it’s this really charged moment in the country where we are talking about sex in a way that we had never been talking about sex, or hadn’t been for a long time.

See, that brings up the age‐old question for guys. Who do you want, the nice girl, the pretty girl you can take home to Mom, or the cheap, slutty girl you know puts out? Everybody goes for Monica!

WESLEY: An exponent of that interest in that relationship bled over into our interest in Britney Spears in some way.

HAYLEY: I think a lot of people were, like, uncomfortable with, you know, her sexuality.

INTERVIEWER: A lot of talk about your sexy Lolita look, especially after the “Rolling Stones” story.

BRITNEY: Well, I think we’re all girls, and, I mean, it’s a part of who we are. You’d be lying if you said you didn’t like to feel sexy. You know what I mean? You’re a girl.

INTERVIEWER: Everyone’s talking about it.

What?

Well, your breasts.

My breasts?

INTERVIEWER: You seem to get furious when a talk show host comes up with this subject.

I’ll say this. You know, I worked with all the boy bands, all of them, and not one of the boys was ever under any scrutiny.

It certainly is a paradox, isn’t it, the way she works?

HOST: And the way she dresses.

She doesn’t seem that innocent.

HAYLEY: That’s when she just really started becoming more free and less concerned with pleasing everybody, which is also, like, a whole ‘nother metaphor for what women do, right? At some point in our lives, we stop trying to please everybody.

Turn the music up. Up.

MAN: You’re such a diva, Britney.

I’m not a diva.

MAN: You’re such a diva.

I’m not a diva! I know what I like, and I know what I want.

KEVIN: She was definitely in control of a lot of decisions. That idea that Britney is a puppet who just gets moved around and told what to do is incredibly inaccurate. When I was involved in all of those years, we would present a lot of ideas. She would have to like them, and she would have to approve them. She was very creative. She was the one who knew what she wanted to do, and she would make that happen, or her people would make that happen for her. That’s how I got hired, is because she just told somebody, “No, I want him to do it.” And it happened within an hour.

Okay, that’s a no.

She was the boss.

[screaming]

That is gonna be fucking cool every night, man. That’s gonna…

You just‐‐

Well, you just‐‐that’s why I am where I am today, is because I do have control, you know? And you just‐‐you just control what you do. You know, you have to. Otherwise, you get sucked in by people that are not necessary.

[crowd screaming]

I’m just doing my thing right now, just, you know, having fun.

WESLEY: We don’t have royalty here. We’ve got‐‐we’ve got famous people. What was interesting about the Britney Spears‐Justin Timberlake relationship was that we hadn’t really had a kind of, you know, American couple in a minute.

He said I love you to you when you‐‐

He did. I know, I saw.

LIZ: And when they got together, I think a lot of people thought it was just totally perfect, and they wanted to know everything about their relationship.

Am I a virgin?

[laughter]

[delicate music]

Um, yes, I am a virgin, and I definitely wanna try and have sex till I’m married. I just wanna wait for that special someone, so…

[quietly] Thank you.

DAVE: They break up. Justin sort of made it seem, rightly or wrongly, like she had cheated on him. It really seemed like he took control of the narrative.

WESLEY: The way that people treated her, to be very high school about it, was, like, she was the school slut, and he was, like, the school quarterback or whatever, and he essentially weaponizes the video for one of his singles to incriminate her in the demise of the relationship.

♪ Tell me you love me ♪

♪ Why did you leave me all alone? ♪

[song slows, stops]

It was a revenge, pure male revenge fantasy.

STAR: Justin Timberlake is in the house, and I just wanna ask you one question. Did you [bleep] Britney Spears?

[laughter]

Yes or no?

JUSTIN: Oh, man.

STAR: Come on, man.

JUSTIN: Okay, I did it.

STAR: Yeah!

Well, you know, misogyny. I don’t know. What can you say about misogyny? There’s a whole infrastructure to support it, and when it’s time for people to come, in a misogynistic culture, for a woman, there’s a whole apparatus ready to do it.

[soft melancholy music]

♪ ♪

DIANE: I have to ask a couple of things about Justin.

Okay, of course.

He has gone on television and pretty much said you broke his heart, you did something that caused him so much pain, so much suffering. What did you do?

KEVIN: Her image was being painted as, “Oh, what did you do to cause the breakup? You must have done something, not him.”

Britney Spears has upset a lot of mothers in this country, starting with the wife of the governor of Maryland.

Oh, that’s horrible.

DIANE: Well, she‐‐

That’s really bad.

Because of the example for kids and how hard it is to be a parent.

Well, that’s really sad that she said that. Ew. I’m not here to, you know, babysit her kids.

There’s just that invisible line that seemed to exist then that nobody knew how to handle, and nobody knew how to help her handle it.

You’ve had a year that would test a lot of people.

It was pretty rough, yeah. Um…

Oh, my goodness, hello. Ew. Strong Britney. Um, yeah, it was a weird time. Ew, I’m embarrassed. Can we stop this?

Don’t you think it’s something you really want to do all the time, to be onstage, dancing and singing?

I do that for fun. That’s not my life, you know? I see myself in the future with my kids and my husband, and maybe do this on the side.

Okay, I wanna introduce you guys to my friend, Kevin. He’s so cute.

Hi.

I feel like I’ve been missing out.

Okay.

I feel like I’ve been missing out on life.

Like, what part of life?

Life.

I don’t think I was at all surprised when she and Kevin got engaged.

ANNOUNCER: The announcement of Britney’s sudden engagement had the whole country talking.

She told me, and then I remember her saying, “I gotta call my mama,” and I’m like, “Absolutely you do.”

ANNOUNCER: But what do they think about this guy, Kevin Federline, first of all?

JESS: Well, Lynne Spears says that the two have good karma together.

LORA: According to reports, the house you see behind me here in Studio City is where Britney Spears tied the knot Saturday night.

