Britney Spears Femme Fatale Tour Portland Concert Review

I'm Britney Bitch!

I'm Britney, Bitch!

"I'm Britney, bitch." Yeah, but is that enough?

After a very full evening of entertainment, including a fantastic set by Nicki Minaj, I find myself wondering if a grand spectacle is reason enough to go see someone live in concert.

Nervo

Nervo

The evening began with two cute blonde Australian girls who together make up the duo Nervo.  They spent twenty minutes behind a mixing deck, playing extremely well mixed songs.  The simplicity of the duo was a stark contrast to the absolute spectacle which would ultimately follow. It seemed odd to have a DJ duo open for such a major tour, but the two were so infectiously cute and happy that it was a delight to watch them as they spun.

The same unfortunately couldn't be said for Jessie and The Toy Boys, who thankfully only played for fifteen minutes. Jessie and The Toy Boys is a group of one blonde gal and two awkward dancers who painfully lip-synched to absolutely un-original and completely derivative music, with songs like "We Own The Night", "Money Makes The Girl Go" and "Push It".  The set was a little bit of a train wreck that had nothing to really anchor it.

Nicki Manaj

Nicki Minaj

The evening really got going with Nicki Minaj, who took the stage and treated it like she was the headliner. Minaj's hour-long set traversed the wide range of musical styles that Nicki Minaj is capable of.  From the sharp rap in "Did It On'em" to the more lyrical and ballady "Save Me", Minaj showed her immense versatility. This versatility makes her a frequent collaborator of many of the top pop acts recording now (including Britney Spears, but we'll get to that later).  While Minaj is extremely strong on stage, there often feels like there's something missing.  On the song "Fly," we hear more of Rihanna pre-recorded than we do of Minaj, and the same is true for the Flo Rida / David Guetta song "Where Them Girls At".  But Nicki Minaj seems unfazed singing along to these tracks and manages to transition from these sing-alongs to songs where she is the main focus with ease.

On stage Nicki Minaj is absolutely dynamic. Her playful manner and bright smile permeate throughout all she does.  With her set she creates a futuristic world with an arch rival named Nemesis.  This theme is the glue between her songs and elevates her set to an 'experience' and not just a performance.  One of the things that is so impressive about Nicki Minaj is that she manages to throw down some serious raps without being so damn serious. There's a quiet confidence that she seems to have that elevates her rap and makes it much more fun and approachable.  This was most palpable with her performance of "Moment 4 Life" which really showcases her absolute raw talent.  She closed her set with "Super Bass", her current hit, which was extremely well received and showed her massive crossover potential. I doubt we'll see Nicki Minaj be an opener again – she's clearly destined to be a feature performer and destined for great success.

After Nicki Minaj's set there was a sizable break (a whopping 45 minute intermission), which ended up being a good thing as Minaj's set was so full that it would have been too much to then roll right into Britney Spears' set.

The Grand Spectacle of Britney Spears Femme Fatale Tour

The Grand Spectacle of Britney Spears Femme Fatale Tour

Britney Spears Femme Fatale set started with a bang. Huge video screens showed high definition clips of Britney breaking out of prison and being chased by cops.  The production values of the clips were top notch and it built to a grand entrance by Britney who flew in on a platform (one of many times she'd be flown, wheeled, carted and pushed around the stage). Her opening number "Hold it Against Me" was a full-on assault of lights, smoke and sound.  This level of high octane staging and lighting would continue the entire set, and so would Britney Spears' lip-synching.

From a staging point of view, this song, like many which followed it, was outstanding.  With fifteen or so dancers, huge video screens which moved and shifted and more props than you could imagine being crammed into an evening of music, Britney's set was nothing short of a grand spectacle.  The only problem was that Britney wasn't much more than a prop herself.

