Perhaps no current pop star has experienced such an outwardly turbulent relationship with fame as Britney Spears. After so many infamous tabloid moments and potentially career-threatening decisions, it is no small achievement that Spears has been able to maintain her enormous fan base and even reinvent herself musically. Now in her late 20s, the singer seems to have learned how to keep her personal life in check, while channeling the trashy diva/stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold persona her fans crave.
Monday’s performance at Staples Center found the arena overrun with young women clearly reveling in the opportunity to dress in all manner of tight-clinging, club-ready attire. Spears is a catalyst for women, and a smaller segment of men, to unleash suppressed desires in the way of overt raunchiness and sexualized fantasy. Her current Femme Fatale tour ramps up the camp, while specifically glorifying power and control in sexual relationships.
For pop concerts of this magnitude there always seems to be some sort of vague narrative arc running through the entirety of the set, and Spears’ Femme Fatale show was no exception, weaving a seemingly nonsensical, spy-thriller plotline throughout the performance. Massive HD screens flickered with strange monologues, noir-ish fantasy sequences and awkward chase montages, while Spears’ army of dancers engaged in some truly impressive displays of choreography and stunt work. Musically, the concert emphasized the club-ready, synth-drenched material of Spears’ past two albums — and it worked, in terms of recontextualizing her as a relevant purveyor of modern, techno-derived pop.
Though visually impressive, the show lacked a truly engaging human quality. Spears moved with an almost mechanical detachment, lightly shifting through dance routines without fully letting her body release itself. With her voice heavily processed and laden with backing tracks, she appeared onstage as some strange blend of Michael Jackson, Madonna and Kraftwerk’s Ralf and Florian. It may seem odd to compare her to the German techno pioneers, but in many ways she fulfills that group’s nascent ambition of becoming fully-mechanized pop stars. Spears is just that — entirely synthetic, coolly unaware and physically pristine. And the crowd reacted wildly to all of it: screaming out the chorus to “I’m a Slave 4 U,” pulsating along to the twitch of “Gimme More” and going absolutely ballistic for the brief, two-verse rendition of “…Baby One More Time.”
The stage show was wild, fun and filled with ambitious physical displays by her male dancers. From metallic swings to Egyptian boats and conveyor belts, the show consistently dazzled from a production standpoint. In terms of songs, there weren’t a lot of memorable tracks, with the exception of two newer numbers: “He About To Lose Me” and the anthemic, night-capping “Till The World Ends.” The former found Spears artfully blending synths and basic dance beats with a truly affecting verse/chorus swell, evocative of Nelly Furtado’s slow-burn masterpiece “Say It Right.”
Multi-voiced hip-hop newcomer Nicki Minaj opened the show and joined Spears onstage for a spastic verse during the encore. Her vocal talents and inherent unpredictability are what make Minaj such an intriguing figure in modern pop. Unfortunately, much of her set catered more specifically to the MOR stylings of her debut album, and downplayed the wild raunch of her most successful material.