[crowd screaming]

[dramatic music]

♪ ♪

My name is Brittain Stone, and I was the photography director of “Us Weekly” for about a decade. When I had a really healthy budget, it’d be $140,000 a week on imagery. Extrapolate that over the year, you know, $7 to 8 million, but, you know, spending millions of dollars on pictures, that just, you know, quintupled the amount of money that was out there, which meant there were a lot more photographers coming in and doing it.

DANIEL: I never wanted to be considered a paparazzi. I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker, but it sucks you right in, and there’s‐‐ it’s hard to get out of it once you start making the kind of moneys that these guys were making.

ANNOUNCER: Photos of Britney can sell for up to $1 million each.

[ambient music]

♪ ♪

Guys, be nice. Guys, be nice. Everybody’s gonna get their shot.

DANIEL: In the beginning, when paparazzis were following Britney, you could tell she enjoyed it.

[indistinct chatter]

PAPARAZZO: Britney, talk to me, baby girl.

DANIEL: She would give it up, the shots, waving. She was very friendly, a sweetheart of a girl. It was like she needed us, and we needed her. We both needed each other, and it was a great kind of relationship.

There’s a party at my house.

PAPARAZZO: All right, let’s go, let’s go! Yeah, Britney, let’s do it!

PAPARAZZO: Yeah!

PAPARAZZO: Thank you, Britney. We love you, man, for sure.

Well, there was always a little bit of a hunger for the unposed photographs.

BRITNEY: Sometimes people’s‐their‐‐ you know, their personal life becomes bigger than their work.

As we had more of that kind of material in the magazine, you know, the sales just went up.

ELLEN: Britney Spears and Kevin Federline!

LIZ: Britney then makes an announcement that attracts even more paparazzi.

And now, the baby, that’s very exciting. Now, you have to be really excited about that.

Yes, ma’am.

The last‐‐yeah.

[cheers and applause]

You don’t look pregnant.

DANIEL: Once she started having her kid with Kevin Federline, it exploded.

Keep him‐‐keep him in line. Keep him back.

DANIEL: Everyone wanted a piece of Britney. The tabloids were paying a lot of money.

Back away now.

We wanna know what she’s buying.

We’re “People Magazine.”

WOMAN: Oh, okay.

And almost immediately, there’s the perception from the tabloids that Britney is an unfit mother.

Pop star Britney Spears is defending her actions this morning after photos surfaced of her driving with her infant son in her lap on Monday.

The headline of “The New York Post” yesterday, Britney tripping outside a New York hotel Thursday while holding her eight‐month‐old son in one hand and a glass of water in the other.

Britney Spears is on the hot seat.

[soft dramatic music]

♪ ♪

MATT: You were photographed, I guess, by the paparazzi again, pursuing you. And there was Sean on your lap in the car.

Yeah.

Take me through what happened there.

I went to Starbucks, and I see a bunch of photographers, and I’m scared, and I wanna get out of the situation, and my baby’s crying. They’re coming up on the‐you know, the sides of the car, which is a scary situation for me, you know? And they’re banging on the windows, and that’s not something I want my baby to‐‐you know‐‐ so I get my baby out of the car, and I go home. So I mean‐‐and I just feel like they’re taking cheap shots.

[soft ambient music]

♪ ♪

MATT: We’ve got all these legitimate people weighing in, saying, “You know what? That’s dangerous, and she put her child at risk.” You saw the questions that were being asked: “Is Britney a bad mom?”

Mm‐hmm. That’s America for you. [laughs]

LIZ: Britney has two kids almost back‐to‐back. She has her second baby just about a year after having her first baby. There’s a lot of speculation over whether Britney and Kevin have marital problems, and then a few weeks after giving birth to her second child, she files for divorce. Britney files for sole custody of their two kids. The very next day, Kevin files for sole custody himself. And in her book, Britney’s mother, Lynne, writes that she thinks Britney was suffering from postpartum depression.

You know, the main thing that people became fascinated with was her sort of unraveling. Fascinating to not just, you know, your typical celebrity fan base, but just to anyone.

MAN: Let him through.

ANNOUNCER: Britney and Paris hooked up with party girl Lindsay Lohan.

PAPARAZZO: There we go.

PAPARAZZO: There we go.

JOE: She’s basically starting to lose interest in the very carefully‐managed image of Britney Spears as a pop star, and at the same time…

Hey, we can’t see, guys.

JOE: That tabloid culture, they’re reaching the height of their power.

ANNOUNCER: Britney Spears must be paying the babysitter overtime.

The goal is not to sort of‐‐ with these kinds of imagery, be negative about people. It was to enjoy their lives  in a somewhat aspirational/relatable way.

PAPARAZZO: Oh.

GUARD: Watch out, watch out.

PAPARAZZO: Whoa, guys.

GUARD: Let her out.

GUARD: Come on, go, back up.

BOTH: Back up, back up, back up.

GUARD: Let her out, let her out, let her out.

GUARD: Let her walk.

CLERK: Watch your step, guys. Breaking everything!

GUARD: Move back.

PAPARAZZO: Are you okay, Britney?

PAPARAZZO: Come this way, Britney.

PAPARAZZO: Over here, Britney, your car’s here.

PAPARAZZO: You okay, Britney?

GUARD: You need to move. You need to move.

PAPARAZZO: Careful.

FAN: Britney!

FAN: I feel you! They shouldn’t harass you like that, Britney Spears.

GUARD: Let her out, let her out, let her out!

PAPARAZZO: Hi, Britney, how you doing today? You look gorgeous.

GUARD: Come on, man. Hey, move it! stop, stop, stop it!

PAPARAZZO: Relax, relax. Hey, hey, really‐what the fuck, man? Stop it, stop it! Fuck, stop!

Hey!

Stop it!

[shouting over each other]

GUARD: Let her out. Come on! Come on!

