What Happened Behind The Scenes When Britney Spears Was On Glee?

At its prime, Ryan Murphy's "Glee" was hailed as one of the best shows of all time. Viewers praised it for its diverse cast, progressive themes, and the catchy covers. But since then, people have recognized that the show was riddled with problematic scenes that were counterproductive to its message. Throughout the show, Spanish teacher and director of the Glee club Mr. Schuester engages in several inappropriate behaviors with underaged high school students, including teaching them to twerk, calling them minorities, and casting himself in the lead role of "Rocky Horror Picture Show," knowing full well how icky that would be, considering the sexualized dance moves.

Instead of doing something new with its diverse cast, they'd be cast into the same stereotypes. Santana was supposed to be the quick-tempered Latina, Brittany the silly blonde cheerleader, Mercedes the sassy Black lady, and Tina and Mike the studious Asians. The show also poorly handled grave mental health issues like Marley's eating disorder and Brittany's breakdown.

Brittany's breakdown was particularly problematic because it seemed to ridicule Britney Spears' real-life trauma under the guise of a tribute episode. Brittany beat up school photographers with an umbrella and put no effort into her performance as she snacked on stage and poorly lipsynced to "Gimme More," directly referencing Spear's 2007 VMA performance. Brittany was breaking down because she got kicked out of the school's cheerleading group "Cheerio," while Spears was battling mental health issues. Given this, it's hard to believe that Spears made a guest appearance on the show. 

Britney Spears wasn't herself on the Glee set

Britney Spears graced "Glee" with a cameo in the second episode of the second season, "Britney/Brittany." Spears tweeted about her time on the show saying, "Had so much fun on set today. My new BFF's . . . -Britney" with a picture of her with show-runner Ryan Murphy and Brittany actress Heather Morisson. Spears would also tweet her support throughout the show saying, "Awww Heather Morris is sooo cute! Brittany S Pearce. Ha! She was so fun to work with and was really sweet in person." 

But two stars from the series, Kevin McHale and Jenna Ushkowitz, who played Artie and Tina respectively, had some different things to say about the experience. In an episode of their podcast, "And That's What You REALLY Missed," the two recalled being in disbelief about her coming on the show. The stars agreed that while Spears was extremely nice, there was something off about her.

"[She was a] little . . . if you will in the nicest way possible . . . a little vacant. I mean that in the kindest way because at that point, she must have been going through so much," Ushkowitz added. "When we would ask a question, it felt like you were talking around her, and people were answering for her all the time." McHale, too, recalled a similar instance that happened as Spears was filming the episode.

Britney Spears' conservatorship might explain her behavior

Kevin McHale recalled how Britney Spears' team would react to her creativity on set, "[She] had ideas; it was great, and then she would get whisked away. Somebody from her team or something would take her away, and she's come back and be again, for lack of a better word, a bit vacant." He added. "It felt like she was not given the chance to participate in the way that she wanted to." However, McHale and Jenna Ushkowitz agreed that while her behavior may have seemed strange back then, hindsight brought clarity to the situation.

The episode was shot in 2010, two years after her conservatorship began. In 2008, after a series of tragic public breakdowns, Spears allegedly got into an argument with police officers after refusing to give her sons back to their father, Kevin Federline. After a psychiatric ruling found her to be "gravely disabled," she was put under the emergency conservatorship of her father, Jaimie Spears, upon his request to the Los Angeles courts.

The conservatorship — which Britney offered insight into on Instagram — granted him the ability to make decisions about her assets, career choices, and even her personal life. Although the conservatorship was initially meant to be temporary, the court extended it indefinitely in October 2008. Given all this, it's safe to assume that the pressure of conservatorship kept Spears quiet on the set of "Glee." Fortunately, as Billboard reported, her father was suspended from the conservatorship in September 2021, with a complete termination in November 2021.