Britney established herself over twelve years ago with a very specific 'jail bait' sexual brand that she has tried to maintain over the years. She managed to maintain this image through about 2003 (which came to an apex with her legendary kiss with Madonna  at the 2003 Video Music Awards).  In 2004 she got married (a couple of times), messed up her knee, and settled down to have a family.  Now in 2011, the person who used to be that young, sexy teen idol is gone, and what's in her place is a thirty year old mom who has been through a lot of personal trials and come out the other side.  Unfortunately Britney doesn't seem to quite embrace who she has become, and the result is difficult to watch.

One Unfortunate Costume, MILF Trying To Look Like A Teen

One Unfortunate Costume, MILF Trying To Look Like A Teen

From jailbait, Britney has transitioned into MILF, but onstage she tries very hard to look, dance and move like she is still that younger version of herself. Her outfits are nothing short of unflattering and only enhance the womanly changes that time and having children will bring.  Britney is extremely stiff and stilted through many of her dance numbers, all of which seem to want to suggest something that's no longer there.  The toughest aspect of Britney's performance, though, is the pervasive lip synching that permeates almost every number of the show. The lip synching is so bad, at one point Britney mistakenly synchs the chorus of a song rather than the lead vocal.

Britney does actually sing for one song during her set, as she grabs a microphone and tries to belt out "Don't Let Me Be The Last To Know." It's an absolute train wreck of a song with Britney being slightly off key.

At this point you'd think the entire purpose of this review was to criticize Britney, but that's not so.  Rather than rooting against her, I found myself rooting for her, hoping that in the next number somehow she'd find her rhythm, or embrace who she now is, but in many ways that seems to be out of her hands. Britney spends most of the concert being carted around, lifted in the air or even carried. She seems like a prop because she's treated like one.  The producers of this spectacular show always seem to want to have Britney sit, perch or strap in to some sort of contraption.

As many issues as Britney has, the show itself somehow almost manages to transcend them.  Each song is supported by a stage show that is so wonderfully over the top, you can't help but be entranced. From lifting and spinning sections of the stage, to driving cars and motorcycles in for songs, the stakes for what could happen on stage kept getting bigger and bigger.  This was alway accompanied with lighting and video screens that were absolutely top notch.

With the song "Big Fat Bass," the integration between Britney and Will.I.Am (who appears and sings on high def video screens) was one of the best solutions to the common problem of songs that feature artists who simply can't be live in concert to sing along.  "Big Fat Bass" was an absolute high point of the show and hinted at what's possible when you artfully marry live performance with pre-recorded video.

Until The World Ends - 'Encore'

Until The World Ends - 'Encore'

Also the 'encore' performance of "Till the World Ends" was a clear indication that Britney still has the capacity to produce clear hits and both captivate and engage an audience. The performance of "Till the World Ends" also showed everything that was wrong with the Femme Fatale Tour. The staging of "Till the World Ends" is so focused on flash and pyrotechnics that it completely misses the point of the song and the opportunity to really engage the audience. The song has a clear call to pull the live audience in and capture the magic of what live performance is about, but it so clearly misses it.  Then, what happens towards the end of the song is almost beyond belief. About three quarters through the song, Britney yells, "Remix, Nicki Minaj" and appropriately the crowd goes wild. Nicki Minaj then appears on the video screens behind Britney singing a pre-recorded video. What?! Huh?! Did we miss something? Wasn't Nicki Minaj just the opening act? How in the world can she not be brought on stage to sing the very thing that they are showing as pre-recorded?

And then it all becomes clear. The Britney Spears Femme Fatale Tour is not live music. It's not even really a concert. It's a very tightly controlled and highly scripted spectacle, starring Britney Spears (sort of). It's lots of lights, sounds and dancing to the pre-recorded track of Britney's music. And for some that may be enough. But it shouldn't be enough for Britney, who is clearly better than this. With "Till the World Ends" and to some extent "Hold It Against Me," Britney has shown that she still has more to offer musically, that she could embrace the fact that she's pushing thirty, been through hell and keeps on fighting. Instead, she allows herself to become a fairly stiff prop in a spectacle where she is nothing more than a bit player.

