How big could a Britney Spears comeback tour be? ‘As big as she wants it to be,’ say experts
One day, the Los Angeles Superior court may decide that Britney Spears should be free of her conservatorship.
The pop star has, for years, wanted to unwind the 2008 arrangement where the court placed her father, Jamie Spears, in control of almost every aspect of her life. That includes her finances and $60 million estate (which the financial firm Bessemer Trust now co-manages, though they asked to be removed from the conservatorship in a court filing Wednesday, citing Britney Spears’ public criticisms).
Britney Spears’ father has asked the court to investigate his daughter’s statements on the court’s control of her medical treatment and personal life.
“I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized,” Spears told the court on June 23, in an explosive hearing where she alleged that she’s forced to use an IUD and had to work against her will in ways that she compared to “sex trafficking.” “I’m not happy,” Spears said. “I can’t sleep. I’m so angry it’s insane. And I’m depressed. I cry every day.”
Los Angeles Superior Court judge Brenda Penny said that Spears’ remarks were “courageous,” adding that Spears would have to file a formal petition to end the conservatorship before Penny could make a decision. On Wednesday, Penny denied a months-old request to remove Jamie Spears as conservator, but Spears has yet to file to remove the conservatorship entirely.
If Britney is finally freed, as a passionate cadre of fans have long advocated for, what kind of career could she come come back to?
That question would, at long last, be up to Spears, who turns 40 in December. She has made public comments suggesting that she wants to focus on family life, but last week said in an Instagram video that ”I have no idea” if or when she’d return to performing and recording. “I’m in transition in my life.”
In 2019, after the closure of her Las Vegas residency, Spears’ manager Larry Rudolph told Billboard that “I’m not sure if or when she will ever want to work again. It’s that simple ... I have one role in Britney‘s life. I’m her manager. She calls me if and when she wants to work. Other than that I’m not involved in anything else.”
A representative for Rudolph did not immediately return messages for comment.
But music industry experts said that, should she want to return to touring, recording and marketing deals, she would quickly re-assert her place atop the pop charts and arenas.
A post-#FreeBritney comeback tour would be “as big as she wants it to be,” said Ray Waddell, president of Oak View Group Media and Conferences, the parent company of the touring-industry publication Pollstar. “I think we’ve barely scratched the surface as to how big Britney Spears can be as a live artist.”
Experts in probate law say the singer’s account is well within the realm of how conservatorship works. “You’re taking away a person’s right to make any decisions over themselves,” one said.
According to Pollstar data, Spears’ arena tours in 2009, 2011 and 2018 — all while she was under conservatorship — grossed around an average of $1 million per show and sold 10,000 tickets a night. Her Las Vegas residency “Piece of Me,” which ran from 2013-2017, averaged $555,225 per night in a 4,000-seat theater. The residency earned more than $100 million in revenue.
“That’s big-league, and my opinion is she would do even better now,” Waddell said. “Spears could sell out major arenas around the world, and possibly stadiums. I can’t speak to all the noise around her, but Britney Spears is an untapped goldmine as a touring artist. She could go out now and do $250-$350 million ticket sales on tour, and that’s conservative. There are a ton of variables, but the potential is definitely there.”
Waddell said he sees Spears on par with Madonna and Celine Dion as “culturally significant artists that can sell tickets and inspire extreme devotion from their fans over a long period of time, that transcend popular trends. If anything, Britney has become a bigger star over the last decade.”
On streaming services like Spotify, Britney’s catalog remains massively successful, but more or less where it has been even before the #FreeBritney movement began. Singles like “Toxic” and “Oops!…I Did It Again” tally 400-500 million total streams each on the service, and seven of her studio albums have gone platinum (her first two went diamond, selling more than 10 million copies apiece).
Outside a downtown Los Angeles courthouse Wednesday, demonstrators donned pink-accented “Free Britney” T-shirts and held signs calling for investigations of the singer’s management and security personnel, who have come under immense scrutiny following the buzzy release of FX/Hulu’s “Controlling Britney Spears” documentary.
