What We Talk About When We Talk About Seeing Britney Spears Live
When Britney Spears does anything, it's on a large scale and is nearlyimpossible to avoid. It's been this way since she was an underage pop starlet topping the charts in a crop-topped schoolgirl outfit cooing "...Baby One More Time." She set the bar for early millennium pop after '90s pop could barely hold a candle to the Madonna and Michael Jackson reign of the '80s. She's a living legend, an icon, and musical royalty.
And, yes, she lip-syncs live. It's a controversy that has trailed her for years, but has never felt like much of a threat to hurting her career. That is, until now.
By now you've no doubt seen the viral video (above), out last week, of a leaked isolated vocal track from a 2001 Spears performance in Vegas. In it, she's out of breath, strains for notes, and misses most of them completely. She's buried in the mix, of course, and the crowd's not hearing any of it, instead treated to the polished, studio-built Voice of Spears, who starts a residency at Planet Hollywood in Vegas very soon. Because of the video, and the recent near-confirmation that the residency would not feature live singing for the entirety of its run (though Brit's camp has vehemently denied this), the money men behind the show are beginning to worry ticket sales might be affected. There have been reports they've called an emergency meetings at the hotel to panic about it all together in a room, and to sniff out the source of the isolated vocal track leak. With millions of dollars at stake (15 million a year, to be specific, or $310,000 a show), who could blame them. But, here's the thing: No one is surprised by this. As the panel Monday night on Chelsea Handler's show (we know, we know) rightly noted, people don't pay to see Britney to hear her voice. No one is surprised by the fact that she isn't and never has been the type of singer that's taken our breath away. She's never claimed to be.
As this Consequence of Sound post about the debacle points out, Spears is not an artist known for her "powerhouse vocals." She can't belt like Beyonce or the rival of her youth, Christina Aguilera. She is a spectacle. Her songs are perfectly crafted slices of studio-honed pop. We've always known there was lots of studio magic going on to get us the finished product. We go to her concerts to gaze. She isn't going to blow the speakers out with excessive vocal runs or do particularly shocking, impromptu covers. She's going to step on stage in a series of sparkly outfits and confirm that she is this face behind those tunes that are deeply embedded in our collective cultural consciousness.