Music & Clubs

Britney Spears at HP Pavilion

For once, Britney's own obsessions were center stage, in her "Femme Fatale" show.

Still want a piece of Britney? Don't worry, at Saturday' HP Pavilion show, the second stop on her "Femme Fatale" tour, there were plenty of pieces to choose from. Bucking the current trend cemented by Lady Gaga on her recent "Fame Monster" tour—in which huge pop shows must have a central theme, a story arc and a message for the masses—the "Femme Fatale" show was a mishmash of fantasy set pieces. What's interesting is that this time, the fantasies are Britney's.

Gone is the not-that-innocent plaything of "...Baby One More Time, "I'm A Slave 4 U" and "Oops!...I Did It Again" (practically the only one of her major hits she didn't play, incidentally). No, this is an angrier Britney Spears, one who's attempted to outmaneuver the global obsession with the size of her stomach by slipping out of the sexual object role and blowing her own confusion, paranoia and desire into an arena-sized show.

Thus in "Slave" and its follow-up, a cover of Rihanna's "S&M," the spooky BDSM images are not of her, but of beefcake men, most of them suffering in the shackles of masochistic desires. The only vaguely linking theme throughout is a multi-part video of some unidentified black-ops stalker continually watching her—a story which turns out to be her own revenge fantasy as she walks into his scuzzy lair and turns the tables on him in the end. Male paparazzi chase her around onstage during "If U Seek Amy" (with its line "love me, hate me, say what you want about me"), while she imagines herself as the sexy but doomed Marilyn. "3" had her and her entourage in white-raincoat creeper outfits, presumably doing some stalking of their own.

In other words, whatever straight male fantasies the notion of a Britney Spears concert might conjure up, this ain't it. In fact, Britney makes a serious play for Lady Gaga's status as gay icon of the moment with the sheer intensity of the show's homoerotic themes. If it's not gay cops one minute, it's gay bikers the next. "Boys" has...more boys, slinking around for her and occasionally rubbing their crotches. The always-shirtless male dancers get far more featured stage time than the female ones, and some of the routines—like acrobatics on top of her bedposts—are impressive.

Musically, the show is heavy on the hits, although considering Britney as a musical phenomenon is like asking which of Madonna's albums is best. She's a cultural phenomenon, obviously, and the only edicts that seem to have been handed down in regards to the music is "no lip-synching" (she definitely doesn't) and "bigger and louder whenever possible." Surely stung by the measuring sticks that always seem to find her comebacks lacking, she rolled out with overwhelming sound, squadrons of dancers and a freaking throne for the opener "Hold It Against Me." By the end of the first song, it seemed like about the only thing missing was lasers. Guess what the next song started with? Other set pieces included a slave ship (again, stocked with men), a jeep that drove across the stage and picked up an audience member, sparks, fireworks and the now-obligatory confetti blizzard.

Opener Nicki Minaj was a big disappointment after all the hype from her tour with Lil' Wayne. She was neither provocative not particularly energetic, at least until "Super Pink" near the end. In fact, she went crazier in her short video appearance during Spears' "Till the World Ends" than she did for anything in her own set. She also tried to pull off a story arc in her show, and while it could be argued she simply didn't have the time in a shorter opening slot, it played as one more reason that tired trend needs to be re-invented or dumped.

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