[indistinct chatter]

Please don’t fight. I’m scared. I’m scared, I’m scared, I’m scared.

Where’s the door?

GUARD: Back it up, back it up, back it up. Let her in, let her in.

GUARD: Go, move, move! Guys, let’s go, move out!

[faint indistinct chatter]

Why are you so close to my car?

MATT: What do you think it’ll take to get the paparazzi to leave you alone?

Um, I don’t know. I don’t know.

[soft dramatic music]

♪ ♪

MATT: Is that one of your biggest wishes?

[sobs] Yeah.

[engine turns]

[light tense music]

♪ ♪

Come on, guys.

Hey, hey.

DON: We will turn now to a story that is burning up the Internet. It’s just burning this morning. Everybody’s talking about it.

Yes.

Britney Spears, she’s bald.

[soft melancholy music]

HAIRDRESSER: She came in, and she said she wanted her head shaved. The hairdresser refused, so she literally grabbed her‐‐ the hair clipper and started doing it herself. And she said, “I don’t want anyone touching me. I’m tired of everybody touching me.”

♪ ♪

KIM: It’s so easy. It’s so much fun to take a celebrity who’s a young, beautiful, talented girl and rip her to shreds.

DAVID: It was so cold, Britney Spears had a chapped head.

JAY: Friends say this is the craziest thing Britney’s ever done that didn’t involve marriage. It’s unbelievable.

WESLEY: And so she’s saying, essentially, with no hair, “I quit. Whatever you guys are looking for in terms of me coming back and being that person again, I’m not‐‐ that person is gone, and you have‐‐ you have destroyed her.”

[indistinct chatter]

The idea that people could look at that and only see a crazy person, well, just‐‐ that just tells me that‐you know, what a‐what a vulturous society she was working with to begin with.


FAN: Hi, Britney.

FAN: Hey, Britney.

DANIEL: It definitely gives me a different perspective of it now, you know, especially after so many years. When you’re caught up into that whole thing, in that spider web, you don’t really see what the celebrity is going through.

[dramatic music]

♪ ♪

Roberto calls me up, and he goes, “Dano, don’t call anyone. Get your camera, your video camera over here, and maybe you can get this, that I’m‐‐ that I’m getting Britney Spears by myself.” I caught up eventually with him, and she was going out visiting Kevin Federline at his home. The kids meant the world to Britney, and she wanted to see her kids, and Kevin said no. They went to a gas station. She was with her cousin, Alli. I looked at Britney from the windshield, and I was videotaping her, and I said…

♪ ♪

We go back to Kevin Federline’s house. She buzzes the door again. He doesn’t open the gate. Well, now she’s upset. So they pull up behind a Jiffy Lube store. I tell Britney, “Hey, Britney, all I’m gonna do is I’m just gonna ask you a couple of questions, and then I’m gonna leave you alone.” And Alli’s coming up to me, and she’s like, “Guys, please, please.”

ALLI: Please, guys, don’t. Guys, please. Please, guys, don’t do this.

DANIEL: And Britney just grabbed the umbrella, started coming after me, and starts beating the passenger side of my truck.

BRITNEY: [indistinct shouting] Fuck you! Fuck yourself.

MAN: Hey, you gonna get in trouble for that.

DANIEL: That night was not a good night for her.

WOMAN: Oh, wow, she did that too?

DANIEL: And it was not a good night for us.

WOMAN: Oh, my God.

But it was a good night for us ’cause it was a money shot.

[tense music]

♪ ♪

INTERVIEWER: Do you think the paparazzi being around affected her at all?

I don’t really think and I don’t really believe because‐‐you know, working on her for so many years, she never gave a clue or information to us that, “I don’t appreciate you guys. Leave me the eff alone.”

INTERVIEWER: What about when she said, “Leave me alone”?

There were times where she’s like, “Can you leave me alone for the day?” But it wasn’t like, “Leave me alone forever,” you know what I mean?

HOST: The shaving of the head, the umbrella scene with the paparazzi, stints in rehab where she blames you for that, and your relationship with her begins to dissolve. What is happening to your family at that point?

LYNNE: It was so crazy at that time. I don’t think anybody was even trying to sit and think of what was going on. We were just trying to do what we could do at that moment, at that time, and we were praying very hard because it seemed like we had no control over anything that was happening.

[dramatic music]

♪ ♪

WESLEY: She fired her longtime manager. She’s grown very estranged from various members of her family.

LIZ: More and more we’ve heard how she’s very alienated, that she will try to befriend almost anyone. I mean, she’s just desperately seeking friendship.

ANNOUNCER: If you’re asking, “Who is Sam Lutfi?” he is the latest in a long line of the mysterious men in Britney’s life.

JOE: Sam Lutfi just sort of came out of nowhere.

You guys, further apart please.

He’s one of these self‐invented guru types who is constantly attaching himself to celebrities, often at vulnerable moments for them.

HOST: We’re on the air at KIIS FM.

BRITNEY: Hi.

HOST: Good morning, Britney. Today, the album’s been out for a day or so. What will you do? Will you promote the album? What are you gonna be doing?

SAM: This is it.

HOST: This is it?

SAM: Doing all these calls.

HOST: This is the promotion?

Sam was her sort of advisor, trying to be her manager.

HOST: You’ve obviously been aware of the conversation about your kids. How often will you see them?

BRITNEY: Oh, we want, um, my lawyers to do all that stuff.

SAM: Talk about fun stuff.

BRITNEY: Yeah.

HOST: Okay, Sam, what do you wanna talk about?

So Sam Lutfi was basically, you know, seen by her parents as the architect of a lot of Britney’s downfall.

PAPARAZZO: Let’s go. Let’s go.

GUEST: Shaved her head, attacked the paparazzi, more custody drama. Thank you, Britney Spears. Being bad is good for my business.

[laughs]

HOST: Oh, I know that.

