From London, I'm Brooke Zafrin, and I'm Erica Skidmore Williams, and this is even the Rich.
Brooke, when we started this series about Britney Spears, I really thought I knew everything there was to know. But then every episode you dropped free Britney bombs that had me saying, give me give me more.
OK, I love that you worked in one last lyric. That's great. And I know there are so many layers to this story. There's actually more stuff we couldn't fit into three episodes.
OK, well, you can't just say that and then not tell me what it is.
I mean, I don't know if we have time to fit it in now, Brooke. Toy with my emotions. OK, OK.
We have a little time.
OK, so one of the things we didn't get to talk about is the Lou Taylor drama.
Who is he and what did he do to our Britney?
Actually lose a she and she was Britney's business manager up until a few weeks ago when she just abruptly resigned. A lot of Britney fans see her as a villain. Some of them even believe she's the one who came up with the whole conservatorship thing and then talked Jamie into it. Oh, and get this. There are rumors that Lou tried to do the same thing with Lindsay Lohan, but Lindsay's dad shot the idea down.
Wow. I never thought I'd be commending Michael Lohan, but good for him.
Yeah, he definitely did the right thing. I mean, if the rumors about Lou are true, like, OK, here's another one.
There's an email floating around on the Internet that Britney supposedly sent to one of her lawyers. And in it, she calls Lou a stalker. She also says, and this is a quote, Lou keeps saying, I'm possessed and that she needs to come and kill these spirits. I'm scared. Please help me users. Yeah. After the email surfaced, Britney claimed Sam Lutfi wrote the email, but he denied it.
It just goes to show you how many layers there are to this story, which is why I'm really excited about our guest today, because she's going to help us get to the bottom of a few others. Her name is Constance Grady and she writes about culture for Vox. She's been following Britney's conservatorship and the free Britney movement and trying to answer that vexing question. Will Britney ever get control of her life back?
Oh, I can't wait to hear her answers. Mm hmm. So let's just start with some breaking news at the end of our series, we mentioned that Britney had asked a judge to remove her dad as conservator. The judge just denied that request. Can you just walk us through what happened?
Sure. So Britney filed court papers through her lawyer in the middle of August.
She was very careful to say that she was not asking for the conservatorship to end, although she retained the right to do so.
What she was asking for was for the conservatorship to move into a new phase that would be a little less restrictive and that her father, Jamie Spears, would not be returning to his role as conservator after having temporarily stepped down last September. Instead, she wanted her temporary conservator, who is a woman named Judy Montgomery. She's a licensed professional conservator who does this for a living to stay on permanently.
And what happened now is the judge has declined to honor that request, although she has said that she's open to hearing future petitions from Britney that make similar requests. And instead, Jamie Spears will be staying on as conservator.
And after that decision came down, Britney's lawyer issued a statement saying that Britney had told him that she was afraid of her father and that she was most likely not going to perform again in the future, which is good for her.
I say, how is it possible someone's father can have so much control over a grown woman for 12 years?
Yeah, that's one of the big questions about this conservatorship. And I think why fans react with so much outrage, because Britney has been, first of all, financially independent since she was six years old. Right.
And now she's in her 30s and she has kids of her own and she's still answering to her dad. You know, that's not supposed to be how this story goes. No, but, you know, that is one of the reasons that I think advocates for people living under conservatorship consider this case to be kind of a flagship case, because what a conservatorship does essentially is it returns you legally to being a child. And what Britney's case does is it takes this woman, who so many people have an emotional attachment to and grew up with and sort of shows you what that looks like and what advocates are saying is, is this necessarily always a good solution?
Now, you you did mention that the judge is letting Jamie stay on as conservator, but she didn't rule out removing him in the future.
How do you see this whole saga ending?
That's such a good question and like many, many questions we have about this case, kind of unanswerable with the information that we have right now. I think I can totally see a version of events where, you know, Jigme stays on as Britney's conservator until he dies.
And then, I don't know, it might pass along to a professional.
I can also see a version of events where Britney manages to get out of this thing.
At last. It's just so impossible to to figure out how it's going to go down with the information that we have, which is really not that much. Yeah.
Now, there there have been questions about whether Britney is in control of her own life since the beginning of her career. What were people saying back then?
