Everything We Just Learned From ‘Controlling Britney Spears’ and ‘Britney vs Spears’

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Britney Spears performing at an iHeartRadio event in Las Vegas, 2016. (Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

Not since her high profile breakdown in 2008 has Britney Spears received so much media attention. Last Friday, Controlling Britney Spears—the follow-up to the New York Times’ bombshell Framing Britney Spears investigative film—premiered on Hulu. And on Tuesday morning, a 93-minute documentary titled Britney vs Spears emerged on Netflix.

Between the two films—in addition to Britney’s recent statements in court—the public now has a fairly exhaustive view of what Britney’s life has been like since her initially temporary conservatorship was put in place on Feb. 1, 2008. It was made permanent in 2009, leaving her father Jamie in control of Britney’s career and assets. What is now clear is that the conservatorship was a great deal more restrictive than previously thought, Britney has been unhappy living under it from the very beginning, and her trust was violated on innumerable occasions.

Here are the key revelations from both Controlling Britney Spears, and Britney vs Spears. While both documentaries contain shocking assertions, they also serve on many levels to back each other up.

Accounts of surveillance

Controlling Britney Spears: Alex Vlasov is a former employee of Black Box, the company Jamie Spears hired to provide security to Britney. Vlasov says that Britney had to ask permission to get an iPhone and when she did, Jamie put parental controls on it. In addition, Vlasov says an iPad was set up and linked to Britney’s iPhone in order to monitor her private texts, calls and internet use. Vlasov says even conversations between Britney and her mom and lawyer were monitored.


“It didn’t feel like she was being treated like a human being,” Vlasov says. “Ethically, it was one big mess.”

Most shocking of all, Vlasov claims that the head of the star’s security team, Edan Yemini, put a recording device into Britney’s bedroom and recorded 180 hours of audio. Vlasov says he was later asked to erase the audio, but made a copy because he didn’t want to be complicit in anything illegal.

Tish Yates was Britney’s head of wardrobe for seven years, 2008–10 and 2013–18. She says the person she saw exert the most control over Britney was Robin Greenhill from Tri Star Sports and Entertainment Group—the business management company Jamie also put in place to handle Britney’s affairs. This extended to the food she ate. “I had to have Robin’s approval before I spoke with Britney about a question Britney had,” Yates notes.

The film claims that, at one point, Britney attempted to get a new attorney to come to her house disguised as a plumber, so she could get him past the gates. That conversation was monitored, so she was ultimately unable to meet with him.

Britney vs Spears: Andrew Gallery, a cinematographer and friend to Britney, says that Britney asked him for help repeatedly, and that this often involved using his phone. At one point, after Kevin Federline did an interview with People magazine, Britney wanted to tell her side of the story but was forbidden to do so. Instead, Gallery explains, she wrote a letter and asked him to read it publicly. Jamie got wind of this and put a stop to it, but Gallery had already taken photos of the letter.

It read, in part: “[Britney] would love for new eyes to see her situation, but if she brings it up, she’s constantly threatened that the conservators will take her kids away.”

“I always felt bad for her,” Gallery says during Britney vs Spears. “That this was her reality and her world. All she wanted to do was respond to an article.”

Like 'someone who was in prison'

Controlling Britney Spears: Vlasov claims that Britney’s medication was doled out to her on a schedule and she was not allowed to leave the room until she had taken it in front of someone. “It really reminded me of someone who was in prison,” Vlasov said. “Security was put in place to be the prison guards, essentially.”

Yates details an occasion when she used her wardrobe budget to buy Britney a pair of Sketchers she liked. The star’s management wouldn’t allow Britney to spend her own money on the sneakers.

Britney vs Spears: In documents obtained by the filmmakers, Jason Trawick—Britney’s former agent turned fiancé—details having to ask permission every time the couple wanted to go out to eat or go for a drive. He talked about Britney having to wait for days even to obtain permission to buy books for her kids.

The Netflix documentary also details that, when the conservatorship was made permanent in 2009, Jamie was granted the power to cancel Britney’s credit cards. He was also given absolute power over Britney’s career choices, once they had been “approved by her medical team.” Despite this, Britney would later become a judge on the X Factor TV show, despite serious objections by her medical team. A compromise was eventually met between her doctors and management.

'She was kept very isolated'

Controlling Britney Spears: Tish Yates says she was so concerned about Britney being repeatedly cut off from those closest to her that at one point she gave the pop star a Tiffany’s necklace that had Yates’ phone number engraved on the back.

Felicia Culotta acted as Britney’s assistant for 16 years (1998–2007 and 2009–2016). She says that towards the end of her time touring with Britney, she was told in no uncertain terms that Britney no longer wanted her around. Culotta actively stayed out of the singer’s way on the road as a result. When they finally found themselves in the same room together, Culotta explains, Britney was elated to see her and completely baffled as to why they hadn’t been spending time together.

Dan George, Britney’s 2008 tour manager, notes: “She was kept very isolated.”

Claims are made by multiple sources that all of Britney’s boyfriends since the conservatorship started have been forced to sign NDAs. Britney is also seen admitting in an interview that Jamie ran a background check on at least one of them.

Britney vs Spears: Andrew Gallery says that once it was clear that he and Britney had developed a close relationship, he was cut off by those around her.

