Pop Culture with Tatiana

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I was born in 1992, Britney Spears released Baby One More Time in 1998 and it was one of the first albums I ever bought. I think to everybody born around the same time as me, Britney Spears was an iconic figure. She came up at the same time as Destiny’s Child, Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, N’SYNC, but Britney was THE ONE. This might sound hard to believe for anyone who’s born past the year 2000. We fell in love with her songs, her performances, and how approachable and normal she seemed.

Today everybody has an idea of the timeline of what happened to Britney. Spectacular unprecedented rise to international stardom, total breakdown in 2007, then a comeback, and now she’s a has-been who hasn’t sung a single word live in more than a decade, and makes questionable posts on Instagram.

Until now, nobody really dug through what actually happened and is still happening to Britney Spears. Did you know she has spent more than 10 years as someone who has been legally deemed unable to have control of her own life, even as she’s amassed money from record sales and a four-year Las Vegas residency, which made nearly $140 million. In 2008, a Los Angeles court essentially gave her father, Jamie Spears, full control over her decision-making and finances.

Fans have taken up her cause, which is the basis of the new New York Times Present: Framing Britney Spears. #FreeBritney is the movement started by her fans who’s aim is to strip Britney’s father of his conservatorship of her estate. The documentary reminds us that such circumstances are usually reserved for the elderly or infirm.

The documentary explores her narrative and the course of Britney’s fame, from a teenage talent, marketed with her sexuality, to a new mother tormented by the press. Where Framing Britney has really struck a nerve is its documentation of everything that led up to Spears’ now infamous breakdown in 2007 and 2008. Through interviews and pointed archival footage, the documentary illustrates the misogynistic and parasitic media climate, where it was apparently permissible to ask a young woman if she was still a virgin at a press conference.

Framing Britney Spears creates a humanising portrait of the star through carefully compiled interview and performance clips.

Towards the beginning of the documentary, there is footage of an 11 year old Britney participating on the Star Search programme. After her performance, an elderly Ed McMahon asks her if she has a boyfriend, just for fun. But today we can say to ourselves, is that really all he had to ask an 11 year old girl? Would he have asked this to a boy? Definitely not.

We also learn that she was not very close with her father Jamie Spears. In fact, her father has already filed for bankruptcy throughout his life. And one of the interviewee’s says one of the only times she spoke to Jamie he told her “One day by daughter is going to be so rich she’s going to buy me a boat”.

In hindsight, I can see why Hit me baby one more time was heavily associated with sex. But personally, when I was a young teenager, I really did not. I just thought she was so cool, and she danced so well. However listening to the lyrics today as an adult, yes it was quite sexualised.

When Britney became famous, it was the Boy Band era, and yes at the time nobody ever asked the boys about their sexual life, but for some reason, the fixation on whether Britney was a virgin or not was NEXT LEVEL. She’s even asked if she’s a virgin at a press conference, could you imagine this today?

Which brings us to Justin Timberlake. If you’ve been paying attention to the last couple of decades of pop culture, you know that Timberlake does not come out looking good from any public scandal involving a female celebrity, he’s cheated on his wife and even Janet Jackson said she felt “abandoned” by Timberlake after the “wardrobe malfunction” scandal at the Super Bowl. Justin Timberlake, emerges as the piece of garbage who threw her under the bus for the benefit of his own publicity. He uses their breakup to incriminate her in one of his most famous song and music video Cry Me A River making it look like she cheated on him and broke his heart. And in an interview he actually says he’s had sex with Britney.

This is an actual magazine headline.

It is so upsetting to see that when Britney really became a woman of her own, she received so much hate! Did you know the wife of the Governor of Maryland at the time actually said she’d SHOOT Britney Spears if she could?

As the documentary progresses, we get to the part where Britney meets Kevin Federline in 2004, and in a clip she says “I feel like I’ve been missing out on life”. They got married, she gave birth to her first son and then quickly got pregnant with the second. During her second pregnancy, she filed for divorce from Federline and asked for sole custody. Her mother mentions that Britney was suffering from postpartum depression as well.

Can you imagine living through all of this while being constantly hounded by the paparazzi?! But was it really the paparazzi’s fault? Photos of Britney Spears were selling for more than a million dollars each!

Basically it was building up until a moment where it was bound to explode. Britney wasn’t even seen as a pop star anymore, she was a “party girl” socialite.

And then Kevin Federline filed for sole custody of their children.

At the time nobody talked about mental health, and like they say in the documentary “there was too much money to be made off of her suffering”.

She couldn’t see her children, she was constantly hounded by the paparazzi, and people such as Sam Lotfi were using her in this vulnerable moment. Lotfi was a manipulative paparazzo who had essentially befriended Britney, supposedly to make money off of her. Up until 2019 there was a restraining order in place forbidding him to get near Britney. He’s suspected of having given her drugs in order to take control of her home and finances.

All this led to the very notorious head-shaving moment.

Framing Britney Spears is as much about what’s happening to Britney Spears right now as it is about how we still have to answer for the culture that ate her and spit her out, and the documentary has prompted a reckoning on social media. One of the more horrifying moments in Framing Britney Spears is an excerpt from an episode of Family Feud where the category was “name something Britney Spears has lost in the past year,” and the answers were “her husband,” “her hair,” and “her mind.”

A few days after this accident, she drove up to Kevin Federline’s house to see her children, she was denied access. As she drove home with a friend, they stopped at a gas station and paparazzi were of course there waiting for her. And this is when this happened.

She could not take it anymore and attacked a paparazzi’s car. The paparazzi didn’t seem to mind as he called this “the money shot”

A few days later, she was taken to hospital in the back of an ambulance, after she refused to give the children back to Federline after a supervised visit and locked herself in the bathroom. She was put through an involuntary psychiatric evaluation.

And suddenly out of nowhere, comes her dad into a picture. He files for a full conservatorship saying his daughter has mental health and drug abuse issues. He claimed she could be duped into giving away her money (which to be honest probably could have happened at the time).

But then fast forward 10 years, why is the conservatorship still in place? you have to question someone’s motives when there is this much money involved. During her Las Vegas residency she was making up to a million dollars a week.

In 2019, Britney stopped working. She canceled her second Las Vegas residency a month before it was supposed to star. And she has formally asked for the conservatorship to end. It seems as though Britney will not work until her father isn’t in control of her finances anymore.

So what changed? The public conversation about mental health has vastly improved since the height of Spears’ fame. It’s hard to believe that a woman being placed on multiple psychiatric holds now would be cause for anything but concern. Discourse about feminism and slut-shaming operates on a bigger, more nuanced scale. The viciousness of the paparazzi has seemed to quell with celebrities more in control of their images thanks to social media. 

The documentary pieces together a story of a cultural icon in which many of the key characters refused to speak, or in Britney’s case, were gagged by the very conservatorship the film hinges upon. A lot remains fuzzy, which speaks to just how much of the story remains under wraps by the Spears family. The holes in the film bate a sense of anticipation for the stories that are bound to surface in time.

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