Spears in concert: 'A Sham 4 U'
November 30, 2001
BY JIM DEROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
Appearing before a sold-out Allstate Arena for 85 minutes Wednesday, Britney Spears gyrated, jiggled, posed, preened, changed costumes 13 times, hit her mark to avoid countless pyro explosions and "flew" in the air suspended by bungee cords.
What she did not do was perform music. To say otherwise would be an insult to everyone in this city who actually did that night, from the most vaunted diva with Lyric Opera of Chicago to the humblest singer with the lowliest bar band.
As spectacle, Spears was top-notch and state of the art. Flanked throughout by eight frenetic dancers, she was the Cirque du Soleil, the Ice Capades, "Cats" on Broadway and the wildest new ride at Disney World all rolled into one.
Although the soon-to-be 20-year-old spent a quarter of the show offstage and out of sight, presumably switching designer outfits in preparation for the next skit in her "Dream Within a Dream" tour conceit (something about a young girl getting everything she ever wanted by becoming Britney), she made the most of the technology whenever she did show her face, strutting down a long walkway that extended far into the arena, strapping herself to various flying platforms and rotating elevators, and dropping through more trap doors than there are at the Haunted Mansion.
Unfortunately, anyone who had seen "Britney Spears: Live from Las Vegas" had already seen it all. Every carefully choreographed, rotely rehearsed move had already been broadcast and repeated countless times on HBO. The only exceptions: There was no Jon Voight sitting younger sister Jamie Lynn Spears on his lap, and La Brit eschewed real water for the big "caught outside in the rain in my chain-link bra" finale.
As a sexy come-on, Spears was one small step away from the Admiral Theatre, so risque and R-rated was her act. But this red-blooded, 37-year-old man found it all boring--there was none of Madonna's kink or Janet Jackson's humor, just a lot of blatant, in-your-face, Playboy-perfect flesh-peddling. (Real women are sexy; holograms are not.)
I can't imagine what the many 5- and 6-year-olds in attendance thought of it all, though I fear they were left with the Neanderthal notion that a woman's sex appeal is the most significant aspect of her talent and personality.
What matters most to a music critic is not sex or spectacle, however.
And as music, Spears was a sham, a fraud and a consumer con of the highest order.
The sound emitting from the speakers on the old, Swedish-crafted, sugar-coated pop songs ("Born to Make You Happy," "Ooops! ... I Did It Again," "You Drive Me Crazy" and "...Baby One More Time") and the new, pseudo-funky R&B-lite dance music ("I'm a Slave 4 U," "Anticipating," "Boys" and the absolutely dreadful "I Love Rock 'n' Roll") was flawless and pristine in that digitally crisp way.
It just didn't seem to be emitting from Spears.
Call me old-fashioned, but for $75 a seat (plus Ticketmaster services fees), I like to hear a singer actually sing in concert. But Spears' fans do not seem to have this hangup. "Don't bash her for not singing," one teenage girl remonstrated. "She's too busy dancing to sing!"
If it didn't bother the target audience, I suppose it shouldn't have bothered me. So forget the complaints cited above, dear Britney, and you go, girl--all the way to the bank.