Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj at the Xcel Energy Center, 7/6/11


Britney Spears with Nicki Minaj, Jessie and the Toy Boys, and Nervo

July 6, 2011
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul

Another tour, another bloated, tepid, phoned-in performance from the persistently famous and persistently underwhelming Britney Spears.

It's been two years since Spears has played the Twin Cities, and in that time the fans willing to cough up big bucks to see the superstar in action have dwindled dramatically. In April of 2009, Britney's "Circus" tour brought a capacity crowd of over 18,000 to the Target Center for a dizzying show that overshadowed the blase performer's ineptitude with dance routines, moving sets, and spellbinding light and glitter displays; in 2011 she returned to play to about half that many fans and offered up almost the exact same formula, with fewer acrobats and a couple of extra meandering, pointless video montages and costume changes.

When I reviewed Spears's Target Center performance back in 2009, I expressed some remorse and hesitance over panning her performance and attempted to sympathize with what has become quite a controlled, bizarre life for a celebrity who found fame at such a young age. And, to be sure, Spears is not the only one to blame for the fact that her brand continues to rake in outrageous sums of money while offering up little of substance; the heavyset man in a business suit that stood on the left side of the stage scowling throughout the performance served as a blatant, unintentional metaphor for the puppeteers that control and profit from every aspect of Spears's extravagant spectacle. But the machine that continues to churn out $350 front-row concert tickets, $50 flimsy Britney leggings, $25 Britney concert programs, and $8 limited-edition Britney soda pops has done little to care for the quality of her performance itself, and a show that relies heavily on lip-syncing and costuming and fails to provide any real engagement or entertainment makes for a tedious experience that could easily be replaced by listening to her albums on a high-quality stereo system at home or at a club.

​Indeed, nearly every aspect of her show felt overly familiar and contrived: The Marilyn Monroe skirt that flapped dramatically as Spears stood over a multitude of breezy vents; the overly sexualized but never sexy dominatrix skit that drew an unsuspecting, gangly teenaged boy out of the audience for an awkward display; the tour of "multicultural" costumes and set designs that brought us to ancient Egypt and a cartoonish version of Japan for inexplicable reasons. Even one of her biggest hits, "...Baby One More Time" failed to pick up momentum and finally fell flat, cut short to delve into Rihanna's "S&M" in a final attempt at relevance. 

All the while, Britney flailed her arms and danced stiffly, as if running through a dress rehearsal and trying to save her energy for a real show that will never happen, and relied heavily on sliding props and a moving sidewalk to propel her body forward amidst her dazzling troupe of dextrous dancers. It wasn't until the encore that Spears appeared to loosen up at all, reveling in the infectious energy of what is probably still her best song to date, "Toxic," and calling on a guest appearance by opener Nicki Minaj to liven up her final number, "Till the World Ends." 

Even as Britney was swooped up by a metal swingset and wrapped in Victoria's Secret-esque angel wings, even as glitter cannons launched confetti and fireworks and Brit Brit hung on for dear life as she was whisked through the air, Minaj managed to steal the spotlight for those final few moments with a few coy glances and a playful smile, a testament to the budding hip-hop phenom's astounding abilities as a performer and personality. Minaj was the true star of last night's show, and despite the low ticket sales for the Twin Cities stop, this tour is bound to help launch her into the next stage of her career. She was a stunning sight to behold, her fierce, antagonistic energy taking control of the room as she strutted and rapped, a battalion of badass babes in combat boots serving as her only accompaniment. Though her set relied heavily on songs that she's guested on rather than her own tunes, the quirky, kitchen-sink beats of those songs and her own material were tied together by Minaj's sassy, snapping voice, which never seemed to let up. That her costuming and her set's futuristic, intergalactic storyline were more creative than Spears's only served as icing on the cake.

Early openers Nervo and Jessie and the Toy Boys fleshed out the tour's all-female lineup with short, lighthearted sets; Australian duo Nervo offered up a quick 15-minute, trance-heavy DJ non-dance party (7 p.m. might have been a bit too early to get people out of their seats), while Jessie and her two double-jointed and energetic Toy Boys entertained the crowd with catchy, albeit insipid and nasally dance-pop songs, getting a good reaction from the crowd with their hit "Push It."

Personal bias: I was honestly more excited for Nicki's set than Britney's, especially given Brit Brit's disappointing show last time around. I suppose I got what I was expecting, as Nicki stole the show.
The crowd: Slightly younger than the crowd at last month's Rihanna show but just as scantily clad.
Overheard in the crowd: "It's Britney, bitch!" -- every single person in the crowd at some point in the evening.
Random notebook dump: A brief note on our lack of professionally shot Britney Spears photos: The Femme Fatale tour required photographers to sign a rights-grab contract -- something that's becoming all-too-common for larger arena shows -- and we don't like people grabbing at our photographers for no good reason. We were able to photograph the opening acts, but declined to shoot Britney because of the restrictive contract (you'll notice that the Star Tribune was the only outlet in town to forfeit their photographer's copyright in order to take pictures of Brit Brit).

For more photos: See our slideshow of Rihanna, Jessie and the Toy Boys, and Nervo by Stacy Schwartz.

Nicki Minaj set list:
Roman's Revenge
Did It On 'Em
Bottoms Up (Trey Songz)
Bed Rock (Young Money)
Check it Out (Duet with
Where Them Girls At (David Guetta)
Moment 4 Life
Super Bass

Britney Spears set list:
Hold It Against Me
Up and Down
Piece of Me
Big Fat Bass (feat.
How I Roll
Lace and Leather
If U Seek Amy
Gimme More
(Drop Dead) Beautiful
Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know
...Baby One More Time
S&M (Rihanna)
Trouble for Me
Burning Up
I Wanna Go

Till the World Ends