Op-Ed: Britney Spears’s Conservatorship Saga: The Destruction of Young Stars in Hollywood

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Photo Courtesy of Photoshop Surgeon, Designed by Jahrel Noble

Britney Spears at the Peak of her Fame in Comparison to the Present

One Grammy Award, six MTV Video Music Awards, nine Billboard Music Awards, three World Music Awards, eight Teen Choice Awards, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the proclaimed “Princess of Pop,” Britney Spears, was in a realm of her own. With her catchy melodies, show-stopping performances, and stunning looks, Spears became the envy of millions of young girls across the globe; the Princess of Pop seemed untouchable. Until she wasn’t.

In 2007, the world watched as Spears seemingly lost control. It started when she shaved off her luscious blonde locks of hair, setting off a chain reaction for the star. Two days later, Spears was seen checking into the Promises Malibu Alcohol and Drug Rehab Treatment Facility. Another few days later, Spears viciously utilized an umbrella as a weapon to attack the Paparazzi. The next several months were filled with many turbulent events for Spears: the finalization of her divorce, a charge for two accounts of hit and run, the loss of custody of her two sons, accusations of child abuse, and a poorly-received performance at the VMAs.

The culmination of her controversial era came when she was placed under a conservatorship by her father in February of 2008. Thirteen years later in November of 2021, the conservatorship finally ended. 

A very brief timeline of Britney Spears’ career (Timeline designed by Jahrel Noble)

A conservatorship, or guardianship, is a legal mechanism set up for people who cannot manage their own affairs. However, Spears is an unusual case. Most conservatorships are for people with a severe cognitive impairment, which Spears did not have. To myself and many others, it never appeared that the conservatorship was rightfully put in place as Spears did not meet the usual requirements. During the conservatorship, her father had control over her personal life, work, finances, and medical decisions. Despite all of her hard work, her life ended up being controlled by a greedy and power-hungry old man in a tale as old as time. Spears describes the experience as “demoralizing and degrading,” which is why the recent ending of her conservatorship is so significant. 

Though her conservatorship was unique, her other struggles were not. Like Spears, many young stars turn to a life of drugs and alcohol, developing harmful addictions and placing themselves in rehab centers. Lindsey Lohan, the once young and innocent actress, known for her iconic roles in Mean Girls and The Parent Trap, faced a fate similar to Spears. Lohan became known as a problematic diva who would soon become a drug addict and an alcoholic; she even admitted to using cocaine multiple times. Consequently, her reputation took a massive hit, and it was painful to see the damage unravel.

Legal issues and family issues also haunt the lives of many young stars, including Spears herself. Shia LaBeouf was charged with a DUI before failing to appear in court for his hearing, and the promising young star Amanda Bynes was charged with a DUI after crashing into a police car. She was charged with two hit-and-run accidents and was struck with a license suspension five months later. Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin discovered that his family mismanaged his fortune, effectively throwing it all away and forcing him to court against his parents, who wanted control over his accumulated wealth.

As stated earlier, the Spears conservatorship has finally ended. While this is uplifting news, it should not diminish the scope and gravity of the more significant issue. Spears’ conservatorship speaks to the trend of young stars being “ruined” by their family, the media, Hollywood, or all three at once. Hypersexuality, substance abuse, legal issues, and domestic issues have also caused a plethora of problems for these former young stars. 

This trend has too many examples to be considered a mere coincidence. Young stars can be prone to act out when they become older due to the intense pressure they are placed under when their brains are not fully developed. This can lead to a variety of scenarios, all of which are unfavorable for the previous young stars. Once their incredible amount of attention from their childhood or teenage years dies down, celebrities often act out to make their name relevant again. Another scenario often seen is that the unreasonably high levels of attention are too much for someone, especially someone so young, to handle properly. Some researchers also suggest that the coddling and special treatment sets these young stars up for failure, giving them a false sense of reality. I believe this false sense of reality deludes their minds and stunts their critical thinking abilities, causing them to act out when things do not go their way in the future.

To go a step further, external factors also play a prominent role. Paparazzi and news outlets contribute to the downfall of many young celebrities, many voicing their concern regarding the media on several occasions. As alluded to previously, the families of these celebrities can negatively affect them in drastic ways. With Spears, we see this as her father wanted control over her finances and her overall life. This is seen in the lives of many unfortunate young stars, speaking to the innate human desire for power and control.

But, many would suggest that with the lavish lifestyle of these celebrities, their lives are never truly “ruined”; they can still go back to their ornately designed mansions while being loved by millions of people. However, this is a poor (and insensitive) perspective to have. Celebrities are still people; their blood bleeds red, just like ours. Even though celebrities live “ideal” lives compared to most of us, these superficial luxuries can only go so far in repairing someone’s mental health or stability. Studies show that happiness levels do not change after a certain income, so it is incorrect to brush off young celebrities and their struggles as “rich people problems.” Not to mention that these young celebrities who are “ruined” often go bankrupt, contributing to and proving the validity of their problems. 

The complexity of this issue is not to be underestimated, but there are steps to be taken to prevent future celebrities from going down the same dark path. Less pressure should be placed on the lives of celebrities in general, but especially younger celebrities. The media should stop putting pressure on stars in general, but especially younger celebrities. Invasive Paparazzi, purposely misleading news headlines, insensitive comments from fans, and the overwhelming amount of attention these young stars receive all play a role in their downfall. Without these things, celebrities like Spears would be much better off. 

For this change to occur, it will require an effort from everyone. We need to lower our obsessions with celebrities on a micro-scale by treating them more like humans and less like divine beings. This will make young stars less vulnerable to mental issues related to the unrealistic expectations set by their fans, ultimately reducing the number of “ruined” childhood or teenage stars. There also needs to be a change on a macro scale, starting with media firms and mental health experts.

Spears and the saga of her conservatorship are not entirely over, but the future is brighter than it has been for Spears in a very long time. This exemplifies that the lives of these young stars will not be forever ruined, so long as Spears’ experience is used as a stark reminder of our influence in the lives of these celebrities.