In the late 90s Britney Spears quickly rose to fame as a blonde, piggy-tailed teen pop icon, but for more than a decade, she has been unable to so much as buy a coffee without the court being informed.
And fans are rallying to give the star — who is not legally considered an adult under a strict conservatorship — her freedom back.
The #FreeBritney movement has been trending again on social media over the past week, following mounting concern from fans that the troubled star is being exploited by those around her.
The focus on the star's welfare has sparked fresh intrigue surrounding her conservatorship, and the puzzling fact that while under the court order typically reserved for individuals in a coma or with severe mental illness over the past 12 years, Britney has released four albums, held a four-year, $140 million Las Vegas performance residency, launched fashion and fragrance products, made cameos on TV shows and judged The X Factor.
Meanwhile, the 38-year-old mum-of-two can't drive, hire a lawyer, or control her own finances.
Her conservators, dad Jamie Spears and recently care manager Jodi Montgomery, are paid for the role, with her father having also received a cut of her income from a successful Las Vegas residency in the past.
So what is the #FreeBritney movement? And how did it all come about?
It all stems from her troubled and headline-grabbing past.
In 2008, after the singer's public breakdown involved hospitalisation and psychiatric holds, her court-appointed advocate Samuel Ingham stated that she was incapable of retaining her own counsel after meeting with her for 15 minutes.
As a result, she was placed under conservatorship, a legal concept in the US where a guardian is appointed to manage someone's financial affairs and daily life due to physical or mental restrictions. It's a move reserved for gravely disabled people.
Her father Jamie Spears and lawyer Andrew Wallet are completely in charge of her assets, and Jamie has dominion over everything from the legal ins and outs of every business decision she makes to the running of her house and family. He approves publicity, magazine covers, sponsorship deals and partnerships.
For this, Jamie is reimbursed financially. According to the Forbes, Jamie receives $180,000 every year for his work as conservator over Britney's estate. A court reviews and approves other expenses, like bills and rent on an office space.
In addition, Jamie received 1.5% of the revenue from Britney's Las Vegas residency. In 2017, that number was in excess of $139 million, a tidy $208,000.
Initially, the conservatorship focused on Britney's immediate health. Her father had the power to prevent people from visiting her while she was hospitalised in February 2008 and became the arbitrator of her medical records and legal contracts.
But over time, the conservatorship took on more wide-reaching implications in Britney's life. Once it became permanent, Jamie gained control over every decision impacting Britney's physical and mental health. That means everything from signing on to a Vegas world tour to buying a cup of coffee.
According to People, the singer's "care manager" Jodi Montgomery was appointed last year as temporary conservator at her father Jamie's request due to illness. He reportedly resumed the role again in January.
Britney is exploring asking the court to end the conservatorship entirely, but court dates have been delayed amid the global pandemic.
Last week, Britney's mother Lynn Spears filed legal documents to ensure she is included on decisions regarding her daughter's finances, The Blast reports.
A Change.org petition called "Britney Spears: right to her own lawyer" has also been created. As of July 18, the petition has 199,607 signatures and counting.
Britney's conservatorship will stay in place until a hearing on July 22.
SO HOW DID #FREEBRITNEY START?
Podcast hosts and Britney superfans Tess Barker and Barbara Gray are the originators of the #FreeBritney movement, which not only exists on social media, but includes passionate fans showing up in person to her hearings bearing signs and rallying.
The duo's podcast Britney's Gram, born in 2017, initially started as a conversation where Barker and Gray would lovingly unpack the Princess of Pop's "basic" Instagram posts.
But after Britney's Las Vegas residency was cancelled last year, and her lawyer Andrew Wallet moved to have his involvement in her conservatorship revoked, an anonymous call led to something of an investigation.
After they'd spent months on their podcast hypothesising on a the seemingly suspicious events leading up to the announcement, they received an anonymous call from someone confirmed to be involved with one of the law firms associated with the conservatorship who hinted they were "onto something".
The phone call was aired on an episode in April 2019, which went on to spark the movement.
Now, during quarantine, #FreeBritney supporters believe the Toxic hit maker has been sending coded messages through social media.
BIZARRE INSTAGRAM ACTIVITY
Amid the fresh wave of concern for Britney's welfare, the star released another of her famed Instagram dancing videos last week.
Unlike the many quirky videos before it, which have been a source of light fun poked at the energetic pop megastar, the latest upload has fans worried there's a sinister message behind it.
As the #FreeBritney hashtag continued to trend, 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."
The 38-year-old mum-of-two donned a white crop top and pyjama shorts in the video, as she improvised an elaborate dance routine full of wild hand gestures.
"Rihanna … … your music makes me FEEL like I've never felt before! 'Never Ending' is my favourite song off of the ANTI album … I feel like I'm flying with this song … thank you," the Toxic singer wrote.
Spears posted another performance to a Billie Eilish song, showcasing similar moves and writing: "I should (have) makeup on and brush my hair but I just wanna dance."
It comes after she made a shocking confession in May, sharing that she burnt down her gym when she left candles out.
