Music fanbases mobilizing for the sake of the artists they love is far from a recent phenomenon (may I point you towards the pre-BTS stan militia of the KISS Army?), but there are few examples as confusing (and potentially harmful) the recently-trending #FreeBritney phenomenon.
The hashtag has gained online traction over the past week after allegations surfaced regarding Britney’s cancellation of her February Las Vegas residency, which at the time was attributed to Spears checking herself into a mental health facility in order to deal with stress of her father’s illness.
Among other things, the account—coming from an anonymous tip received by a Britney fan podcast (Britney’s Gram) — claims that not only is the story of her father’s illness a fabrication, but that Britney has apparently been in a mental health facility since January against her will. The rumours immediately spurned fans to start the #FreeBritney campaign, which began online but quickly gained visibility in the outside world and inspired real-life protests of fans corralling for the singer’s release.
Both fans and reports seem to be divided as to what exactly is going on with the whole situation (which continues to become bigger by the day), which is why we’ve rounded up everything we know about the #FreeBritney hashtag and the events that may or may not have inspired it.
The Las Vegas cancellation
Back in January, Spears announced that she would be taking an indefinite hiatus from music and performing and instead “dedicating my focus and energy to care for my family. We have a very special relationship and I want to be with my family at this time just like they have always been there for me.”
The announcement was made in response to the state of her father, Jamie Spears, who was hospitalized for a month back in November of 2018 following a health scare. The timing of this announcement put her Vegas residency Domination (which was set to premiere in February) on hold until further notice.
View this post on Instagram
I don’t even know where to start with this, because this is so tough for me to say. I will not be performing my new show Domination. I’ve been looking forward to this show and seeing all of you this year, so doing this breaks my heart. However, it’s important to always put your family first… and that’s the decision I had to make. A couple of months ago, my father was hospitalized and almost died. We’re all so grateful that he came out of it alive, but he still has a long road ahead of him. I had to make the difficult decision to put my full focus and energy on my family at this time. I hope you all can understand. More information on ticket refunds is available on britneyspears.com. I appreciate your prayers and support for my family during this time. Thank you, and love you all… always.
The above post was followed by a three-month-long near-hiatus from social media (broken only to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of her debut, … Baby One More Time), though earlier this month, amidst reports that the singer had checked herself into a mental health facility to further help with the stress over her father’s illness, Spears briefly returned to social media to announce that she would be taking a little “me time”:
11 years ago, following her prior struggles with mental health, Britney’s father Jamie received conservatorship over his daughters’ career – giving him full control and final say over all business decisions regarding his daughter and her estate. Though this duty was initially shared with Spears’ lawyer Andrew Wallet, the arrangement was legally amended earlier this year to give full control to Spears’ father.
Last week, the podcast Britney’s Gram – usually a comedic overview of Spears’ now-sparse Instagram account hosted by Tess Barker and Babs Gray – released audio from an anonymous source alleging that there may be more behind Spears’ step away from the spotlight than initially thought.
It was reported that Britney Spears checked herself into a mental facility at the end of March. We have information that that might not be true. Please listen to this and spread this far and wide. https://t.co/tK8657e3ZF pic.twitter.com/SLomsNwSj0
— Britney's Gram (@BritneysGram) April 16, 2019
The source, allegedly a paralegal working on the aforementioned conservatorship amendment between Jamie Spears and Andrew Wallet, claimed that Britney’s admission into treatment was carried out against her will, using her father’s health scare as a red herring:
“What is happening is disturbing, to say the least. Basically, Britney was in rehearsals for Domination. It came to Jamie’s attention that Britney was not taking her medication as prescribed. She was missing a lot of doses and just full-on not taking them.”
In response, the paralegal claims that Britney’s team “got her to the doctor and the doctor said, ‘OK, if you don’t want these medications, let’s get you on a new one.’ She refused to take the new one. Jamie said, ‘Either you take this medication or the show’s off, and I’m pulling my support and you can’t do it.’ Britney did not follow Jamie’s instructions, so he was true to his word—he pulled the show, he verbatim said, ‘Blame it on my illness.’”
After this account surfaced, fans took to the Internet to spread awareness via the #FreeBritney hashtag, showing support ranging from well wishes to rallies for her release from her father’s conservatorship:
— firstname.lastname@example.org (@cowencowen163c1) April 20, 2019
— robbie (@GabeRoberths) April 22, 2019
According to team Britney Spears
Dec 2018/Left pic : “Mental state had deteriorated to a point where she was horribly messed up.”
Thus, forced on a mental facility in January 2019
April 2019/Right pic : Happy and relaxed
— FREE BRITNEY | franz, 27. (@BritxFangirl) April 22, 2019
The frenzy began to spill out into the real world after Eve sported a #FreeBritney tee last week on The Talk…
… Before eventually heating up to the point of protests, organized to call for the singer’s release from these facilities, popping up last night in in front of West Hollywood city hall:
Britney Spears’ fans have gathered outside West Hollywood City Hall demanding #FreeBritney. The #FreeBritney hashtag has been trending on social media after allegations were made on the “Britney’s Gram” podcast that the singer is being held against her will. @etnow pic.twitter.com/SfWLETZWLw
— Brendon Geoffrion (@tv_brendon) April 22, 2019
The conflicting accounts
Though the allegations shared by Britney’s Gram may have captured considerable attention, a number of other statements suggest that the information fans are acting on may not be the full truth.
In a statement to E! News, a source close to the singer claimed that, contrary to the account shared by Gray and Parker, “Britney decided to do this on her own,” with her decision having “a lot to do with the stress of her father, but both Jamie and Britney are doing much better. It’s the hope that in the next week or so everything will be more stabilized, but she’ll be at this wellness facility for a few weeks.”
Similarly, a report from The Blast shares that though Jamie’s illness was indeed exaggerated as the cause of these issues and that Britney was resistant to initial discussion about seeking treatment, the singer is “not being held against her will.”
One non-anonymous opinion came this morning from Spears’ sister, Jamie-Lynn, who posted a video to Instagram with the caption “I have been here long before anyone else, and I’ll be here long after. I love my sister with everything I have. So, anyone or anything that speaks to the contrary can GTFOH with all the comments about what you don’t understand. Do not come for me or the ones I love anymore.”
In addition to the claims defending Spears’ agency regarding her current treatment, she has been seen outside of the facilities recently on several occasions, appearing at a Los Angeles hair salon earlier this month and around town with boyfriend Sam Asghari this past weekend. Witnesses to both situations report the singer appearing “content” and “happy.”
Though activism surrounding #FreeBritney persists, it stands to note that no media outlets have been able to validate the claims made by the Britney’s Gram podcast.
Due to the unverified nature of the podcast’s report, a Medium post, highlighted by Perez Hilton, claims that the continued activity surrounding confidential information of the singer’s mental state may stand in violation to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services policies over outing one’s health issues on such a large scale.
The prospect of such violations – and the intensity in which fans are campaigning against those in Spears’ camp – prompted the Britney’s Gram podcast to issue a statement yesterday urging discretion until more facts come to light:
We ask that people please do not delegitimize our very real concerns by crossing boundaries or going after individuals without direct culpability for the troubling situation at hand.
— Britney's Gram (@BritneysGram) April 22, 2019
The whole scenario remains both loudly confusing and quietly tragic, and regardless of where the truth lies – both Spears’ people nor Britney’s Gram have officially confirmed any more information on the situation – we hope the best for Britney.