In 2009, Britney Spears superfan Megan Radford read a blog post about her idol’s new legal arrangement, and something didn’t feel right.
So Radford staged a one-woman protest outside the star’s concert in Dallas, wearing a T-shirt she’d made herself, emblazoned with a quirky slogan: “Free Britney.” “I was all alone … I think some people definitely thought I was a nut,” Radford told CNN. But, she added, “when you really care about a human, it’s not that much bigger of a step to start advocating for her rights.” Radford, 34, who says she never “grew out” of her adolescent love for Spears, had never heard of a conservatorship before. The Spears fans around her had little concern about the cause, and the phrase on her clothing wasn’t a hashtag yet — just a couple of words she’d read on a fansite.
“It was just a way of trying to convey the situation,” said Jordan Miller, the owner of the fansite and the man who coined the expression “Free Britney” in a series of breathless posts to his readers in late 2008. “I was 19, 20 years old … all of this came flying out of me.” Today, those two words describe arguably the defining pop culture crusade of the internet era. The #FreeBritney movement, which claims the star is being kept against her will in a legal stranglehold that denies her even the most basic personal freedoms, has outposts around the world and has drawn intense media scrutiny onto the singer’s case in recent years. Virtually all of its adherents’ claims — such as that Spears does not handle her own social media, that she is not allowed to drive or own a phone, and that she has been threatened or prohibited from criticizing the arrangement in public — are strongly denied by those close to Spears or involved in the conservatorship. They say the order, which has been in place since 2008, exists for Spears’ protection and has helped the singer get her career and personal life on track — while noting the singer has never asked a court for it to be dissolved. Neither Spears nor her publicist responded to CNN’s request for comment for this article.