Britney has finally spoken for herself. Last night, the pop star appeared at a court hearing about her controversial conservatorship, which has seen her life and finances tightly controlled by her father for the past 13 years. What she said was far more disturbing than any of the internet theories that have been swirling. It painted a picture of a woman who was once the most powerful pop star in the world, now turned into a prisoner. The woman my generation wanted to be when we grew up appears to have ended up living a life that even a character from The Handmaid’s Tale wouldn’t envy.
Her speech gave us her own account at last, following years of speculation about what’s really going on and how she really feels about the measures she’s living under. In an extraordinary statement, she pleaded with the judge to end the count-appointed conservatorship, insisting it’s doing her more harm than good. “I deserve to have a life,” she said.
That’s what #FreeBritney activists, who have been campaigning for her since 2009, have believed for a long time. But it was her passionate telling of the details of her experience that shook the world. She claimed that she wants to have another baby but is not allowed to have her IUD removed; that she was put on lithium for years, which “made me feel drunk”; that she was made to perform against her will when unwell; that she cannot see her friends, and her boyfriend, personal trainer Sam Ashgari, is not allowed to drive her in his car. As for her father, Spears said that he “loved the control to hurt his own daughter 100,000 per cent. He loved it”. She compared her treatment to “sex trafficking” and said that she has lied to the world about the fact she’s “okay and happy”.
Recent documentaries from the New York Times and the BBC have reignited outrage regarding Spears’s case, but, for some, they left a bad taste. Without Britney’s voice, were they merely indulging in a more high-minded version of the tabloid tittle tattle that contributed to her mental health breakdown in 2007? Spears has said the NYT’s documentary Framing Britney Spears made her feel “embarrassed by the light they put me in...I cried for two weeks.” She rightly does not want to be seen as a victim. But her address to the court last night made it clear, once and for all, that she is adamant something very wrong has happened here.
Hearing Spears speak is a crucial part of the puzzle, but her lawyer must now file a formal petition to try and end the conservatorship. These orders are notoriously difficult to remove, but, if nothing else, last night’s moving submission marks the beginning of Spears trying to take back control of her life. Today’s pop stars exude control: Taylor Swift has just rerecorded her masters after losing them to music exec Scooter Braun, Dua Lipa used her speeches at the Brits to make political statements and Lady Gaga often speaks movingly about her mental health. But Spears once was in control, too. In an interview at the height of her powers, she said, “I know all the ins and outs of what I’m doing, I know all the contracts. I’m not just some girl who’s listening to her manager.” The fact that control was taken from her is an infuriating indictment of attitudes towards successful women with power.
I’m so angry, it’s insane
The line that hit me the hardest? “I’m so angry it’s insane.” Society dictates that women are not allowed to be angry, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the world now unites in rage on Britney’s behalf.