After 17 years of running his Britney Spears fan blog BreatheHeavy, Jordan Miller is only now starting to process what life will be like after the pop star he’s so tirelessly advocated for is finally free from her conservatorship.
Spears has hired a high-profile attorney to wrest her from under a legal arrangement that has given her father and a number of lawyers control over her life since 2008, starting the clock on what many consider to be the inevitable: a free Britney. But that outcome means a big question looms on the horizon for many #FreeBritney stans — what now? Miller has already started working with a life coach to find the answer.
“It’s hard for me to separate myself from BreatheHeavy at this point, which is one reason why I do think I’m working with a life coach because in some way, I think all of this has kind of, in part, become a little bit of my identity,” he said. “What does that mean and do I even like that?”
When the 33-year-old launched the blog, he was a closeted sophomore in high school. With too much energy and not enough activities, he began posting about the pop star without his classmates knowing — openly running a Spears fan site might have given away his sexual identity, he said.
The relationship he has with Spears is parasocial, a one-way social tie in which a person “imagines a relationship with a celebrity or media figure,” Tracy R. Gleason, psychology professor at Wellesley College, told BuzzFeed News.
Some parasocial relationships are simply just thinking about the celebrity when consuming their work or art. Some fans heighten the relationship when they start to seek out more information about the celebrity, and some might even imagine conversations with them.
Miller’s blog has taken up nearly two decades of his life, but before that, he was an average, dedicated Spears fan, listening to her music, watching her music videos, and attending concerts. But things shifted in 2008 when Spears was put under the conservatorship and Miller started raising concerns about it on the blog and advocating on her behalf — something he said doesn’t come as easily when he has to do it for himself. But soon, the conservatorship may come to an end, and Spears has teased the idea of never performing again. So what does life look like for a fan in an all-consuming parasocial relationship if their idol ditches everything?
Pamela Rutledge, a media psychologist and social scientist, said losing yourself in a parasocial relationship can become harmful if the person you rely on disappears.
“Where it might be problematic for someone is if they had so little sense of self that they used this fandom to create that sense of self,” Rutledge said. “It’s very difficult to move on because [the celebrities] become integral to who you think you are.”
For Leanne Simmons, advocating for Spears’ rights has come naturally. She’s been a lifelong Spears fan, has protested with other #FreeBritney supporters, and helps run the #FreeBritney LA Instagram account. Her dedication adds up to about 20 hours per week.
“For me, it just really feels like this is where I’m meant to be,” Simmons said.
She’s confident the conservatorship will end, in which case she’ll have a lot of free time, especially if Spears quits performing.
“I think there will be an adjustment period because I know she will be free and I feel it very soon that it’s coming, so I definitely think I will find myself bored after work, but I am going to use that energy for other causes,” she said.
While fans are united in helping Spears, some are divided on who the celebrity actually is. Most fans describe a “gut feeling” when trying to articulate why they believe the conservatorship is wrong, but that’s to be expected. Gleason said fans in a parasocial relationship typically see their idol in a good light, so when the conservatorship was imposed on Spears, it made sense that fans wanted to fight against it.
“The idea that she might be in so much trouble that she needs somebody else to take care of her [is] sort of disappointing,” Gleason said. “That doesn’t go along with the image of this person you really like. So explaining it as something’s off here as opposed to Britney really has problems, it’s much more appealing to think Britney’s fine and other people are mistreating her than it is to think that this person you have so admired and so been tied to maybe has problems.”
Other than her explosive testimony at a recent court hearing, Spears has mostly communicated with the public through her Instagram captions, but the legitimacy of those are up for debate among her fans, with some believing the account has been run on her behalf.
But Twitter user @notedyourhonor, who did not want her name to be used for fear of retaliation from Spears’ team, thinks questioning whether it’s the “real” Spears is dangerous.
“When Britney stopped being the Britney that everyone wanted to be and look up to, like when she shaved off her hair or when she dyes her hair brown — ….fans or people in general are quick to say, ‘Well, that’s not the real Britney,’” @notedyourhonor said. “But that might be the real Britney, but we’ve never allowed her to be anything but a blonde sex goddess Britney that we’ve all come to accept as the real Britney.
“I think what’s dangerous to me about that is if it is Britney making those decisions and saying those things, it’s taking away so much of her autonomy in the same way that the conservatorship does, where maybe that is the only place where she’s allowed to be whatever she wants to be and we’re telling her that that’s not the real her.”
Whenever fans get to see the “real” Spears, @notedyourhonor tweeted that fans should love her unconditionally.
With an end in sight for the conservatorship, fans are encouraging Spears to do whatever she wants, even if she disappears from the public eye.
Megan Radford, who also helps run the #FreeBritney LA Instagram account, said she thinks it will be “weird” if and when Spears becomes free. Radford has spent the last few years dedicated to the cause, which has taken time away from her family.
“[My husband] is fully supportive, but he, probably more than anyone, is ready for Britney to be free,” Radford said.
She, like Simmons, plans to continue helping people get out of abusive conservatorships.
As for Miller, BreatheHeavy covers a lot of pop culture news, so he said it will continue on without Spears if she steps away from public life.
“I welcome the day we no longer need Free Britney, because that implies she has taken back the reins of her autonomy, legally,” he said.