Everyone loves a stunt. Everyone loves a daredevil. It's the spectacle of the thing that brings people out to see David Blaine hang upside down from a rope, or to watch Evel Knievel leap Snake River canyon, and not least among the allures is the threat of disaster.
And that's precisely what Britney Spears' Friday performance at the Target Center was -- a stunt of a very certain kind, a stunt of endurance, of rote memorization, of painstaking choreography. Something like a Jackie Chan fight scene performed live before your eyes. She may not have sung a single note, she may have danced as limply as a boiled egg noodle, playing at little more than a tailor's mannequin, upon which innumerable wardrobes were flung and removed.
But, by God, she didn't work with a net, and, more importantly, neither did the staggering crowd of back-up dancers, magicians and jugglers that accompanied her.
It was a carnival theme that Britney strode through for an hour and a half. As she wheeled through a lip-synched set bloated with her more recent non-hits ("Toxic" and "...Baby One More Time" only arrived at the bitter end, and "Oops I Did it Again" was absent), Spears spent most of her time cowering among her scores of back-up dancers, who carried her through each song, literally and figuratively. She spent vast patches of the concert off-stage entirely, allowing video displays (which were borrowed directly from Nine Inch Nails' innovative Lights in the Sky set-up, though with only a shade of Reznor's ingenuity) to supply her presence remotely.
The songs, naturally, were spot on, and evoked screams of delight from the capacity crowd, turning the Target Center into an echo chamber of nearly super-sonic shrieking more strident and piercing than AIDS Wolf on an ornery day. But the entire show -- with its ring of pyrotechnic flames pulsing in time with the music; with its schizophrenic costume changes and dance pieces, which shifted shapes so swiftly it challenged all persistence of vision; with its great cannons firing glitter into the opening rows -- found Britney a bit player in her own vaudeville.
It's a detail that comments loudly on her entire existence. As the show went on, as the dancers behind her turned magnificent backflips and round offs, as jugglers and unicyclists circled the stage, Britney was an idle force at the center of a maelstrom, a role she has filled since her days as a Mouseketeer, when she was being ushered through her adolescence and into adulthood through a labyrinth of record deals by stewards all too hasty to turn a buck off their invaluable, inert starlet. On stage at the Target Center, a magician makes her appear within a glass case. A stage hand whips away her silver sequined gown as she crosses the stage. A shower of sparks, a music videom, and at the end, she disappears.
So it goes, and so it went. Entertaining to the eye and inoffensive to the ear, the show left one fruitlessly engorged, as if on a feast of rice cakes. By the 45th minute, the show had all but run out of props for Britney to stand on, and there she loped, aimless as a june bug, mouthing the words and loosely wiggling.
The stakes for this particular stunt were low, and even if the hits were catchy and the costumes flash, there wasn't even the shadow of real performative grist -- nothing for Britney to win or lose. He might have fallen famously, but at least Evel Knievel, when he leapt the fountain at Caesar's Palace, was on top of the bike the whole way.
See also: Britney Spears: She said by Andrea Swensson.