A Timeline of the Connections Between Britney Spears Music and Her Conservatorship Fight - pitchfork.com
|pitchfork.com 29 Jul 2021 at 13:52|
Britney Spears may be closer than ever to taking back control over her own life and money. This week, her new lawyer formally petitioned to replace the pop star’s father, Jamie Spears, as the conservator of her estate. Under the conservatorship, a court-ordered arrangement designed for people who are unable to make their own choices, Jamie has had power over Britney’s financial decisions since 2008. The latest legal activity comes as Britney has increasingly let it be known that she opposes the conservatorship, as in-depth reporting from the New York Times and The New Yorker has shed more light on what has been going on behind the scenes in closed courtrooms for years.
But the groundwork for the conservatorship was set when a determined teenager from Louisiana conquered the pop world in unprecedented fashion only to soon find herself a single mother, beset by paparazzi, without primary custody of her two children. Despite her private struggles, which sometimes became all too public, she has worked at a prodigious rate. Even since the start of the conservatorship, Britney has released four new albums, while performing hundreds of shows and generating hundreds of millions of dollars in gross revenues.
Here, we revisit key moments in Britney’s musical career alongside her personal struggles with her family and the conservatorship.
A 16-year-old Britney’s debut single “...Baby One More Time” arrived in September 1998, turning the onetime Mickey Mouse Club star into a cultural sensation. The album of the same name would soon become one of the best-selling debut LPs ever. At the start of Britney’s music career, a family friend chaperoned her so that Britney’s mother, Lynne, could stay home with her younger daughter. And a few months before the release of ...Baby One More Time , Lynne and Britney’s father, Jamie, filed for bankruptcy.
Britney in December 1998 (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
Britney’s sophomore album, Oops!... I Did It Again, landed in May 2000, debuting at No. 1 with more than 1.3 million copies sold in its first week of release. The same year, according to Lynne’s 2008 memoir, Through the Storm, Britney encouraged her mother to divorce Jamie, due to what Lynne described as “years and years of verbal abuse, abandonment, erratic behavior, and his simply not being there for me.”
Britney’s third album, Britney, hit shelves in November 2001. The album introduced a slightly edgier sound—the Neptunes produced two tracks, including lead single “I’m a Slave 4 U”—and continued her commercial dominance. Six months later, Jamie and Lynne Spears divorced.
In January 2004, just two months after the release of her fourth album, In the Zone, Britney married a hometown friend in Las Vegas, but a judge annulled the marriage 55 hours later. Britney’s annulment petition, filed by a lawyer, asserted that she “lacked understanding of her actions.”
Around this time, according to a court filing obtained by the Times , Jamie checked into rehab for drinking, at Britney’s urging. Her single “Toxic,” with its addiction metaphor and undulating Bollywood strings, topped the charts in March. That same spring, Britney met a dancer named Kevin Federline, and the two were officially married in October, after Federline signed a marriage contract giving up some of his rights to Britney’s fortune. In November, Britney released her first greatest hits collection, subtitled My Prerogative.
In February 2006, photos showed Britney driving with her infant son Sean on her lap. In a TV interview, she said that she was afraid of the paparazzi and that her father also drove with her in his lap when she was a child. That September, she gave birth to her second son, Jayden.
In November, Britney filed for divorce from Federline, who wrote on the bathroom wall of a nightclub, “Today I’m a free man—fuck a wife, give me my kids bitch!” He asked for full custody.
At the American Music Awards in November 2006 (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
In February 2007, Britney visited a drug rehab clinic in Antigua for only one day. She flew back to Los Angeles, where she went to a salon, and shaved off her own hair. Days later, she hit a photographer’s car with an umbrella. According to The New Yorker , both the head-shaving and the umbrella incident came after the paparazzi followed her as she drove to Federline’s house and was denied access to their children.
In September, Britney released “Gimme More” (which introduced the catchphrase “It’s Britney, bitch”) as the first single from her fifth album, Blackout, and performed the song at the MTV Video Music Awards. Brutal criticism of her VMAs performance (the Times called it a “fiasco”) inspired the “ Leave Britney Alone! ” video by fan Chris Crocker, an early viral YouTube phenomenon. Just days later, a judge ordered Britney to undergo random drug testing, citing her “habitual, frequent uses of controlled substances and alcohol.”
The next month, Federline was granted primary custody of the kids. On October 25, Blackout was released. It was her first album to not debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (it came in at No. 2), but it would eventually emerge as a critics ’ favorite . As tumultuous as Britney’s personal life seems to have been at this point, Blackout channeled the chaos into self-aware, sonically adventurous dance-pop: a lurid thrill that both invited and defied the paps’ grim fascination.
