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28 July 2021

The podcasts making sense of the #FreeBritney movement

After her appearance in court, a flurry of podcasts on Britney Spears’s conservatorship seek to explain how and why a celebrity with such an incredible level of fame could be in such a powerless position.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

On 23 June the pop singer Britney Spears spoke out against the conservatorship that she has been subject to for the past 13 years. The courts made her father, Jamie Spears, responsible for the management of her ­finances, her work schedule, her health and even decisions about her personal life. “My dad and anyone involved in this conservatorship… should be in jail,” Spears told a Los Angeles judge, comparing her situation to sex trafficking. It was a statement that a committed group of fans, the #FreeBritney movement, had hoped to hear for years.

In the weeks since that court date, media coverage of Spears’s conservatorship has been intense: a flurry of ­podcasts seek to explain how and why a ­celebrity with such an incredible level of fame and cultural influence could be in such a powerless position.

The BBC show Pieces of Britney (29 June, BBC Sounds) takes a long view in the form of a biographical series, and is bookended by the conservatorship. The host Pandora Sykes says that this is an explicitly “sympathetic” take, and she condemns the sexist tabloid coverage that reported on Spears’s rise in the late Nineties, and her mental health issues in the mid-Noughties. (Sykes’s narration is interrupted by somewhat jarring dramatic reconstructions.)

[see also: Why we must listen to Britney Spears]

Toxic: The Britney Spears Story (7 July, Witness Docs) is a detailed exploration of the conservatorship itself and the origins of the #FreeBritney movement. Babs Gray and Tess Barker are comedians and Britney fans who started a podcast on the eccentricities of her social media called Britney’s Gram. But as they joked about their obsession with her bizarre captions, they became alarmed by some of Spears’s posts and read up on the legality of her situation. They began ­attending court hearings, and, after a tip-off from a paralegal associated with the case, released an episode called “#FreeBritney” that galvanised the movement. Here, they chart the story from their perspective.

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For a brief but thorough overview, try the New Yorker Radio Hour (3 July, WNYC Studios) with Jia Tolentino and Ronan Farrow. The pair concisely talk through their original reporting on the case for the magazine with rigour and empathy. 

Pieces of Britney; Toxic: The Britney Spears Story; The New Yorker Radio Hour

[see also: The fight over Britney Spears]

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This article appears in the 28 Jul 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Summer special