(photos courtesy of BritneySpears.com)

Geoff Kleinman

16 Comments

  1. umm well you are a horrible person and i feel like this review was a waste of my time! i have seen the show and it is amazing in every single way possible and couldn't of been happier

  2. Have you seen the Circus Tour?? This review seemed to fit that tour more appropriately. I encourage you to see that tour and tell me otherwise.

    Look, no one really cared if her performance here wasn't as top-notch as it used to be. The only thing that mattered was that it wasn't TERRIBLE. All of us Britney fans just want to see her prove the naysayers wrong, give us a good show again. And she did. No, she is not in the level she used to be, but it is a vast improvement than the dead zombie we saw on GMA and Jimmy Kimmel a couple of months ago. That's enough for us. THIS Britney is actually enjoying herself, and that's what matters here, far more than the stage lighting and the smoke effects and the video interludes.

    In the end, her happiness is what matters. Forget the dancing and the lip-syncing (she's singing 40% of the concert live, BTW); Britney is enjoying herself. This is a woman who's been kicked to the ground and beaten half to death…. after seeing what she went through, you'd think she'd have ended up like Amy Winehouse. Yet here she is today, fully recovered and going on another world tour. This woman is a lot stronger than most of us.

  3. @Sherwin Yeah but don't you think the audience and Britney deserve better? A personal trainer, a vocal coach, some confidence in her ability. Give her a few months of tireless dedication to getting ready to go out on the road and she could be really something. I don't think it's enough to say "wow, she's happy… that's all that matters." Think of all the amazing artists who would kill for a shot to be infront of an audience….

  4. I have to say I really agree with the review Britney was a prop, not the performer. I was expecting to feel something, and what I felt sorry for her. Walking around stage (not really dancing) humping a giant guitar that ejaculates when the song is over was not sexy or cool, but hilarious! I imagine her in 15 years watching old tour footage, and asking herself "Why in the hell was I dressed like a suburban mom trying to be "cool" by dressing like a biker? that climbs on top of a 25 foot guitar, and then pretends to have sex with it, and then once the songs over why does the guitar shoots fireworks that look exactly like ejaculation?" It just looked embarrassing and desperate to retain fans. I was hoping to be happily entertained, but left feeling sorry I went.

  5. Why wasn't my comment printed? How can I take this review seriously if the pictures used are not professional shots and worse yet not even pictures from the show you supposedly attended. It seems you already had pre conceived notions before attending the show, you already made up your mind, and had the pics ready to go with your story, unflattering shots of her included.
    It seems you are more peeved that she isn't the 17 year old teen sex kitten she was and that pissed you off because she didn't match up to your pedorifiic fantasies. That's not her fault that she grew up, that she hasn't been a teen and has still been successful for nearly ten years.
    How dare you also insinuate with your second comment that the audience deserves more and that if only she worked harder she could be really be something, suggestion of personal trainer included. How do you know she hasn't been working hard leading up to this? The audience knows what they are paying for, she has lip synced for the majority of her career, she hasn't had a perfect body in years, and gave pretty recent televised performances giving the ticket buying audience a preview of her current abilities.
    All in all this review felt misogynistic. I think I'll take the word of Rolling Stone and the LA Times that gave this tour a glowing review.

    I also think your review of Minaj is a joke considering her entire concert is pre recorded and lip sanced yet you made no mention. Seems like you really weren't paying attention at all.

  6. Photos are from BritneySpears.com and were credited as such at the end of the article, even the unflattering one…..

    Not peeved at all she's not a 17 year old sex kitten, in fact if you read my Miley Cyris Review you'll see that I think musicians acting like sex kittens can be problematic. I'm more disappointed that she's trying to act like that at 30 instead of doing what Madonna did at her age and evolve her image. I also wasn't looking for her to have a perfect body, I think it's fantastic when women embrase their figure, whatever that figure is. Nicki Manaj isn't a thin girl and yet she works with it in a way that is quite attractive. The personal training remark was more aimed at the fact that she's clearly out of shape and not physically trained for the rigors of a tour. Some yoga would do that girl wonders (personal training isn't all about weight loss, it can be all about endurance and flexibility).