"Hi guys, I'm in my gym right now. I haven't been in here for, like, six months because I burned my gym down, unfortunately," Spears, 38, said. "I had two candles and, yeah … one thing led to another and I burned it down."
And in March, she puzzled fans when she made the claim she ran a 100m dash in just under six seconds.
"Ran my first 5!" she captioned a screenshot of a stopwatch timer displaying 5.97 seconds.
"Getting over your fear of pushing it in the beginning is key … once I did that I hit 5 !!!!! Usually I run 6 or 7 … my first try was 9 … and now I did it whoop !!!!! 100 metre dash."
Speaking out about her quirky web presence, the star posted to her page earlier this month:
"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."
However, in the comments on her latest Instagram activity, fans have speculated that the videos are a cry for help given she's so heavily restricted in speaking out.
"I feel like there's a million signs here," one wrote.
"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 (sic) in trouble but can't say anything because they're listening."
Her mother Lynne has also showed support for the movement by pointing out unusual behaviour on her social media profiles, last year claiming the star's management team was trying to "keep up the illusion that she needs help" on her Instagram account.
According to Page Six, Lynne commented on a fan account: "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."
SO WHAT DOES BRITNEY SAY ABOUT IT ALL?
In 2008, when the conservatorship was first put in place, Spears told MTV that "it's too in control".
"If I wasn't under the restraints I'm under, I'd feel so liberated," she added.
"There's no excitement, there's no passion … Even when you go to jail, you know there's the time when you're going to get out. But in this situation, it's never-ending."
And in another instance that year, a recording captured by Rolling Stone had Britney in the background, saying: "I basically just want my life back … I want to be able to drive my car. I want to be able to live in my house by myself. I want to be able to say who's going to be my security guard."
"As for Kevin saying Britney divorced him, she was forced to by her lawyers because she went to visit him in New York and he wouldn't see her and the children and her lawyers said if she doesn't divorce him he's going to do it himself," the letter read.
"She was lied to and set up," the letter goes on.
"Her children were taken away and she did spin out of control which any mother would in those circumstances."
Talking about her conservatorship, the writer claimed Britney "has no rights".
Elsewhere, dance studio boss Robert Baker told The Mirror last year that Britney's father, Jamie, is likely the reason the singer is still alive today following her psychiatric episodes.
"I've known Britney since 1998. I saw her at the height of her fame and saw her struggling when things got tough," Baker recalled.
"She was spiralling out of control. She was going through the worst time of her life and needed help. Her dad stepped in and gave her the help she needed. If he hadn't, things could have been very different. I don't think she would still be with us today."
The year 2007 was something of an annus horribilis for Britney Spears. The singer spent most of the year hounded by the tabloid media, who gleefully recorded every toe she put out of line.
At the time, Britney was struggling with substance abuse and reeling from the breakdown of her marriage to Kevin Federline the year prior. In 2007, she checked into rehab twice before checking herself out early. She partied, often without wearing any underwear.
In documentary, Britney Spears – Breaking Point, insiders revealed Britney may have had her life in danger — and the people who were paid to protect her safety may have accepted bribes from paparazzi in exchange for access to the singer.
Esther Tognozzi owns the Los Angeles salon where the Toxic singer infamously shaved her head in February 2007. In the special, Tognozzi revealed that one of the two bodyguards who'd accompanied her to the salon repeatedly opened the blinds to let the horde of photographers outside the shop snap pictures of the singer buzzing off her own hair.
For those close to Britney, her January 2008 breakdown was the final straw. While she was hospitalised her father sought the conservatorship in a court hearing, with Britney's mother Lynne sitting in the audience. Temporary control was granted, with the conservatorship made permanent at the end of 2008.
In April 2019, Spears checked into a mental health facility, reportedly due to the stress of her father Jamie Spears' illness.
Britney slammed reports she was committed against her will before leaving treatment at the end of that month.
CUSTODY BATTLE AND FAMILY DRAMA
Last year, Britney and her ex-husband Kevin Federline reached a new custody agreement where Federline, 42, will have 70 per cent custody of sons Sean Preston, 14, and Jayden James, 13, to Britney's 30 per cent going forward.
It came after the former couple feuded in court over Federline's request to increase child support payments from the star in 2018.
Federline and Spears, 37, previously shared 50-50 custody of their boys.
Britney filed for divorce from the former dancer in November 2006. The split was settled in March 2007. At the time, Federline maintained custody of the children until Spears stabilised after her widely publicised breakdown.
In September last year, Britney's father was accused of abusing her son, Sean, 14, with TMZ reporting that complaint was lodged to police by Sean's father, Kevin Federline. Law enforcement said the incident allegedly occurred at Britney's home in Ventura County, California.
Sean, 14, allegedly got into an argument with Jamie, and during which the older man reportedly broke down a door to get to the teenager, and put his hands on him.
Nobody was injured during the incident, however the teen was alarmed and reported it local Sheriff's department the following day.
In March, Sean went on a major Instagram rant, calling his grandfather Jamie a "d**k" and revealing his troubled mum may "quit" music for good.