On two separate occasions in January 2008, police were called to Britney’s home and she was placed on a “5150” hold, which allows for the involuntary hospitalization of someone having a mental-health episode. On February 1, a day after Britney’s second hospitalization, her father Jamie asked a judge to place Britney under a temporary conservatorship. The request was granted, putting Jamie and a court-appointed attorney named Andrew Wallet in charge of Britney’s life and finances. Three days later, a lawyer representing Britney told the court that she had a “strong desire” for Jamie not to be her conservator, but the judge ruled that she lacked the capacity to hire an attorney.
In September, Britney won three awards at the MTV Video Music Awards, including Video of the Year for Blackout’s “Piece of Me,” a song that masterfully riffs on her tabloid-tinted public persona (“I’m Mrs. Oh my God that Britney’s shameless,” she sneers). The next month, a judge extended her conservatorship indefinitely.
December brought Britney’s sixth album, Circus, which made her the youngest female artist with five albums to open at No. 1. “You say I’m crazy/I got your crazy,” she sings on the chart-topping lead single, “Womanizer.”
In January 2009, Jordan Miller, founder of the fan site Breathe Heavy, coined the term “Free Britney” in a blog post raising concerns about how the singer was allegedly being treated under the conservatorship.
Britney’s Circus tour, which started in March, restricted performers and crew members from drinking alcohol or even energy drinks around her. Around this time, a former nanny for Britney accused her father of “verbal abuse, tirades, inappropriate behavior, and alcoholic relapses,” according to a legal letter obtained by the Times. In November, Britney released a second best-of compilation, spawning her third U.S. No. 1 single, “3.”
During the holidays, Spears gave a hand-written letter to Andrew Gallery, a photographer who’d worked for her. “She was lied to and set up,” reads the letter, which speaks of Britney in the third person. “Her children were taken away and she did spin out of control which any mother would in those circumstances.” Britney wrote that she “had no rights” and would remain under a conservatorship “as long as the people are getting paid.”
In March 2011, Britney released her seventh album, Femme Fatale, which tied her with Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson for the third-most No. 1 albums by a woman. Lead single “Hold It Against Me” also hit the top of the charts. With “ Till the World Ends ” and “I Wanna Go,” Femme Fatale was Britney’s first album to launch three top 10 singles, all with themes of escape and hedonism. In April, Rihanna released a remix of her song “S&M” with Britney as a featured vocalist, and the remix, too, went to No. 1. Four months later, she won the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the MTV VMAs .
In April 2012, Britney’s former agent and then-fiance, Jason Trawick, became her co-conservator. The following month, she joined the TV show The X Factor as a judge. In November, the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am, who’d collaborated with Britney on Femme Fatale’s “Big Fat Bass,” released his solo track “ Scream & Shout ,” featuring a fresh Britney vocal and a reprise of her “Britney, bitch” catchphrase. Any hint of desperation in the chorus—“I wanna scream and shout and let it all out”—was easily overlooked amid Britney’s use of a fake British accent and will.i.am’s plentiful dubstep drops.
In January 2013, Britney and Trawick split up, and he was removed as her co-conservator. In September, she released “Work Bitch,” the lead single from her eighth album, Britney Jean , which was executive produced by Will.i.am. The song peaked at No. 12 on the Hot 100, her 19th appearance in the Top 20.
Released in early December, Britney Jean bowed at No. 4 on the Billboard 200, becoming her lowest-charting album to date. At the end of the same month, though, she began a two-year concert residency in Las Vegas, Britney: Piece of Me. Under the terms of her $300,000-a-night deal, she was obligated to stay under the conservatorship.
In 2014, Jamie was reportedly granted 1.5 percent of gross revenues from Britney’s Las Vegas performances and merchandise. The same year, according to documents obtained by the Times, Britney’s court-appointed lawyer said in a closed hearing that Britney wanted to remove her father as co-conservator, citing his alleged drinking. Britney’s lawyer also said that she was contemplating retirement but “believed the conservatorship precluded that.”
In May 2015, Britney and Iggy Azalea released the collaborative single “Pretty Girls,” which peaked at No. 29. The two also performed the song live at the Billboard Music Awards. In June, pioneering disco producer Giorgio Moroder released his album Déjà Vu , featuring Britney on the single “Tom’s Diner.” Moroder told an interviewer , “Britney sounds so good, you would hardly recognize her.” In September, Britney announced she’d signed a two-year contract extension for Piece of Me.