    Review isn't misogynistic at all and you are more than welcome to take the word of Rolling Stone or the LA Times, better yet, go to the show and see it yourself and make your own conclusions. I stand by my review. Also Minaj sang a considerable amount of her show and played with pre-recorded accompaniment rather than live singers which I mentioned in my review. You are completely free to disagree with the review, it's well within your right, but trying to attack the review and saying it has some sort of agenda is off the mark.

  7. Yeah hatters Britney Spears concert was amazing, guys a loser……..

  8. if your gonna bash britney. atleast be at the show,

  9. Is it appropriate to bring a 9 year old to? I have tickets for the Houston show.

  10. It's all relative. Honestly compared to Lady Gaga, this show is extremely tame. There is one moment where Birtney does a strip tease for a guy on stage (she doesn't remove any clothing) and another where she rides a huge guitar where at the end sparks come shooting out of the end of the guitar. But other than that, there really isn't anything much that would make you too uncomfortable. Nicki Manaj does rap about a lot of adult subject matter though, but in concert with the amplification it's hard to pick out all the words.

  11. Did I miss something. I went to the new Orleans show fri, had a blast loved the show. And what is with these comments about her body. I don't see many women 30s 20s whatever age with 2 kids or even if she didn't have any look that fit. Apparently something is working for Britney and she obviously knows it.

  12. Britney Spears is a product of trama-based mind control. She has no choice but to perform even though she would rather not. This is bigger than you can imagine. So I won't delve into it here. But do some research and you will find that Britney suffers from dissociative identity disorder (formally known as multiple personality disorder). Her programming has been breaking down (hence the drama in her life). You all are so blind to what is going on and I am sure you will think that this is all b.s. But then again that's what "they" want you to think. Britney even says "can you handle my truth?"

  13. This review confused me. Having been to the concert myself, I completely disagree: the show was LIVE. I know this because Britney actually went out of tune at one point, I could also hear her breathing. I don't understand people – when she danced and mimed, she was wrong – now she's singing live and not dancing so much, she's wrong. I believe this review is more fitting to 'the circus' tour because she was stiff and more of a prop, but FF was absolutely astounding and Britney seemed to have been revived, not quite to 2003, but definitely on her way.

  14. It's interesting, Geoff, to read your review and then to read some of the comments that follow. Firstly, and to be honest, I couldn't agree more with you! I must admit that I love reading the comment about you being a "Britney basher" and how you're against her, when, clearly, those people are missing the point. Those comments lack depth and aren't enough of an arguement to match your statements. Each to their own and what you might see as a, let's be frank, half-arsed perfomance, someone might not….I do think that has a lot to do with the success of her PR and production team because what some people are considering "amazing" is, ultimately, someone who's not singing live – I believe people prefer lip-syncing from her to make way for dance routines – her 'dancing', while I'm commenting on it, is extremely limited and no comparison to where she was a few years ago. As for being a 'prop' she seems to have lost that 'spark' which she was/is famous for and, personally, I don't think that she even wants to be there. And I DO feel sorry for her. I watched her documentary, For the Record, and there seems to be a big heart under there.

    I haven't seen Femme Fatale – only on Youtube – but I did see Circus when she was in Australia and my opinions are very similar to yours. She just got lost and I found myself watching the dancers, regularly reminding myself why I was there in the first place. She hasn't been the same since her breakdown and, if it wasn't for the team behind her depending on her for a wage, I think that she would disappear for a much needed search…for herself. Being directed on EVERYTHING since childhood leads to a dependency for continual guidance without doing it for herself.

    Am I a "Britney basher"? I bloody love the girl! And as a fan I'm concerned and want the best for her. If it means a few years without performances in anticipation for a TRUE 'comeback' then I say go for it Britney!! Peace.

  15. This concert was a hot mess n'a half. If her dancing was sharp I'd forgive the lip synching, but it is as is she is bored… The music is fun and catchy but I think it is time to let Brit do what she wants which is to be a wife and mom.

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