The Britney Spears who spoke in court this week was a different woman to the Spears we've become accustomed to seeing on Instagram in the past few years.
Speaking firmly to the judge by audiolink in a passionate plea to end her 13-year conservatorship, the anger over her situation was palpable. Her tone was in stark contrast to the bubbly and childlike persona she presents online via energetic dance routines and catwalks in her LA mansion.
Her carefree, quirky presence had been her only real contact with fans since she announced an "indefinite hiatus" on her career in January 2019.
But this week, as long suspected by #FreeBritney campaigners, we learned the pop star's social media profile is far from reality, with Spears confessing to putting on a front to the world.
"I've lied and told the whole world, 'I'm okay. And I'm happy'," Spears told the judge this week.
"I've been in shock. I am traumatised. You know, fake it 'til you make it," she explained.
"I'm not happy, I can't sleep, I'm depressed, I cry every day."
It was just one snippet from the singer's explosive 24-minute statement on Thursday, but a confession that lays bare the truth behind past assurances that she's "the happiest she's ever been".
Britney's heartbreaking post following fan reaction
Although many were quick to suggest Spears' conservators had tried to make her look erratic on social media to maintain control over her life, Spears revealed on Friday that she'd been trying to cultivate a positive Instagram page to throw off fans.
In a heartbreaking caption alongside a quote from Albert Einstein, she even apologised for "pretending" she's been okay for the past two years.
"I just want to tell you guys a little secret … I believe as people we all want the fairy tale life and by the way I've posted … my life seems to look and be pretty amazing … I think that's what we all strive for !!!! That was one of my mother's best traits … no matter how sh**ty a day was when I was younger … for the sake of me and my siblings she always pretended like everything was OK. I'm bringing this to peoples attention because I don't want people to think my life is perfect because IT'S DEFINITELY NOT AT ALL … and if you have read anything about me in the news this week … you obviously really know now it's not !!!! I apologise for pretending like I've been OK the past two years … I did it because of my pride and I was embarrassed to share what happened to me … but honestly who doesn't want to capture there Instagram in a fun light !!!! Believe it or not pretending that I'm OK has actually helped … so I decided to post this quote today because by golly if you're going through hell … I feel like Instagram has helped me have a cool outlet to share my presence … existence … and to simply feel like I matter despite what I was going through and hey it worked … so I've decided to start reading more fairy tales!!!!!"
Many people took to Twitter to point out the difference between Instagram Spears and the Spears desperate to regain control over her life heard in court.
The #FreeBritney movement
Fans have been passionately driving online campaigns dedicated to "freeing" the singer for years after an anonymous phone call to a popular podcast led to something of an investigation into the star's bizarre Instagram activity.
Among a number of conspiracies about the singer's life, many believe her Instagram account wasn't being controlled by her, and that she'd been sending cryptic messages within posts begging to be rescued.
The movement first exploded after comedians Babs Gray and Tess Barker became dedicated to trying to find meaning in Spears' online behaviour, a lighthearted pastime they turned into the Britney's Gram podcast.
But the comedic take on the singer's "basic" page took a darker turn in 2019 after the hosts received a mysterious phone call from someone claiming to have worked on her father Jamie's legal team, alleging the singer was being manipulated within her strict conservatorship.
From there, fans became convinced Spears was trying to communicate through her posts.
Some think they see hidden meanings in the way she smiles, where she looks at the camera, even whether she has written the word "help" in tiny letters on her hat.
Others are certain she is responding to their comments to twirl or blink or wear yellow in her next video if she needs help.
Spears' strange Instagram activity ramps up
In one post ahead of this week's hearing, Spears caused concern with her message beneath a series of photos of her wearing a snake suit.
"I held a snake at the @VMAs one time but decided to go ahead 20 years later and become the motherf****ing snake," she wrote.
"And since TRICKS ARE FOR KIDS you tricky little sh*ts … who knows what colour snake I will be tomorrow.
She concluded, "!!!!??? STAY SAFE folks and watch out for snakes!!!!!".
It was met with an avalanche of confusion, with one person commenting, "Well this ain't strange at all Britt. Hope you're released from your cage soon."
Another asked, "Are you really okay?"
One fan even doubted the post was written by her at all, declaring, "This cannot be Britney writing that."
Similarly, last July, amid one of many waves of concern for Spears' welfare, the star released one of her famed Instagram dancing videos to an enormous reaction.
As the #FreeBritney hashtag trended online, Spears treated her 25.2 million followers to a performance of her dancing to Rihanna's track Never Ending, writing in the caption: "I feel like I'm flying with this song".
Donning a white crop top and pyjama shorts in the video, she improvised an elaborate dance routine full of wild hand gestures.
It led to increased speculation that her videos were a cry for help.
"I feel like there's a million signs here," one follower wrote in the comments.
"Has anyone noticed the same verified people are always commenting the same 'positive' things on her dancing videos," another pointed out.
"She's doing her own version of sign language. She's spelling out HELPPP ME," said another, while one told the singer: "Draw a black dot on your palm in your next post if your in trouble but can't say anything because they're listening."
In yet another concerning post, Spears enthusiastically told fans how much she enjoyed her summer, in what many described as a frenzied state.
In the past, Spears has addressed her Instagram presence, telling followers: "I get how some people might not like my posts or even understand them, but this is Me being happy …. this is Me being authentic and as real as it gets !!!!! I want to inspire people to do the same and just be themselves without pleasing others …. that's the key to happiness."
Spears' response to fan concern
When the #FreeBritney movement first began gaining momentum in 2018 after a three-month investigation by the Los Angeles Times that found "no independent evidence that Britney was being harmed", Spears asked worried fans to stand down.
She wrote: "You may not know this about me But I am strong, and stand up for what I want!"
This year, she reiterated the message, saying she was "fine" and "happy" in response to constant questions about her health.
"I'm here to answer all of your questions, and the first main question you guys have been asking me is basically when I'm in my living room, do I get dizzy when I'm spinning so much? Yes, I get extremely dizzy but I'm a dancer so as long as I have a focus point for my head as I turn, as long as I keep finding that spot, usually in the end it's not as bad," she began.
Answering whether or not she's "okay", she said: "Yes, I'm totally fine. I'm extremely happy, I have a beautiful home, beautiful children. I'm taking a break right now because I'm enjoying myself."
The family weighs in
Her mother Lynne has shown support for the #FreeBritney movement in the past by pointing out Spears' unusual behaviour, adding to conspiracies the star's management team is trying to "keep up the illusion that she needs help".
According to Page Six, Lynne commented on a fan account in 2019: "They were all so quick to remove all comments before, but now all [of a] sudden they are leaving all negative ones, but removing positive ones! How much longer is this going to be? This has to be human rights violation! #FreeBritney#britneyspears."
And in March 2019, Spears' son Sean, 14, went on his own major Instagram rant, calling his grandfather Jamie a "d**k" and revealing his troubled mum may never return to music.
Spears' long-awaited day in court
Among several revelations about her 13-year conservatorship this week, Spears told the court she wanted to marry partner Sam Asghari and have more children, but because of disturbing control over her body by those around her, hasn't been able to.
"I have an IUD in my body right now that won't let me have a baby and my conservators won't let me go to the doctor to take it out," she said.
She also told the court that in the past she was nervous about how she'd be received if she shared her true feelings about her situation. She said she feared "people would make fun of me or laugh at me and say, 'She's lying, she's got everything, she's Britney Spears'."