Framing Britney Spears: Trailer released for new documentary
Their mea culpas come as a legion of concerned fans, a powerful new documentary, and a recent California court ruling have combined to show Britney in a dramatic new light. The singer, who turns 40 this year, with hits including Oops!… I Did It Again and Toxic, is belatedly being revealed as a vulnerable woman in crisis who deserves understanding and support, rather than mockery and misogyny. For the past two decades she has been viewed as a cautionary tale: the provocatively sexualised schoolgirl singer taken on a roller coaster fame ride that went horribly wrong. She suffered a mental breakdown, was locked up in psychiatric units, and made repeated trips to rehab.
She has struggled through two failed marriages, custody battles, a career collapse and comeback, and clung desperately to fame with a lucrative lounge act in Las Vegas.
Shocking images of Britney are engraved indelibly on pop culture: shaving off her hair in a self-destructive act of rebellion, swinging an umbrella wildly at the paparazzi who haunted her every move, and strapped to a gurney being wheeled away to a psychiatric ward.
Deemed unfit to care for herself, her life, health care, career and finances have been under a court conservatorship – an American order similar to a British Power of Attorney – which has been controlled by her father for the past 13 years.
But in recent weeks she has been revealed as the victim of sexism and snobbery, betrayed and exploited by those who should have had her interests at heart, including her family, lovers, a rapacious music industry and a prurient American media.
“Does anyone making money off her being sick want her well?” demanded singing legend Cher, calling Britney a “golden goose” who worked hard for those controlling her. “Someone who doesn’t want anything from her should look into her doctor.”
Cher also accused the star’s conservators of giving her “just enough meds to keep her working, but not enough to have a life.”
Britney’s fans are angry at the way her father Jamie has taken over the star’s life
During a concert in Memphis, Tennessee, singer Miley Cyrus yelled out: “Free Britney!” echoing the battle cry of Spears’ army of fans, who have been campaigning to get the conservatorship overturned.
Spears herself highlighted the movement in court papers, saying it was “far from being a conspiracy theory or a joke.”
Long considered a victim of her own poor choices – in men, management, and behaviour – she is finally being acknowledged as a casualty of a fame factory that chewed her up and spat her out.
The years under her father’s control have taken their toll.
She has confessed that she has not spoken to him since August, and says she is “scared” of him. Many fans believe he is doing very nicely out of his percentage of her earnings. Whatever the final legal outcome, Britney has decided to turn off the cash tap, vowing not to perform or record again as long as her father remains conservator of her affairs.
She has already been to court several times to demand his removal, in vain, although she recently won the right to have an independent trust share control of her affairs with her father.
Framing Britney Spears presents evidence that the star was forced into legal agreements
But she has not performed live since October 2018, cancelling a lavish new Las Vegas residency planned for 2019, and it is unknown if or when she will return to work.
Jamie, aged 67, who insists that he is only protecting her best interests, says: “I love my daughter and miss her very much.”
He claims to have lifted her out of debt and amassed a £45million fortune for her, but his repeated sealing of court files has raised fans’ suspicions. Kim Kaiman, marketing director at Spears’ early label Jive Records, recalls: “The only thing Jamie ever said to me is, ‘My daughter is going to be so rich, she’s gonna buy me a boat’.”
As the #FreeBritney movement gains strength on social media, a new documentary, Framing Britney Spears, produced by The New York Times, has given credence to fans’ fears.
The film presents evidence that she has been forced into legal agreements against her will.
There is speculation that she only agreed to the conservatorship out of fear that without it she would never see her children again.
She first appeared at the age of ten on American TV show Star Search, where host Ed McMahon noted her “adorable, pretty eyes” and asked if he could be her boyfriend.
The star’s marriage to Kevin Federline ended in divorce an custody battle over their two sons
She rocketed to fame at 17 portraying a sexually charged teen with her hit music video for …Baby One More Time, only to face TV interviewers asking if she was a
virgin and whether she had breast implants.
She dated NSYNC boyband star Justin Timberlake, and they became pop’s power couple, but when they split after three years in 2002 he accused her of infidelity and casually revealed details of their sex life, contradicting her assertion she was still a virgin. Spears became a laughing stock, while Timberlake’s career soared.
The music industry “was unashamed of how cruel it was then,” says former MTV VJ Dave Holmes, who recalls “the intense misogyny that Spears and other young female pop stars and celebrities had to face”.
Timberlake, now an actor and producer, apologised last week for benefiting “from a system that condones misogyny” and confessed: “The industry is flawed… As a man in a privileged position I have to be vocal about this… I do not want ever to benefit from others being pulled down again.”
She was no luckier with subsequent partners. Her marriage to Kevin Federline ended in divorce, an acrimonious custody battle over their two sons, which she lost, and an order to pay him $20,000 a month child support.
After Britney’s 2007 breakdown, her boyfriend Sam Lutfi moved in, taking “control of her life, home and finances,” according to her disapproving mother, Lynne Spears.
Paparazzi pursued the star’s every move. Photographer Adnan Ghalib, who chased Spears before dating her in late 2007, says everyone was “complicit” in her troubles, “including the media”.
Meanwhile, she continues to burn through her fortune simply by paying the fees of the expensive team of lawyers who manage her conservatorship.
Living with her boyfriend of four years, Iranian model Sam Asghari, aged 26, at her mansion in Thousand Oaks, north of Los Angeles, she regrets that she sees little of her children.
She has only a 30/70 share of parenting rights over the boys Sean, aged 15, and Jayden, aged 14.
In 2002 Justin Timberlake accused Britney of infidelity and revealed details of their sex life
“It’s her mission to get back to 50-50 custody,” says a friend. “It’s the only thing she truly wants.” But she can do little without control of her own life.
Before superstardom sent her personal life spiralling into chaos, Spears said: “I am where I am today because I do have control… You have to, otherwise you get sucked in by people who are not necessary.”
Her father claims that Spears remains incapable of retaking control of her life, trapping her in a Catch 22: how can she prove capable of governing her affairs if she is barred from exercising that control?
“They’re not really listening to what I’m telling them,” Spears lamented.
Perhaps the lawyers aren’t the only people who failed to listen?