Looking back at my Britney Spears experience
You know these kinds of posts. Fan has first fan encounter or sees their favorite contemporary entertainer perform live for the first time, and they subsequently write an essay about their experience and evaluate their history as a fan.
The Reason for my longstanding Hesitation
Since 2007 I’ve been a die hard Britney Spears fan. A snapshot of my Twitter account alone and Britney Spears is my second most tweeted about topic. I’m hardly obsessed, I may have analyzed her work and influence in about four essay posts, but up until December 10, 2016, I had only been a passive observer and consumer of her music. Why?
“Never touch your idols” wrote Gustave Flaubert, “the gilding will stick to your fingers.”
Britney Spears took a spill in 2005 that forever changed her ability to perform. I actually worked at a practice that treated her for a knee injury during her Onyx Hotel tour in March of 2004. One of the staff there confided this to me because they knew I was a huge Britney Spears fan.
Britney had been working copiously from 1996 up until the knee injury that took place on June 8, 2005, on the set of the never finished music video for the “Outrageous.” In many ways it was the breaking of the camels back for a star who needed a break. And as we know, what followed was a chaotic three years.
Britney can’t do the crazy stunts she used to be able to do, but she still has the spark that makes her the only person you want to watch on stage. Since that hot day in New York in 2005 she has always been careful in her performances, out of fear I suspect. We all would jump at the chance of seeing her in her glory performance days doing backhand springs like nobody’s business, but with this critical perfectionist lens one loses the point of what live performance is all about. It’s 2016 and Britney is in the next best shape of her life; she released a hit album appropriately called ‘Glory;’ she has a record-breaking residency show in Las Vegas called ‘Piece of Me’ that’s the envy of every entertainer; and she has found peace in her personal life.
So what the hell was I being so hesitant about still? Friends and family kept saying “you should go!” Why let fear of disillusionment keep me from doing something I was passionate to do?
I had been thinking about buying tickets to see her in Vegas since her residency began in 2013. When I had heard that she would be performing at this year’s Jingle Bash in Rosemont, IL I realized that I didn’t need to go far to see her.
I will say that I was very pissed off at the process of buying tickets on Ticketmaster. The day tickets were going to be on sale online I was right in front of my MacBook Pro ready! 12 noon strikes and I encounter page errors. The page didn’t update, even after I frantically would refresh it. Then the page said the concert was sold out. It was ridiculous, but I kept refreshing the Ticketmaster page.
Then finally the ticket page was working, but the best seats I could get were in row F, section 11, which weren’t bad but I was willing to pay anything to get front row along with a meet and greet. To add insult to injury, the day after the concert I saw that meet and greet photos were taken. Yes, yes, I know I’m being a bore, but that fantasy of meeting your favorite contemporary entertainer eluded me and I do have a right to be pissed about that missed opportunity. That aside, the concert was lit!
I have the fondest memories from that night, most of them hilarious, like the part when this father in front of us showed his butt crack, so gross but it made us crack up. All the performers were great, really engaged with the audience and when it was time for Britney everyone freaked out.
In the Zone a little Too Much
Part of a live performance is being in the same space as that person you’ve been waiting to see. There’s some sense of magic about being in the same place at the same time, like the stars aligning. However, don’t expect that things will go as they do in your dreams.
I was disappointed that Britney wasn’t as engaged with the audience as the other performers. Backstage stage before the show she had been saying how she loved Chicago and thought the people here are really respectful, but during her performance she didn’t address the audience like the other performers did.
For example, during G-Eazy’s performance he took a female audience member’s phone and started recording selfie-style for her while performing on stage! A fan dream come true.
