‘Framing Britney Spears’: An Insight into the Free Britney Movement

The recent New York Times documentary ‘Framing Britney Spears’, released in February 2021 sheds light on the harrowing experiences of the early 2000s pop sensation. 


Britney Spears grew up under the judgmental eye of the international media, with her first hit, ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ released when she was just 16. The single went multi-platinum, amassing millions of streams. The response to her music video is imperative in this discussion; she was incredibly sexualised, and a discussion as to whether or not she was a virgin arose. This debate never really swayed, with the tabloids and paparazzi constantly bombarding her with questions regarding it from such a young age, something that never would have happened to her male counterparts. The documentary emphasises how everyone was concerned about her breasts, and that boybands who were also in the limelight during the period never received this kind of sexual scrutiny. 


The media frenzy intensified when she was dating Justin Timberlake, as their relationship was so public. Fans wanted to know every detail, they were the first American pop couple, perceived initially as a ‘perfect couple’. This image shattered following their broadcasted breakup, with Justin alleging that she had cheated on him. As a result, Britney was treated as the villain, with her profile destroyed, and seen by mothers as a poor example to their teenage daughters. This deepened when Timberlake proudly bragged in an interview that they’d had sex, with Spears the only one receiving criticism from the comment. 20 years later, following the documentary release, he gave a half-hearted apology through his social media platforms for his ‘role’ in her demise, yet failed to give anything of the sort when it was actually needed. 


Spears’ subsequent marriage to Kevin Federline brought her back to international attention, dubbed as a ‘bridezilla’, with tabloids claiming that the wedding had been faked. Britney’s mother feared that she was suffering from post-partum depression after the birth of her first child, with the media alleging that she was an inadequate mother and her lengthy custody battle during the couple’s divorce. The media were immensely capitalising from her mental breakdown, with photos of her head shaved selling for upwards of a million dollars. This insincere response to celebrity mental illness has continued to the present day, with Hip-Hop star Kanye West’s Twitter breakdowns being perceived as comical rather than serious. It was in the midst of Spear’s mental breakdown when she was placed under the conservatorship of her estranged father, meaning that he controlled her finances and estates. Conservatorships are typically only awarded when the affected are pensioners with illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and are unaware of their actions, leading to the belief that the decision was one of a misogynistic nature.


The ‘Free Britney’ movement began when fans started overanalysing her Instagram captions, seeing what they believed to be hidden messages in the posts. This led to an online campaign, protests, and petitions to try and better her situation. Although she is yet to be removed from her conservatorship, a lot of progress has been made, and freedom for the star is indeed in sight.