For a look at Britney Spears’ show Sunday night at Philips Arena, check out our gallery: http://projects.accessatlanta.com/gallery/view/music/britney-spears-071811/
The setup was grand – a busy stage stocked with metal scaffolding, stairs, a circular video screen and hydraulics.
The set list was curious – a cover of Rihanna’s “S&M” instead of another of her own numerous hits, even if she is on the remix?
The full but not-quite-sold-out audience was super-stoked – of course their heroine can never, ever be considered anything less than perfect.
And yet Britney Spears looked bored, a Robo-Barbie slogging through dance moves that used to crackle with confidence and singing (well, not really) a string of club thumpers virtually indistinguishable from one another.
But before going any further, let’s just say that Spears deserves enormous praise for enduring an insane amount of personal and professional pressure in recent years and for soldiering through the type of tabloid lifestyle no mere mortal could ever understand.
She looked terrific at Sunday’s Philips Arena show, toned and healthy in numerous belly-baring getups (sexy detective, sexy biker, sexy Egyptian princess – you get the point) and it is hoped she is winning every psychological battle in her roller coaster of a life.
That said, any artist who charges $100-plus for a decent seat (and up to $350 for the closest glimpses) really should deliver a jaw-dropping, emotionally searing performance and, while there was certainly plenty to look at during Spears’ 90-minute set, most of it was like a magician’s act, designed to distract from its ultimate hollowness.
It didn’t matter if she was mildly gyrating inside a rather shaky-looking metal cage during “Up n’ Down” or rising above the crowd on what looked like an upside-down bar stool for “Piece of Me,” with seven mostly bare-chested men writhing beneath her. Spears’ movements were always dispassionate, as if she knows the adrenaline from her aerobics class hits is enough to satisfy her worshipful fans.
That was most obvious during “Big Fat Bass,” a nonsensical song (“I can be your treble, baby, you can be my bass,” goes its chorus…whatever that means) designed for 3 a.m. drunken dance parties.
Obviously, there is no point in discussing singing at a Spears show because aside from the ballad “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know,” crooned in her reedy voice, any other “vocals” were their usual expert melding of processing and lip-synching. The complete lack of close-ups on any video screen guaranteed that the truth could never be determined.
Throughout the show, a running narrative about Spears as a “femme fatale” on the lam rolled whenever a set or costume change was needed. But aside from playing into the title of her latest album, which has spawned a trio of hits, it was merely another anemic distraction.
Despite Spears’ limited interaction with the audience (“What’s up, Atlanta??!!!?” and the invite for a handful of fans to dance onstage in her vicinity during “I Wanna Go” don’t really count), there are still a few sparks in her catalog which no amount of detached performances can erase.
The melody line of “Toxic,” the snaky funk of “I’m a Slave 4 U,” the pop purity of “…Baby One More Time” (which, criminally, got the one-verse treatment before segueing into Rihanna’s “S&M”) – they’re all career-defining songs for a reason.
But Spears has always thrived as a fabricated MTV doll, and, even as she approaches 30, that hasn’t changed.
Opener Nicki Minaj, meanwhile, had no issues with energy, as she fed off the hyperactive lighting throughout her set and delivered a stream of fiery raps.
Joined by six dancers, a drummer and keyboardist, Minaj, sporting a platinum wig, ripped though more than a dozen songs, including “Check It Out” and “Moment 4 Life.”
It’s always fun picking out the samples Minaj weaves into her songs (an Enya interlude featured Minaj play-battling a hooded figure in front of a pink lightning storm) and while you couldn’t always understand her lyrics if you didn’t already know them, the intoxicating beats usually compensated.
While watching Minaj stroll a catwalk while jubilantly shooting Silly String into the crowd during the set-closing “Super Bass,” it was impossible not to get zinged by her buzzy intensity.
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Check out some video from Britney’s show here: http://bcove.me/1gq4o4×2
Also, this morning I had a fun debate with “super fan” Cassie from The Bert Show on Q100. Listen here: http://bit.ly/oajyXz