Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Circus Indeed

Britney Spears performed at the first Sydney concert of her Circus tour on Monday, 16 November and I was there. I consider myself to be a feminist with reasonably good taste and yet I didn't go to the concert to be ironic (well, not entirely). Do I need to explain myself? Okay, here's the whole story:

Back in early July when the tickets first went on sale, my friends suggested that we all go. I'm not a huge Britney fan. In fact, I don't own any of her albums or songs, but I love a danceable pop song as much as the next girl. Spending time with my girlfriends gawking at the whole spectacle and singing along to Hit Me Baby One More Time sounded like a pleasant way to spend an evening so I debated with myself about whether or not to buy a $100 ticket.

In the end I decided that 'meh, I'd rather buy a nice top or dine out with Mick than spend the $100 on Brit' and told Jess, the designated organiser, of my nay vote. The very next day, however, she emailed me something to the effect of 'happy birthday, I bought you a ticket anyway.' By purchasing my ticket as a gift, Jess liberated me from any qualms I had about paying $100 to see this overproduced starlet. Once it was free, I got really psyched about going to Britney's Circus.

My friends are obviously women of good taste, too. What motivated them to cough up the big bucks? Well, if I were feeling a bit nerdier today I'd whip up a pie chart, but this will have to suffice. Here are some of our reasons:

It was 22% the biggest pop star of our generation is here in Sydney, not every musical act travels down under, let's get in on that;
37% okay, yes, I really do like some of her songs; and
41% voyeuristic schadenfreude. Poor Brit lost her mind and then her hair and then her shoes that time she was at a 7 Eleven bathroom and then a custody battle to Kevin Federline. Evilly, we couldn't wait to physically witness Brit slip up and say something like 'Happy Easter, Melbourne!'

It seemed like months since Jess ordered the tickets, but the reality of going to this concert set in when Brit kicked off the Australian leg of her tour in Perth and was criticized sharply for lip-syncing the whole show. I immediately decided that anyone who was disappointed by such a show was a fool, a sentiment John Mayer shared via tweet oddly enough. If we're being honest with ourselves, let's admit that our Brit didn't rise to the top because she's an amazing singer and that her recorded music sounds better, more true to the auto-tuned tracks we've come to love and employ as ringtones.

Nah, we weren't bothered by the lip-syncing, my friends and I concluded over glasses of sangria before the show. There was a zen to pop icon concert enjoyment: go in expecting artists to create music on stage and you will be disappointed, go in expecting pyrotechnics, multiple costume changes and choreography and you will be delighted.

Having dinner and drinks together at the White Horse in Surry Hills was the extent of our preparation before the show. We thought about dressing up and aimed for pink as our unifying theme, but didn't look cohesive and that was okay. That's why it was such a surprise when our friend Sus showed up in a full on Britney circa 1998 costume complete with braids, midriff baring button-down shirt, skirt and even those whispy things in her hair.

Sus wasn't seeking attention; she was in it purely for fun and for that reason, Sus is my hero. Here I am psychoanalyzing and justifying our reasons behind going to a Britney Spears concert, but Sus simply saw a Heidi wig while browsing in a costume shop and figured, 'yeah, that'd be fun.' While perusing my own closet my mantra was juvenile and festive, but I wound up looking sort of suburban and boring in my pink tank top, jeans and sandals. Oh, well.

Of course, our group wasn't the only one that dressed to impress for the concert. When we boarded the train, we found it packed with a couple other Britney lookalikes (not as convincing as Sus) and hordes of other young women in night-club attire: tiny cocktail dresses and sky-high heels. This was a surprise as we were expecting to see women our age, tweens and gay men. Instead, the concert was attended by very few men, a number of families with young children and the above mentioned lady-bogans in their late teens and early twenties.

We weren't interested in the opening act, DJ Havana Brown (who?) and arrived about ten minutes before the circus began. I was naively looking forward to seeing animals on stage, but we were treated to the Big Apple Circus instead, a group of somewhat non-traditional acrobats, midgets and those with a talent for spinning large hoops on or around their bodies (is there a word for that?). The most memorable performer was the legless trampolinist; watching her bounce felt wrong somehow, but at the same time I was glad that she isn't always bound to her wheelchair.

After 30 or so minutes of circus, Brit finally made her grand entrance. The crowd was nearly choking with excitement, but we left an hour and a half later underwhelmed. I knew all along that Brit would lip-synch the show, but still felt disappointed that she didn't bother to connect with her audience. There was no 'Happy Easter, Melbourne,' no, Brit was in reasonably good form, but there was no 'Hello, Sydney. How are you tonight?' either. The carefully choreographed interludes between songs were taken up by costume changes and left no room for improvisation. She attempted to sing one ballad, but lazily left it to the backing track a few bars in.

I'd love to say that what Brit lacked in actual singing she made up for with sharp dance moves, but I can't say that either. Britney is a talented dancer, but she was only 75% in it. It looked as if she were just racing to cover all parts of the stage and wasn't concerned about hitting every target.

I had never been to a concert before during which music wasn't created on stage and didn't know exactly what to expect. However, I did expect that Brit would have people out of their seats swaying and singing along to their favorite bubble gum pop anthems. Nope. No one in the nosebleeds was up and moving, looking further down, I noticed that neither were the fans in better seats or even those in the VIP ground area. When Britney sashayed to their area of the stage, they were too busy capturing the moment on their iPhones to scream and stick their hand out wildly in hopes that Brit would bless them with a sweaty high-five.

So, all in all, I was grateful that I hadn't paid for this show. I was even more grateful still that the best part of the circus was sharing it with friends.

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