COLUMBUS, Ohio Almost a week late, Britney Spears finally kicked off her Britney 2001 Tour Thursday night after the flu and a kink in her pre-production held her up.
Obviously the fans who flooded the Nationwide Arena expected the concert to be all about Britney the person, that is. And sure, she explored some personal issues/interests, appearing with a bald head at one point, bungee jumping and fighting off faceless nemeses during her performance, but the singer kept true to her promise to make a large portion of the show about Britney, the album. (Click for photos from the show.) She previewed several cuts off of her upcoming release, due November 6 (see "Britney Says Britney Reflects Who Britney Is").
Last week Spears alluded to the sneak peek of her latest project during a press conference. "I just want my fans to see me in a different light than they have ever seen me [in] before," she said. "This music I am singing right now is such a reflection of me and who I am. Hopefully [the fans] will come to the show and be inspired and have a lot of fun."
The show commenced with a woman dressed in what seemed like 18th-century pajamas telling everyone what the performance's theme would be: "A dream within a dream."
Bewildered, the spectators looked on as an almost stage-length screen revealed Britney for the first time. "Will all my dreams come true?" she asked before disappearing. After a few more minutes of on-screen oddity it was time to get down.
Britney, dressed in all black, her hair pinned up in a big Peggy Bundy-like puff, hung from a wheel that was placed on a huge platform and lifted several feet above the ground. Spinning in 360-degree turns, she began singing "Oops! ... I Did It Again." As she was lowered, her dancers, dressed in post-apocalyptic black garb, crept up.
"You're gonna have to see through my perspective," she sang a few minutes later, during one of the night's first unfamiliar numbers, Britney's "Overprotected." "I need to make mistakes just to learn who I am/ And I don't wanna be so damn protected!" While she performed onstage, one of her set's smaller hanging screens showed the pop diva singing baldheaded, then her image was morphed to show her with long flowing hair.
During a few spots in the concert, there was so much spectacle it was nearly impossible to keep up with everything. Britney would be onstage dancing in one area (she squared off in a battle with an image of herself on a screen during "Let Me Be"), her dancers would be in another and then there would be whole separate collage being displayed on the giant screen.
An enormous music box was raised from below, only to open and have Britney act as a toy ballerina who comes to life and sings a fan favorite, "Born to Make You Happy." (Remember, the theme for the evening is "A dream within a dream.")
Every boy in the arena must have experienced déjà vu from one of his fantasies as Spears turned seductress with another new song, "Boys."
"You're a sexy guy/ I'm a nice girl/ Let's turn this dance floor into our own little nasty world," the now tank-top-clad pop princess sensually vocalized. Before Britney slowed down the pace to perform the ballad "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman," which she said will be her new album's next single, the 19-year-old said she's going to continue to be unabashed with some of her actions.
"I get a lot of flack for what I wear or what I don't wear," she told the crowd. "I get a lot of flack for what I say or what I don't say, but I'm not a little girl anymore."
As her keyboardist began playing, clips of Britney at play with her friends were shown, and then she went into her independence anthem, quipping in song, "Don't tell me what to believe/ I'm trying to find the woman in me."
Less sentimental was her cover of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll." The fans, a majority of whom weren't alive when Joan Jett took the anthem to #1 in 1982, seemed to be familiar with the cut, as they headbanged and chanted the ageless chorus.
A definite performance standout, Britney was getting her own groove on with her dancers, hovering above the spectators on a platform that hung on wires. Head swaying, one hand in the air and swiveling her hips, she stopped gyrating and bungee jumped. Almost simultaneously, two of her dancers who were also harnessed ascended into the sky from the head of the stage as the singer sprung back up from her plunge. An aerial chase ensued as they grabbed at her. You guessed it right the heroine did escape to do more singing and dancing.
Houses and cars that looked like cut-out crayon drawings were brought out to enhance the playful mood of "Anticipating." Britney must've forgotten that the disco-era throwback cut was brand spanking new, because she kept encouraging everyone to sing along to the chorus, "I been an-tic-a-paaay-ting/ This is our song they're playing." Although the crowd clapped and bobbed to the beat, Britney had to go this one alone vocally. The crowd did know "I'm a Slave 4 U," which followed. Britney rehashed the jungle setting from her MTV Video Music Awards performance of the cut in September, right down to the green bra top and skimpy skirt. No snake this time, though.
The finale, "... Baby One More Time," was the most elaborate performance of the night. A hologram of the singer that towered above the stage was projected, only to gradually shrink until the lights were on Britney. Wearing a plastic cowboy hat, blue hip-huggers and a matching bra top, she and her dancers made their way to the front of the stage, dancing to a techno remix of the song.
As flames and pyro shot up only inches from where they were dancing, everyone made their way back to a suspended platform. Now with Hollywood rain machine water pouring down on them, the damp troop was lifted out of the elements to make a final wave at the crowd.
As she sang "Hit me baby one more time" for the last time, green laser lights forged her signature. The enchanter was signing off.
"I come from Broadway, so I want it to be very theatrical," Britney said of her hopes for the tour last week. "The whole process for me is magical. Hopefully it will be something people have never even imagined or envisioned in their head. I was going through a run-through yesterday and was thinking, 'By the time I'm 30, there's not going to be anything left for me to do.' "
After the show, the new songs were getting praise. "I liked them," said 18-year-old Jason Mooney of New Concord, Ohio, of the previewed cuts. "I wasn't quite sure what they were, but I liked them."
"I'm going to be at the store at eight o'clock in the morning to buy the album next week," said 18-year-old Jenny Stoinski, who goes to school in Columbus. "I liked 'I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.' She has so much to go through. I'm proud of her."
- Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Corey Moss
To take advantage of MTV.com's Britney pre-sale, check out Britney's page at Music: Unwrapped.