‘Toxic’ podcast explores Britney Spears conservatorship

Tess Barker, left, and Barbara Gray, co-hosts of the "Britney's Gram" podcast, talk in the studio at Earwolf podcast studio, Thursday, July 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

NEW YORK — As the fate of Britney Spears’ conservatorship is in the hands of a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, two podcast hosts who have spent hours dissecting the case are hopeful change is coming for the singer to become more independent.

Tess Barker and Barbara Gray co-host Stitcher’s 10-episode podcast, ” Toxic: The Britney Spears Story”  which is a deep dive into the conservatorship.

Neither are lawyers. They are comedians, but say they’ve spent hours reading up on the case and speaking with experts.

“Each of her accounting reports for every year of her conservatorship are hundreds of pages long,” said Barker. “There are questionable things on almost every single one of those pages. We’ve literally scoured line items on each of the accounting reports,” said Barker. “We’re laypeople but we’ve really tried to understand probate law and what’s possibly going on in this conservatorship to the best of our ability.”

How did two comics become so invested in Spears’ independence? Originally they hosted a different podcast called ” Britney’s Gram” where they jokingly analyzed Spear’s Instagram posts. (It should be noted that there’s an online rabbit hole obsessed with trying to decode Spears’ Instagram posts, looking for hidden messages, cries for help and acknowledgement of conspiracy theories.)

Barker and Gray received an anonymous voicemail in 2019, saying that Spears’ stay in a mental health facility was involuntary. They shifted gears and began to investigate the conservatorship instead. The two concluded that something seemed suspicious, particularly because Spears was generating so much money and yet had no control over it.

“Generally conservatorships are reserved for people who can’t provide their basic needs for themselves, like food, clothing or shelter. And, you know, it seems like Britney has definitely shown otherwise,” said Gray.

They put up a new episode of their podcast and labeled it ” FREE BRITNEY,” described as “a special emergency episode.” It took off and helped birth the hashtag #FreeBritney. Barker and Gray are now thought of as the founders of the Free Britney movement.

The duo then began covering each conservatorship hearing.

“One of the most surreal things has just been seeing the way the protests have grown in size,” said Barker.

“Early on there would sometimes be literally five people standing outside with their pink signs and frankly, being ignored by people going into the courthouse. It’s really crazy to juxtapose that against (now) where there’s literally hundreds of people, and you can’t even get down the sidewalk.”

The cause gained major momentum and attention after a June 23 hearing where Spears passionately declared to Judge Brenda Penny that she wanted her freedom. Celebrities including Cher and Spears’ former boyfriend, Justin Timberlake, voiced their support.

Barker and Gray do believe the public pressure and media spotlight is helping the case.

“I’m much more hopeful as of late than I have been really for at least a year, maybe longer, because I think it was such a huge development for her to be able to hire her own attorney,” said Barker.

On Monday, the new attorney, Matthew Rosengart, petitioned to oust her father from the conservatorship that has controlled her life and money for 13 years and replace him with a professional accountant