The latest spate of stories on Britney Spears’ oppressive 13-year conservatorship have been dominating the entertainment headlines for the past month. On June 24, the pop star gave her first public testimony in court that was livestreamed to the media. “I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized,” she told a Los Angeles probate judge. “I just want my life back.”
Our Variety reporter extraordinaire, Elizabeth Wagmeister, who has been covering the ins and outs of the Spears story, was standing outside the courthouse that day interviewing #FreeBritney fans. But on July 14, Wagmeister was actually inside the courtroom, which prompted me to ask her what that experience was like.
“Being in the courtroom was heartbreaking. As a journalist, our coverage cannot carry emotion, but as a human being, how could you not feel some sense of emotion listening to a 39-year-old woman breaking down in tears, telling a judge in Superior Court that she feels she has been living in a prison — all the while she’s been making hundreds of millions of dollars for an army of employees who’ve been able to feed their families because of her?
“Britney’s words are just her words at this point; they are allegations that have not been investigated, and you have to imagine that there is a reason she is under conservatorship, given how closely the court system monitors these cases — but, given the claims Britney has made, I have many questions, and my first one is: Did anyone know about these claims, and if so, why haven’t they been investigated already?” Wagmeister says she looks forward to the day when she can interview Spears: “I want to hear from her, not the machine around her.”
Wagmeister tells me she’s been a Britney fan ever since she was 8 and Spears’ hit song “Baby One More Time” came out: “I was truly obsessed with her since day one. My 10th birthday party was going to the Staples Center for her Oops! … I Did It Again Tour, and I owned every single CD (yes, CD!) that she released. Even as an adult, I listen to her music and watch her videos all the time.”
I wondered how objective Wagmeister, as a rabid fan, could be covering Spears.
“Being an entertainment journalist, I truly just view celebrities as normal human beings who have abnormal jobs, and most importantly, I view my coverage of them as simply my job,” Wagmeister says.
She has an interesting perspective on why she thinks Spears’ case has been in the media spotlight: “I don’t know if Britney Spears’ case would have gotten the attention it is getting today if it weren’t for the #MeToo movement. In fact, she has been under a conservatorship for 13 years, and no one was listening, certainly, in 2008. Now, we are in a time and a place when the world is finally listening to women. Women are no longer staying silent and are no longer allowing others to incorrectly frame their own narrative.”
Wagmeister has done such a masterful job covering the Spears story, just as she did reporting on the frontlines of the #MeToo movement through the Harvey Weinstein trial to the Matt Lauer exposé that got him fired, and more.
“My passion as a young female journalist covering the entertainment industry is uncovering the hard truths about Hollywood’s handling of workplace safety for women,” she says, “and Britney Spears’ case falls right into that arena.”