[dramatic music]

And nobody was talking about mental health when Britney Spears was going through all of that stuff in public. The conversation was about what was wrong with her. There was too much money to be made off her suffering.


Name something Britney Spears has lost in the past year.

[indistinct]?

Her husband.

Her husband? Let’s see how that stacks up, her husband. It’s something but not number one‐‐Lindsey?

Hair.

The hair, lost a lot of hair. There it is.

[indistinct].

What has she lost?

She has lost her sanity.

Has she lost her mind?

[cheers and applause]

[melancholy music]

ANNOUNCER: A media frenzy around an ambulance in Los Angeles. Police say they were called to Spears’ home Thursday night over a custody dispute.

ANNOUNCER; She refused a court order to turn her two children‐‐

ANNOUNCER: She was supposed to hand over her two sons last night to Federline but refused.

ANNOUNCER: She reportedly had barricaded herself inside the room at one point.

ANNOUNCER: She was rushed to the hospital overnight.

ANNOUNCER: Was wheeled out and brought here to Cedars‐Sinai Hospital in distress.

ANNOUNCER: Was it the pressure? Anxiety disorder? No one could say what it is.

ANNOUNCER: Is under psychiatric evaluation that is involuntary, by the way…

ANNOUNCER: In an emergency session Friday, a family court judge suspended Spears’ right to even see her children.

ANNOUNCER: Britney Spears made an ever so brief appearance outside a Los Angeles courthouse Monday, met by…

Change in visitation that removed Ms. Spears stays in force.

REPORTER: Until when?

Indefinitely.

ANNOUNCER: Earlier today, Britney Spears was taken to the hospital for the second time this month.

ANNOUNCER: We are told that she’s been placed on a 5150 hold. That is essentially a medical health hold…

PAPARAZZO: Mr. Spears, can you tell us what’s going on? How’s Britney doing?

So around this time, Jamie, Britney’s father, files for temporary conservatorship over Britney.

We hope the best for your daughter, sir.

LIZ: Conservatorships are a unique legal arrangement, usually designed for elderly people who are unable to take care of themselves or their money. The court gives someone else special powers to make decisions for them.

Is she voluntarily going? Is this a voluntary thing, or is it‐‐

LIZ: It’s unusual, because Britney’s so young and productive, but there’s speculation that she may be dealing with mental illness issues or drug abuse issues, or otherwise would benefit from this layer of protection. And it’s sort of surprising in that Jamie wasn’t a huge figure in her life before this.

Get out. Get out. Get out.

All right, now everybody out, get out.

VIVIAN: My name is Vivian Lee Thoreen. I was involved as an attorney of record for the first few months of the conservatorship proceedings. Our client was Jamie Spears, Britney’s father. I can’t talk about anything specific that I did, but I guess I could talk about it in a more, like, hypothetical situation. The courts take conservatorship proceedings really seriously, and that’s because, I think, every person’s rights are sacred. There are rules and procedures in place to make sure that there’s accountability. And really, the theme of conservatorships is to act in the conservatee’s best interests. Some people need a conservator just of the person. “I need help figuring out what I’m gonna eat, where I’m gonna live, and help brushing my teeth,” that sort of thing. Having a conservator of the estate appointed for someone is that they are substantially unable to manage their financial affairs, or they are susceptible to undue influence or fraud. It’s more than just, “I can’t balance my checkbook.” It’s “I could be duped into giving away my money.”

[camera shutter snapping]

It seems like undue influence was a real concern for Britney’s parents.

Hey, get out of her face. I mean now. Let’s go, Lynne.

Are you gonna get a restraining order against Sam? Or you guys had been?

LIZ: They file for a restraining order against Sam Lutfi. They allege in court documents that Lutfi had taken control of Britney’s life, her house, and her finances, and even had been drugging her.

PAPARAZZO: Sam, can you tell us something?

LIZ: Lutfi denies the allegations.

PAPARAZZO: Can you tell us anything?

LIZ: But the court grants a restraining order.

GUARD: Let’s go, keep going.

Let’s go, let’s go.

Keep going right now.

LIZ: But Lutfi never seems to really exit the picture.

Keep going.

What’s going on?

No, keep going.

All right.

LIZ: He later sues the family and pops up in subsequent restraining orders as recently as 2019.

SAM: Hope you get better, Britney.

LIZ: One day after Britney was hospitalized, the court grants a temporary conservatorship. Britney’s dad gets appointed the conservator of her person. Then in terms of Britney’s money, he also gets appointed conservator of her estate, alongside an attorney named Andrew Wallet.

ANNOUNCER: Just six days after being taken to the hospital against her will in an ambulance under police guard, the troubled pop star was released without fanfare Wednesday.

Shocking new development in the sad story of Britney Spears. She’s now out of the hospital. She went straight from there to the Beverly Hills Hotel, of all places. All that and more later at the top of the hour.

That’s Anderson Cooper at 10:00‐‐ you wanna say something?

MICHAEL: I was gonna say, it’d be less sad if we just left her alone. I mean, why don’t we just leave her alone and let her‐‐ let her just go on with her life?

♪ ♪

I’m Adam Streisand. I’m a trial lawyer. And my practice is focused on conservatorships and battles over estates.

PAPARAZZO: Hi, Britney. How you doing, sweetheart? Good to see you.

ADAM: I got a call from Britney’s family law attorneys and asked me if I would speak to Britney because, well, the whole world knew that her father was trying to establish a conservatorship over her.

PAPARAZZO: Hey, she’s trying to get out!

[indistinct chatter]

PAPARAZZO: Come on, Britney.

GUARD: Let her go through, please. Give her some room to go through, give her some room.

ADAM: I met with Britney.

Hey, be careful! You’re hurting her. Back up!

