On Monday afternoon, dozens of protesters gathered outside West Hollywood City Hall holding signs with slogans inspired by Britney Spears songs: “Britney’s [Management] Is Toxic,” “Britney Isn’t a Slave for You,” and more. It was all part of a #FreeBritney protest organized by some of the pop star’s most die-hard fans.
— Entertainment Tonight (@etnow) April 23, 2019
Tess Barker, co-host of Britney’s Gram, a podcast dedicated to—yep—Spears’s Instagram, was one of the protesters present.
Barker and co-host Barbara Gray started Britney’s Gram a little bit more than a year ago when they noticed Spears posting videos and images to Instagram in which she appeared more carefree and relaxed than usual.
“We always texted each other about Britney’s Instagram,” Barker says. “We always enjoyed talking about her Instagram.”
Barker’s interest in Spears grew after she read a 2016 New York Times article about Spears’s conservatorship. The story examined if Spears—who had been under her father and attorney’s conservatorship since 2008—could make decisions on her own. Once Barker read that article, she viewed Spears’s posts with a different eye.
“While looking at her Instagram posts, I was always seeing things in that context,” Barker says.
When Spears made an announcement in October that she would continue her residency in Vegas, Barker felt something was off.
“It just kind of seemed like she didn’t want to be there or something suspect was going on,” Barker says.
In January, Spears canceled her Vegas residency due to, she said, her father’s recent health scare. That’s when Barker began reading up on court files and legal documents surrounding Spears’s conservatorship and began to wonder who was benefiting financially from the pop star’s career.
“I think it’s suspicious that a person as productive and prolific as Britney Spears has been categorized as an incapacitated person in the eyes of the law,” Barker says. “Because a conservatorships are generally, they’re for individuals who can’t provide shelter and food for themselves.”
Barker and Gray discussed the situation on their podcast, and say they subsequently received a call from an anonymous source who had additional information.
“We were contacted by a whistleblower connected to the legal office with Britney’s conservatorship, who told us that [Spears] had been in a mental institution since January and it wasn’t her choice,” Barker says.
Barker and Gray were the ones who originally broke the news that Spears was in a mental health facility; however, TMZ reported shortly thereafter that Spears had been in the institution since March.
It’s all been cause for concern for Spears fans, and recent paparazzi photos of the star only added fuel to that fire. On Easter Sunday, a few images were released of Spears seemingly casually exiting a hotel. Barker and other fans believe they may have been staged.
“There’s a number of things that are sort of questionable about that,” Barker says. “Britney never goes in and out of a hotel from the front entrance. A lot of celebrities don’t do that. I think it’s bizarre that there was only one photographer there. And the agency that circulated the photos sent out a very bizarre release with it to all the outlets, describing her in the photos as relaxed and happy, which I think is really quite disparate from the read that a lot of people get from her in those photos.”
Barker says she can’t make a call on whether Spears should still be under a conservatorship but believes there should be an independent investigation into her mental health and living situation.
“I want her to be as happy and autonomous over her own life as possible,” Barker says. “I only want her to perform if she wants to perform. I want her to be making her own decisions for her life and her career.”