Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

New report offers closest look yet at the misery of Britney's conservatorship

Ronan Farrow and Jia Tolentino detail years of Britney Spears' attempts to retain her own legal counsel

Britney Spears in 2018
Britney Spears in 2018
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez (Getty Images)

One of the things that makes the ongoing legal conservatorship surrounding Britney Spears—an arrangement she’s now been living under since 2008—difficult for outsiders to fully understand is that, by its very nature, a conservatorship devalues the perspective of the person it’s applied to. Until her recent demand to speak in open courtcalling her “team,” her various conservators, and especially her father Jamie “abusive” in their treatment of hereverything “Britney” has had to say on the topic of her living circumstances has been filtered by default, whether through people overseeing her social media, through her court-appointed legal advocate Samuel Ingham, or through the large number of public relations people employed by the conservatorship. After all, the default legal reasoning underpinning the entire existence of the conservatorship is that Spears supposedly isn’t fit to speak for herself (even if she is apparently fit to record music, tour, and continue to make money for her multi-million dollar estate). Which means, in turn, that every legal filing, public statement, etc. has to be carefully analyzed for obvious traces of self-interest from the various parties surrounding her, all attempting to assert that they’re the true arbiter of what Spears wants.

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All of which has come into sharper focus today, courtesy of a new New Yorker report penned by Ronan Farrow and Jia Tolentino. “Britney Spears’ Conservatorship Nightmare” draws on interviews and research from a number of people who were in the singer’s orbit both before and after the conservatorship was established, and attempts to paint the clearest picture possible of how the arrangement began, and why it’s persisted for 13 years. It’s also a legitimately harrowing portrait of the loss of control that Spears has suffered, outlined most brutally in a series of clandestine anecdotes of her attempts to get access to an unmonitored cellphone so that she could contact independent legal counsel—something that, per the courts, she has no legal right or capacity to do.

Among other things, the report raises questions about the loyalties of court-set attorney Ingham; former family friend Jacqueline Butcher, who was present for the conversations that led to the (supposedly temporary) conservatorship, and who’s quoted extensively in the piece, alleges that Ingham reported on Spears’ movements to her father. (The piece also notes, in passing, that Ingham is paid $520,000 a year by the conservatorship for his role, which is paradoxically more than Spears herself received as the fruits of her labor in 2019.) Ingham has, of late, filed motions calling for Jamie Spears, who comes off especially poorly in the New Yorker article, to be removed from his role as Spears’ financial co-conservator, but that simply returns outsider observers to the central question: Who can actually be said to be putting Britney Spears’ interests first?

Farrow and Tolentino end their report by noting the Catch-22 that Spears, and the thousands of other people who’ve had their legal autonomy stripped from them in similar circumstances, face. I.e., if Spears—who, it’s noted, has been motivated more than once throughout this long process by threats of withholding her two children from her—performs poorly under the conservatorship, that can be held up as proof that the arrangement is necessary. And if she thrives? Well, there you go: Evidence that it’s exactly what she needed.

You can read the full New Yorker article here.