Yeah, this is one of the really fascinating things about this case.
When Baby One More Time hits in 1998, the sort of go to kind of snobby rock critic take on Britney is. Oh, she's manufactured, right. She's a product of her producers. She isn't writing her own music. She isn't playing the instruments.
And that sort of continues to be the narrative about her for a really, really long time.
And it's only as optimism is sort of becoming more centered and and in place as the dominant critical mode that you've started to see.
People say, OK, if producers could have manufactured a Britney Spears one, surely they would have tried to do it more than once, right? She was huge. She was the biggest star.
And people have started to give her more and more credit for what she brought to the table, these of choices she made and her artistic capabilities in being the architect of her own image.
OK, I got to ask pop termism. What is that? I love that word, though. Great question.
So in the 90s when Britney was coming up, the way that music critics talked about music was kind of like the default is you assume rock and roll is the best possible form of music.
And like everything that comes with it is the idea that you have to play your instrument.
Lip synching is kind of cringe. You know, you're looking for this sort of grittiness and authenticity.
And then optimism emerges in reaction to that in the late aughts and has become much more like the go to trendy way of talking about music over the past decade or so.
Populism says that pop music is slick and artificial and fun to listen to. And those aren't bad things.
You know, they can be their own form of artistic expression.
So saying that Britney Spears is bad because she's not like Billy Joel is kind of a meaningless critique, right? Agreed.
Yeah, for sure. I mean, it's whatever your flavor is, music is not you don't want it all to be the same if it's a purpose.
So there were a lot of rumors swirling about Britney, which we didn't spend time on in our show. The rumors that she was doing drugs are putting her kids in danger because they weren't buckled in when she was driving things like that. Do you think that stuff affected the judge's decision to place her in a conservatorship?
I think it absolutely did. I think that the publicity surrounding her mental health struggles in 2007 was just like blazingly hot and I think made this sense of urgency around her case a lot stronger in the sense that she was spiraling out of control, that she was putting herself in danger and possibly her kids and someone had to do something. And I don't think that would necessarily have been so strong and so urgent if there weren't pictures of her, you know, strapped to a gurney plastered all over TMZ.
Right. I mean, and even the rich, we talk a lot about the insane invasiveness of the paparazzi when it comes to celebrities. But with Britney, it seems like it never let up. Do you think that kind of pressure could have contributed to her collapse back in 2007?
I mean, I'm not a psychiatrist and I'm also not Britney Spears a psychiatrist, but I can't imagine that it wouldn't have.
Just like imagine paparazzi standing outside her limo waiting to take pictures up her skirt every time she goes to a club and then the entire Internet discussing her underwear.
That is wild. That can possibly be good for her mental health.
Well, it's one of those things when I talk about with my friends just just being able to live your life, it's something that we take for granted because we're not celebrities, obviously, but celebrities to not be able to go. Like I remember there was a story about her walking barefoot in a bathroom or something. Not that I would ever do that, but to be able to just do what you want to do without people critiquing it has got to be a luxury they mess.
And, you know, she's been famous since she was like 16 since she was a little child. So it's sort of it's a freedom that she never really had.
OK, so let's just come back to the conservatorship for a second. It goes into effect in 2008. What was the reasoning given for the conservatorship? So a lot of these details are not public knowledge, but in California, where her conservatorship was set in place to be placed under conservatorship, a psychiatrist has to testify before a court that they have given you a diagnosis that's recognized in the DSM.
So we don't know what that diagnosis is for Britney and we don't know what the treatment plan is.
That's all her private medical information.
But we do know that Britney Spears was someone who had been kind of spiraling in public and that this was considered to be a sort of desperate measure to get her under some level of control again. We get support from course seltzer in addition to being delicious, of course, seltzer isn't your average seltzer rooted in cause long history of sustainability. They're on a mission to restore America's rivers.
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Now, let's just talk about conservatorships in general, like as a reshow pointed out, like we all take it for granted, we can make our own decisions, do whatever we want. But when you're in a conservatorship, you completely lose that.
Right. What is the rationale there? Like, why do they exist in the first place?
So a conservatorship exists because essentially your capacity to make decisions has been diminished and the law recognizes that.
