Just a few days after rejecting claims that she lip-syncs, telling Israeli TV that she is “busting her ass out there,” Britney Spears tried to make good on her defense in front of a packed crowd in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park on Monday night.
True to her answer to Channel 2 news last week, there was plenty of busting, plenty of ass and no clear indication during her Tel Aviv show as to whether the voice pumping through the speakers and into the sweltering night was issuing forth live or being piped in.
As Spears buzzed through a frenetic set list of both hits and less popular ditties, it was impossible to say whether she was actually singing. A set of screens showing Spears on camera as she gyrated and shimmied from side to side across the stage pointedly avoided any real close-ups of the pop diva, and while at times her voice sounded like it had enough vocal fry to make Colonel Sanders jealous — notably on hit “Toxic” — at other times it sounded as pitch perfect as if it had just been polished and spit out of an auto-tune machine.
But for the 55,000 fans who shelled out upwards of NIS 330 per ticket for a show that was as much theater as singalong, it likely did not matter, as long as they had a good time, and were able to see the pop princess strut her stuff on her debut in Israel –19 years after bursting onto the world stage as a sexy and masochistic schoolgirl.
Strut (and sashay and flounce and high-step) is what Spears did for the highly choreographed hour and a half she was on stage. Little in the show seemingly deviated from the pre-designed plans that necessitated complicated sets, multiple costume changes and dance numbers featuring a bevy of backups. The few interactions she had with the crowd, including invoking the name of the city she was in, were pro forma in the extreme — even the “are you guys having a great motherfucking night,” seemed rote and she didn’t mention the soaring temperatures or even muster a measly “Shalom.”
Starting with “Work Bitch” (symbolic considering the charges leveled against her) and working her way through her earlier hits, her campier period during the mid-to-late aughts (“Slave 4 u,” “Circus”) and her current iteration as an EDM hanger-on (“Make me”), Spears was constantly on the move, her flaxen locks flipping and twirling like the distracting lit-up Ferris wheel behind her and her looks rife with S&M imagery.
While she proved her worth as a center of attention, stalking across the stage with sultry determination, making dramatic turns and trading in suggestive poses while in costumes ranging from skimpy to skimpier, she also showed that however much she may have been busting her ass, her backup dancers were busting theirs twice as hard.
As for the crowd, they didn’t seem to buy the smoke and mirrors that appeared to be the locus of the show, at times swaying to the beat as if trying to get their money’s worth and other times passive and barely attentive, showing life only for the opening bars of a recognizable hit.
Blame it on the heat, which hovered around 28° Celsius (82.4°F), for Spears certainly has her fans here. On Sunday, she was mobbed while visiting the Western Wall and reportedly canceled a dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and has garnered more interest than the upcoming visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who by the way is the head of government of the largest democracy in the world.
Lucky for those in attendance looking for hits to latch on to, Spears has had no shortage of popular singles during her career and was able to pack her set list with them — to the point that she managed to combine her two earliest hits “Oops I did it again” and “Baby One More Time,” though the confusing medley managed to take so much air out of the number that no amount of provocative prancing could save it.
Nineteen years ago, Spears managed to scandalize this writer (18 at the time, just like the singer) and many others with those songs, offering herself up as jailbait with a twang straight out of the Louisiana bayou. She has managed to sustain what easily could have been a career as a one- or two-hit wonder (anyone hear from Christina Aguilera lately?) by constantly reinventing herself, and her show took the crowd through those iterations.
The latest Britney is one who has latched onto the electronic dance music craze, a form of music marked by what is known as the drop — a point sometime in the first half of the song when the beat disappears before coming back with a fury and sending the crowd into a frenzy. It’s something Spears did on “Till the world ends,” her encore number, and the crowd did indeed break into a long-awaited lather, which lasted all of a few minutes until the house lights came up and everyone headed for the exits.
There’s a reason the drop isn’t at the end of a song. Just as with singing along with backing vocals or busting your highly choreographed (and highly visible) ass, timing is everything.