LOS ANGELES — After following every twist and turn in Britney Spears' conservatorship for years, Tess Barker doubted the world would actually get to hear the pop star speak on Wednesday.
For 13 years, Spears' father and a cast of lawyers had legally controlled her life, with a previous hearing featuring her remarks closed to the public and transcripts sealed. As Barker sat in a downtown Los Angles courtroom, she prepared for it to happen again when one of Spears' conservators asked the judge to shut it down.
Instead, Spears interrupted, demanding a chance to be heard publicly.
"I knew that she was going to do something big when that happened," Barker, cohost of the podcast Britney's Gram, later told BuzzFeed News.
Barker and other fans have rallied for Spears under the hashtag #FreeBritney, scrutinizing her social media posts and applying encyclopedic knowledge of her life and career to reach their conclusion that the conservatorship is unnecessary and unwanted. On Wednesday, they felt validated by Spears' explosive and emotional comments — and also heartbroken at the newly revealed details of an "abusive" arrangement that Spears said prevented her from living a full life.
"A lot of what we suspected turned out to be true, and the reality was even worse than we expected," #FreeBritney activist Kevin Wu said.
Wu, one of the leaders of the fan-led movement, said he was shocked that Spears went into as much detail as she did, telling the court that she was required to take a medication that made her feel drunk and hasn't been allowed to go to the doctor to remove her IUD so that she can have another baby.
"Reform is definitely needed," he told BuzzFeed News. "If this can happen to Britney Spears, this can happen to anyone."
For years, fans have questioned why Spears, who since 2008 has released four new studio albums, performed in a yearslong Las Vegas residency, and toured, remained in a legal situation that gave control over her financial and physical well-being to her father Jamie Spears. Yet their suspicions that Spears was being exploited by the conservatorship and kept the court's purview against her will were largely dismissed as a conspiracy theory.
Then in February, the movement was highlighted in the New York Times' Framing Britney Spears documentary, sparking a reexamination of how the singer was treated by the media and raising questions about the need for the conservatorship. This week, the Times reported that Spears has pushed for years to end the conservatorship, confirming fans' long-held belief that she wants to be freed.
"It says that we aren’t conspiracy theorists," said #FreeBritney activist Junior Olivas, who told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday that he felt vindicated by the reporting. "Now it's like we’re being taken seriously, and people are jumping on the wagon like, 'Oh my god. You guys were right.'"
On Wednesday, fans huddled outside a courthouse entrance wearing shirts emblazoned with photos of the pop star and carrying signs calling for probate court reform. They listened to a court audio feed of the hearing as Spears said she would like to choose her own attorney and end the conservatorship without further evaluation.
"It just feels so good that she can finally authentically speak without those conservators hindering her words," said Jared Lipscomb, one of more than 100 fans who descended on downtown Los Angeles to rally behind Spears. "I am so proud of her and for the moves that she made and for [her] ability to stand up and face [her] abusers in court."
Fans said they believed Spears' decision to address the court was due in part to their efforts to raise awareness about the arrangement and said that they believed Wednesday's hearing marked a turning point in her case.
"The general public is pretty clear about what's going on here, and I think at this point we can comfortably say this is objectively abuse," Barker said.
She and others said they would continue to put pressure on the court and shed light on Spears' case and that of other people in similar arrangements. Their goal, just as in the beginning, is to ensure that Spears is free.
"Who knows, maybe she’ll get out," Barker said, "and instead of the #FreeBritney movement we can just go back to enjoying Britney as an artist."