Democracy Dies in Darkness
Pop Culture
Justin Timberlake, Perez Hilton and Us Weekly tweeted support for Britney Spears. But some fans will not forget the past.
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#FreeBritney activists protest at Los Angeles Grand Park during a conservatorship hearing for Britney Spears on June 23. (Rich Fury/Getty Images)
ByEmily Yahr
June 24, 2021 at 2:00 p.m. EDT
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On Wednesday evening, Us Weekly posted a brief tweet to its 2.1 million followers: “#FreeBritney,” the message read. The hashtag was alongside photos of fans protesting in Los Angeles, where pop star Britney Spears testified in a virtual hearing to request that her conservatorship be terminated, saying that she felt traumatized by the “abusive” legal arrangement.
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The tweet did not go over well.
In the replies, Twitter users quickly posted the magazine’s past covers, with headlines such as “Britney: Out of Control,” “Britney the Bridezilla” and “Brit Slammed By Parenting Coach: Sick!” Fans skewered the tabloid for relentlessly covering Spears’s troubles with sometimes unflattering photos and angles that painted the singer as unstable, only to now post a pro-Spears tweet with a trendy hashtag.
#FreeBritney pic.twitter.com/KqacCgERfJ
— Us Weekly (@usweekly) June 23, 2021
Us Weekly wasn’t the only social media account to see backlash Wednesday when offering support after Spears’s explosive hearing, where she told a judge that she has long felt trapped in her conservatorship that sees her personal decisions and finances controlled by her father, Jamie Spears. The arrangement was put in place in 2008 after she made multiple trips to rehab and temporarily lost custody of her two sons. In recent years, a vocal contingent of fans has questioned why the singer, who has released albums, toured and headlined a Vegas residency in the past decade, was subject to a legal structure designed to protect the elderly and seriously ill.
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In a 24-minute statement, Spears said she was forced to perform concerts under threat of a lawsuit from her management; was given prescription drug therapy that made her feel “drunk”; and was not allowed to remove her IUD, even though she wanted another baby. “I’m not happy. I can’t sleep. I’m so angry it’s insane. And I’m depressed. I cry every day,” she told the judge.
Spears added that she originally didn’t know she could petition the court to end the conservatorship and then hesitated because she thought people would think she was lying and it would just result in her becoming a punchline once again.
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Britney Spears has been in a conservatorship for over a decade. The pop star is appearing again in court on July 14. (Monica Rodman, Sarah Hashemi/The Washington Post)
After the hearing concluded, the responses were both outraged and sympathetic. Multiple celebrities weighed in online, including pop star Justin Timberlake, who dated Spears for three years in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
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“After what we saw today, we should all be supporting Britney at this time. Regardless of our past, good and bad, and no matter how long ago it was … what’s happening to her is just not right. No woman should ever be restricted from making decisions about her own body,” Timberlake wrote in a series of tweets. “No one should EVER be held against their will … or ever have to ask permission to access everything they’ve worked so hard for.” He added that he and his wife, actress Jessica Biel, send their “love and absolute support.”
The messages prompted eye-rolls fromquite a few fans. Timberlake has seen lots of criticism for using his breakup with Spears to boost his own profile, with a news cycle spinning off every time he mentioned her in an interview; plus, his “Cry Me a River” music video, which included a Spears look-alike, implied that she cheated on him.
The replies to his tweet devolved into a typical celebrity Twitter mess, with many slamming Timberlake for offering his support years too late when Spears was framed as the villain in their relationship — leading to increasingly nasty tabloid stories — while others came to his defense for saying anything at all.
After what we saw today, we should all be supporting Britney at this time.

Regardless of our past, good and bad, and no matter how long ago it was… what’s happening to her is just not right.

No woman should ever be restricted from making decisions about her own body.
— Justin Timberlake (@jtimberlake) June 24, 2021
This is the second time Timberlake has spoken up about Spears in recent months. In February, the New York Times-produced documentary “Framing Britney Spears” dove into her conservatorship and her rise as a pop icon, though one of the main takeaways from the film was the misogynistic media coverage and how many accepted the narrative that Spears was just “crazy.” In a rare statement, Timberlake acknowledged his role, and said “I am deeply sorry for the times in my life where my actions contributed to the problem, where I spoke out of turn, or did not speak up for what was right.”
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The documentary also brought renewed focus on how the media treated Spears, from mainstream journalists who seemed like they wanted to make Spears cry on-air to cruel celebrity blogs that proliferated in the early 2000s. Perez Hilton, well-known for scribbling over celebrity photos and mocking weight and addiction issues, was one who capitalized on the Spears craze, and sold T-shirts after actor Heath Ledger died with a photo of the actor and the caption, “Why couldn’t it be Britney?”
Wednesday night, Hilton tweeted admiringly about Spears’s testimony: “Speaking so eloquent about the mistreatment that she claims to have received from her father and her team. Wow. Wow. Wow. #FreeBritney,” he wrote. This, of course, led to a slew of negative comments about his past coverage.
It's official! #BritneySpears has DEMANDED that her conservatorship end. And that it end NOW. And she's impassioned! Speaking so eloquent about the mistreatment that she claims to have received from her father and her team. Wow. Wow. Wow. #FreeBritney pic.twitter.com/D247eX7MCd
— Perez (@ThePerezHilton) June 23, 2021
“Need I remind that you spent years body shaming Britney, mocking her, and wishing death on her. People are allowed to have a change of heart and character, including you, but this message should be preempted by a LONG and sincere apology for the years of abuse inflicted by YOU,” one wrote. Hilton responded, “You think I need the reminder?”
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He followed this up with a nearly 20-minute video, in which he complained about the “vicious” and “bullying” messages he was receiving, and telling critics “that makes you no better than I was in the past.” He said he has apologized to Spears repeatedly, including a long email in December before the documentary was released.
“I carry with me deep shame and regret. Especially knowing I contributed to Britney Spears’s pain,” he said, eventually tearing up. “It’s something that will haunt me and stay with me for the rest of my life. I pray that my children learn from my mistakes. There’s going to be lot of very difficult conversations to have with them in the future.”
Read more:
How Britney Spears’s testimony rippled beyond the U.S.
Britney Spears requests termination of her conservatorship: ‘It’s embarrassing and it’s demoralizing’
‘Reading the story today makes me cringe’: Female stars and the media machine of the early 2000s
After years of silence, Justin Timberlake apologizes to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson: ‘I know I failed’
Emily Yahr is an entertainment reporter for The Washington Post. She joined The Post in 2008 and has previously written for the Boston Globe, USA Today, the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader and the American Journalism Review.
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