Five years after Britney Spears set the soundtrack for turn-of-the-century pop, she had an eventful 2004. She started the year releasing the Grammy-winning Toxic as a single, got married (twice), and headlined the Rock in Rio concert alongside Paul McCartney and Metallica.
It's also the year 15-year-old Jordan Miller launched the Spears fan site BreatheHeavy.com (named in a nod to a remix of Spears' "I'm a Slave 4 U"). What he didn't know at the time was that the site would lead to him becoming a legal crusader, a victim of harassment, and a future UNLV journalism and media studies major who ended up being quoted in The New Yorker for the Ronan Farrow and Jia Tolentino story on Spears' conservatorship.
On July 14, the courts will hold a hearing on the conservatorship run by Jamie Spears, Britney's father, which could be a step toward ending the arrangement she has lived under since 2008 following multiple high-profile incidents that called into question whether she was a danger to herself or others.
It's an arrangement that Miller and fellow fans have railed against since 2009 when the conservatorship was made permanent.
"That's when I was like enough was enough and started being very outspoken against it," Miller, now 33, said. "The first time I ever wrote, 'Free Britney,' was in response to a report that claimed she had no access to a cellphone and that her dad was receiving this humongous raise up to $16,000 per month. How can someone be putting out albums and going on tour and doing interviews and raising her children, yet she is in such a restrictive situation that she can't seemingly be able to get out of ever?"
BreatheHeavy was one of the places where what's now known as the "Free Britney movement" coalesced, right when Miller was in the midst of pursuing the bachelor's in journalism and media studies he would earn in 2011.
While his peers were learning the nuances of doing interviews and working with sources, Miller was already doing it for a site that had become prominent — Spears herself would eventually reference it in a song lyric on her 2013 album Britney Jean — in the fan space.
"Here and there I was able to start breaking stories. There were inside scoops and exclusives, and I became very hungry to do that, and not very diligent about checking and who is this source? I learned by going to UNLV and by taking journalism courses. At the time I didn't really understand the value of (the website). Now I can really appreciate having this platform and being able to sharpen my skills in terms of writing, the graphic design, marketing, everything that you need in order to run a quote unquote successful website. It was invaluable because it allowed me to grow a lot faster in terms of education and professionalism."
He learned the hard way what can happen to people reporting on high-profile stories when months after he started advocating to end the conservatorship, he received a phone call from Jamie Spears.
What followed was a harangue by the elder Spears, saying he was going to "destroy" Miller and his website that left the then-student in tears. An email followed shortly from lawyers ordering Miller to take BreatheHeavy down or face legal consequences over the inclusion of Britney Spears song lyrics on the website.
Miller complied, for a few days, before restoring the site. There was never any legal action.
Instead, thanks to interest around the conservatorship, BreatheHeavy has garnered about 10 million visits over the past two years.
After expanding the site to cover pop music in general in 2014, Miller was burned out staying on top of the no-down-time news cycle internet writers can face. Late in 2019 he abandoned the site's news section and turned it entirely into a community-driven site. Coupled with the still-massive traffic he'd built up over the years, it was the right move at the right time for Miller to parlay his experience into his current job as director of marketing for Invision Community.
The company created the software Miller used for BreatheHeavy's message boards. He frequented the company's websites to better learn the software and the nuances of community management and became a part-time community advocate for the company before landing a full-time job in April.
It's a community that soon could be facing a radical change if the court ultimately decides to end Spears' conservatorship. There are positive signs for those who think the arrangement is unjust: court-appointed lawyer Samuel D. Ingham III said he will withdraw once Spears chooses her own attorney; and after Spears testified in court that she wanted to be removed from conservatorship, wealth management firm Bessemer Trust petitioned the court to be removed from taking over as a co-conservator.
"I'm an optimistic person," Miller said. "I think it's only a matter of time at this point. And I look forward to her being able to live life on her own terms. I look forward to the day that we no longer need Free Britney. If that means I receive less traffic as a result, I welcome that because I think that above all that I've always rooted for her in that regard. BreatheHeavy is going to continue to have people creating conversations. It's going to continue to connect people."