n the opening scenes of The New York Instances documentary Framing Britney Spears, we meet the fans who’ve taken it upon themselves to rescue the singer from her perceived bondage. The movie plots Spears’s rise in a poisonous movie star tradition and examines the authorized conservatorship that in 2008 positioned management of her affairs along with her father, Jamie, owing to considerations about her psychological well being. We see them gathered outdoors the Los Angeles courthouse throughout final 12 months’s hearings through which Spears unsuccessfully tried to have her father eliminated as conservator. There, sporting T-shirts that learn “Her loneliness is killing me”, they wave pink #freebritney placards and loudly demand her freedom (“What do we would like?” “Free Britney!” and so forth). It’s all very touching, if seemingly unhinged.
However then we meet them once more at the finish of the movie nonetheless pleading their idol’s case and, after an hour immersed in Spears’s distress, their model of occasions doesn’t appear fairly so excessive. We study that the #freebritney marketing campaign, primarily a mobilisation of fans who really feel the singer is successfully being held hostage by her circle of relatives, now counts Woman Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Sarah Jessica Parker amongst its supporters, and that Spears has signalled that the help is appreciated. Framing Britney Spears not solely provides a sympathetic portrait of the star but additionally of her fans, who’re revealed as an unexpectedly highly effective power.
It wasn’t at all times like this. Since the daybreak of in style music, fans have been variously depicted as callow, obsessive, sexually voracious, and sometimes demented. Younger ladies, specifically, have lengthy been seen with suspicion, their enthusiasm for music largely seen as pushed by idolatry and lust (this stands in distinction to male fans whose love of music is invariably seen as critical inventive appreciation). Watch the 2013 documentary Loopy About One Course, about the lives of 1D superfans, and also you see depictions of younger ladies screaming, crying, intently monitoring the actions of their idols and viciously trolling their girlfriends on-line (the movie provoked a robust backlash from Directioners, who stated it targeted solely on the hardcore fans, relatively than the extra respectful majority). Get hold of early footage of The Beatles and it’s almost at all times accompanied by photos of younger ladies screaming themselves foolish and actually wetting themselves in pleasure.
In her glorious 2019 ebook Fangirls: Scenes from Trendy Music Tradition, the journalist Hannah Ewens paints a heat image of feminine fandoms as communities through which associates look out for one another, each in particular person and on-line, and traces the camaraderie that comes from musical obsession, serving to younger individuals navigate the messiness and confusion of adolescence. Ewens additionally makes clear the monetary weight of fandom – these are the shoppers that make up an artist’s core constituency, spending cash on live performance and movie tickets, merchandise and meet-and-greets. These days, with artists capable of talk with fans on-line, a more in-depth relationship exists between stars and their fans, a bond that’s typically characterised by mutual respect and help.
In the age of social media, nevertheless, we’ve got seen a extra troubling aspect to fandom which has much less to do with how fans are perceived than how a minority behave in the face of criticism of their beloved stars. Witness the fury unleashed upon the music reviewers who had been even vaguely vital of Taylor Swift’s Folklore album final 12 months – one Pitchfork author had private particulars leaked on-line and obtained ferocious abuse. You may argue floor similarities between the Spears devotees and the fans of Johnny Depp who gathered with placards outdoors London’s Excessive Courtroom throughout the actor’s libel case in opposition to The Solar. Depp launched the case after the newspaper known as him a “wife-beater”, referring to the accusations of abuse from his ex-wife Amber Heard. Depp misplaced the case however his fans – who deployed the #freejohnnydepp hashtag – have continued to keep up his innocence whereas unleashing a torrent of abuse at Heard over social media. In the case of Spears, the fans could look like on the aspect of righteousness, however how, you surprise, would they react if she had been the villain of the piece relatively than the wounded social gathering?
Framing Britney Spears is a deeply partisan movie and I’ve reservations about its depiction of the star’s fans as guardian angels whose insider data, largely gleaned from searching for coded messages on her Insta feed, is superior to the authorized groups who’ve spent years going backwards and forwards over the case. Referring each to the singer’s medical information, which the choose declined to share with the court docket, and to the nature of her relationship along with her father, Spears’s former legal professional Adam Streisand baldly reminds us: “We don’t know what we don’t know.” It’s additionally value noting that the singer’s conservatorship was as soon as once more upheld in court docket final week, with duties shared between Jamie Spears and the monetary establishment, Bessemer Belief.
However, for all the movie’s flaws as a bit of journalism, there’s one thing refreshing about seeing fans offered not as stereotypical raving lunatics however as measured and caring human beings with respectable passions. This, together with our shifting perspective on Spears’s struggling, would appear like progress.