Britney Spears is 39 years old now. She's raising her two kids, taking them to Disneyland and still actively performed up until 2019. Yet, she has little to no control over her own money.
Spears never fails to upset me, and it's since made me look at the music industry and the very concept of stardom differently. It seems like a common story — a young star grows in popularity and then crashes and burns out. C'est la vie. However, the case of Spears is more insidious.
She came onto the music scene with such a level of success unseen, with her first album at the young age of 18 topping charts worldwide and breaking records. Almost immediately, she was thrust into the limelight, still a teenager, and her career only went up from there. Spears’ name became ubiquitous with pop, and she became a household name in no time.
Soon after, though, things would turn bad. Spears bounced through multiple relationships and was judged by paparazzi and news outlets endlessly. Spears would eventually have children with husband Kevin Federline, but divorced soon after the birth of their second child. Having her own issues with addiction, Spears' behavior worsened and she had an infamous public breakdown that resulted in her shaving her head and losing custody of her children due to substance abuse.
Spears' mental health spiraled and she was forced into a conservatorship, meaning all of her assets and funds were controlled by another person, specifically her father. Though certainly a dark moment in her life, Spears bounced back and was able to recover, creating some of her best work in the following years. Yet, she still has little control over her own profits.
While she obviously needed help during the darker moments of her life, she was routinely mocked and ridiculed by the media, which took ample opportunity for parodies, jokes and headlines.
This was so intense that the host of "The Late Late Show," Craig Ferguson, described his fear of being fired for refusing to make jokes at her expense. Despite her life collapsing, publications would routinely lambast her for merely existing, describing her behavior in a way that implied she deserved what had happened to her. Celebrity news outlets like TMZ and Perez Hilton's website would openly mock her despite their success depending on her suffering. Spears was hardly human in their eyes.
And now, years later, she still doesn't retain much of her own assets, she still has minor custody of her children and the world never really acknowledged the hand it played in her downfall. Recently, #FreeBritney had been trending on social media outlets, advocating for her to regain her conservatorship, but judges still ruled against it.
It's impossible to overstate the psychological effects of dedicating your life to your work and not being able to reap the dividends, having the public judge your every move as you deal with addiction and being expected to perform onstage as if everything is OK.
The #FreeBritney movement is not only a demand that her public figure be reevaluated, but it's also a warning for the new wave of pop idols. The surge in popularity of K-Pop has reintroduced a much younger demographic of performers to the limelight, and some American artists such as Billie Eilish had their careers start before adulthood.
With literal children becoming artists that make the charts, we can't afford to let paparazzi and news outlets repeat the same actions. The common belief is that you choose that kind of life when you become famous, but very rarely does fame come to the willing. Frankly, it wouldn't matter if it did, this level of public scrutiny should be reserved for those who have done something heinous, not for people going through deeply personal crises.
Britney Spears just turned 39 and I don't know how many of those years were defined by headlines she didn't write or controversies she couldn't defend. As much as it seems to be a product of the past, with Spears not topping charts any longer, it could easily happen again. She operated in a time before social media, and should this happen to any other starry-eyed celebrity barely out of childhood, I hope that we treat them better than we did Britney.