Britney Spears concluded her first Las Vegas residency on New Year's Eve 2017. For the last four years, the pop star had spent fifty nights a year performing her Piece Of Me show at Planet Hollywood, With countless costume changes and two hours of dancing, body rolls and hair flicks, her 24-song performances became a staple within the Las Vegas music scene.
While the Piece Of Me residency was only supposed to last until 2015, the singer – who rocketed to stardom with debut single “...Baby One More Time” – signed on to perform her greatest hits for another two years. It seemed like a no-brainer for Spears to continue this nostalgia fest; the perfect way to reconnect with her fan base while banking an estimated $30-35m a year.
It's a far cry from the late 2000s when the pop icon was dealing with mental health issues (who can forget the pictures of her distressed and shaven headed?). She had two stints in rehab; faced a year in prison after a hit and run (a Los Angeles court later dismissed the charges after she paid an undisclosed amount to the other party); lost a close family member; filed for divorce, and found herself in a nasty and very public custody battle with her ex-husband Kevin Federline.
The public perception of Spears – once a teen pop idol adored by millions of young fans around the world – had shifted, and the fall from grace that followed impacted both her music, her personal life, and her career.
But rather than ignoring the media, she played with her perceived image on 2007's Blackout. The record, a radical departure from her previous work, was meant to show a more mature Spears. But the record polarised both critics and fans, and wasn't helped by a poor publicity campaign. Nevertheless, the album's reputation amongst fans has improved over the past decade and Blackout has become something of a cult classic – or as close to a cult classic as an album by one of the world's biggest pop stars can be.
Following Blackout, Spears released two records: Circus and Femme Fatale. While each of them had hits (“Womanizer”, “Radar”), Spears popularity had begun to wane. So it made perfect sense to accept the Vegas residency. It was an ideal way for her to capitalise on her 20-year career, to interact with fans and it gave her the structure of regular work, but also time off to spend with her family. It was a undeniable win-win.
Piece of Me has had a profound effect on pop star residencies in Vegas. Formerly the preserve of older artists seeking one last big pay cheque, Spears has proved that residencies featuring contemporary artists can be just as profitable for venues. Now, artists like Jennifer Lopez, Backstreet Boys and even Lady Gaga are following her lead. A residency is has become a brilliant – and lucrative – strategy for reviving an artist's career.
By performing her greatest hits and showing the world she could still put on a show, Britney was reasserting herself to the public; it was Spears saying: “Don’t count me out.”
On 27 December, Spears played the first of her final five shows. I was nine-years-old when she released "... Baby One More Time" and have followed her career ever since, watching as it soared, stumbled and tried to regain its strength over the course of two decades. That night was the first time I'd seen her perform live. From a jazzy performance of “Toxic” set in a makeshift rainforest to a glimmering “Everytime” atop huge angel wings, Spears’ spirit and passion for putting on a show was infectious. She rode a guitar like a mechanical bull during her cover of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” (a nod to her iconic role in the coming of age movie Crossroads) and called a male member of the audience up so she could walk him like a dog.
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The set encompassed every phase of her career: broken up into different acts to show her evolution from teen pop idol to a certified pop badass. She looked immortal in her sparkly, barely there bodysuits and thigh-high boots, dancing non-stop in between set change after set change.
Spears’ residency was perhaps the smartest thing she ever did for her career when it comes to finances, rehabilitating her image and in communicating with her longstanding fan base.
Time then for the singer to recuperate and hit the studio because her fans are desperate to see what she’ll do next. We'll welcome a signature “It’s Britney, bitch” whenever she’s ready.
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