[Warning: The following contains spoilers from The New York Times Presents: Controlling Britney Spears, which premiered on FXonHulu on Friday. Read at your own risk!]
UPDATE: FX on Hulu's docuseries The New York Times Presents just dropped Controlling Britney Spears, a follow-up to its buzzy February installment on Spears' questionable conservatorship. The first documentary, Framing Britney Spears, served as a handy fact-sheet for the events leading up to the pop star's current legal arrangement, in which her father Jamie Spears controls nearly every aspect of her life. Controlling Britney Spears is an even darker examination, as two new villains in the star's inner circle emerge as vultures who treat the singer like property for their own financial gain.
In the second documentary, which premiered on September 24, a handful of new insiders bravely share stories that shed more light on Spears' abysmal treatment over the last decade. Their confessions repeatedly point the finger at two previously unmentioned individuals whose obsessive and perhaps illegal control over Spears seems to rival her father's: Robin Greenhill and Edan Yemini.
"I really do not think that Jamie is one who is controlling everything. Who I dealt with was Robin Greenhill," says Tish Yates, Spears' head of wardrobe on her Circus tour and Vegas residency. Greenhill works for the pop star's business management company, Tri Star Sports and Entertainment, yet her power seems to bleed into all aspects of Spears' personal life. Yates recounts Greenhill once telling Spears that she couldn't order sushi for dinner because it was "too expensive." Another time she refused to let the Grammy winner, worth 60 million dollars, buy a pair of Skechers that she liked.
We don't have to take Yates' word for Greenhill's behavior, either. In footage from a business meeting -- where the "Piece of Me" singer is notably absent -- Jamie Spears, Greenhill and others are going over the star's upcoming schedule. Someone at the conference table raises a concern about scheduling rehearsal on the singer's birthday: "[December 2] is her birthday. Is she gonna be okay working on her birthday?.... Can she rehearse on her birthday?"
"She's gonna rehearse on her birthday," Greenhill responds dismissively.
The most shocking accusations in the new doc surround Edan Yemini, head of security at Black Box Security, the company Jamie Spears employs to keep tabs on his daughter 24-hours a day. Alex Vlasov, a former executive assistant to Yemini, likens the former Mickey Mouse Club star's situation to someone in prison. Vlasov questions the legality of many situations he witnessed, like when a member of security would regularly hand envelopes of medications to Spears and watch her take them. He also claims that he was instructed by Yemini to delete 180 hours worth of secret audio files that were illegally recorded in Spears' bedroom, days before she was due to meet with a court investigator in 2016. Vlasov says he kept a copy of the recording, as he didn't want to be complicit in deleting potential evidence. When Vlasov finally decided to leave the company, he alleges that Yemini showed him a gun and said, "So, you don't like the way I run my business?"
Like Framing Britney Spears, Controlling Britney Spears covers a lot of content that any Britney superfan already knows. It opens on supporters of the #FreeBritney movement reacting as they listen to a recording of Spears' bombshell testimony on June 23. The documentary then spends five unnecessary minutes rehashing her poor treatment in the face of unrelenting paparazzi and cruel media coverage. Clips of Spears' 2008 MTV documentary For the Record are presented again as if it hasn't been on the internet for 13 years.
Still, the updated documentary makes it clear that Jamie Spears isn't the only person who could be detrimental to the star's wellbeing, which is all the more important to note as she continues this battle in court on September 29. One could argue that documentaries that cover the mother of two's legal battles are exploitative, too, but it's clear that the media attention from Framing Britney Spears resulted in movement on her legal case in court. Let's hope Controlling Britney Spears gets us one step closer to a #FreeBritney.
PREVIOUSLY: Before we begin, a disclosure: I'm obsessed with Britney Spears. I once ditched my cousin's wedding when a last-minute opportunity for a Las Vegas meet-and-greet with Spears arose. In 2018, I embarked on a 3-day cross-country journey with the sole purpose of visiting Spears' hometown of Kentwood, Louisiana, where a woman named Fay tours visitors through a quaint three-room shrine to the star. So, like people cherish the opportunity to gush about their new romantic partner, dog, or study abroad program, I usually love when people ask me anything Britney-related. But over the last few years, as the #FreeBritney movement gains increasing momentum, talking about her has sadly become a topic I dread. A college friend or old co-worker will casually slide into my Instagram DMs and ask a seemingly harmless question: "What's going on with Britney?" And I take a deep sigh, overwhelmed with where to begin.
The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears, the newest installment of The New York Times' documentary series on FX on Hulu, isn't necessarily intended for superfans like me. As someone who's been following Spears' life for nearly all of mine, not much of the documentary's information was revelatory.
What Framing Britney Spears does best is serves as a succinct and factual explainer of Spears' convoluted relationship with fame and the effect that her 13-year-long conservatorship has on her career and personal life. The success of the fan-led campaign known as the #FreeBritney movement has brought more awareness and media attention to the singer's questionable legal situation. Her father, Jamie Spears, has complete control over nearly all aspects of her everyday life and financial affairs. As the documentary explains, the conservatorship was temporarily instated after the singer's very public 5150 psychiatric holds in 2008. Yet, in the years since, Spears has expressed in court filings that she does not want her father to be the executor of her conservatorship. Her continued work as a highly successful performing artist raises questions about whether this lucrative legal guardianship is truly necessary.
Like most viral social media campaigns, #FreeBritney posts can often include misleading information and baseless claims about the 39-year-old, including conspiracy theories about her alleged cries for help via the color shirt she wears in her Instagram posts. Though many of the details of Spears' conservatorship are unknowable, Framing Britney Spears does an excellent job of bringing in investigative reporters, attorneys, and legal experts, some of whom have worked directly with the Spears family, to provide valuable insight into Spears' plight.
The documentary also does an excellent job of reminding us about what led up to Spears' publicized "breakdown" and just how cruel the world can be to the pop star, especially when she was at her lowest. Even as a child star, Spears was subjected to sexist and crude questions about her body and sex life. In one particularly creepy clip, an 11-year-old Spears is asked by Star Search host Ed McMahon if she has a boyfriend, and then volunteers to be hers after she says she does not. I had to pause and take a mental break after watching footage of Spears, pregnant and in the midst of a separation, desperately pleading, "I'm scared, I'm scared," as what looks like hundreds of paparazzi and onlookers crowd her, frantically screaming and photographing her as she tries to get into a vehicle. An especially revelatory moment is when paparazzo Daniel Ramos meagerly attempts to defend his invasive actions, saying, "She never gave a clue or information to us that, 'I don't appreciate you guys, leave me the eff alone," to which an off-camera voice retorts, "What about when she said, 'Leave me alone?'"
The hour and fifteen minutes is not an easy watch, and a troubling reminder of her powerlessness appears on-screen at its end: "The New York Times attempted to reach Britney Spears directly to request her participation in this project. It is unclear if she received the requests." But Framing Britney Spears provides a reliable source of information in a sea of confusion and hopefully puts pressure on the legal system and Spears' inner circle to do what's best for the mother of two. The world is watching.
TV Guide rating: 4/5
The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears airs Friday, Feb. 5 at 10/9c on FX. It will stream on Hulu the following day.