Live Review: Britney Spears @ The O2, Dublin

Posted: 29/10/2011 in Uncategorized

***As published on on October 27th 2011***

Dublin may be somewhat submerged – but no amount of water plummeting from the sky can keep the Britney Spears faithful away from The O2 tonight, in spite of the public transport closures and traffic chaos. Spears’ Femme Fatale tour has garnered mixed reviews since it opened in California in June of this year. Interestingly, tonight’s performance failed to sell out in advance – and walking into The O2 on this rainy Monday evening, one gets the impression it barely even came close. Sure, the weather was a contributing factor on the night – but tell-tale giant black drapes covering the sections of empty seats in the upper tiers can hardly be blamed on the downpour?

A stomping rendition of ‘Hold It Against Me’ opens the show and sets the tone well, as it’s Spears’ more recent hits that form the bulk of the set list. However some of the classics do make their presence felt – ‘Toxic, ‘Baby One More Time’, ‘I’m A Slave For You’ and vintage ballad ‘Don’t Let Me Be The Last To Know’ garner huge cheers from the audience. A cover of Rihanna’s ‘S&M’ inspires a mass dance-party, and the visibly elated fans invited onstage to dance during ‘I Wanna Go’ make it a highlight. The grand finale of ‘Til The World Ends’ is the standout moment of the show, with elaborate routines conducted on giant moving structures leading up to a winged Britney ascending high above her audience amongst a barrage of cascading confetti. When it’s good, it’s very good – but unfortunately, the show just doesn’t captivate the way it should. Spears’ current tour is unambiguously inspired by the concept of the ‘femme fatale’; with femme fatales throughout the ages forming the theme of the show. Divided into five different segments, it’s the story of Spears as a secret agent who is being chased by a stalker – but the series of video interludes which are in place to help the narrative along don’t really relate to the performance itself, making it all a bit confusing. Sexy bikers, Egyptian pyramids, Mini Coopers, policemen, a nod to Marilyn Monroe, ninjas – it’s all relative, apparently – even if it’s not made clear why.

But it shouldn’t matter, right? Because we’re in the presence of one of pop music’s biggest superstars and we’ll be blown away by her amazing singing and dancing and total star quality, right? WRONG. Britney unsurprisingly mimed her way through majority of the show… badly. At one point she was even miming the wrong words. Die-hard fans continually make excuses for her in this respect – “it’s so she can focus on the dance routines!” being the most common defence. So why, then, was her dancing so laboured? Take away the multitude of energetic dancers, the flamboyant costumes, and the on-stage gimmicks – her own dancing skills would barely even register. Britney’s stage presence too leaves a lot to be desired – big-screen close-ups show a vacant demeanour; she seems disengaged, her banter with the audience between songs formulaic and bland.

This is not an all-out unjustified onslaught on Britney Spears – I’m a long-time fan. I first saw her live when The Onyx Hotel Tour came to Dublin in 2004 and absolutely loved it (in spite of the fact that she mimed her way through the show then, too). Granted, Spears has been through some highly turbulent times since then – but she has bounced back with critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums in the form of Blackout, Circus and Femme Fatale. Her singles continually go down a treat on the airwaves and dancefloors alike, and she never ceases to unleash impressive and eye-catching pop videos. But in the realm of live music, there is no denying that her standards have slipped – quite simply, the spark is gone. When the mesmerising live shows of the likes of Beyoncé, Kylie, Pink, Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Lady GaGa are your competition, it really takes something special to set yourself apart – and sad as it is to admit, performing live, Britney just doesn’t cut it anymore.


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