Britney Spears Takes to YouTube to Tell Her Long-Awaited Story

Nearly a year on from the end of her conservatorship, Britney Spears finally shares her truth and takes back autonomy via a 20 minute audio clip uploaded to YouTube. Her choice to open up without being paid acts as a glorious and final ‘fuck you’ to Hollywood.

Trigger warning: this article contains discussions about abuse and substance addiction. 

After a 13-year conservatorship which ended last November, pop icon Britney Spears has opened up about her experiences over the last decade. Although the singer has remained vocal on her Instagram throughout the last few years of the #FreeBritney campaign – she put her sister and Zoey 101 star Jamie Lynn in her place a few times via the ‘gram – the ‘Toxic’ singer had yet to share her story on a more public platform. That is, until last Monday. 

On the 29th of September, nearly a year since the conservatorship’s end, Spears uploaded a 20-minute video to YouTube which remained public for just under an hour. In the video, the singer goes into detail about the timeline of her conservatorship, from when it began at age 25 to how she broke out of it over a decade later. Despite being offered huge sums of money to share her story via various media publications – most notably, Oprah – she instead opted to share an audio recording via YouTube, feeling that being paid to promote your story is “kind of silly.” She also made clear that the purpose of the video was to help others who are experiencing similar patterns of abuse, or isolation as a result. 

According to the video, Spears was placed in a conservatorship by her father Jamie Spears after an incident in 2008, where she spoke in a British accent to a doctor when asking for a prescription. Three days later a SWAT team arrived at her house, strapped her to a gurney and she was placed in an involuntary psychiatric hold for two weeks. During this process, she describes over 200 paparazzi outside her home photographing the traumatic moment, whilst she struggled in complete confusion. For Spears, her only crime had been “playing chase with the paparazzi.” 

Following this stint in the hospital, the pop star goes on to discuss how she was made to work almost immediately. Not only was she fat-shamed by her team and forced to work out every single day, but she also had to begin working on the Circus album, make TV appearances – anyone remember that one episode of How I Met Your Mother? – and kick off her Vegas residency, spanning 4 years. She no longer had control over her finances or her schedule, and repeats that she was made to feel like “nothing.”

Britney no longer had control over her finances or her schedule, and repeats that she was made to feel like “nothing.”

This abuse continued and in fact worsened after an incident during a performance rehearsal, where she simply said “no” to a dance move suggested. Not long after, she was involuntarily hospitalised again, with 6 vials of blood being drained from her per week. The intense control reached new heights as Spears was forced to go to AA meetings, despite not having an alcohol or drug addiction. She worked 10-hour days, 7 days a week with no rest, had no privacy and was banned from partying with friends. 

Despite attempts from Britney’s team to legally dispute her conservatorship throughout the noughties, it wasn’t until 2019 that the #FreeBritney movement started to gain traction online. The hashtag, along with Britney being able to acquire independent legal help through a friend, meant that the singer was able to finally have her father suspended as conservator of her estate in November of 2021. 

There are many points in Britney’s video that are shocking, upsetting and difficult to listen to. The stories of sustained abuse – financially, emotionally and physically – are deeply distressing to hear and paint a picture of a woman completely and wholly taken advantage of. In her own words, they “killed” her and crushed her spirit; “they put me in an ignorant, scared state of mind.” 

Possibly one of the saddest parts of the whole video is the betrayal she expresses feeling from her mother, who not only went along with Jamie Spears’ wishes, but suggested the conservatorship to him in the first place. Whilst Britney was being manipulated, controlled, extorted and threatened with legal action by her own father, her mother idly sat back. In Britney’s mind, her mother seemed to relish in her being “the bad one”, and routinely denied her own involvement in Britney’s abuse to the press. 

What is poignant is the theme of parent-child exploitation in Hollywood, which seems to be a popular topic at the moment – Nickelodeon star Jeanette McCurdy’s new book I’m Glad My Mom Died, discussing the mistreatment she faced from her late mother as a child actor. Too often within Hollywood, young talented people are forced to become paid puppets, manipulated at the hands of those who benefit from their fame, money and access. Unfortunately for Spears, the narrative that she was an unstable, dangerous mess, created by her family after her public ‘breakdown’ in 2007, was latched onto by the media. The noughties were a time when paparazzi were given free rein to harass celebrities anytime, anywhere and in huge numbers, and online media publications had far less obligation to report accurately or consider the mental health of their celebrity targets, all of which combined created an extremely unsafe environment for those in the public eye. 

Moreover, Britney’s particular case of exploitation cannot be divorced from structural misogyny. From the beginning of her music career, as outlined in the Framing Britney Spears documentary, the star was overly sexualised. As a teenager, the status of her virginity was obsessed over in interviews and she was positioned as the virginal-but-sexy girl next door. Even her breakout song Hit Me Baby (One More Time) fuels this narrative as she’s styled as a scantily clad schoolgirl, boasting the lyrics “I’m not that innocent.” In 2002, following a public break-up, Britney’s then ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake purposefully insinuated infidelity on Spears’ part in the Cry Me A River music video, further pushing the idea of Spears as a ‘slut’. 

This intense sexualisation, followed by slut-shaming from the media created the perfect environment through which Britney could be villainised.

This intense sexualisation, followed by slut-shaming from the media created the perfect environment through which Britney could be villainised. In the year leading up to her conservatorship, she faced many difficulties such as the breakdown of a marriage, the loss of access to her kids and the death of a family member. The grief of these losses would be enough to affect anyone’s mental health, but this was instead used as a tactic to justify her freedom’s being taken away. The compounding of Britney as promiscuous, disloyal, and unable to care for her kids within the eyes of the media was enough to have the conservatorship enacted in court whilst the voyeuristic public passively watched for entertainment. It’s unlikely that we’d see the same vitriol for an absent father, or for men with extensive dating histories and those who openly cheat on their wives. 

However, most notable of all when it comes to this video from Britney is her choice of distribution. She could have marketed her story and made plenty of money, much like members of her family have tried to do, but she didn’t. She decided to tell it her way, no cameras, no third-party editing and no financial motivation. After years of control, surveillance and having others speak for her for the sake of money, Spears was able to centre herself, her privacy and her voice above anyone else’s. True autonomy in the wake of control, a small victory after tremendous loss. In the words of the late and great Jessica Walter, “good for her!” 

Liza Bilal
Liza Bilal

Liza became part of the BRICKS family in 2020, appearing as a Digital cover star for her anti-racism activism during the pandemic, and has since become the BRICKS Production Assistant and a Staff Writer, focussing on pop culture and sociopolitical issues.

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