Britney was definitely ‘in the zone,’ it felt like she had tunnel vision. She didn’t talk to the audience like the other performers did. At the end of her set of songs she quickly walked off the stage, like “I did my duty” and must go. Her parting words were “let’s hear it for Tinashe,” who surprised the audience with her accompanying Britney to perform ‘Slumber Party,’ Britney’s second single off of ‘Glory.’ Britney had brought her residency chops and we thoroughly enjoyed her performance, but maybe the irony is that we expected “a piece” of her, an attempt at dialogue and deeper connection with her audience that braved a snow storm that evening. A snow storm had been beginning to descend on the Chicagoland area that evening and we all were lucky to have made it to the show at all.
You’ll see videos posted online from Britney concerts from 1998 through the end of her Onyx Hotel tour in 2004, and there is a remarkable difference between that Britney and today’s Britney. Britney certainly became more guarded during that time, careful about re-injury, but it’s hard to remember that Britney is actually a really shy person in a very extroverted profession. It’s not an excuse for her, but that is part of why there may seem to be a screen between her and her audience.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the performers before Britney, but it was easy getting lost in the moment along with the crowd in their performances. We were all raising our arms in the air, nodding our heads to their beats and feeling like we were in a special club. I felt energized and a part of something special. I was with the two most important women in my life, my mother and my mother-in law, and we were having a blast! Our favorites were DNCE and OneRepublic who went into the aisles and really had fun with the audience.
With someone who brings this level of gravitas you have to remind yourself “enjoy the moment.” There is a tendency to overthink it and ruin your enjoyment with disappointment in things not unfolding as you hoped. The fantasy will never match reality. You can’t get everything you want the way you want it, so you have to take things as they come. Britney came, conquered and there’s nothing cheap about that. My Britney Spears experience was decent, no regrets. Any seeking of something personally satisfying you have to find for yourself. As Edith Piaf said well,
“Performers and their public should never meet. Once the curtain comes down, the performer should fly away like a magician’s dove.”
Am I still a Britney Spears fan, absolutely! Britney keeps the mystery and the intrigue alive. She doesn’t need to give a piece of herself in order to keep our interest. If you think about it, some of us who get caught up in the negatives should really ‘check our privilege’ about wanting so much from performers. They are human just like us. You could never satisfy everyone and give them everything they want from you. It’s outrageous to expect so much. And that’s what I think is so valuable about live performances. They teach you what’s real and what you should hold onto. Perfection isn’t real. Enjoy that moment you have watching that person perform live, in the raw. Let the moment remind you what made you fall in love with them in the first place, when it’s over walk away. Treat it like a shooting star, being grateful you got to see it. The point after all in going out is to have fun. Your idol is your trubador, nothing more. They are there to help you get lost in the moments of your life. That’s what I think is the healthiest way to think of your favorite entertainer, idol or whatever. Of course you get excited at any prospect of crossing paths in real life, but like Santa Claus you have to remember that the idea of them is not the same as the person. It’s the people that care about you in your real life that you should be giving the most of your energy and heart.
If you want to keep reading I’ll tell you the story about how I became a Britney fan.
Late to the Party
For at least 9 years, it’s been no secret that I am a Britney Spears fan. You read that correctly, it’s been about 9 years that I’ve been a 100% Britney Spears fan. Usually when you learn that someone is a fan of someone, you assume they’ve been such since the beginning of that someone’s career. For me, I bought Britney’s debut album ‘…Baby One More Time’ when it came out in 1998 so that I wouldn’t be alienated at school. I wanted to partake in whatever my classmates were into, and to do that you need to stay relevant with that which is popular in culture (a.k.a pop culture). ‘…Oops I Did It Again’ was the last cassette I ever bought, ‘Britney’ (2001) and ‘In the Zone’ (2003) I bought in CD format. I didn’t detest 1998-2003 Britney music, but I was conflicted about my consumer contribution to it.
Over the years I kept finding Britney’s taste more in line with what I liked, despite my hesitation in supporting an artist who I thought had a weaker voice. In learning Britney’s story, I discovered not only that she has a strong voice, but that she is more complex and interesting than people paint her. I may have been late to the party, but Britney Spears is definitely my contemporary favorite, some would argue my idol.
