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How The Fan-Led 'Free Britney' Campaign Figures Into The Star's Legal Battles

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It's 2007. Britney Spears has just released her fifth album to great sales and positive reviews.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PIECE OF ME")

BRITNEY SPEARS: (Singing) I'm Mrs. Lifestyles of the rich and famous.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) You want a piece of me.

SPEARS: (Singing) I'm Mrs. Oh, my God, that Britney's shameless. You want a piece of me.

FADEL: But if you were following the news at the time, you were hearing less about her success and more about her personal life - custody battles with an ex-husband, a shaved head, all under intense public scrutiny. The next year, Spears ended up under a conservatorship controlled by her father. And that conservatorship, which continues, burst into the headlines this week when Spears appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court making this plea.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SPEARS: I just want my life back. And it's been 13 years, and it's enough. It's been a long time since I've owned my money, and it's my wish and my dream for all of this to end.

FADEL: She alleged exploitation and abuse, including being forced to stay on birth control even though she wants another child. Bianca Betancourt is an associate editor at Harper's Bazaar, where she's been covering Spears' fight, and she joins us now. Welcome.

BIANCA BETANCOURT: Thank you so much for having me.

FADEL: So let's start with #FreeBritney. It's an effort by fans to end the conservatorship and give Britney Spears autonomy over personal and financial decisions. How much did that figure into the news this week?

BETANCOURT: It was a huge push on behalf of the fans for Britney that really was the reason this court battle started to make headlines. You know, the #FreeBritney movement, I would say, truly began about two years ago. There was a podcast episode called "Britney's Gram." Two comedians got together, would talk about Britney's Instagram, just have fun about it. But they got an anonymous tip from a legal associate who worked at a firm that was handling her conservatorship at the time, basically alleged that Britney had been admitted to a mental facility against her will, and that was why her second big Vegas show that she was set to do that year had been canceled. And now, from what we heard from Britney say in court yesterday, those allegations appear to be true.

FADEL: I mean, you talked about how there was this push, and it was - it figured heavily into the New York Times documentary this year, "Framing Britney Spears." And there was so much guesswork around what might be going on with her. What did we learn from Spears' court testimony this week?

BETANCOURT: She's been putting on a facade for the world and even to her fans, who, over the years, you know, she has had a great relationship with, you know? Her words were, I'm sad; I'm angry; I cry every night; I'm depressed under the circumstances that this conservatorship has been for her.

FADEL: And that began when she was 26, and she's now 39. Is there any indication that she's in the same condition now as she was when the decision was made to put her under this conservatorship?

BETANCOURT: Until about three years ago, when she took a break from performing, she was doing Vegas. She was doing tours. She was releasing albums. She was doing business deals. The biggest argument for Britney fans has been if this is someone who's able to rake in millions of dollars and consistently work and have a career, why can't they have control of their own life?

FADEL: And what's next in the legal battle?

BETANCOURT: Jamie Spears' team, her father's team, you know, still are allowed to counteract the statements. They're still allowed to, you know, speak on their behalf of what they agree with, what they don't agree with. So the judge still has to hear that side. It could be something that's pushed back for months or, depending on how the judge sees the situation, it could be something they want to expedite. But Britney does still need to officially file that she wants the terms of her conservatorship completely lifted.

FADEL: You're a Britney fan. What was it like listening to that 30-minute address in court?

BETANCOURT: I mean, it was beyond emotional, but there also was a bit of pride in that moment. You know, when you're a fan - and we've had inklings for so long knowing that something wasn't fully right, but she never spoke about it. So finally, after all these years, finally hearing her speak her truth, it was immensely powerful. And this might just be the moment that doesn't just change things for her life, but it could also change conservatorship laws, you know, across the nation. This is definitely a starting point - what I think is going to be major changes for her, hopefully.

FADEL: That's Bianca Betancourt of Harper's Bazaar. Thanks so much for being with us.

BETANCOURT: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.