After seeing Britney Spears’ show at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, I immediately realized this was not a concert, this was a Las Vegas show, finely orchestrated to the second, hyper-rehearsed till perfection with a sort of Cirque du Soleil acrobatics and even a few fireworks, confetti, giant flames and countless changes of costume and décor. Yeah we are in Las Vegas, and there is not a minute we can forget about it. The Rolling Stones having cancelled their show on October 19th at the T-Mobile Arena, Britney Spears suddenly became an option, not really for me, but they say we have to try everything at least once, right?
There are two types of shows, the concerts I regularly attend, big or small but with performers really singing and playing, occasionally failing to go though a song, sometimes forgetting a line or a chord, taking risk with a request they haven’t rehearsed… And there are the Las Vegas types of show, which are a whole different beast, and the first ones look like amateurs in comparison. In the city of excess and sin, but essentially money, there is no place for failure and there is also no place for improvisation, detours or fantasies. The fantasy has been concocted by experts a long time before the show is launched on the Vegas strip, and the show has been rehearsed to death. This is what ‘Piece of Me’ was, I didn’t think for a minute Britney Spears was really singing – nobody can do a cartwheel and sings at the same time – but it matters very little at this point, the music has become an accessory like any of her sexy and revealing glittery bikinis, Britney is a showgirl, a Las Vegas showgirl, and nothing else matters.
A month ago, the pop princess unhooked a great deal with Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, she extended her ‘Piece of Me’ residency with a 2-year, $35 million deal, and at 34 Spears has a Vegas residency, just like 48-year-old Celine Dion or even 70-year-old Cher who has just announced her return to the stage. But Britney has definitively been working very hard for this, and it shows.
Did I enjoy the show? Sure, I took it for what it was, a Vegas spectacle, what’s not to like when there is so much stimulation of the senses and so many eye-candy visuals? What’s not to like when Britney appears as a giant angel suspended in the air and lip-synching before plunging to the stage transformed into a garden of blossoming cherry trees? What’s not to like when she jumps from a giant baobab during a rendition of ‘Toxic’ in the middle of the Amazon forest? Or when she rides a giant guitar during a Joan Jett’s cover, ‘I love Rock & Roll’? Or when she dances in the middle of a ring of fire during ‘Circus’.The show is at Las Vegas’ dimension, very big, spectacular in all its kitsch-ery and fakery, hyper sexualized, eye-pleasing, and eager to impress at each minute. All these young girls around me, wearing glitter on their faces and Britney-inspired skimpy outfits, were not missing a minute while lip-synching each line with a smile on their faces.
I am not sure where Britney fits in the girl landscape, I bet she has never wanted to be a role model, she invited everyone to ‘get naughty’ after ‘Slave 4U’, sang an abundance of baby,…bitch,… baby, dragged a hot guy from the audience on stage to tell him he had beautiful eyes. Her material is perfect for Las Vegas, it has all these safe sexual innuendos and these sensual whispers in the mic she makes all night long. Britney wants to seduce, she is the sexy pin up of the night, but she is also a girl who wants to have fun while showing to the world she is still in great shape: she was dancing, running and jumping like a ball of fire on stage.
At the end, I realized I knew very little about Britney, of course the unavoidable ‘Baby one more time’ and ‘Oops I did it again’, hits you could not avoid on the radio around 1999-2000, but her recent material? I had no clue, but her mix of pop, dance and EDM seems to have been written for the flamboyant strip which is trying very hard to rejuvenate itself. Britney Spears is the predictable evolution of the Las Vegas tacky residencies, which so far had only attracted retired couples, stuck between the all-you-can-eat buffets and the slot machines. The Strip is bigger and younger than ever and Britney is the Strip next generation but this doesn’t mean this is any better, this is the same old crowd-pleasing stuff for people who came to Las Vegas to forget their miserable life, gamble some money, get drunk and fantasize about a blonde showgirl who has had a few meltdowns in her life herself. It’s barely different from the old fashioned residencies à la Wayne Newton, the crowd is just younger but the performance is probably as stereotyped as ever and will repeat itself each night with the exact same precise cartwheel at 9:32 pm. It’s precise as the countdown before the show, it’s professional in all its insufferable rigorousness, but it’s also Britney’s revenge with life: It is a serious victory when 9 years ago, she was just a lost divorced woman, shaving her head in a Tarzana hair salon.
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