Britney Spears says she won't perform again. Could she really retire on $60 million?
Twenty years ago, Britney Spears announced that she was going on a professional hiatus.
“I need this break to rejuvenate spiritually and to just play,” she told People in 2002, just a few years after becoming America's sweetest pop tart and a Top 40 juggernaut.
As details about her controversial 13-year conservatorship anchored by her father, Jamie Spears, continue to unfold in public – a cauldron of messy emotions and tangled finances – the singer is trying to wrest control of her narrative.
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But what would retirement cost Spears at this stage of her career?
A Forbes investigation in February determined Spears’ estate is worth about $60 million. On Monday, that estimate was confirmed through court documents Spears filed asking that professional fiduciary Jason Rubin replace her father as conservator of her estate. In the filing, Spears' cash assets total $2.7 million with noncash assets, including investment accounts and real estate portfolio, totaling $57.3 million. Financial experts believe that amount of wealth can sustain a certain lifestyle – with the caveat that it be properly managed and invested.
“That’s forever money,” says Robert Polay, a founding partner of Polay + Clark business management, who works with artists including Killer Mike and Tricky Stewart in Atlanta. “But interest and investing, along with responsible living, is what’s really important.”
While only Spears knows her true intentions about insinuating retirement, her longtime manager, Larry Rudolph, took her claim seriously enough to resign this month, stating in a letter to Jamie Spears and court-appointed co-conservator Jodi Montgomery that his professional services were no longer needed.
But even if Spears doesn't replenish the coffers with new music or live performances, her fortune would continue to generate interest.
“If your investment portfolio can return 5% annually on average, with much of that being tax-free earnings from municipal bonds, and 5% on $60 million is $3 million a year, that can be their baseline and I assume one can sustain a nice lifestyle with that budget without having to dig into their principal or savings," says Justin Kobay, a business manager and partner at New York’s LL Business Management.
But, he adds, "if this were one of my clients, we would take a more holistic approach and first talk about what is their recurring overhead on the business front, and what are the monthly expenses personal side? Real estate, cars, employees, family, kids and so on. From there, we can work backward to ensure that everything fits into their overall financial plan.”
Is Britney Spears still rich?
Unquestionably, Spears has been hemorrhaging money throughout her conservatorship, which gives her father control of her finances.
According to court documents reviewed by USA TODAY, Jamie Spears has received a salary of $16,000 a month since 2009, plus a monthly $2,000 expenditure for office space, which equates to about $2.5 million thus far.
Spears' estate has also paid $567,836 in legal fees to the Freeman Firm for representing Jamie Spears from Nov. 1, 2019, through Feb. 28, 2021. Another firm, Holland & Knight, employed to represent Jamie Spears for "media matters," has billed $821,390 in fees and $72,361 in costs.
Spears also experienced major expenses around her 2½-year marriage to Kevin Federline, both for a prenup leading up to their 2004 wedding and subsequent divorce in July 2007.
The singer enlisted prominent celebrity attorney Laura Wasser, who requested fees of more than $160,000 in court filings in summer and fall 2008, the year Spears' conservatorship began.
In 2018, People reported that Spears pays Federline $20,000 a month for child support for sons Sean Preston, 15, and Jayden James, 14.
Spears' mountainous legal fees also include her own representation. Sam Ingham, appointed by the court as Spears' lawyer in 2008, billed Spears' estate $143,643 for legal services from Sept. 1 to Dec. 5, 2008. His services from June 1, 2009, through Nov. 7, 2010, tallied $287,880.
Is Britney Spears really retiring?
But while Spears is intent on preserving her well-being through early retirement, the idea of the pop icon ditching the spotlight prompts a chuckle from many in the music industry.
“It’s inconceivable that she’s going to retire. She’s got a long life ahead of her. She’s not even 40,” says Anthony DeCurtis, contributing editor at Rolling Stone and a senior lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. "The (Rolling) Stones are still out there. Madonna is still out there.
“I feel like the retirement (threat) is an expression of frustration and anger and it’s the one thing she can do – she can stop the wheel from spinning.”
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As the music industry has witnessed with veteran acts such as Kiss and Cher, as well as Garth Brooks – who shelved his career for years to focus on his family – "retirement" is hardly absolute.
Spears' four-year Piece of Me residency in Las Vegas earned a reported $138 million. A protracted break would pique interest and a triumphant return would undoubtedly summon fans from around the world, especially those who have fervently spearheaded the #FreeBritney movement.
“I feel like she might have a bigger legacy not performing for a while,” says Melissa Chase, longtime radio host and brand manager for KHMX-FM and KKHH-FM in Houston. “There will always be a space for her to do music. We still play a lot of Britney on Hot AC and Top 40 and her songs still go over well at our club nights. But everyone just wants to see her happy in whatever expression she chooses, whether it’s painting or teaching a dance class. We don’t want her to perform unless she wants to perform.”
Spears' musical track record, which started in 1998 with a teasing piano riff and a wholesome-yet-titillating video for "... Baby One More Time," shouldn’t be discounted. Although she doesn’t possess the robust songwriting credits of '90s peers such as Christina Aguilera (who co-wrote her own major hits "Ain't No Other Man" and "Fighter," among others) and Mariah Carey (whose list of co-written smashes include "Hero" and the perennial money-maker "All I Want for Christmas Is You"), there is income from recording and publishing agreements.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America, Spears has sold 34.5 million albums, and her most-streamed songs have been listened to hundreds of millions of times as of May 2020, according to Billboard: "Toxic" (448 million), "... Baby One More Time" (285 million) and "Oops! I Did it Again" (212 million).
'She is a golden goose'
But along with a music legacy comes the very essence of being Spears.
“She has a sympathetic story to tell,” says Ken Abdo, an entertainment law partner at Fox Rothschild. “She’s not known as a nasty or mean person. She’s very sympathetic and there are many women out there like her.”
Abdo also reminds of the four intellectual properties: recording, songwriting, publicity and trademark, all of which could supplement Spears' future income, even if she stops performing.
"While she’s alive, she can use her celebrity to endorse things. It’s not like the faucet turns off at $60 million,” he says. “Rock ’n’ roll is very tolerant of bizarre behavior and it can be rewarded if properly spun. Her opportunity for ancillary income is boundless. Clothing, perfume, beauty products ... The issue for her is if she is competent, and to what extent does she wish to be exploited? In the music business, that means commercializing the intellectual property that you control. That's what this whole fight is about. She is a golden goose."
Regardless of the direction Spears turns for her next act – even with the uncertainty of the conservatorship status – she's already proven her influence, inadvertently or not.
“Because of the nature of the times, we’re much more alert to how female artists get treated and portrayed to the degree that they’re not permitted full control over their career. That makes Britney look really important," DeCurtis says. "I think her legacy is secure. There are so many young, female artists out there now and Britney is part of the reason for that. She created a certain kind of terrain.”
Contributing: Maria Puente and Charles Trepany