Most people I’ve known had an idol growing up, one that they had plastered all over their bedroom walls, one who they would love to have had as their best friend. For me, I was window shopping and didn’t arrive at a final choice for a long time. In my tween years I was feeling the need for some direction. The thing about an idol is that as a girl in America anyway, you have this female idol who serves as a model of what you aspire to be. In trying to find yourself you get inspiration and direction from this idol who creates things you like. So I was on a search in the back of my head, and at one point I thought I had found them in Christina Aguilera.
With her vocal range and emotionally rich delivery, Christina represented who should be successful in the music industry. It was a no-brainer for her to be inducted into the league of popular vocal talents like Whitney Houston and Edith Piaf.
Christina Aguilera’s debut album ‘Genie in a Bottle’ (1999) is a superior debut album to Britney’s ‘…Baby One More Time,’ I’ve always felt. The irony of course is that ‘Genie in a Bottle’ didn’t represent the real Christina.
“I was held back a lot…They [RCA] clearly wanted to make a fresh-sounding young pop record, and that’s not always the direction I wanted to go in.”
Source: The Washington Post
The directions Christina has chosen to go in the past 15 years have not always been directions I have cared for. I also haven’t cared for her behavior and treatment of her colleagues and fans.
While my intention to find an idol of sorts who was 100% who they seemed to be and who had raw incredible talent was well intentioned, I was forcing myself in a way that was denying myself from discovering what I really liked in favor of purist principle. I was also learning that not everything celebrities or stars seem to be are actually who they are. So in 2001 it became clear that I couldn’t be a lifelong fan of Christina Aguilera. She didn’t have the charm, the star-quality, the instinct or the talent in other areas of entertaining that Britney has in spades. In turn, Britney has always overshadowed Christina in accolades, earning and public favor because of this difference in character.
1998-2000 Britney music was pure pop with some R&B balladry; 2001-2005 Britney music was more edgy and provocative pop, with hip-hop and house influences. While I liked several songs from each studio album (I can even remember dancing at my maternal grandparents’ house to the entire ‘Britney’ album) it was Britney’s fifth album ‘Blackout’ (2007) that was my hook.
Blackout was the culmination of 4+ years of blood, sweat and toil, trying to get out of the pop star, sex-kitten box that she was boxed into. Her ninth studio album ‘Glory’ harkens back to that ‘Blackout’ era, of a Britney who does her best work when she takes the reins.
Britney Spears’ critically acclaimed 2007 album Blackout has not only topped a million in sales but it is now the pop star’s only album to be added to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s music library and archives.
After ‘Blackout’ Britney went through some hard times. Her “breakdown” or “rebellion” as the Britney Army like to refer to it was definitely an eye opener and certainly a surprise. The thing about Britney’s story that you have keep in mind in order to appreciate her is she’s this good girl who is always trying to do right by her family and others, but in her quest for being a caretaker and champion of the people she puts herself on hold. And sometimes when you put yourself on hold you might explode in strange and unusual ways. As Christina and so many others have done under contract, Britney was trying to break out and be her own artist. She didn’t go about it the best way, but in the end the cat landed on her feet so to speak.
Throughout it all, Britney became even more likable and endearing to the public because we had seen her at her least perfect and most human. That I think can be tricky for someone to pull off. Rather than see her as damaged goods, we saw her as a phoenix of sorts. Her fragility and strength, her creative choices and ability to overcome keep us hooked. Certainly for me it’s been all those things about her that have kept me a fan. I think with all Britney Spears fans there’s this sense that “she’s just like me.” Maybe there’s another half of us who see her as this other-worldly goddess, but we can all agree that she’s no ice queen. She is warm, awkward, funny and kind. She’s the girl next door you want to be friends with, that’s been my Britney Spears experience at least. Whose to say one person’s experience of her is correct or incorrect anyway? How we experience our idols or favorite whatever is personal after all.