ADAM: We agreed to meet at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Well, that’s pretty famous, ’cause there was a lot of paparazzi. And the first question I had was, “Does Britney have the capacity to be able to hire me? Does she have the ability to take my advice?” The first thing is Britney was able to make the judgment, “Hey, I get what’s going on. I get that I’m not gonna be able to resist this conservatorship or avoid this conservatorship,” right? So that’s a pretty sound judgment. The second thing was she said, “I don’t want my father to be the conservator.” That was her one request. She wanted a professional, somebody independent.

INTERVIEWER: And was she opposed to her dad as the conservator of the estate, the person, or both?

Both. Britney did not want her father to be the conservator of her person, right? The person who makes decisions about her medical care and treatment, and so on and so forth. She also didn’t want him controlling her finances.

[soft tense music]

The day that I went to court for her, the judge said, um, “I’ve got a medical report, and you haven’t seen it, Mr. Streisand, and I’m not gonna show it to you, and it shows that she’s not capable of retaining counsel and directing counsel on her own.” When the judge told me, “Mr. Streisand, I’m not gonna let you represent her. I’m going to appoint somebody,” I felt that was not the right decision by the judge. I felt that, based on my interactions with Britney, that she was capable of retaining me and directing me and that the judge should have allowed that to happen.

Can you give us some kind of a heads‐up on what happened here today?

No, I’m sorry. I’m not gonna‐‐gonna be giving any statements on her.

But I didn’t know what I didn’t know, right? I still don’t know what is in that report, and so I had to respect that.

♪ ♪

LIZ: According to court records, Britney’s conservators are able to control who can and cannot visit her, and retain security guards for her 24 hours a day. They have the power to access her medical records and communicate with her doctors. They can take control of her house and even cancel her credit cards. They can make recording, touring, and TV deals for her, and are deeply involved in her finances. There’s some speculation that Britney may have basically accepted the conservatorship because she was worried about seeing her kids. And a few weeks later, she starts to get some visitation rights restored.

[dramatic music]

VIVIAN: If there is a conservatorship proceeding, and the proposed conservatee at some point consents, the conservatee can’t wake up one morning and say, “I don’t need this. I don’t want it. Make it go away.” A petition would have to be filed, a petition to terminate the conservatorship, and then there’s gotta be evidence or some demonstration that a conservatorship is not necessary at that point in time. It’s the conservatee who has the burden of saying, “I don’t need a conservatorship anymore, and here’s why.”

INTERVIEWER: Have you ever known anyone who has terminated a conservatorship?

Of the cases that I’ve been involved in, um, I have not seen a conservatee who has successfully terminated a conservatorship.

♪ ♪


JAMIE: Give my baby some cheese grits. She’s been eating them since she was born. For Southern girls, the breakfast of champions is cheese grits.

[soft tense music]

LIZ: In the first year of the conservatorship, Britney’s team grants MTV access to do a documentary called “Britney: For the Record.”

Hope I got enough cheese and butter in it.

I’m good.

Good‐‐all right.

LIZ: For the first time, we get a real peek of the dynamic between Britney and Jamie, who had just come along as her conservator.

This is my dad. “Britney Jean, sit down there, right there. She don’t listen to me. I scream at her, and she gets on me about screaming at her, but I can’t do it‐now, you’re just gonna have to talk some [bleep] sense into her.”

Give me that phone, I’ll hold that damn phone for you.

No, Daddy.

Oh, [bleep].

LIZ: And the topic of the conservatorship comes up while they’re filming the documentary, and it’s one of the only glimpses that anyone has of how she really feels about it.

If I wasn’t under the restraints that I’m under right now, you know, with all the lawyers and doctors and people analyzing me every day and all that kind of stuff, like, if that wasn’t there, I’d feel so liberated and feel like myself. When I tell them the way I feel, it’s like they hear me, but they’re really not listening. They’re hearing what they wanna hear. They’re not really listening to what I’m telling them. It’s like‐‐it’s bad.

[plaintive music]

♪ ♪

[quietly] And I’m sad.

LIZ: Almost immediately, Britney goes back to work. Within two months, she’s guest‐starring on network TV.

“The personal library of Ted Mosby,” that’s you.

And by the end of 2008, she has recorded and released an album, and is preparing to go on a tour.

ALL: ♪ In the center of the ring, just like a circus ♪

♪ When I crack that whip, everybody gonna trip ♪

♪ Just like a circus ♪

ANNOUNCER: She seems to be on this terrific path. I think a lot of it has to do with the conservatorship that her father took control of.

ANNOUNCER: Finally got a wholesome, good brand again.

Yeah, Britney!

ALL: Whoo!

Once the conservatorship started, my role changed.

We’re gonna walk around this way toward the stage, so if you see your section, just show them your ticket.

My new job, I gave backstage tours. When I went back, it was a different business management, and her dad was involved, and so they did not hire me. The touring company hired me. I don’t know why the Britney company did not hire me. All I know is that maybe they just didn’t know the role I had played earlier.

PAPARAZZO: Felicia, just so people will believe me, what is your relationship with Britney?

I’m a business assistant.

So I took a back seat and simply did what I was hired to do.

PAPARAZZO: Bye, Felicia.

FELICIA: I don’t really know what went on. I just don’t know that they knew her well enough to realize her capabilities in making the decisions. Just me looking in, that’s what I saw.

Britney Spears has made her comeback 100%.

It’s Britney, bitch.

Go and see the concert! It’s amazing.

LIZ: Over the next few years, Britney’s really busy.

And the People’s Choice for favorite pop artist goes to‐‐

It’s Britney Spears!

Britney Spears!

Thank you so much. I wasn’t expecting this.

She’s doing a lot.

BOTH: ♪ Oops, I did it again with my heart ♪

Ladies and gentlemen, Britney Spears.

ANNOUNCER: Britney Spears’ comeback is translating to her checkbook.

Hey, it’s my show!

ANNOUNCER: Estimated earnings over $58 million in the past 12 months.

