Britney Spears told a Los Angeles judge on Wednesday that she has been drugged, compelled to work against her will and prevented from removing her birth control device over the past 13 years as she pleaded with the court to end her father’s legal control of her life.
“I’ve been in denial. I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized,” Ms. Spears, 39, said in an emotional 23-minute address by phone that was broadcast in the courtroom and, as she insisted, to the public. “I just want my life back.”
It was the first time that the world had heard Ms. Spears address in detail her struggles with the conservatorship granted to her father, James P. Spears, in 2008, when concerns about her mental health and potential substance abuse led him to petition the court for legal authority over his adult daughter.
Ms. Spears called for the arrangement to end without her “having to be evaluated.” “I shouldn’t be in a conservatorship if I can work. The laws need to change,” she added. “I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive. I don’t feel like I can live a full life.”
The struggle between one of the world’s biggest pop stars and her father has become a long-running saga that has spawned a “Free Britney” movement around the world among her fans and fellow celebrities.
Outside the courtroom, Ms. Spears’s voice silenced a crowd of roughly 120 supporters who had rallied on her behalf but paused to listen to her words on their phones.
The striking development came after Ms. Spears’s court-appointed lawyer, Samuel D. Ingham III, asked at her request in April that she be allowed — on an expedited basis — to address the judge directly. Confidential court records obtained recently by The New York Times revealed that Ms. Spears had raised issues with her father’s role in the conservatorship as early as 2014, and had repeatedly asked about terminating it altogether, though Mr. Ingham had not filed to do so.
“It’s embarrassing and demoralizing what I’ve been through, and that’s the main reason I didn’t say it openly,” Ms. Spears said. “I didn’t think anybody would believe me.” Ms. Spears said she had been previously unaware that she could petition to end the arrangement. “I’m sorry for my ignorance,” she said, “but I didn’t know that.”
Working off prepared remarks, the singer spoke so quickly and so passionately that the judge was forced more than once to ask her to slow down for the sake of the court stenographer.
“Now I’m telling you the truth, OK?” Ms. Spears said. “I’m not happy. I can’t sleep. I’m so angry it’s insane.”
The singer has lived under a two-pronged conservatorship in California — covering her person and her estate — since 2008, when concerns about her mental health and potential substance abuse led Mr. Spears to petition the court for authority over his daughter.
Mr. Spears, 68, currently oversees Ms. Spears’s nearly $60 million fortune, alongside a professional wealth management firm she requested; a licensed professional conservator took over Ms. Spears’s personal care on an ongoing temporary basis in 2019.
Representatives for Mr. Spears and the conservatorship have said that it was necessary to protect Ms. Spears, and that she could move to end the conservatorship whenever she wanted.
But Ms. Spears said that she felt compelled to again address the judge in the case, Brenda Penny, after most recently speaking out against the conservatorship in a closed-door hearing in May 2019. “I don’t think I was heard on any level when I came to court the last time,” Ms. Spears said before recapping her previous remarks, including the claim that she had been forced to tour, undergo psychiatric evaluations and take medication in 2019. “The people who did that to me should not be able to walk away so easily,” she said.
She described being pushed into involuntary medical evaluations and rehab after she spoke up for herself in rehearsal for an upcoming Las Vegas residency that was later canceled. When she objected to a piece of choreography, “it was as if I planted a huge bomb somewhere,” Ms. Spears said. “I’m not here to be anyone’s slave. I can say no to a dance move.”
“I need your help,” she told the judge. “I don’t want to be sat in a room for hours a day like they did to me before. They made it even worse for me.”
Multiple times, Ms. Spears drew attention to the fact that she was able to “make a living for so many people and pay so many people,” while not controlling her own money. “I’m great at what I do,” she said. “And I allow these people to control what I do, ma’am, and it’s enough. It makes no sense at all.”
For years, fans and observers had questioned how Ms. Spears has continued to qualify for a conservatorship, sometimes known as a guardianship, which is typically a last resort for people who cannot care for themselves, including those with serious disabilities or dementia. Until recently, the singer had continued to perform and bring in millions of dollars under the arrangement.
Outside the courthouse in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, dozens of Ms. Spears’s passionate supporters, who rally under the banner of #FreeBritney, gathered in front of a neon pink step-and-repeat background to chant and give speeches about the unfairness of her predicament. Fans said they had traveled from Las Vegas and Detroit to attend. With an even larger media presence, the crowd grew to take up a full city block.
Also joining the singer’s faithful were older participants who saw Ms. Spears’s case as bringing attention to a conservatorship system in need of reform. “When we heard about this group of socially conscious young people, we saw a chance to educate Americans,” said Susan Cobianchi, 61, who connected with the #FreeBritney contingent earlier this year, after her mother died while under a conservatorship that she said kept them apart in her final days.
In 2016, Ms. Spears told a court investigator assigned to her case that she wanted the conservatorship to end as soon as possible, according to the records reported by The Times. “She articulated she feels the conservatorship has become an oppressive and controlling tool against her,” the investigator wrote. “She is ‘sick of being taken advantage of’ and she said she is the one working and earning her money but everyone around her is on her payroll.”
At the time, the investigator, who is responsible for periodic evaluations that are provided to the judge, concluded that the conservatorship remained in Ms. Spears’s best interest because of her complex finances, susceptibility to undue influence and “intermittent” drug issues. But the report also called for “a pathway to independence and the eventual termination of the conservatorship.”
On Wednesday, Ms. Spears invoked her father’s authority, calling him “the one who approved all of it,” and recounted being intimidated and punished by him and her management team. “They should be in jail,” she said. She also mentioned wanting to sue her family.
After requesting a recess following Ms. Spears’s remarks, Vivian Lee Thoreen, a lawyer for Mr. Spears, read a brief statement on behalf of her client: “He is sorry to see his daughter suffering and in so much pain,” she said. “Mr. Spears loves his daughter, and he misses her very much.”
Mr. Ingham, who said as the hearing began that he was unaware of what Ms. Spears would say, also seemed stunned. He said he served at the pleasure of the court, and would step aside as Ms. Spears’s representative if asked.
“Since she has made the remarks that she was able to make on the public record today, she believes that it would be advisable for proceedings to be sealed going forward,” Mr. Ingham said. Another hearing had been previously scheduled for July, but the exact next steps remained unclear.
While Ms. Spears’s legal path forward may be complicated, her stated desires were simpler. She wanted to be able to get her hair and nails done freely, she said, and to visit with friends who lived “eight minutes away.”
Although she said she preferred to put her faith in God, Ms. Spears noted that she was not opposed to treatment if it remained private. “I actually do know I need a little therapy,” she said with a laugh.
But the conservatorship was “doing me way more harm than good,” she said. “I deserve to have a life.”
Ms. Spears said that she had even been prevented from going to the doctor to remove her IUD method of birth control: “This so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to take it out because they don’t want me to have children,” she said.
“I want to be able to get married and have a baby,” the singer added. “I was told right now in the conservatorship I am not able to get married and have a baby.”
Earlier, Ms. Spears had declared herself “done.” “All I want is to own my money, for this to end and my boyfriend to drive me in his car,” she said, adding an expletive.
Caryn Ganz and Liz Day contributed reporting from New York. Lauren Herstik and Samantha Stark contributed reporting from Los Angeles.
Watch ‘Framing Britney Spears’
Our documentary about Britney Spears and her court battle with her father over control of her fortune is free on our site for New York Times subscribers in the United States. Watch it now.