So ideally, this is something that can really help you if, say, you develop dementia or you're in a terrible accident and you injure your brain and you can't necessarily think clearly for yourself and make decisions that are in your own best interests.
This is a system that's been put in place where a member of your family or someone appointed by the court can say, OK, I will take on that responsibility for you and care for you and make your decisions for you. And that's something that, you know, probably is necessary in a lot of cases.
However, when you put someone under conservatorship, you are putting them in a position where they've lost a huge amount of power and it's been given to someone else, which also means that it's kind of ripe for someone to take advantage of the situation, that it's very easy to abuse. So what a lot of advocates have argued is that this needs to be more heavily regulated and it should be much more of a last resort than it necessarily is.
Yeah, I got to say, one of the ironies to me is that there's this assumption that Britney can't make decisions yet apparently she's capable of making records and going on tour and making millions.
Yeah, that's something that her fans really point to a lot, is that two months after the conservatorship went into effect, she was guest starring on How I Met Your Mother and that sort of question of like, if she is so unstable that she can't have control of her own life, why is she starring in a national sitcom?
What's going on here? And so the conservatorship, it's not designed to be permanent, correct?
It does depend on the case. There are instances where it is considered to be permanent, but there are also instances where you can recover and and live a full and healthy life in general.
From what I've understood from talking to experts, it is much easier to get into a conservatorship than it is to get out once you're there.
It's like the mob. Exactly who knew that the thing they have in common. But in Britney's case, it was this short term thing that has been in effect for 12 years yet.
So it was originally a provisional conservatorship designed to end after a few months. And then they went back to court. The judge reviewed it and decided that it was working so well, they should just keep it going.
Why mess with a good thing now? I think it's important to point out that even if Jamie really does think he's acting in his daughter's best interest, he has a financial interest in keeping the conservatorship going, doesn't he? He does.
He draws a salary of a flat fee of a few hundred thousand dollars every year. And he also takes in a percentage of her net income, which is substantial.
Wow. Are there any checks on this system? I mean, it's kind of mind blowing to me that someone can be in charge of her life for so long and there's nothing you can do to change it.
Yeah, absolutely, so there are checks on the system, and I should say that, you know, in a high profile case like Brittanys, the court is going to be very careful to be following rules in a way they might not if you're just like a lady in Idaho with dementia, right?
Yeah. So they these cases are reviewed by the courts on a regular basis. There are supposed to be independent agencies who look out for it and make sure that everything is still working the way it's supposed to. We don't know details of that, again, because that is not public. But we do know that the court reviews Britney's case on a regular basis.
And so does that mean they continue to believe that the conservatorship is necessary? That seems to be the rationale. And part of the way that is generally stated in the decisions that come down from various judges who have overseen this case is, well, it's still working really well. So there's sort of this paradox where fans might argue, oh, is doing really well. She can get out of this. Whereas, you know, Jamie Spears, his legal team might argue, will Britney's doing really well.
That means this is working and we should continue doing it.
Obviously, fans have been very involved in this in this story and what's going on with Britney and has brought out the free Britney movement. Can you talk a little bit about what that is exactly?
So the free Britney movement essentially says that Britney Spears is being held as a prisoner by her family, that they are forcing her to work when she no longer wants to and forcing her to follow mental health plans she doesn't want to be involved in. Supposedly, they had her involuntarily committed. This has been a conspiracy theory that's been around basically for as long as the conservatorship. But it really took off last April. There was this Britney Spears centric podcast called Britney's Gram, and the hosts received a voicemail from someone who said he used to be a paralegal at the law firm who handles Britney Spears as conservatorship.
And he claimed that Britney had been committed against her will after she was seen driving with her boyfriend to pick up some fast food, which is allegedly something that her conservatorship forbids her to do. She's not allowed to drive. He said that there was no timeline for her release and that she'd begun to refuse to take her medication. And this was Jamie Spears taking drastic action.
So I should say that no independent journalist has ever been able to confirm this guy's claims.
So this is a very, very compelling rumor, essentially, that kind of developed into a life of its own. There is a lot of focus on Britney's Instagram. A lot of times people will post in the comments, you know, wear yellow if you're in danger or if you need help.
