Monday, December 6

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Hidden in Plain Sight – Britney vs Spears

In the Netflix film Britney Vs Spears, we get insight into the real life of Britney Spears, the reality behind all her years of struggle, and her conservatorship by her very own father James Parnell Spears in the court of law.

It goes without saying that Britney Spears is one of the biggest pop stars of our times. She was the voice that played in every house over the weekend, with music videos on television throughout the week. We remember songs like Toxic and Hit Me Baby One More Time as though they were released just yesterday. Britney started performing at big concerts by the age of 15 or 16. She related to all the young teenage girls across the world, including myself, and was a huge influence even on younger generations.

Britney went through trying times during her divorce from Kevin Federline, who is also the father of both her children. The film begins with a montage of her career picking up, to her family taking complete control of her basic human rights. 

Filmmaker Erin Lee Carr and journalist Jenny Eliscu set off to make a documentary on Britney Spears – her artistry and media portrayal – and it also became a story about power, control, conspiracy, and rumors. From 1998 to 2003, Britney made $73 million in record sales through all her hits. The film slowly progresses to show the difficulties that begin to rise in 2007 post her breakup with K-Fed.

Paparazzi would use images of Britney teamed with headlines and words like ‘Meltdown’, ‘Rock Bottom’ and more. It was extremely saddening to see the pressure that the paparazzi put on Britney for so many years. It can be quite heavy for anyone who is going through a tough time to face the media the way she had to. In the past 15 years, she has been swarmed by speeding cars, pushy and indecent reporters who were paid a hefty sum for a good shot of her, and even flying reporters in helicopters. It was all about ‘who gets the biggest scoop’.

Her father Jamie filed a petition for conservatorship, and LITERALLY took ownership of his daughter’s life. When it came to the estate, the conservatorship was split between Jamie and Andrew Wallet. A businesswoman named Lou Taylor stepped into the picture as Jamie’s business manager and started making public statements on behalf of the Spears family.

By definition, a conservatorship is like an adult guardian for a US citizen. This means, a guardian who is put in charge of you, will be put in complete control of your decision-making, simply because you are deemed unfit yourself. It is mostly fit for individuals who do not have the capacity, functionally, to look after themselves, their well-being, and medical care because it is susceptible to fraud.

Jamie’s reported cause to petition for conservatorship was that Britney suffered from dementia. So while Britney was trying to deal with her issues, and occasionally resorting to means of distraction, her father was trying to take control of her life. Was he ashamed? Did he think his daughter was ‘too dumb’? We won’t know, but maybe that was rhetorical. 

Britney was travelling, performing in the studio, and on stage, and an accusation of this magnitude didn’t seem right. No one in her reported medical condition would be able to sing or dance as much as she did. Medical reports were tampered with, and her father Jamie took every reason and opportunity to ask the court for conservatorship. There was no trace of any factual information on Britney’s conservatorship or documents related to it until someone approached the filmmakers anonymously in 2020. A lot of facts were found out about Britney‘s medical reports, how they were tampered with forcefully, as well as how Britney had actually appealed to change her representing attorney in court twice, but she wasn’t heard out. It was almost like she was being bullied. 

It was also later found out that Britney could not independently make a plea to the court since that was also  in her father‘s control according to the conservatorship. For the second time in 2009, Britney made a petition to replace her attorney Sam Ingham, but the plan failed again.

Soon after, the conservatorship by her father was made permanent. All her credit cards were cancelled, she would only receive an allowance every month, and had to take permission for every single task, meeting with friends, or even driving her own car. Her lawyers received plenty of financial incentives, and they always showed Britney as ‘okay’ in the face of the public. While going through her records, the filmmakers found out her dad‘s inherent patriarchy, and his need for controlling every situation in her life. It painted a picture of how her dad was in charge, and she would only get privileges as though she was a teenager. In 2011, she married Jason Trawick, who also asked for co-conservatorship. Once they got engaged later that year, and to everyone’s surprise, he was granted co-conservatorship.

Anyone Britney ever hung out with or dated, did agree to the fact that she had an abusive father. He was strict about her whereabouts, had full control over her finances, and had to have filed papers to take his ‘permission’ every time they had to go out. Jamie Spears was also a drunk, and was quite intolerable to deal with. 

When she was brought on to the show X-factor as a judge in 2012, it was purely under family pressure. In the later 2010s, Britney began to perform at a Las Vegas style revue, which was a residency for a few days over the weekend. Apparently, her doctors said something of this scale would be just ‘right’ for Britney given her medical condition. The residency began in 2013 and was called Piece of Me. It went on for five years, followed by a world tour. She performed a total of 248 shows with 9,16,184 tickets sold, and $137.7 million in box office sales. Her tour of nine countries further led to another 2,60,531 ticket sales. The documentary shows a lot of numbers related to her record sales and tour profits, and how much Britney worked profited her father Jamie, and everyone who worked with him. Jamie even received a fixed salary of $18,000 per month while Britney would get an allowance of $8000. He even bought cars out of the money Britney made, as part of her conservatorship.

Britney’s father Jamie stepped down from conservatorship in 2021. When the public began to find out how Britney was fighting this, there was so much public pressure and protests began in the US. 

However, most of us will not realise the complications and toils of being a celebrity in the 21st century. It comes with a lot of responsibility, and even though Britney did show the world a few times on the internet that she wasn’t okay, it was always made to seem like she was, because nothing was ever in her control.

 

Watch Britney vs Spears on Netflix.

 

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Written By

A singer, rapper and musician from Mumbai, India and host at Ticket Fairy (India), I've worked in the music business for over 7 years now, specialising in music marketing, public relations, social media, event management, hospitality and stage management.

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