Written by: Niyanthri
Edited by: Sara
Visual by: Macy
It’s nearly impossible to imagine the 2000s pop scene without Britney Spears. Widely considered to be the defining star of the early 21st century, the singer has had an indelible impact on the music industry. Despite her popularity as one of the best selling artists of all time – with nearly 100 million records sold globally since she burst onto the music scene at the age of seventeen – Spears’ status as a child star subjected her to much public and media scrutiny. In 2021, the documentary Framing Britney Spears was released, following the star’s many years of conservatorship. Furthermore, the #FreeBritney movement reached its peak on social media this year. The movement was created by fans to protest the unjust treatment of Spears under her conservatorship, which was eventually terminated – after a long legal battle on Britney Spears’ part – on 12 November, 2021.
The singer has repeatedly been thrust into the spotlight regarding her personal life, most notably during her marriage with Kevin Federline, which lasted from 2004 to 2007. During this time, Spears shaved her head – a decision that subjected her to constant trailing by paparazzi, verging on harassment. Spears’ hairdresser describes the scene when Spears came in to get her hair shaved by stating that “[The paparazzi] were trying to pile up on top of each other to get a picture.” In a further invasion of Spears’ privacy, locks of her hair left on the salon floors were sold on Ebay, The paparazzi continued to follow her, seeking to to disclose any other developments in her tumultuous personal life. After a long battle with drug addiction and privacy issues, Federline and Spears decided to divorce in 2007, with Spears even losing custody of her two sons as a result of her unpredictable behavior.
During and after the divorce, Spears was admitted into a psychiatric hospital twice. In light of this, Jamie Spears, Britney Spears’ father, petitioned courts to give him a “temporary” conservatorship over Britney Spears, which was subsequently granted in 2008. A conservatorship is when a court appoints an individual to manage and control the finances of another person, typically one who is incapicitated (and therefore cannot make their own decisions) or is a minor. Under this arrangement, she was required to ask him for each and every purchase, vote, health or business decision.
In 2019, Jamie Spears asked to extend his conservatorship of his daughter to more than ten states. The very same year, however, Jamie Spears stepped down as her primary conservator as a result of accusations of his verbal mistreatment towards one of Britney Spears’ sons. Despite this, the conservatorship remained in place overall as Spears’ father continued to argue that she was not yet stable enough to live independently. In light of this assertion, which was supported by narratives in the media, it was difficult for Spears’ legal team to convince courts to terminate the conservatorship.
The paparazzi and media have undoubtedly impacted the development of the conservatorship – which Spears herself described as doing her “more harm than good” – through their capitalisation on the public’s fascination with the intimate details of the personal lives of celebrities.
There have been many changes that have taken place since the early 2000s in terms of how the media interacts with and reports on celebrities, and the celebrities’ responses in return. Stars like Lizzo and Harry Styles have previously stood up to body shaming and criticisms of attire,which was rarely permitted to occur during Britney Spears’ era of fame. Furthermore, the gradual decline in popularity of celebrity gossip magazines like TMZ have led to considerably less invasive media reporting of celebrities in the spotlight. These developments aside, the paparazzi’s treatment of Britney Spears and its effects nevertheless represent the impact such constant attention and harassment can have. However, there has been an overall shift for the better. Many steps have been taken over the past decade in terms of the consumption habits of the general public when it comes to celebrity reporting, as well as how celebrities respond to such reporting in turn – more and more societal changes have taken place in regards to reducing the stigma around mental health. This signifies a much brighter future for celebrity reporting – one where celebrities are recognised as human beings and not simply as sources of entertainment.
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