We all remember what happened to Britney Spears a decade ago. An epic meltdown. A trainwreck. An infamous, public implosion. We remember the shaved head – but that was just the front cover of the chaotic scrapbook of incidents that littered the noughties for Britney. There is the popular internet meme “If Britney can survive 2007…” And she did survive 2007, just.
In January of 2008, she was rushed to hospital for an emergency psychiatric consultation, for the second time in a month, and days later was placed under the conservatorship of her father, due to substance abuse and an undisclosed mental-health condition.
A decade on, she is the comeback queen – riding high on a record-breaking Las Vegas residency and about to embark on a global tour. Praise be, the bitch is back. But that conservatorship – appearing so compassionate and essential at the time – was not a quick fix. It may have been a desperate measure, but it was not a temporary one.
According to US Weekly, Britney’s 65-year-old father, Jamie Spears, is now considering ending the arrangement, reminding the world that, 10 years on, Britney is still living under the same conditions she was just days after she was hospitalised.
In California, where Britney is under conservatorship, these arrangements generally function to protect either mental and physical health or finances, but for her, it covers both. It is usually introduced to protect those who are very old, very ill or with severe mental disability.
It means that she cannot make any major decisions without the approval of her father and a lawyer, and every move she makes is documented by a court.
As a child, she was expected to behave like an adult, yet now, as a grown woman, she is treated like a minor. Britney Spears can probably make fewer decisions in her mid-thirties than she could in her mid-teens.
As a child, she was expected to behave like an adult, yet now, as a grown woman, she is treated like a minor
It is a highly unusual situation that many have questioned over the years. In 2016, The New York Times reported on the financial benefits of the conservatorship to those enforcing it, at Britney’s expense.
Ironically, despite its purpose – to protect Spears from undue harm – it is thanks to the conservatorship that the media was able to access a financial breakdown of her earnings and spending in 2016.
But then Britney was – and still is – a highly unusual case.
She was the most famous person on the planet and a pop-culture icon, but she was also a living a warped childhood – a hyper-sexualised 15-year-old dancing provocatively in a skimpy school uniform. The world speculated about a possible boob job and obsessed over her virginity. Then there was the 55-hour Vegas marriage, the paparazzi upskirt photos and a genuinely distressing-to-watch VMA performance. She became a joke Halloween costume as pop psychologists offered up their hypothetical diagnoses in the tabloids.
She had divorced her husband, lost her beloved aunt to ovarian cancer, attacked a paparazzi car with an umbrella, committed several driving offences including being charged with two counts of hit and run, fired her staff and lost custody of her two young children. She was just 25 years old.
Now, aged 36, her Instagram is a mix of #tbts, charmingly silly videos of her showing off outfits and a LOT of fitness content. Excepting the goofy videos with her sons, it’s sweet and almost childlike. We are getting a happy, but sanitised, Spears. Her new gig as the face of Kenzo is cute and perky and flirty. Her hand on a denim baseball cap is a literal tip of the hat to her looks in the early days. The New Yorker has described how she was “the face of precocious sexuality and then precocious disaster”, but now she is the face of consummate professionalism.
But her professionalism comes at a price. On one hand, she is a successful woman with an estimated net worth of $215m. She is capably acting as mother to her two sons and in an apparently happy relationship with her boyfriend Sam Asghari. She has triumphed after trauma. But on the other, she currently carries no real responsibility for herself. Britney’s recovery, however successful it appears, has been achieved in an incredibly carefully balanced ecosystem managed by others.
Britney is every bit the performer she was when she was a teenager. And, in 2018, it’s impossible to ignore that she’s also still treated like one.