A year and a half after Britney Spears’s conservatorship ended, TMZ is posing the question: Has the freedom been good for her?
The query will be the substance of a new special produced by the gossip news outlet, “Britney Spears: The Price of Freedom,”, out now on televison.
The release of the unauthorised documentary taps into a decades-long public fascination with the 41-year-old Spears, extending an unrelenting spotlight on the star’s mental health and relationship issues.
The TMZ production features pundit-doctors, including the controversial celebrity doctor Drew Pinsky, who asserts that Spears is “screaming for help” with her behavior post-conservatorship.
Initially imposed after a spate of erratic public behavior in the late aughts, the pop singer’s 13-year legal arrangement gave father Jamie Spears control over her finances, daily activities and whereabouts. The conservatorship ended in November 2021.
A trailer for the documentary suggests that Spears’s marriage is in trouble since Spears won back her financial and personal freedom. It alleges Spears “got physical” with husband Sam Ashgari, who Spears married last year.
Ashgari, a fitness trainer and actor, seemed to reference the documentary on a video posted to his Instagram story Sunday, which slammed people in Spears’s circle who have “told her story like it was theirs.”
“Now, all of a sudden, after 15 years, she’s free after all those gaslighting and all those things that went down, now you’re going to put her under a microscope and tell her story? No. That’s also disgusting,” Ashgari said in the since-deleted video.
Recent tabloid coverage of Spears has offered up an array of allegations, mostly from unnamed sources claiming ties to her “inner circle.” These include claims that she’s hopped up on energy drinks, has a “fascination” with knives and is no longer interested in performing onstage.
As part of the special’s promotion, TMZ has invited its audience to openly speculate on the singer’s life. In the lead-up to the film’s release, TMZ polled its Twitter audience about whether the “Gimme More” singer was “overcharged by her legal team,” or whether she “is in a better place now that she’s out of her conservatorship.” In the last week, the gossip site has published nearly a story a day on Spears.
Online, Spears’s fans have pushed back against the documentary. On Monday afternoon, some fans coordinated a campaign to block the outlet on Twitter using the hashtag #TMZblockparty and vowed not to tune in. A promotional video TMZ posted of its special was met with hundreds of replies, most of which defended the singer.
“Who’s watching a documentary about a grown woman drinking too much coffee and sodas?” one commenter responded. Others pleaded with the outlet to leave her alone: “You are so incredibly disrespectful to continue to shame her and dissect her.”
Spears has appeared to respond to some of TMZ’s claims via her Instagram, which has featured stream-of-consciousness posts from Spears, as well as motivational quotes and videos of her dancing. “My mind gets busy and sometimes that can be an easy target to mess with,” Spears wrote recently, following reports that she would stay awake for days after over-caffeinating.
“I don’t like people in media bullying me and saying hateful things,” Spears added later in the post.
In February, Spears responded to another rumor about a failed intervention, with one unnamed source saying they feared Spears was “gonna die” as a result of mental health issues and substance abuse.
“It makes me sick to my stomach that it’s even legal for people to make up stories that I almost died,” Spears wrote in the post’s caption. “I mean at some point enough is enough!!!”
The TMZ special has continued an “alarming” line of coverage that has tailed the singer since her 1998 debut, said Imani Cheers, an associate professor of digital storytelling at George Washington University.
“Britney Spears has always been over-scrutinised, over-sexualised and truly sensationalised in a way that has been absolutely detrimental to her own mental health,” Cheers said.
In Cheers’s opinion, few of Spears’s peers have had to endure the kind of continued public scrutiny she has experienced - decades of speculation about her mental health, about the stability of her romantic relationships, about whether she is “fit” to be a mother. “There’s not really a male contemporary for how she’s been treated,” Cheers added.
The framing of the documentary - questioning whether it was good for Spears to regain control over her life - is particularly “demeaning,” said Cheers.
“Even just to have that conversation is insulting.”
Despite - or perhaps because of - the tabloid narrative about Spears, the pop phenomenon’s fans have rallied around her in powerful ways, such as the #FreeBritney movement.
The #FreeBritney campaign coalesced on the singer’s behalf in 2019, spurred by a cancellation of a Las Vegas show and an “extended social media absence,” according to the group’s website. The 2021 New York Times documentary “Framing Britney Spears” further heightened public scrutiny of the conservatorship during Spears’s legal battle.