What a strange phenomenon you have become, Ms. Spears.
There was a point during the Britney Spears concert at the Target Center Friday night when a barrage of images from various points in Brit Brit's career flashed across the stage. All of her high points were covered; from her now-iconic breakout video for "...Baby One More Time," to the red vinyl bodysuit she wore in the "Oop! ...I Did it Again" video, to her open-mouthed kiss with Madonna at the MTV Music Awards, to photos from her recent shows. As the pictures pulsated over the stage in a dazzling array, it was easy to forget for a moment just how tumultuous the last few years have been for the larger-than-life pop star and take a moment to revel in the spectacle of her iconic career.
But at other times in the evening, Britney's star power didn't shine as bright. As with many arena shows, it was easy to get caught up in the excitement of the crowd and the grandiose nature of her show. Acrobats, contortionists and magicians worked hard to keep the audience's attention bouncing from one end of the stage to the other, their glittery costumes and fancy tricks demanding to be watched. But at the eye of the circus-themed hurricane stood Ms. Spears, who lip-synced through most of the concert and danced lackadaisically at the center of her professional troop as if running through a dress rehearsal rather than performing for a sold-out Target Center crowd.
Sure, Spears did her best to be sexy: the show started with her being lowered to the stage in what looked like a large gilded birdcage, and many of her dance routines were focused on tame, faux-dominatrix antics. Between songs, she would disappear into one of the many trap doors on the stage to change from one glittery little number into another, at times dressed in a sparkling tight dress and at others stripping down into gleaming little skivvies. The forward momentum of her show could be attributed almost entirely to her hardworking crew of dancers and performers, as some of the most breathtaking moments took place with Britney off the stage changing clothes.
Despite the lackluster quality of her performance, there was an excitement to the show that was highly contagious and almost unavoidable. Much of her set included material from her two most recent albums, Blackout and this year's Circus, with her latest single "If You Seek Amy" standing out as the most tightly-written and catchy song of the new bunch. Musically, the end of the show packed the most punch, with the back-to-back combo of "Toxic" and "...Baby One More Time" forcing the audience to their feet in a thrilling finale. The show ended in a fittingly over-the-top fashion, with Spears returning to play "Womanizer" amidst booming pillars of smoke, trapezing acrobats, and plumes of glitter bursting from cannons. Like the rest of her show, the spectacle only served to outshine rather than accentuate the pop idol, but the audience didn't seem to mind--from the upper tier of an arena like the Target Center, a Britney Spears concert is still a Britney Spears concert, regardless of who is pulling the strings down there on stage.
If this review seems non-committal, it's because it is. There is a dichotomy to the career of Britney Spears, to her performance Friday night, and to the overall idea of her pop stardom that is hard to escape. Leading up to her show and watching her perform, I wanted so badly to root for the fallen pop angel, to cheer her on as she perseveres through her crazy, crazy life. But there was something so tragic about her show, and I think it speaks volumes about her status in our culture; even though she barely danced, sang, or looked remotely human during her performance at the Target Center, almost 20,000 cheered her on as if she was playing the best show of her life. It's the same kind of sympathy that has the FCC overlooking the fact that she is singing "All the boys and all the girls are begging to F-U-C-K me" on the airwaves, that keeps fans wildly devoted and optimistic, and that leaves critics like me feeling guilty for penning a negative review.
See also: Britney Spears: He said by David Hansen.