I think that your performance was incredibly special. It was beautiful, and your tone‐‐ I agree with Demi‐‐ you have such a soulful tone for such a young age. It was amazing.

And then she does a really big deal, which is a residency in Las Vegas.

[upbeat music playing]

♪ ♪

MAN: Who is it?

[laughter, cheers, and applause]

It’s Britney, bitch.

What’s up, Vegas? We should bring someone up here. Can you be my Prince Charming tonight, please?

Thank you. [both scream]

FELICIA: I’m telling you, when she walked on that stage, she never felt judged on the stage. People ate her up. They were mouthing every word that she sang. Um, most people knew every dance move. It was one of the‐‐one of the high points in my life, um, is seeing how much she was loved.

ANNOUNCER: Originally raking in around $310,000 per show, they deposit close to $1 million in Brit’s bank account every week.

Jamie Spears gets approved by the court to receive 1.5% of the gross revenues related to performances and merchandise related to the residency, which was one of the most popular Vegas shows of all time.

JOE: She’s living the life of a busy pop singer, and yet we’re also being told that she’s at risk constantly. The business of Britney Spears have become this very guarded universe, and there was, you know, a very small inner circle of people who were able to interact with her daily, you know, because of the conservatorship.

DAVE: And any time there’s that amount of money to be made, you have to question the motives of everyone close to that person, especially if they are putting her in a position where she cannot make decisions without checking with somebody.

Choose your own destiny.

JOE: I’ve never interviewed Britney Spears. I would go so far as to say anyone who has interviewed Britney Spears, at least in the last five, ten years, did so under very careful watch from her handlers.


Baby, what are you gonna be when you grow up?

I’m gonna be the president of the dog states, yeah.

This is my impression of a Woody Woodpecker.

[breathy exhale]

[laughs as Woody Woodpecker]

[laughter]

[squeals]

LIZ: With the rise of Instagram, it’s no longer the tabloids who choose how the world sees Britney.

ALL: ♪ Happy birthday to you ♪

BRITNEY: ♪ And many more, your pants are torn ♪

♪ They’re down your back, get up off the floor ♪

LIZ: Britney can show us parts of her life that she wants us to see.

360 in my room all day long! Ahh!

LIZ: But the conservatorship is never really mentioned, which makes some people wonder if she’s sending coded messages through her posts.

[pensive music]

Britney’s Instagram was just something that was really fascinating to us. You know, we would share her posts and just kind of wonder what they were all about.

And Babs was like, “What if we did a podcast where all we did was over‐dissect Britney’s Instagram?”

BABS: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Britney’s Gram.”

BOTH: The happiest place on the Internet.

BABS: I am Babs Gray.

TESS: And I’m Tess Barker.

BABS: That’s kind of where we started noticing more and more these very cryptic things she would post, like a hole cut out in a wall, and the caption is, “There’s always a way out,” and it was just like, God, like, what is this? It almost seems kinda dark.

Um, I’m a Sagittarius. I’m very keen on freedom. I love freedom. I love independence.

If you think that Britney is calling out for help… You’ll find a reason in those videos that’s proof that she’s calling out for help.

My favorite Disney movie is probably “Frozen” just because I really like the fact that the two sisters, um, their relationship, and then one goes off and lives in a castle just because she can’t deal anymore.

DAVE: Everyone’s interpretation of what Britney is putting forth is something that they are bringing to those Instagram videos. It’s impossible to know her so we never knew her. We know her even less now. She is‐‐she is kind of unknowable.

TESS: This is episode 50.

BABS: Oh, my God.

Naturally, since it was a Britney Spears podcast, we would look at any news involving her, and we saw that her co‐conservator, Andrew Wallet, was petitioning for a raise from the court. This is what it read.

“Conservatee’s business activities have greatly accelerated due to her increased wellbeing and her capacity to be more engaged in furthering her career activities. The next several years promise to be very lucrative for the conservatorship estate. This conservatorship should be viewed more as a hybrid business model,” which I think is probably the first time that’s ever been said about a conservatorship.

And‐‐and that the conservatorship, which really is put in place to take care of people‐‐

BABS: Naturally shouldn’t be a business that is making exorbitant amounts of money from someone who is so fit to work.

[dramatic musical sting]

KALEN: Hello, world. We are live in Las Vegas for an announcement that is about to shake the table. Y’all excited? [all cheer]

DAVE: So she was gonna announce the Domination residency, a brand‐new theater on a brand‐new stage. It was gonna be, like, a year long, maybe more.

KALEN: She’s coming. It’s about to happen.

She was gonna, like, do a performance and then go down and do an interview. It’s live streaming. It’s up on YouTube.

KALEN: I wish I knew some of that Britney choreo, but she‐‐she a lot better dancer than me.

DAVE: Then it’s like, the lights go down.

MARIO: All right, everyone. We are here to welcome the new queen of Vegas.

[“Till the World Ends” playing]

♪ ♪

Ladies and gentlemen, Britney Spears!

[crowd cheering]

DAVE: And she walks down and then passes the stage where the performance is gonna be, keeps walking, keeps walking.

TESS: Doesn’t say anything on stage, doesn’t give any interviews with reporters, does not announce the residency that she’s there to announce.

DAVE: And it’s like, “Here she is. Oh, there she goes. Oh, she’s not gonna‐‐and‐‐ and there she goes in her limousine.”

REPORTER: That’s it? This‐‐we’ve been waiting for this live stream. She just walked right by?

REPORTER: And she’s just walking by.


LIZ: I think up until this point Britney had seemed like a good little soldier where she was happy to go out and perform, but the abrupt cancelation of the second Vegas show felt like the beginning of the end of the fairy tale gloss over the conservatorship.

BABS: And then nothing, disappears. No‐‐no sign of her on Instagram. We’re just like, “Where the fuck is Britney?”

Welcome to “Britney’s Gram.”

BOTH: The happiest place on the Internet!

