If you’ve been online this week, you might be aware that Britney Spears has released a book. If you’ve been online at any point in the last 10 years, you might also be aware that this is a major pop culture moment.
Published on 24 October, The Woman in Me is the singer’s long-awaited memoir, charting her life from naive teen sensation to legendary pop princess. But this is no ordinary celebrity life story. As any Spears fan will know, the book sheds light on the many controversies that have surrounded the singer throughout her life, looking at everything from her dysfunctional family and how she was sexualised as a teenager to her high-profile relationships and even more high-profile “breakdowns” (as they were termed at the time).
But much of it focuses on the conservatorship that robbed Spears entirely of all of her professional, personal, financial, and even bodily autonomy. That is, until 2021, when, after 13 years, it was finally terminated following a major social media campaign (#FreeBritney) and a highly publicised trial.
Here’s the thing. After years of suffering, Spears is, in theory, better than ever. She’s out of the conservatorship. She’s out of her marriage. And she doesn’t seem to be going on any kind of relentless tour anytime soon. Ostensibly, Britney couldn’t be more free. And yet, I can’t help but shake a horrible feeling that she’s more trapped than ever.
To be clear, I have never met nor come anywhere close to Spears. I have no knowledge of her physical or mental health, nor do I know anything about who she really is beyond that person we all see on the tiny screens we spend far too much time staring at. But none of that is curbing my concern.
Since the conservatorship was lifted last year, Spears has been largely silent in the public sphere aside from on Instagram. In the last year, she has posted obscure, nonsensical images. There have been several semi (and sometimes fully) nude photos. And of course, there have also been many, many videos of her dancing around her kitchen, usually in underwear – on one occasion, she performed a dance with knives, later assuring fans they were fake.
Then there are the captions. For a while, they were focused on lobbing withering accusations at her family, occasionally resulting in public disagreements in the comments section. “I really felt like my dad was trying to kill me and I hope he burns in f***ing hell,” read one.
Elsewhere, there have been several stream-of-consciousness-type captions (“Repost from two months ago because I want my body to look like this again … I’m not sure why I took it down … I like the diamond,” reads one) usually accompanied by plenty of exclamation marks. The singer has deleted and re-installed Instagram more than once, telling fans in January that she was “not having a breakdown” and that she now goes by “River Red”.
I had hoped to find assurance in Spears’s book that all was okay. But having seen a few excerpts online, it looks like she is still keeping us at arm’s length. Sure, through the ghostwriting of American journalist Sam Lanksy, she offers vulnerable confessions and anecdotes. But the language feels surface-level and manufactured. The authenticity fans had been hoping for, it seems, has not prevailed.
This isn’t helped by the fact that she has done no press for the book whatsoever, again making it hard to know if we’ll ever hear the singer’s voice again. Then there is the book’s cover: an old topless photo of Spears. Why aren’t we seeing her now? And, given how much the singer was sexualised throughout her career, why aren’t we seeing her with clothes on?
I have other questions, too. Now that she’s divorced and estranged from most of her family, who is Spears spending time with? Who is she leaning on as headlines about every aspect of her personal life circulate around the world? And most importantly, who is making sure she’s OK?
For now, the only place we can look for answers is Instagram. Spears’s latest post? A photograph of Audrey Hepburn alongside the caption: “When you hear “we got it” !!! She knows WUUUZZZ UUPPPP !!! Don’t think they got it YET !!!”