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In early 2021, after lingering for a decade-plus in shadowy obfuscation, the conservatorship saga of pop singer Britney Spears landed squarely in the public eye thanks to an episode of "The New York Times Presents" documentary series. Titled "Framing Britney Spears," it detailed how Spears's father, Jamie, wound up in control of her finances and daily life in 2008 and the singer's own efforts to amend and even get rid of the arrangement. Over the last several months, arguably thanks to the heightened media scrutiny, Spears has seen some progress in her quest to have her conservatorship terminated.
On Friday evening, ahead of what could be a landmark hearing in the Spears case on Wednesday, the Times, FX and Hulu released "Controlling Britney Spears," an unannounced follow-up to "Framing." In it, several former friends and colleagues of Spears's came forward to offer new glimpses into the heretofore well-concealed world of the her conservatorship.
Here are the most striking allegations from the new documentary.
- A security company, Black Box Security, played a prominent role in enforcing the provisions of Spears's conservatorship.
According to Alex Vlasov - who worked on Spears's security detail for nearly nine years and was an executive assistant to Edan Yemini, the president of Black Box Security - Black Box had at least one staffer with Spears all the time. Yemini, according to Vlasov, worked alongside Jamie Spears to control many aspects of Spears's everyday life, and the security company even assumed control of Spears's medications, administering them daily to her from prepackaged envelopes.
"It really reminded me of somebody that was in prison," Vlasov says on-screen in an interview. "Security was put in a position to be the prison guards, essentially."
- A number of technological strategies were used to monitor and surveil Spears during her conservatorship.
According to Vlasov, around the time Spears got an iPhone, Jamie, Yemini and a staffer named Robin Greenhill from Tri Star Sports and Entertainment (the company that handles Spears's accounting and finances) huddled to figure out how they could monitor Spears's usage of it. Yemini allegedly asked Vlasov if parental controls could be installed; ultimately, according to Vlasov, it was Greenhill who suggested that the trio could sign into Spears's iCloud account with an iPad and set it up to mirror all of her iPhone activities. Yemini, Greenhill and Jamie, according to Vlasov, proceeded to read all the texts and communications that came to and from Spears's phone, even those between Spears and her then-lawyer, Samuel D. Ingham III.
Vlasov also alleges in the documentary that Black Box installed audio recording devices in Spears's home bedroom. (It's unclear, a Times caption clarifies, whether the court was aware of or approved such a measure.) After the devices had captured more than 180 hours of audio footage of Spears's interactions, including those with her boyfriend and children, Vlasov says, he was asked to delete all of Black Box's recordings "days before she was due to meet with a court investigator."
"Ethically, it was just one big mess," Vlasov says. He made a copy of the audio and kept it.
In early 2019, after Spears spent time in a mental health facility, Vlasov says Black Box was asked to prepare a cellphone for Spears that had no capabilities except for phone calls. "No text messaging, no Internet access," he says.
- Men who Spears met, befriended or dated were investigated and asked to sign nondisclosure agreements.
In 2016, a court-appointed investigator wrote in her findings that all access to Spears was controlled by Jamie, and that Spears could not drive a car alone or "befriend people, especially men, unless they are approved by her father." The court investigator also wrote that such men were followed by private investigators until her father decided they were "acceptable." According to Vlasov, men who dated or spent time with Spears were also asked to sign NDAs.
- Spears's trusted inner circle of friends was pushed out, crippling her support system.
Two of Spears's close confidants on tour allege in "Controlling Britney Spears'" that they were manipulated into keeping their distance from the singer. Tish Yates, the head of Spears's wardrobe for two several-year stints between 2008 and 2018, alleges on-camera that immediately after trying to help when Spears was distressed backstage about inhaling secondhand marijuana smoke and potentially failing a subsequent drug test, she was asked to leave the area.
Felicia Culotta, a family friend and Spears's longtime assistant, alleges that she was abruptly told by Jamie ahead of the European leg of Spears's "Circus" tour that Spears no longer wanted to see or interact with Culotta and didn't want her to come along on the road. Culotta continued to travel with Spears's entourage anyway, steering clear of Spears herself. At the end of the European leg of the tour, though, Culotta says, Spears spotted Culotta in a hotel, ran to her, embraced her and asked where she'd been.
"It was at that point that I thought, 'Now wait a minute. Were they trying to turn the two of us against each other?'" Culotta says. "The further they could push me back, the smaller the support system got."
Yates says she bought Spears a Tiffany necklace as an end-of-tour gift when they parted ways. "I know she memorizes numbers," Yates says, so engraved on the charm was Yates's phone number, "in case she needed me."
- Spears's conservators are well aware, and wary, of the #FreeBritney movement, even going so far as to infiltrate their rallies.
"The #FreeBritney movement was heavily investigated in its early days," Vlasov says. Spears's conservators, according to Vlasov, have sent undercover investigators to talk to fans and document their identities. "It was all," Vlasov remembers, "under the umbrella of, 'This is for Britney's protection.'"