BABS: Currently when we’re recording this day 17 of the Britney shutdown.

TESS: I’m still not at peace. I’m anxious.

BABS: No! There’s a‐And then, out of nowhere, Andrew Wallet quits.

This guy just asked for a raise‐‐why would he‐‐

And had been the conservator since the onset of the conservatorship.

Like, what? Something is going on behind the scenes here.


[tense music]

♪ ♪

BABS: Finally the Instagram, which had been dark, there’s a meme. The caption says, “We all need to take time for a little ‘me time,'” and there was a smiley face, an emoticon, not an emoji, which we noted because we’re like, “Britney always uses emoji.” And it just seemed off immediately, and the news breaks that‐‐

REPORTER: TMZ is reporting that Spears voluntarily checked herself into a residential mental health facility about a week ago.

We talked about all our suspicions with whether or not she had actually elected to go on into the facility herself and whether she’d been there for a lot longer.

And the next day we get a voicemail.

PERSON: Hi, there. Um, I cannot disclose who I am. I used to be a paralegal for an attorney that worked with Britney’s conservatorship. I am no longer with them.

It just brought to light a lot of the things that we had suspected.

PERSON: Britney has been in the mental facility since mid‐January. Of course, I‐I’m just a paralegal. I haven’t had any contact with her, but, um, from what I understand, this was, uh… not a decision she made.

We felt that this information should probably be shared.

We don’t know what the next step is as far as getting her out. That’s what we have to figure out. You know, she’s been put away. Let’s get her out. Free Britney.

TESS: Free Britney. We love you, Britney.

BABS: Bye.

TESS: Bye.

A popular Britney fan podcast aired a special emergency episode after receiving…

So we released the podcast on a Monday night, and by Tuesday morning it was everywhere.

NEWS ANCHOR: Social media is erupting in Britney Spears hysteria.

I love that shirt. Eve’s got that shirt, uh! [cheers and applause]

JUNIOR: I still remember the exact moment the voicemail dropped and the feeling I had of, “Oh, my God, it makes sense.” It clicked. I knew then it was time to jump. We gathered a few fans. It wasn’t much, maybe 10, 15. Pick a spot. What do we want? ALL: Free Britney!

JUNIOR: When do we want it?

ALL: Now!

JUNIOR: I was nervous. Are people gonna think we’re crazy? Are they gonna take us seriously? Are we gonna look like a joke? [cars honking] But my heart said, “No matter what, you’re taking your butt there, and you’re gonna help her just the way she has helped you.”

ALL: End conservatorship abuse. End conservatorship abuse.

We think that, you know, the conservatorship she’s been under seems unjust.

You know, it was effective because we brought attention to the media.

A #FreeBritney movement is behind me.

PERSON: Dear Britney.

Dear Britney.

Dear Britney.

We grew, and we grew, and we grew, and we grew.

I support you. I stand by you.

Britney Spears needs our help.

Why is it so hard to get out of? Why is she still in it?

This is Rose McGowan saying free Britney.

Free Britney!

[person squeals, crowd cheers]

LIZ: The Free Britney movement runs from the innocuous to the extreme.

REPORTER: Britney Spears’ father, Jamie, speaking out against the viral campaign.

Jamie tells “Page Six” that the movement is a joke.

REPORTER: “All these conspiracy theorists don’t know anything. It’s up to the court of California to decide what’s best for my daughter.”

LEANNE: Yeah, you hear enough of that, and you do start to question.

Like, I don’t‐maybe I’m delusional. Maybe I don’t know. I should just listen to the people who “know” her. But then when you‐‐you start to connect the dots and you start to talk to other people who have the exact same thoughts, that this isn’t right.

INTERVIEWER: You ever question, like, what if you’re wrong?

If I’m wrong and one day Britney does come out and tells us that we’re wrong and leave her alone, we will do just that.

JOE: At this point, things in the conservatorship world start to change, and you start to hear these tabloid reports that Britney and her father are no longer on good terms and that at a certain point Kevin Federline takes out a restraining order against Jamie Spears, claiming that he had a physical altercation with one of Britney’s young sons.

Then you start to have all these machinations behind the scenes that seem to change not only the shape of what the conservatorship is but the dynamics within the family and within the business of Britney Spears.

In the wake of her recent health troubles, Spears’ mom is now requesting to be involved in her medical decisions.

NEWS ANCHOR: Her mother, telling the court she just wants to have a voice in her daughter’s life.

Like, what does “Free Britney” mean from your understanding?

That I don’t quite know, like, what their‐‐what their meaning is, you know? I don’t know, maybe she’s being confined or something or held against her will in some capacity.

Do‐‐have you ever seen anything that led you to be concerned that your sister was being held against her will?

Uh, every day. The‐‐no, I’m joking. I mean, like, wo‐‐the women in this family are very, very strong‐minded and have their own opinion, and they wanna do what they wanna do, and as much as I admire that as a guy, being, like, one of two guys in this entire family, it kinda sucks, man.

They’re strong‐minded. They want to do what they want to do. Kinda constitutional, you know?

I mean, yeah, and they have a right to do that, you know?

I mean, she’s been in this thing for quite some time now. Obviously there was a need for it in the beginning, and now they‐‐you know, they’ve made some changes, and, you know, all we can do is kinda hope for the best.

Right, you had to have asked her about it.

I mean‐‐I mean, she’s always wanted to get out of it. What level of that is the reality, who knows?

CROWD: The conservatorship has got to go. Hey, hey, ho, ho, the conservatorship has got to go. Hey, hey.

LIZ: Britney’s case, I think, has brought a lot of scrutiny to the conservatorship system in general.

ALL: End conservatorship of youth.

LIZ: Flaws in Britney’s case could reveal flaws in the bigger conservatorship system.

Free Britney!

