Britney Spears at Staples Center: Concert Review

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Even with bells, whistles, fireworks and scores of dancers, a pop star's evolution is not always a pretty picture.

UPDATED: The Femme Fatale tour, which kicked off this week, features bells and whistles in a sort of sugary rush that’s not unlike going to Disneyland.

When you think of Britney Spears, certain adjectives and iconic images immediately come to mind -- the sexy, seductive, fierce star, belly-bared and draped in a giant boa, adorned in diamonds, clad in a red cat suit or provocatively strutting in a catholic school girl uniform. At her career apex around the turn of the millennium, Spears was a vision of pop marketing perfected: a girl sweet enough so as not to turn off her fellow females and at the same time, a foxy fantasy to titillate their male counterparts.

But the Britney Spears of 2011, currently on week one of her Femme Fatale tour, is a different animal: one who’s seated for nearly half of her 90-minute set, who doesn’t quite have that spring in her dance step anymore and who requires a constant barrage of visual distractions while she mostly lip-synchs along to her hits.

That’s not to say that Spears’ show isn’t entertaining, mind you. With theatrics that bring to life a sexy assassin subplot, elaborate stage sets (cages, a pink motorcycle, a giant dragon boat) and a slew of dancers who effortlessly camouflage Spears’ less energetic numbers (and Spears had her share on Monday at L.A.’s Staples Center, though not quite on the level of her GMA performance from March), Femme Fatale features bells and whistles out the yin-yang in a sort of sugary rush that’s not unlike going to Disneyland -- which is, of course, highly appropriate considering Spears got her first taste of fame on the Mickey Mouse Club.

Opening with “Hold It Against Me,” the now seasoned 29-year-old Spears emerged and eventually takes a seat on a white throne and from there, entered a cage for the song “Up N Down." She sat again (on some boxes this time) during “Big Fat Bass,” a new track featuring Will.I.Am, and once more two songs later when she rode a pink convertible fit for a life-sized Barbie like herself, soon after taking position atop the lap of a fan plucked from the crowd.

Spears’s posturing continued for the suggestive “If You Seek Amy” and a slowed down version of her breakout hit, “Baby One More Time,” but even with the police-like figures dressed in leather, it didn’t have the menacing sexual intensity of Madonna’s stage show or, to quote Rihanna, “the smell of it.” Speaking of Brit’s contemporary, the crowd went nuts when Spears doled out a snippet of Rihanna’s “S&M,” the same verse she sings on an alternate remix of the track. As for her idol Madge? Spears delivered a bubbly cover of 1983’s “Burning Up” while straddling a giant flying V guitar -- seated yet again.

Her best moments, ironically enough, were the ones with fewest frills. “Piece of Me" and "3" which she performed back to back, featured Spears taking charge in a white fedora and trench coat, and the ballad “Don’t Let Me Be the Last To Know,” sung from the swing again, with a dancer doing impressive acrobatics beneath her, showed the range of Spears’s singing style, if not the vocals themselves. But mid-tempo numbers also seemed to stall out quickly, where faster offerings like “Womanizer,” “I Wanna Go” and “Toxic” had the sold out crowd jumping in place and pumping their number twos in the air, in a nod to opener Nicki Minaj, whose splendid 45 minute set brought the streets to the suburbs. The New York native also joined Spears for the night’s confetti and fireworks closer, “Til the World Ends."

Spears’s missteps? The wardrobe, for one. Now pushing 30, perhaps it’s time to retire the bedazzled bikini and cut-off denim shorts ensemble. Granted, most American women would kill for Britney’s body, but a one-piece, which she wore for the night’s final bow, was far more flattering. The set list also left a little to be desired with the absence of fan favorites like “Oops I Did It Again” and “Stronger,” the latter whose video featured Spears in, you guessed it, a chair!

Today, after 13 years in the spotlight, Britney Spears has learned to embrace her diva-dom for all that it’s worth (anywhere between $29.50 and $397, going by current ticket prices), yet she can’t help but conjure instant nostalgia with every move she makes, be it a new album, perfume line or the Femme Fatale tour. It’s not her fault, she’s just living a dream, but as reality goes for the rest of us, it’s a stark reminder of how harsh the present can be.


1. Hold It Against Me

2. Up N’ Down

3. 3

4. Piece of Me

5. Big Fat Bass

6. How I Roll
7. Lace and Leather

8. If U Seek Amy

9. Gimme More

10. (Drop Dead) Beautiful (feat. Sabi)
11. He About To Lose Me

12. Boys (Remix)

13. Don’t Let Me Be The Last To Know

14. Baby One More Time

15. S&M
(Rihanna cover)
16. Trouble For Me

17. I’m A Slave 4 U

18. Burning Up (Madonna cover)

19. I Wanna Go

20. Womanizer

21. Toxic

22. Till The World Ends

For the Record: A previous version of this story said Spears sat on a swing during "Big Fat Bass" but the number was actually choreographed using large black speakerboxes as props. Additionallly, Spears wore a white trench coat during the performance of "3" which was performed back to back with "Piece of Me."