Britney Spears brought the crazy back in 2007, after her Fairy-Tale-in-Opposite-Land marriage to second hubby Kevin Federline broke up. While the world watched, she shaved her head and wrote “666” on her dome, allegedly attempted suicide, and had everybody try to get her in rehab but she mostly said no, no. no, etc.
But she survived, and the world, or at least a sizable portion of it, is still watching. About 20,000 or so folks packed Verizon Center on Sunday for Spears' live extravaganza — "concert" just isn't the right word.
It's not irony or train wreck potential or nostalgia that draws these folks. "She still has good music," said Fran Smock of McLean, 32, a self-described 12-year Britney fan, when asked to explain her presence while photographing her stepdaughter alongside a life-size cutout of the headliner in the concourse just before showtime. "And she's an icon."
Spears, now 29, delighted the room by carrying herself iconically from the moment she hit the stage. During "If You Seek Amy," she even put on a pleated white skirt and stood over a grate to let the air blow her dress up, mimicking the most famous pose ever struck by Marilyn Monroe, an archetype of the tragic but beloved blonde megastar.
Quibblers might question the artistic gifts displayed on this night. Her band consisted of two keyboardists that never strayed from the back of the massive stage. The headset microphone she wore for most of the show seemed superfluous, since sometimes her lips moved and no vocals came out and sometimes her lips didn't move and vocals came out anyway. Actual singing ability was also irrelevant, given that all vocals were sent through digital sound processors with dials turned to some squeaky setting between "Swallowed Helium" and "Imitating the Chipmunks."
As for her dance moves, well, Britney was surrounded by so many people and moving things at all times, there wasn't much need for her to shimmy. For her recent single "Big Fat Bass," one day-glo clad dancer after another did headstands, backflips and fantastical break moves in front of Britney, who might have cautiously swiveled a hip while observing all the real dancing taking place around her.
But, lip-syncing ain't stigmatized like it once was, and, besides, Britney's beyond being judged as a singer or dancer by now. She's Britney, and from the non-stop screams and smiles coming from all over the arena, that's good enough for the fans. When she wasn't being hauled to the ceiling or over the grandstand on a swing, she was backstage changing costumes while introducing the different chapters of "Femme Fatale," the show's alleged theme, which had something to do with espionage but was so confusing you'd need a PhD in geometry to follow its story arc.
Britney appeared as a tarty snake charmer for the pop-dance tune, "Gimme More." She lost a layer from that outfit and strutted around in a gold swimsuit during "(Drop Dead) Beautiful." This wasn't a stringy low-riding number like she'd wear back in the day, but instead a more modest two-piece suit, a sort of bikini version of Mom jeans, that rode high enough on the abs to cover the tramp stamp tattoo that she used to flaunt.
Perhaps because of her southern roots, Britney seemed most cozy parading around in the Daisy Dukes she put on near the end of the 80-minute performance for a shortened version of "...Baby One More Time," the 1998 single written by Max Martin that introduced Britney to the masses.
On her current tour, Britney is taking the S&M-lite shtick further than ever. Before the smash "Hold It Against Me,"screens in the arena showed her struggling with a SWAT team that seemed to lack basic policing skills, but eventually managed to get Britney in handcuffs, which was the whole point of the routine. For "Lace and Leather," she brought an audience member identified as "Scott," up to the stage and handcuffed him to a pole while she gave him a sort of PG-rated lap dance that ended with her legs draped over his shoulders. She then ordered him carted offstage, still in cuffs, and while moans were heard as the room went dark, Scott never reappeared. The crowd hopped madly when Britney launched into "S&M," a dance smash she recorded with
Britney's endurance was best evidenced by her decision to climax the show with "Till the World Ends." That's a song off her latest record, and it had the fans dancing from the stage all the way to the last row of the upper deck. Britney gave a triumphant wave as she disappeared beneath the stage and the fans screamed for more. She'll be back. The only question is: What happened to Scott?