Britney Spears' 24-minute bombshell statement in court underscored the detrimental effects of the media and public's misogynous treatment of Spears, the dangers of conservatorships, and most imperatively, the importance of disability rights. More specifically, Spears' hearing led to the confession that the public should no longer trust information and sentiment that doesn't come directly from the singer herself.
“I’ve lied and told the whole world I’m okay and I'm happy," the pop icon told the judge on June 23. "It's a lie. I thought that maybe if I said it enough, I would maybe become happy because I've been in denial. I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized … I’m so angry it’s insane. And I'm depressed.”
For so long, the public believed that Spears was happy, or at least okay, due to her consistently cheery Instagram presence. Spears' Instagram has felt like one of the only truly authentic glimpses into her life. It's been a delightfully wild mix of odd dances, kitschy inspirational quotes, funky outfits, and zany captions. It felt goofy, authentic, and completely her own — although none of the posts revealed much about her deepest thoughts. To some, however, it was speculated to be a direct line to the singer’s most intimate feelings and desires, full of coded language and pattens she secretly sprinkled into her posts.
The singer noted herself that social media can stray very far from reality, and based on her more recent posts — compounded by the suffocating restrictions she's allegedly been under for 13 years — many fans have reason to believe that Spears doesn't control her Instagram at all, and maybe never has.
Right after Spears' devastating address, her boyfriend, Sam Asghari, posted an Instagram video on June 25 of the two laughing on a private plane, suggesting they were going on vacation. Later, the singer posted a video on June 29 of her view in Hawaii, as well as her dancing and posing on a pristine beach. Her caption is long but she specifically notes that she allegedly filmed this content recently. "I did it again 😜 !!!! Maui part 2 😳🤷🏼♀️ !!!!! This footage is more current though … from YESTERDAY !!!," she wrote. However, fans pointed out that the supposedly new video is eerily similar to another one from September 2020: same red bikini, same cowboy hat, and same mask. There's even a lookalike patch of seaweed situated next to her.
Her subsequent posts have also felt off to fans, notably a strange montage of other old videos containing a written message admonishing the paparazzi for "following [Spears] around Maui." "Who in the world thinks britney spears got behind a computer to put together a powerpoint while in maui," one commenter wrote under the video. "This literally isn’t her," wrote another.
The ruling theory among fans is that Spears' camp wants to project an image that the singer is happy and fine, despite her harrowing statement just last week. It feels like, if you believe that the posts are not coming directly from her, they're meant to appease fans and make them believe everything is just dandy.
The most recent post, uploaded on June 30, shows Spears dancing. "This was from the other day !!!!," she alleged captioned the post. "My first time dancing in heels in a while … my new lil project 👠👠👠 !!!!!" Many commenters pointed out that this video, again recycled from last year, seems like a blatant attempt to show it's back to business as usual for Spears. The caption seemingly addresses the speculation around videos being re-used after fans started calling it out in the comment section. "'This was the other day' they are TRYINGGGG lol" said one user. "There’s no way that Britney herself actually runs this account. #FREEBRITNEY," wrote another.
It's upsetting to consider, but could Spears' Instagram presence just be another tool for her conservators to control the narrative? If that's true, then Cassie Petrey, a co-founder of the digital marketing company CrowdSurf, which manages Spears’ accounts, could be at its helm. For years, fans have speculated that Petrey has been formulating Spears' posts, but Petry has vehemently denied the allegations, repeatedly insisting that the star has full control. In February 2021, Petrey alleged in a multi-side Instagram post that there have been "a lot of inaccurate theories out there about how the Britney Spears' social media operates." However, she claims "Britney creates her own posts and writes her own captions for Instagram."
"She finds the google images, Pinterest images, quotes, memes, and everything else herself," she continued. "Nobody is suggesting any of that stuff to her. She generally edits the videos herself. If a video she sends in is edited by her social media team, it's because she gave specific instructions and asked for it to be edited that way. Then she sees it and decides if she wants to post it or not.”
“Britney is not ‘asking for help’ or leaving secret messages in her social media,” Petrey added, referring to podcasts and accounts like Britney's Gram, who "decode" Spears' social media posts and are active in the #FreeBritney movement. “She is literally just living her life and trying to have fun on Instagram. She has a team to help strategise like any major celebrity generally does at this point in her career.” At the time, this denial was accepted by the media and some fans, but now, speculation is rising. One fan on Reddit even claimed that their June 30 comments alleging that Petrey was controlling Spears' Instagram kept getting deleted.
Fans have reason to believe that Spears doesn't control her Instagram at all, and maybe never has.
Much like with her conservatorship, there is no way for us know what is actually going on behind the scenes, but erring on the side of caution and maintaining a high dose of scepticism when it comes to Spears' Instagram will be important moving forward.
In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, New York Times' Samantha Stark, director of FX-Hulu documentary Framing Britney Spears, said that she and the Times do not assume anything that appears on Spears' Instagram necessarily come from her.
"It would be questionable to me whether she was running an account that speaks to millions of people around the world herself, particularly because we know from these sealed court documents that she has been saying something for years, and it was always closed and sealed by people who are not her," she said. "So it would be surprising to me if she was allowed to do this."