“I pulled up to the Staples Center blasting Britney. Me and my boys were all wearing very tight clothes and having a craaaaazy night. Brit killed it!”
This is how I might have started this article if I were one of the many enthused gay guys dancing and singing along to Britney Spears during the entirety of her Femme Fatale concert on Monday night in Los Angeles. If I were one of the typical young ladies in attendance (please see photo for random sampling), I’d be in five-inch heels and a bunch of make-up, starting this article with: “WOOO-HOOOOOOO!!! I’M WEARING VERY TIGHT CLOTHES! LOVE YOU BRIT!! YOU DID IT AGAIN!”
Instead I’m me. I’m not a superfan, but, like you, I’ve always enjoyed Britney’s hit songs, music videos and even photos (which I’ve perused via extensive Google image searches over the last decade). Britney began to fascinate me in college, when I first saw her “…Baby One More Time” video. I was in awe of her body, tan and very non-ethnic schoolgirl perfection. I’m ethnic-ish, NY-ish and a comedian now, so while I didn’t 100% go to Monday’s concert ironically, I probably 30% did. Maybe 40%. I’m not certain of the percentage. That’s the beauty of pop music.
The thing is, all irony aside, I like to root for a comeback. As long as I live I will await the return of Whitney Houston the singer, no matter how much I enjoyed the “doody bubble” episode of Being Bobby Brown. In spite of Amy Winehouse’s spate of bizarre live performances, including the conversational ones on the street outside her home, I’d love to one day buy another of her albums. And in my heart of hearts, I know there will be a Bell Biv DeVoe comeback. Britney’s voice may not be on par with the Houstons, Winehouses and BBDs of the world, but as I’ve watched her notoriously hazy performances over the past few years, I’ve instinctively found myself craving a return to form. It was uncomfortable to see a once flawless pop machine, shuffling and flailing onstage. I wanted her to command it. To borrow a basketball term from one of my NBA ex-boyfriends (I forget which), I wanted her to “dunk on” her detractors, right in their face. It needed to happen for order to be restored, and to avoid a world in which chaos and darkness reigned.
When you consider the painstaking planning and grooming that went into Britney’s persona, her public transgressions were that much more extreme. I don’t know if her dramatic downward spiral was caused by depression, addiction and/or shitty personal and professional influences, but I do know she shaved her trademark hair off her trademark head in front of a swarm of paparazzi and physically attacked a car with an umbrella. As I stood in the sold-out Staples Center, it struck me that for her to even be alive seemed like something of a miracle. If you haven’t seen Craig Ferguson’s monologue on the topic of compassion for Britney in which he protectively remarks upon her public struggles in light of her age (“she’s a baby, a baby”) and his own sobriety, watch it on YouTube. I agree with a lot of what he said to the point where I cried, but then I’m a mess of a person who cries to lots of YouTube videos, including the Sh’Boss Boys.
When the reborn Britney finally took the stage, she looked better than she has in a long time. Her hair was groomed, she was wearing a sparkly leotard, and she was in decent shape. She looks pretty good. In any bar across the country, dudes would be clamoring to talk to her. But she wasn’t at a bar—she’s centerstage at a sold-out Staples Center, a superstar sex object, and as such, she’s open to endless and minute scrutiny. More importantly, as the show progressed, my hopes for Britney’s return to a “Slave 4 U” level dance prowess diminished. Overall, her choreo was disappointingly minimal. (I just used the word “choreo” because I know a ton about dance.) Her movements mostly built around leaning on things, riding things and being lifted up inside of hanging things. She did a lot of hair flipping, and she could kind of move her arms in rhythm, but any choreo that involved legs, torso or pelvis was left to her backup dancers. It appears that she just physically cannot make her body do the things it once did. There are plenty of pop stars who aren’t strong dancers. But Britney’s stuck with comparisons to herself; and the adjustment of expectations required of tonight’s audience was sizable. For that reason, I almost wished the Femme Fatale tour had used her changed energy and created some sort of slowed down, heroin-y, Valley of the Dolls budoir type dance routine, or maybe gone with a more mature Mrs. Robinson motif, rather than trying to conjure the lusty vigor of TRL-era Britney.
In fairness, the dudes spilling beer on my back and the girls chattering about their favorite all-time Brit-Brit tunes love their Britney, however inert she may sometimes be. Throughout the 90-minute performance, Britney puts out for her fans as best she can. She’s a seasoned pro, adept at juggling all the modern-day elements of a huge stage show: costume changes, trapdoors, moving set pieces, etc. But when people are paying $175 a ticket, is that enough? Britney’s not only up against herself circa 2001, but also against today’s bumper-crop of arena-pop stars: Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Katy Perry and, hopefully soon, Bell Biv DeVoe. I get the feeling that the fans gathered here, myself included, are applauding her past more than they are her present. We’re cheering her survival—she’s earned that. But I want her to dazzle. Then again, who am I to talk about dazzle? I can’t even regularly wash my dishes.
As I write this, I’ve been thinking about how Britney fans will be unhappy with what they’re going to read and they’ll say I’m mean and stupid, and how my comedian friends will read the same piece and say I’m a pussy and soft because I didn’t spend the whole review shitting on Britney. Hopefully I’ve found that sweet spot in the middle, in which nobody likes or respects me. Either way, I urgently have to go look at my pile of dishes now and then walk into the other room. Best of luck, Brit.
Chelsea Peretti is an awesome comedian. In addition to her standup, she writes for the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation.” Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaVPeretti.