Britney Spears, 02, London
Her troubles have been well documented but the pop princess is back, and she's cracking the whip
Sunday 07 June 2009
It's a measure of how fast the pop merry-go-round turns that the fairground rides on the forecourt of London's 02 are gently turning to the sound of Lily Allen's "Smile". Allen was 13 years old when Britney Spears first put all thoughts of homework aside with her unforgettable "... Baby One More Time" video. La Roux's Elly Jackson had not yet started secondary school.
But the original pop princess is back in town, kicking off the European leg of her Circus tour with eight nights in a big top that appears to have been designed with this very spectacular in mind. And spectacular the opening night undoubtedly is.
The fun starts with a turn by performers from the Big Apple Circus: essentially a little person acting as MC while strongmen and clowns, who look like Aqua rejects on Heelys, entertain the audience on the two small circular stages set up for such shenanigans.
The crowd, largely made up of girls who have grown up with Spears plus a dedicated camp following, whoop with delight. There can't have been this many bottle blondes in gladiator sandals in one place since first-round auditions for Caligula extras. The tight-T-shirt brigade has customised its outfits ("Britney's Bitches" reads one group's effort) for the occasion.
The troubles of tonight's main attraction have been well documented. Suffice it to say that since she last toured the UK, there have been marriages, meltdowns, two children, a bitter custody battle and the most publicised haircut since Samson. Such thoughts are swept aside as Spears descends, to the title track of her current album, The Circus, dressed in ringleader red and cracking a whip.
From about nine rows back, it's immediately clear that she is miming. Never mind, the stage is a blur of tumblers, ninjas, jugglers and dancers. The circular overhead video screens burst into life and the brilliant "Piece of Me" is performed with aplomb; its spot-on chorus ("I'm Mrs Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous/I'm Mrs 'Oh my god that Britney's shameless' ") second-guessing any reservations about lack of authenticity.
The show is apparently split into sections: "The Circus", "House of Fun", "Freakshow/Peepshow" and "Electro Circ". Such distinctions are hard to spot, and in reality the whole thing looks more like an extended advert for Agent Provocateur than a pop show you could take your kids to. The format does, however, allow for multiple costume changes. We get belly-dancer Brit, policewoman Brit, and any number of bikini-clad Brits. Act two ends on a high of sorts: current single "If You Seek Amy" (chorus: "All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to IF YOU SEEK AMY"), its lack of grammar hammering home the double-meaning (say it quickly) with all the sledgehammer subtlety of a Carry On film at its most crass.
Then, the shock of the night, as Spears takes off her Captain Scarlet headpiece and picks up a good old-fashioned microphone. "What's up, London?" she hollers before sitting in a floating umbrella to sing, not mime, the ballad "Everytime". The moment's potency serves to highlight how anodyne much of the music has been to this point. It's a startling reminder of the undeniable fact that, in spite of everything, Britney's got talent.
But the brutal truth is that for most of the evening a dancer could put on a blonde wig and perform the show while Spears sits backstage babysitting her children. No one would know the difference. As the closing triple-whammy of "Toxic", "... Baby One More Time" and "Womanizer" finally gets the crowd on its feet, we are left to reflect on how pop princess has become pop product. Her jingle? Lip-synching, whip-crackin', perv-teasin', girly-pleasin' ... Britney.
The Circus Starring Britney Spears tour has been a huge success in the States and looks set to conquer Europe. Its concept, at least, is genius, because when the theme of an evening is illusion, it allows a frightened 27-year-old to hide herself (and her many natural gifts) behind an arena-full of smoke and mirrors.
On selected dates until 14 Jun
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 This is surely the best way to watch Jaws
- 2 Homeless man playing piano in Florida becomes instant online sensation with public performance
- 3 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 4 San Francisco TV news crew attacked by armed robbers during live broadcast
- 5 Greek debt crisis: The photograph that conveys the despair of Greece's elderly
Bad luck, One Direction: Paul McCartney doubts success of The Beatles will ever be matched again
This is surely the best way to watch Jaws
The Crystal Maze: Richard O’Brien confirmed to return as more details revealed about show's rebooted format
Guillaume Tell's gang-rape scene caused uproar at the Royal Opera House – but the portrayal of extreme sex and violence on stage is nothing new
What if Nicolas Cage played every character in Game of Thrones?
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture