This week, Britney Spears officially requested that her father be replaced as her conservator, over 13 years after he took over control of her finances, career, and life. Her new lawyer Mathew S. Rosengart, who she was allowed to choose for herself rather than being assigned legal representation by the court, described Spears’s conservatorship as a ‘Kafkaesque nightmare.’ He asked for accountant Jason Rubin to be named conservator of Spears’ estate. Britney has spoken out numerous times to condemn her father Jamie Spears’s tenure as her conservator. She told the court that he ‘works me so hard’ and that her father threatened to ‘punish’ her if she didn’t follow his orders.
It still feels kind of surprising to hear Spears speaking for herself in any capacity. From her earliest days in showbusiness right through to 2021, she has typically been viewed through a series of distorting lenses. Her record company packaged her as a saintly virgin and sex symbol from her teens onward. The media portrayed her as a ditz, a trainwreck, and the ultimate harlot, depending on the circumstances. She hasn’t given many interviews over the past decade. One seeming exception to this rule was her Instagram page, where she would update her 32.6 million followers with dance routines, cute motivational slogans, and the occasional shot of her mega-hot boyfriend. To the casual viewer, her social media presence — obviously curated but still endearingly Britney — seemed like a comforting confirmation that she was doing alright. After so many years of strife, Britney got to live her best life, right?
Britney’s Instagram has long been a major focus for the #FreeBritney movement, especially some of its more conspiratorial leanings. Agonizingly detailed dissections of her images and captions were offered as proof that Spears was sending her fans coded messages about her battle against the conservatorship. It’s been known for a long time that Spears has a social media manager, Cassie Petrey. She told Vanity Fair in February that ‘Britney creates her own posts and writes her own captions for Instagram’ and that she gives ‘specific instructions’ on details like editing for videos. ‘She is literally just living her life and trying to have fun on Instagram,’ she said. ‘She has a team to help strategize like any major celebrity generally does at this point in her career.’
That’s never convinced the hardcore #FreeBritney fans, and after hearing that astounding testimony from Spears herself, it’s not hard to also feel skeptical. Following her very public testimony, more eyes than ever fell upon what remains the sole (in theory) form of access Spears has to the public. She recently started using the #FreeBritney hashtag for the first time, thanking fans for their long-time support. In one post, she said, ‘I’m not gonna be performing on any stages anytime soon with my dad handling what I wear, say, do, or think’ and called out her sister Jamie-Lynn after she ‘showed up at an awards show and performed MY SONGS to remixes.’ There’s a level of candor and true anger here that was previously absent from her Instagram, which led some fans to believe she was now back in control of her social media pages with zero management filtration.
Others, however, are more cynical than ever about such posts. One video posted earlier this month had fans convinced that something was afoot, with many claiming that the video posted from ‘the other day’ was an older one designed to throw the public off the scent. Commenters insisted that Spears’s family was back in control and trying to keep Britney out of the spotlight to avoid scandal regarding the conservatorship.
It’s hard to talk about all things Britney these days without going full Charlie in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia with the rolls of string and ‘evidence.’ Even at its most outlandish, the #FreeBritney movement seemed so evidently rooted in some sort of truth, which made it hard to entirely dispel the furor surrounding Spears. Said hubbub only grew in size (along with the speculation around it) once we were made fully aware of how little of her own life Spears has autonomy over. She has no reproductive freedom. She couldn’t pick out the color of her own kitchen cabinets. Her boyfriend isn’t allowed to drive her anywhere. She alleged being forced onto Valium and that her legal team withheld basic information about her case from her, including that she was fully entitled to file paperwork to end the conservatorship. When you know all of this, isn’t it kind of impossible to look at a casual Instagram post without some sort of paranoid zeal?
More celebrities than you think are using outside agencies and managers to run their social media accounts. It’s frankly just common sense to have a third party assisting you in this weird low-high stakes part of the job, especially if you’re prone to moments of verbal vomit and offering hot takes that nobody asked for. A hell of a lot of famous people could benefit from a social media professional in their life. Audiences may be wed to the endlessly complex notion of authenticity with celebrities, something that’s doomed to fail at the best of times, but fans are savvier than ever and hardly ignorant of the bureaucratic requirements of fame. It should be expected that someone like Britney Spears has a social media manager.
But such matters have long stopped being so simple when it comes to Britney. Her life has been wholly smothered by outside forces and their own agendas, and it’s only recently that the general public has become truly aware of the extent of her struggle. Add to that the generally conspiratorial nature of modern society — from Q*Anon to anti-vaxxers to tinhat celebrity shipping — and Britney’s Instagram suddenly feels like a strange battleground. It’s the backdrop for every celebrity scheme we can imagine, and all because now, more than ever, it feels like even the weirdest assertion could be true. All options are suddenly on the table, and it feels terrifying yet oddly liberating to some. The scales have fallen from their eyes.
Going full tinhat isn’t something we typically recommend to people. Even if the essence of the matter is real, it’s tough to fully satisfy that pressing urge for the absolute truth in whatever form we expect it to take. We see how conspiracy theorists across the board don’t seek closure because such things were never the point to them. Even some of the most ardent Britney fans are prone to infantilizing her (which, in fairness, is something that society has done for pretty much her entire life in some shape, way, or form.) As plausible as every wild theory about Britney’s Instagram is, it’s also perfectly reasonable to see that a spade is just a spade, and that having someone on board to help with a mundane aspect of celebrity isn’t an instant display of malice or scheming. We want to hear Britney speak for herself, but if everyone thinks every word written on her Instagram page is being faked by her father’s team for his own good, what happens next?
Header Image Source: Rodin Eckenroth // Getty Images