Floating above the stage during her Piece of Me residency in Las Vegas in March 2015 (Photo by Denise Truscello/BSLV/Getty Images for Brandcasting, Inc)
In August 2016, Britney released her ninth album, Glory , which peaked at No. 3. At the MTV Video Music Awards, she performed the lead single, “ Make Me… ” The same year, according to documents obtained by the Times, she was objecting again to the conservatorship. A court investigator, conducting a periodic review for the judge, wrote, “She articulated she feels the conservatorship has become an oppressive and controlling tool against her.”
The final show of Britney’s Las Vegas concert residency Piece of Me aired live on TV on December 31, 2017. In October 2018, she announced her second Vegas residency, Britney: Domination, and performed at the Formula One Grand Prix in Austin—still her most recent live performance. In November, Jamie was hospitalized for intestinal issues.
At Britney’s June 2021 hearing, she testified that her managers forced her to go on tour in 2018 and pressured her to start rehearsing for Domination when she wanted to take time off. (A member of her team has denied this.) Britney also testified that her therapist started prescribing her lithium. By December 2018, Jamie told her that she had to go to an intensive rehab facility for four months because she had failed a “psych test,” according to her testimony. “I cried on the phone for an hour, and he loved every minute of it,” Britney said in court last month.
In January 2019, Britney announced an “indefinite work hiatus,” citing her father’s health. She postponed the Domination residency, which would have started in February. In March, Andrew Wallet, the co-conservator, resigned from his role, leaving Jamie as sole conservator of Britney’s life and finances. Around this time, Britney spent several weeks at a mental-health facility, according to CNN . In April 2019, the hosts of a long-running podcast called Britney’s Gram, comedians Tess Barker and Barbara Gray, galvanized the #FreeBritney movement by reporting on accusations that Britney was being held against her will.
At a closed hearing in May 2019, Britney told the court that she had been involuntarily sent to the mental health facility for embellished reasons that she saw as reprisal for protesting during rehearsal. Britney further asserted that she had been made to perform against her will with a 104-degree fever. Listing off her tours and album releases, she objected to the need for a conservatorship.
In September, Kevin Federline was granted a restraining order against Jamie after an alleged physical altercation between Jamie and one of Britney’s sons. Shortly afterward, Jamie temporarily resigned as conservator of Britney’s health and medical decisions, replaced by the licensed fiduciary Jodi Montgomery, citing health issues. Jamie was still the conservator of Britney’s estate.
In August 2020, a judge extended Britney’s conservatorship through early 2021. Britney’s court-appointed lawyer asked a judge to remove Jamie as conservator of Britney’s estate and to appoint Bessemer Trust, a wealth management firm, to handle Britney’s money instead. In November, Britney’s lawyer told the judge that Britney was “afraid” of Jamie and would not perform again while her father is conservator of her estate. The judge named Bessemer Trust as a co-conservator but declined to remove Jamie from his role. In December, Britney’s conservatorship was extended again, to September 2021. In the meantime, she still has not released any music besides outtakes since 2016’s Glory.
Britney supporters in Washington, D.C. earlier this month (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
In February, the Times’ documentary Framing Britney Spears premiered, focusing on Britney’s conservatorship and the #FreeBritney movement. The next month, Britney’s lawyer asked the court to permanently replace Jamie with Jodi Montgomery as conservator of Britney’s health and medical decisions. In April, Britney’s lawyer told the court that Britney wanted to address the judge directly, and a hearing was set for June 23.
One day before the hearing, the Times reported, based on previously sealed court documents, that Spears had been fighting the conservatorship more often and for longer than what was known publicly. That night, according to The New Yorker, Spears called 911 to report being a victim of conservatorship abuse. On June 23, in more than 20 minutes of prepared testimony, Spears asserted her claims of exploitation and abuse, telling the court that she had not known she could petition for an end to the conservatorship. “I just want my life back,” she said. Her allegations included an assertion that she was forced to have an IUD in place despite wanting more kids.
On June 30, Britney’s November 2020 request to remove her father from her conservatorship was denied. The next day, Bessemer Trust asked to resign from the conservatorship, claiming that it had been surprised to hear Britney’s fervent opposition to an arrangement it had been told was voluntary. Four days later, Britney’s longtime manager Larry Rudolph also resigned , noting Britney’s apparent wish to retire. Her court-appointed lawyer filed to resign the following day. On July 14, Spears was finally allowed to hire her own attorney , Hollywood power lawyer Mathew Rosengart, who has since filed a request for a new conservator of Britney’s estate.