A representative for Spotify said on background that, while Spotify doesn’t provide specific figures, that there haven’t been any dramatic peaks in her streaming figures over the last few years, even after the February documentary “Framing Britney Spears” thrust her case back into the national spotlight.
That’s common among superstar acts’ back catalogs. Spears’ label RCA most recently reissued her 2016 album “Glory” with bonus tracks last year. But were she to release new music post-conservatorship, fan devotion could power it to the top of charts, especially if new songs addressed her circumstances.
“‘Blackout’ is probably my favorite album of hers, because she was able to take everything that was going on in her life in 2007 and channel it into one of the best pop albums of all time,” said Tess Barker, the co-host with Barbara Gray of the popular podcast “Britney’s Gram” and the forthcoming “Toxic: The Britney Spears Story,” a new podcast series about Spears’ conservatorship out July 7 (The two were featured in “Framing Britney Spears”).
Another lucrative career option could be to oversee production of her own documentary. By way of comparison, Billie Eilish sold her 2021 film, “The World’s A Little Blurry,” to Apple TV+ for a reported $25 million, after shooting it on a budget of $1-$2 million.
The interest is clearly there — “Framing Britney Spears” is widely expected to be nominated for an Emmy this year. Yet Spears had sharp words for it, writing on Instagram that there were “So many documentaries about me this year with other people’s takes on my life...These documentaries are so hypocritical … they criticize the media and then do the same thing...Why highlight the most negative and traumatizing times in my life from forever ago?”
But as with Rihanna and her Fenty fashion line, Spears’ biggest windfall may come from brand deals and product lines. Spears was a pioneer in the pop-star fragrance market in the early 2000s, launching a line with Elizabeth Arden that became a multi-billion-dollar brand. “Curious” sold over 500 million bottles, and a star like Spears with proven sway in that market, on a wave of renewed public interest, could yield a massive windfall.
“She was one of the first pop stars of the millennium era to redefine what success looks like,” said Andrew Hampp, who runs 1803 LLC, a consultancy that partners musicians and music companies with brands (they’ve worked with acts like Chance the Rapper and Khalid, and Hampp profiled Spears for Billboard in 2015). “What she created, Rihanna has perfected, and now Rihanna spends arguably more time on beauty than music. Spears could absolutely be a beauty mogul in line with Kylie Jenner once she’s able to cut the reins of her conservatorship.”
Hampp said that skincare, wellness and athleisure are contemporary markets where Spears’ brand and fan loyalty would instantly make an impact. Today, unlike with her Pepsi commercials of the 2000s, she likely wouldn’t even need to partner with an established brand to do so.
“The landscape for partnerships is very different now than it was even five years ago,” Hampp said. ”Stars use their intellectual property to create, they’re not waiting for Pepsi to cut a check. She could easily roll out a lingerie line. Or, because wellness culture is the norm now, she could do something like Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello and partner with an app like Calm or Headspace. There’s just so much goodwill towards her right now.”
But fans should also be prepared for a world where Spears takes a significant break from music, marketing or doing anything but taking care of herself and her family.
“True fans know we may not get new music soon or ever again, and should definitely not expect anything,” Barker said.
“I think Britney wants a break because she wasn’t making her own choices. I think when she has autonomy, she’ll be more excited and reinvigorated about work,” Gray added.
The two hosts would love to see Spears come back with a stripped-down album of ballads like “Everytime,” used to such memorable effect in Harmony Korine’s teen-gangster fantasia “Spring Breakers.” But #FreeBritney has already kicked off a culture-wide reconsideration of how young women are treated in popular culture, and how the legal structure of conservatorships can be used to abusive ends.
Should Spears be able to exit hers, whatever she does next will be profound in its own right, as it will be her decision alone.
“She seems to truly love performing, but also being a mother and having a normal life,” Gray said. “She’s been craving that, so we hope people respect her. Leave her alone to be a normal person.”
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