Britney Spears is an icon. She was crowned pop princess before she reached the age of 17 with the hit single, “… Baby One More Time” and continued her royal reign well into the early 2000s. In 2007, the public watched as Britney weathered a divorce, a child custody battle and a period of turbulence that resulted in her hospitalization. This period was famously documented by paparazzi with photos and video footage all of which has recently re-surfaced into the public’s imagination, in the age of changing perspectives on mental health, as well as the recent New York Times documentary, Framing Britney Spears.
Framing Britney Spears made a splash with its reportage on the controversy over Spears’ conservatorship. A conservator is a law appointed guardian who manages the finances of a person who is considered incapable to do so and in the Spears case, this law appointed guardian is Britney’s father, Jamie Spears. Prior to the release of the documentary, communities of people gathered together to #FreeBritney, a movement that was in opposition to Britney being held under conservatorship and is most visible on Britney’s Instagram account.
Many of the #FreeBritney followers claim that her Instagram is a cry for help, and that she is communicating secret messages in her videos. After Spears posted a video stating that she’s not sure that she will ever return to the stage, the comments ran the gamut from “are you ok?” to “are you ready for June 23?” According to the Associated Press, Spears has requested to appear in court on that date, to speak on her own behalf for the first time.
Although there have been no known organized #FreeBritney gatherings in St. Pete, the Burg has its own form of solidarity with the singer in the form of cycle classes. Rush Cycle had a #FreeBritney ride in early April and last week, Central Cycling had an entire week dedicated to Britney Spears with a Britney themed-ride every day of the week, culminating in Friday morning’s “The Evolution of Britney” ride at 6 a.m.
Cycling instructor Brittany Orr led a close to full cycling studio house through the top tracks of all of Britney’s albums beginning with “…Baby One More Time” and ending with “Make M e…”.
This was Orr’s third Britney-themed ride. Last year, she led a Britney versus Justin Timberlake ride as well as a “Free Britney” ride. The theme rides are always popular at the St. Pete cycling studio, but the recent buzz around Britney has made them even more so. There was a waitlist for the 6 a.m. class, and Orr reflected on how listening to Britney takes her back to her high school days – and that the energy of the music and the memory of her stage athleticism is inspiring.
But Britney Spears, the pop princess dancing with a python around her neck is just that – a memory. And although it is invigorating to cycle to her beats, it also raises the question of how our culture contributed to Britney’s current image – the face that begs us to maintain an open conversation about mental health.