Adnan Ghalib, the paparazzi photographer who dated Britney during her divorce from Kevin Federline, explains how pushing her loved ones out of the picture became the norm. He also paints a frightening picture of the start of the conservatorship.

“It was always so extreme,” he says. “Let me explain to you how fucking devastating it was for me to pull up at the gates and there’s her father standing there, four of the security, and two officers... And she freaks out... And she looks at me. I’m supposed to be the one that protects her. And I’m trying to calm her down. I cannot. I’m trying to explain to her, ‘He is your conservator. Without his permission... [essentially] I’ve kidnapped you.’”

Culotta is less forthright in the Netflix doc, but when asked about Jamie, she wrinkles up her nose and says, “I don’t wanna talk about her daddy.”

'My father has threatened me'

Britney vs Spears: The filmmakers unearthed a 2009 voicemail to an attorney in which Britney makes her position clear. “During the process of eliminating the conservatorship,” she says, “my father has threatened me several times that he will take my children away. I just wanted to guarantee that everything will be fine.”

That same year, Ghalib and Britney’s former manager Sam Lutfi, aware that Britney wanted to hire her own lawyer and was being prevented from doing so, hatched a plan. They contacted Jenny Eliscu—a Rolling Stone reporter and one of the producers on Britney vs Spears—to get paperwork to Britney. Eliscu met Britney in the bathroom of the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, so Britney could sign documents requesting the right to hire her own attorney.

“She definitely seemed scared,” Eliscu says. “It was hard to tell because I was so scared, but she was appreciative. Which is so classic her... in that moment to be scared, but also grateful.”

The signed document expressed Britney’s lack of confidence in her court-appointed attorney Sam Ingham, and stated: “Certainly, this woman who can complete two new CDs and be set to go on a national tour has sufficient capacity, after nearly one year of a protective conservatorship, to retain counsel of her choice, and in whom she has confidence.”

Despite this, the court decided that Britney did not have the capacity to choose her own attorney. This was the second time the court decided Britney did not have capacity to choose her own attorney. San Ingham was installed as her representative in place of Britney's chosen attorney, Adam Streisand.

'Jamie wasn't with us'

Britney vs. Spears: Culotta says, “Jamie wasn’t with us very often. Hardly ever.”

Ghalib says during his relationship with her in 2008, Britney didn’t trust anyone in her family, “and that [was] a very scary, dark place to be.”

Lutfi says that Jamie was involved “not at all.” Lufti was also under the impression that father and daughter were estranged “for years.”

Stories of drugs as crutches and weapons

Controlling Britney Spears: Tish Yates talks of an incident when Britney smelled weed in the audience as she was about to go on stage one night. Yates says Britney ran in a blind panic back to her dressing room, in tears, and told Yates she was terrified that if the smoke got into her system, her children would be taken away.

Britney vs Spears: Ghalib says that during the time of her divorce from Kevin Federline, Britney was taking Adderall. “I’m sure X-amount of millions of people are taking Adderall,” he says, “but these are the things that become volatile and deadly weapons when you’re going through a child custody case.” He also said he was scared for both Britney and himself during that period. “It’s hard to stay up for three days,” he says, “but you have that fear—and it’s a very real fear—that if anything happens to her, they’re just gonna blame you.”

An inside source leaked thousands of documents to the filmmakers. One, a report by a doctor who resigned from Britney’s case in 2013, suggests the amount of medication Britney took was increased on the days she was working. One section says: “Jamie and others on the team valued the benefits of stimulants for Britney’s performance. This has been the case for both of her tours, and for her participation on X Factor. By the same token, Jamie wanted Britney not to take stimulants. This contradiction has not been resolved.”

Lutfi, who was accused years ago of drugging Britney without her knowledge says, “You have 100 blood tests and drug tests the entire time I was with her and she passed every single one of them.”

Who 'stands to make a cut'?

Controlling Britney Spears: Tish Yates describes a pattern of tours being extended and shows being added at a relentless pace. She says breaks were basically nonexistent. Yates also says Britney’s concerns and needs were ignored. “Whenever she brought up something that was disturbing her, she’d always be dismissed.” Yates says Britney was consistently told, “‘You don’t need to ask these questions because it’s none of your business.’”

New York Times journalist Liz Day points out that the standard in California for conservatorship is someone who is unable to feed, clothe or shelter themselves. “But,” she says, “Britney began working again almost immediately after the conservatorship starts.”

Day subsequently reports: “According to court records, Tri Star was getting five percent of Britney’s gross income. And Jamie is making $16,000 a month plus a percent of Britney’s multi-million-dollar deals. So, if her father Jamie as conservator enters into a deal for her, is that because it’s in Britney’s best interest? Or because everyone involved stands to make a cut?”

Britney vs Spears: The Netflix documentary goes even further, getting into specifics about how much Jamie has profited off his daughter since the conservatorship started. According to the film, the 2009 conservatorship terms included buying him a car. Jamie has since earned $2.1 million from tour revenues alone. The documentary says Jamie grants Britney an $8,000-per-month allowance—half of what he pays himself. Her Piece of Me residency in Las Vegas and accompanying 2018 tour brought in $192 million in box office sales.

On Monday, a post on Britney's Instagram page appeared to make objections to Controlling Britney Spears. (Britney vs. Spears had not yet premiered.)


Many of the 8,000-plus comments underneath the post openly questioned whether Britney made the post herself. Several stated: “Free Britney! This isn’t her.”