And there are so many of those comments that she basically couldn't avoid sending a coded message with her clothes, like no matter what she was put on.
But every time that there's a match, people freak out and are like, oh, Britney is telling us what she needs from us.
Now, you said that the movement, the free Britney movement picked up last April. Is it possible to pinpoint when it actually started?
There have been posts under the free Britney hashtag going back, I believe, to 2009, and there's also been some concerns about her going back to her documentary in 2008.
Britney for the record, which is basically the only time she's talked in public about her conservatorship. And what she says in that documentary is that it's worse than being in jail because at least when you're in jail, you know when you will get out.
Mm hmm. Wow. Speaking of that, because that seems like a pretty provocative thing to say when you're under a conservatorship. Why would her conservators let her say that on the record in the documentary?
That's a really good question. I think that one of the things that has been really compelling about Britney Spears to her fans for as long as she's been famous is that she seems to want to make a connection with the public and tell people the truth about herself in this very unfiltered way, sometimes to her detriment. You know, think about the Matt Lauer interview where she, like, shows up and has done her own makeup and he makes her cry on camera.
Know she's someone who consistently keeps trying to make a connection with her audience in very vulnerable ways. And I think part of what makes the free Britney movement so protective of her is they feel that her conservators have prevented her from continuing to make that connection.
Now, you point to the Metoo movement as being a catalyst for free Britney. Can you just talk about that a little bit?
One of the things that the Metoo movement did was open up a conversation about the way that we talk about famous women and the amount of agency and control over their own bodies. We are willing to grant them. And I think that became very troubling in Britney's case, because she's someone who a lot of people grew up with that we now see not able to exercise that kind of agency over her body and her choices that the Metoo movement sort of was saying was owed to every woman.
So it became this sort of troublesome question lurking in people's minds.
Britney Spears isn't, as far as we know, the victim of any kind of sexual assault.
But she is not in a position to exercise her agency over her body.
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So I want to switch gears a little bit and can we just talk about Britney's Instagram for a minute? Oh, my gosh, yes.
So it seems like her followers analyze literally every little thing she posts and draw all sorts of conclusions. And when I say followers, I'm primarily referring to Brooke because she is truly Constance. I have gotten so many talks that are like, hey, look, look at zoom in and look at her eyes or look, she's wearing yellow and it's just it's become its own runaway train almost. I'm just analyzing every single thing. Britney's posting what she's saying.
I just find it fascinating. It is fascinating. And, you know, I think like to a certain extent, it's kind of cute for celebrity gossip. But on another level, that Instagram genuinely is very puzzling and confusing. Like, there are a lot of posts that are just sort of Britney sort of blankly staring and like standing in a bikini and listing everything she wants to pack or what, just walking around in a variety of outfits and heels or, you know, doing this kind of dead eyed dance.
And we all know Britney Spears is a great dancer. That's what she built her fame on. But she's sort of not always quite there in the video she posted on Instagram there, puzzlingly vacant of any content, which means that you can project a whole lot of stuff on to them. Like it's easy for me to imagine, you know, looking at one of the videos of her walking through her house and being like, OK, so this is supposed to be like a confident, sexy adult woman walking through this house she paid for and her designer clothes queen.
And it's almost impossible for me to look at that and be like, this is a cry for help from someone who had nothing in her life except the ability to walk through these empty marble halls.
Yeah. And in addition, I kind of joke about this a lot. There's you know, she posts these videos where she answers fan questions from the comments and they're not the questions people are asking.
You know, people are like, do you need us to break into your house and save you? And she's like, my favorite Disney movie is Frozen. And it's like very obvious. You know, it leads you to believe that she's not really running her account. Right.
Right. Which is something that she herself has reacted to kind of defensively, but also in slightly puzzling ways. You know, there's a post where she says, OK, for all you people who say, I'm not running my account, you're wrong. Here's a video I took yesterday, and I write to her in her designer gowns just walking aimlessly through her house. It's sort of like I mean, I would like to believe you, but what are you trying to prove with this?
Do we know if her account is monitored by Jamie?
So we don't know. This is another case where there's nothing necessarily confirmed in public and there are a lot of rumors. It's heavily rumored that Britney isn't allowed to have a smartphone and that she just has a flip phone that's never really been confirmed.
