Last night, I did something I never thought I would do: I left the office, took the subway to Madison Square Garden and showed my ticket to an usher so that I could be let into the Britney Spears concert, the second of her three Circus stops in New York this week. The idea was to get the perspective of somebody not used to big spectacles, and I walked away educated and confused but — ultimately — pleasantly surprised.
Not only had I never seen Britney Spears live, but I also have very little experience with giant pop shows or even arena acts. I've lived in New York for 10 years and have been to Madison Square Garden countless times for basketball games, but prior to last night the only concerts I had ever seen there were R.E.M., AC/DC and an ill-advised Barenaked Ladies show (that one was for a girl). Britney certainly blew away each of those groups (even the heavy-on-pyro AC/DC) with the spectacle that is the Circus tour.
For the complete blow-by-blow, you should really check out Jocelyn Vena's full show report from Monday night as well as Jim Cantiello's reactions and highlights, but here are a few things that stood out to me.
» Britney Spears Knows Showmanship
Even during the best rock shows, there will always be a song or two that don't mean as much to you as the rest of them (there are always exceptions). Usually, that's the time to go back to the bar, hit the bathroom or text your friends about what a great show it is, but Britney gives you options. Not a big fan of "Piece of Me"? There are plenty of dancers to distract you. Can't stand "Ooh Ooh Baby"? No worries — magician and former "Saved by the Bell" cast member Ed Alonzo is here to perform some magic. Also, I was seriously impressed with how she covered all areas of the stage so that no corner of the arena could say they got any more or less Britney than anybody else.
» Britney Spears Is Adored
I've spent my entire life going to concerts and sporting events, but rarely have I heard the sort of sustained frenzy that I heard last night. Every single song got an amazing pop from the crowd, and when she made her first appearance, it was the second-largest ovation I have ever heard. The first was, of course, when John Cena made a surprise appearance at the 2008 WWE Royal Rumble at the same venue. Which leads me to my next observation...
» Britney Spears Is Pro Wrestling
I realized half way through the show that it reminded me of a lot of the big WWE spectacles I've seen. This is an excellent thing, as I'm a big fan of pro wrestling. The Circus show has all the right moves: Shiny outfits, complicated choreography, pyrotechnics, adrenaline-pumping music and even some great flips and tumbles care of the carnival performers who opened up the show. It was even paced like a good wrestling match, with some early high spots, a brief cool down and then another build toward a big finish. Madonna wore a championship belt on the cover of her last album, but Britney is a real heavyweight when it comes to the show.
Around the MTV Newsroom, there's a signature line that I tend to toss around a lot. Having grown up on punk rock and having spent most of my career writing about indie rock and hip-hop, I have side-stepped most of the pop trends of the past few decades. But nowadays, I'm inundated with it, and more often than not I find myself getting really wrapped up in frothy music. So every time I nod my head to Heidi Montag's new single or realize I like a Miley Cyrus song, I remind my Newsroom cohorts of one thing: "I used to have indie cred." Attending the Britney show certainly further cut into said cred, but it was refreshingly not in vain.