And it’s now, very recently, in August 2020 that, like, for the first time ever in the entire 12 years the conservatorship has been in effect, Britney appears to be publicly signaling that she wants changes.

Britney, with the help of her lawyer, Sam Ingham, indicates that she would like a bank to become the overseer of her estate. The other thing that I think we’re seeing for the first time is that she’s sort of acknowledging the outside phenomenon of Britney Spears fans coming out against the conservatorship. “At this point in her life, Britney welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her many fans. Britney herself is vehemently opposed to this effort by her father to keep her legal struggle hidden away in the closet as a family secret. In this case, it is not an exaggeration to say that the whole world is watching.”

This is a huge pivot.

The document in which Britney basically supports the movement and says that she‐appreciative of our support, our “informed support,” ’cause we’ve done our research. And in the document, it mentioned that they‐‐they thought it could be a battle, a struggle to remove Jamie as conservator of her estate and that that’s kind of what it’s shaping up to be.

PARIS: I love her so much, and I just‐‐ I feel that if you’re an adult, you should be able to live your life and not be controlled, and I think maybe that stems from me being controlled so much, so I can understand how that would feel.

PERSON: Let me point out to you a few things about Jamie Spears, her dad. His attitude from his attorney is that this is in place for a reason, but she does have freedom. She travels. She does stuff. It’s not like she’s under lock and key.

ACTIVIST: When do we want it?

ALL: Now!

ACTIVIST: What do we want?

ALL: Free Britney!

When do we want it?

ALL: Now!

LIZ: So on November 10th, there’s a court hearing, and attorneys for Britney, for Jamie, and for Lynne are all present, and it’s pretty rare in that the public is allowed to be there as well.

LEANNE: There’s such a limited amount‐‐you know, number of participants that can join. We will send in a couple people to listen in, and I will update. I have a Google Doc, and I’m taking, like, feverish notes.

Leanne and Megan are sharing a Google note document.

Oh, okay.

So Leanne is taking notes, and then Megan’s reading, the notes off the Google document, so that’s how we’re finding out the information.

MEGAN: Hey, guys, it’s Megan. The judge has not made any decisions yet, but we did wanna give you a quick update.

LIZ: For the first time we’re starting to see Britney’s lawyer raise objections to Jamie’s management of Britney’s estate.

James’ attorneys were arguing that there’s not really a conflict between Britney and James, but then Ingham came on and said that that’s not true and that Britney is afraid of her father and that Britney has told him on multiple occasions that she is refusing to work until he is no longer managing her career.

[pensive music]

ACTIVIST: Oh.

MEGAN: Lynne came in. Lynne’s lawyers came in. She wants no ill will, told Jamie that, said, “Lynne wants new sole conservator of the estate. It is no secret that the relationship between Britney and James has been contentious.”

Okay.

“We are here for Britney. Lynne wants her daughter to wake up tomorrow and see brighter days.”

ACTIVIST: Fight for your daughter.

LIZ: Some people would argue that there’s a conflict of interest at times in the conservatorship system because in Britney’s case, she is paying for almost everyone on all sides, so she’s paying for not only her own lawyer. She’s paying for her conservators, and she’s paying for her conservators’ lawyers, so do they always have her best interest at heart?

Judge is speaking.

Judge is speaking.

This is just in from the judge. She says, “I am not going to be making an order to dis‐‐to suspend Mr. Spears today.”

ACTIVIST: They’re not gonna suspend Jamie.

MEGAN: Today.

ACTIVIST: Today.

NEWS REPORTER: The singer lost her latest court attempt to strip her father of the court‐appointed title he has.

NEWS REPORTER: The judge ultimately declining to remove Jamie Spears as conservator at this time, but Britney’s choice of wealth manager, Bessemer Trust, was named as the co‐conservator of her $60 million estate, a small victory for Britney Spears.

ALL: Free her! Free her! Free her!

INTERVIEWER: What does that mean?

LIZ: It means that he has not stepped down. Instead of stepping down, Jamie has said, “No, I’ve done a good job. I love my daughter a lot, and actually, it would harm Britney if I were to step down.” The judge allowed Britney to add on this bank to be her co‐conservator of her estate, but the judge also ruled not to remove Jamie at this point. The judge left the door open as to potentially remove Jamie further down the road, but at this point he’s still in charge of her money.

ADAM: What’s really interesting is that Sam Ingham, the other day, in court said, “Britney’s a high‐functioning conservatee.” I don’t even know what that means, right? If she’s functioning enough to say, “Hey, I don’t want my father to be conservator. I’m not gonna perform if he is the conservator…” Maybe she doesn’t need a conservatorship. But the problem is, we don’t know what we don’t know.

FELICIA: Okay, this is one of my very favorite pictures. It is one of the very first pictures that we took when we were in New York City, and we wanted to have, um, Times Square behind us. First time in Times Square. Oh.

The image of Britney that we were sold when she first hit the scene was this, you know, perfect all‐American girl next door, but a lot of fans are, you know, not that. They were people like myself who felt like they didn’t fit in, and I think there was some wanting to aspire to that image.

See, this is my first tour on my very own.

KEVIN: We know now that Britney wasn’t perfect.

Are you ready to party?

[cheers and applause]

KEVIN: Britney had to navigate being told who she could be and what she could do.

Gonna wear what I wanna wear, you know? You can’t concern yourself with everyone. Otherwise you’ll go crazy.

I think that that story of control and identity really resonates.

FELICIA: This is‐‐okay, this makes me very happy. We went from Paris to London underneath the water on a train, and we thought that was about the coolest thing we’d ever done. I know at some point she will tell her story. I know she will, and I am so grateful for when that point comes that she’s able to sit down, and, you know, everything will fall into place.

BRITNEY: See the pink rose? See how beautiful that is? Watch. It’s just soap. That’s all it is. It’s just soap. It’s not really a flower at all. It’s just soap. See? Fooled ya.

[soft dramatic music]

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

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