What impressed me here was the absolute spectacle of the massive production itself. Vocally, yes Britney Spears lip-synced her songs for the night, but it really didn’t matter. It can be controversial for many concert-goers, if they expect to view a live performance but the audience here couldn’t have cared less. The full house was in attendance to witness a pop princess, an icon in the industry performing in Manila for the first time after coming off shows in Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul and Taipei, then next stop to Bangkok for a two-night stint. Smoke and mirrors are commonplace in the pop world anyway and this singer has been reported to have lip-synched her fair share of performances on this tour and in the past so not much of a surprise there. When you watch an MTV type music video, that’s almost all mouthing, you’re not hearing what was recorded when they taped the video, you’re hearing the studio work dubbed over the film. Not an uncommon practice for any performer with an extremely physically demanding dance routine as part of their act. Almost a necessity for an event such as this with a duration of almost two hours, it’s nearly impossible to sing and dance the whole time. Miming vocals is not a shocker and no secret, in fact it takes a bit of practice to pull it off and occasionally it doesn’t work out as planned. And the 90’s kids in attendance hold her music in the highest regard, defining their world with unmatched pop anthems, wether sung live or not.
A mother of two, in her mid-thirties, she made the delivery of a ravishing performance look like a walk in the park. Britney’s sassy dancing and physical condition is certainly more than admirable, and the skimpy costumes highlighted her ripped athletic figure. Perhaps not with the spring in her step from the youthful days of her career, but still pretty solid as far as international superstars go. Her moves were more sexy and flirtatious in nature, at one point even performing on a stripper pole, rolled out to the center of the stage. Britney began her career as a Mouseketeer with the likes of Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera and has become a multi-platinum, Grammy award-winning mega star. Along with super stardom comes the bumps and bruises of living in the public eye, which surmised somewhat of a torrid past up to this point to show for it. Now focused on the family, seems to be on the top of her game, obviously having fun and appreciating the energy level of the audience.
Arguably, one of the most celebrated entertainers in pop history with nearly 150 million records worldwide. She had knee surgery over a decade ago, which showed occasionally, as she hesitated in particular movements or was super cautious going up and down the stairs. Basically lacking the fluidity and explosiveness you witnessed in the outstanding performance of her 14 member dance crew, who were perfectly synchronized at all times. The staging was multi-leveled with two circular platforms that flanked either side of the stage, elaborate props of various themes to match the songs, an impressive choreography which utilized every inch of the stage, performers moving constantly across all sections kept your eyes busy.
Accompanied by a light show that’ll knock your socks off and a T-shaped catwalk reaching out to the relentlessly exuberant crowd, who from the first note were on their feet. Not surprisingly it stayed that way, very few folks sat down in the nearly sold out Mall of Asia Arena on June 15, everyone in the building was dancing to the beat. The banter in-between songs was sparse, it was the visuals that did the talking here. At one point, before beginning the song “Freakshow”, she asked for a volunteer from the audience to come up on stage and play with her. It was a man from Hawaii who became the unwitting partner on the receiving end in a dominatrix type role-play, with Britney donned in a skimpy black lace number, carrying a whip and ending up walking him around on a leash on all fours. It was all in fun, and the guy was good sport about it.
It certainly had that Vegas razzle-dazzle production feel, which is no coincidence considering that currently Spears has a residency concert in Sin City at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, which has been voted “Best Show in Las Vegas” and “Best Bachelorette Show in Las Vegas.” Appropriately, there were numerous lavish costume changes for her and the dance crew, flashy high-value video productions on huge back-screen and LED panels wrapped around stage risers for added visual appeal. Interestingly, the show was broken down into seven distinct ‘acts’ with varied themes, wether it be a circus, dance club, or a jungle, there were so many elements involved which all skillfully matched up. It was plain to see that there was conscious effort and heart-felt planning that went into it all.
The well received setlist flowed with ease, as they masterfully timed the breaks so the set and wardrobe changes took place seamlessly. With about 23 songs, including a medley of her earlier signature songs, “…Baby One More Time” and “Oops I Did It Again” while highlighting many of her greatest hits like “(You Drive Me) Crazy,” “Stronger,” “I’m a Slave 4 U,” “Toxic,” “Gimme More,” and “Womanizer,” with an encore track, “Till The World Ends,” finally capping off the concert with the ubiquitous confetti shower. The backstage area was packed, it takes six large containers for all the equipment and wardrobes to be shipped around from site to site. Purposefully executed, with many of the details not left to chance, it was really something to experience even if you’re not a huge Britney fan, like me. At fifty something, certainly not my cup of tea but appreciated the production quality itself, along with Britney’s irresistible stage presence that only a seldom few command.
Coincidentally, speaking of smoke an mirrors, finally a stage show that knows how to correctly utilize fog. Most bands just spew it all over, generally in a direction of a light they want to pick up with no consideration of the way the various air drafts in a venue will move it about. Often times, it just ends up blocking the performers face, making it difficult for the camera to focus and robbing the fans of moments with their favorite artist live. Anyone who tells you they intended it that way, is usually lying. But at this concert, the smoke laid close to the ground, just the way fog should be. Technical it has to do with the formula used for the machine, a slightly higher oil percentage creates a heavier mist and it lingers low.
The reason I mention this is the same reason, that when I go to a new seafood restaurant, I always order fried calamari. It’s tricky to prepare correctly. You literally only have a cook time of 30 seconds or so, and a consistent high-temperature of the oil is crucial. Otherwise, you end up with something resembling, breaded rubber bands. So order the friend calamari if want to see if the chef/cook knows what they are doing. Same thing at a concert, if the smoke is lying low, the rest of the stage show is usually a tasty treat.
As the saying goes, perfection is nothing more than a series of small steps down well. An electric atmosphere with all the factors blending in perfect unison. Think of it more of a Vegas style show, with all the bits and pieces fitting together, not as much of a concert as it sits overall, more of a site to behold. Britney looked happy and radiant the entire time she was onstage, as she tousled her hair often, strutting about with a power and confidence that only comes from numerous years of performing. A top notch stage design and perfectly-timed seductive movements from her well-toned physique, kept the audience engrossed the entire length of the show. And the fans enthusiasm was unrelenting, even on my way out the door, in the lobby as the crowds rode down the escalators and made their way to the exits, there were hundreds singing in unison, to “…Baby One More Time.” First time I’ve ever experienced such a thing, the crowd just couldn’t get enough and will be high on this one for a lifetime.