It was asked in 2012, when she was briefly engaged to her former agent. And again in 2016, after she scored a Las Vegas residency to the tune of $35 million. And yet again in 2019, with extra urgency, after a mysterious voicemail claiming she had entered treatment for her mental health involuntarily (a claim denied by her manager) resulted in the rise of the #FreeBritney movement.
None of those years were the year, nor was 2020. In November, a judge refused Britney's request to have her father, Jamie Spears, removed from the conservatorship that's been in place, governing every financial and business move she's made, since Feb. 1, 2008 (though her petition to have a bank come aboard as co-conservator of her $60 million fortune was accepted).
So maybe this year?
"Framing Britney Spears," the Feb. 5 episode of the FX docu-series The New York Times Presents, goes back to the beginning to explain how Britney, one of the most famous women in the world and one of the defining pop stars of a generation, ended up, at the age of 39, in this situation, as well as the increased efforts she has started taking in recent years to extricate herself from it.
And while there's only time for the bullet points of the "Oops...I Did It Again" singer's rise from Star Search phenom and New Mickey Mouse Club Mousketeer to multi-platinum-selling artist to cautionary tale and back again, the necessary focus on what brought her down, and the possibility that Britney's life was barely her own long before the conservatorship was put in place, is a haunting tale worth revisiting.
But it's not the self-proclaimed #FreeBritney "activists"—many of whom look as if they must have been in elementary school in 2007, when Britney buzzed all her hair off so that people would finally stop trying to touch her, who have to be apprised of their hero's origin story. It's everyone who should've known better when it was happening who ought to stop and take it all in, one more time.
The conservatorship, meanwhile, has been extended until at least September.
But with Britney being more explicit than ever in her court filings about what she wants—namely, that she won't perform again until her father is no longer in charge of her career—this could be a whole new ballgame come the fall.
Maybe, just maybe, 2021 is going to be the year.
The New York Times Presents' "Framing Britney Spears" premieres Friday, Feb. 5, at 10 p.m. on FX and will be streaming on FX on Hulu.