Britney's only made a few statements about her conservatorship and the free Britney movement. Can you talk about what she said and what you make of those statements?
Yeah, so she's been very ambivalent in public about her conservatorship, right, the official filings she entered in August wasn't asking for the conservatorship to end. She no showed a couple of the public hearings for it, allegedly because of technology issues. We don't necessarily know why. I think the things she said in 2019 that was most closely addressing it was still kind of big on her Instagram. She said something like, you may not know this about me, but I am strong and I stand up for what I want.
And I just need a little bit of privacy, which, you know, is the one thing that Britney Spears has never really gotten to have. Right. We've been given a front row seat to every little aspect of her life for a very long time.
Yeah, I want to zoom out just for a sec.
Are there any other celebrities you can think of who are in a situation like this? You know, Britney seems pretty unique and there was some conversation a few months ago about trying to get Kania under a conservatorship. Hmm. And there were rumors, I don't think anything really solid, that Kris Jenner wanted to create a conservatorship, but because they were in separate states, she wasn't able to do so. I think the Kanye case is interesting because when Britney acted out, it was very clearly herself that she was lashing out at it and she was basically the only person she was putting in danger outside from the time she drove her kid around with no seatbelt.
Whereas Kanye is acting out with a lot more external. He was, you know, running for president and he has his religious movement going. And there are a lot more other people involved. But Kanye seems to be given a lot more latitude in which to act out than than Britney was granted.
Do you think that's gendered? You know, he's a man. We don't look at them as needing help as much. And it's kind of just like come down to that in a way.
I think it certainly does seem gendered. I think there's probably also an element of removing that.
2008 was the very specific moment in popular culture. It was before celebrities had taken control of their own narratives as much which they've been able to do via social media. It was much more than TMZ, Perez Hilton. Everything goes moment where the there was a lot of cattiness and judging and it was very fun, but in retrospect, kind of destructive.
So I think both of those things are in play here.
You know, Kanye Masculinity certainly does give him more free rein than than Britney was granted. But also it's just a different moment in the culture.
In your story, you ask this really compelling question. I'm just going to read it is Britney Spears the architect of her own life, image and career, or is she a puppet for unscrupulous people who want to use her doe eyed prettiness to build fortunes for themselves? What do you think the answer is?
Oh, man, if I could answer that question, I would have. You know, Britney, this is the question people have asking then asking about Britney since the beginning. Right. You know, is she a manufactured pop star who got lucky with the material her producers gave her or did she build that material herself? Is she an artist or is she someone who was used by by other people? And that's really, I think, the question at the center of her and is part of why her fans are so devoted to her is this unanswerable question that if you could just resolve, it would sort of fix everything into place.
But you can't and you never can. Yeah.
So I got to ask, do you think she'll ever be free of this conservatorship? It's. Really hard to say, isn't it, with with what we know right now, I think that I can definitely see a scenario in which the conservatorship gets transferred to a professional conservator much more easily than I can see one in which she is just. It's just lifted full stop, but I think that can also be a path to sort of gradually loosening the reins on her life if and I think that's probably why her lawyer took that approach this August.
So I think that's probably if she wants out the best angle to take for the time being. Hmm.
Well, thank you so much again for being here.
A lot of really great. I have someone to talk to. Thanks so much.
Thank you so much for having me. Thanks again to Constance Grady. I don't know about you, Erica, but I've spent the last few days binge watching the new season of the Crown. Like my life depends on it.
It's about Charles and Diana and all the crazy drama along the way, which got me thinking we should revisit the story of Diana and Meghan and what really happened.
It's an encore series and there have been a few developments since then.
So we'll be dropping in some updates along the way. If you like our show, please give us a five star rating and a review and be sure to tell your friends subscribe on Apple podcast, Spotify, the Wonder App or wherever you're listening right now. Join Wonder E-Plus in the Wonder app to listen ad free. In the episode notes you'll find some links and offers from our sponsors. Please support them.
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I'm Erica Skidmore Williams. And I'm Brooke Zafran.
And the two of us wrote this episode. It was produced by Kayla Baysinger, Audio Assistance by Sergio Henriquez.
Our executive producers are Stephanie Gen's marshmallowy and Hernan Lopez for wondering.