Cries for help come in many different forms. For Britney Spears, it was shaving her head or going out on the town with no underpants. For her fans, it’s waiting for three hours to listen to their heroine appear to lip-sync her way through 15 minutes of music.
If her show Tuesday night at the House of Blues in San Diego had been some sort of psychiatric triage, I would have instructed the therapists to work on the fans first.
Britney’s last concert tour was in 2004. She has indicated recently that she hoped to return to the stage. She followed through on that threat by performing a tiny handful of old favorites while strutting a few post-Federlinian steps and then bailing.
Patrons shelled out up to $125 per ticket for the hush-hush event, which received lots of speculative word-of-mouth advertising on the Internet and radio. Some fans griped, but it seems most gushed. It is those in the latter group who dearly need to reassess their lives.
The bar for pop fans seems to get lower and lower. But now it may have hit the ground altogether. When a form of entertainment segues into abuse, it’s time to seek other forms of entertainment.
I don’t want to call anyone who spent that kind of money so that Britney could keep hundreds waiting for three hours and then play for about 15 minutes a complete simpleton. That would be unfair to complete simpletons.
It’s akin to going to a fine restaurant, having to wait two hours beyond your reservation time as others get seated before you, getting a table by the kitchen, having a waiter who ignores you and then screws up your order, having the bus boy spill somebody’s half-full Mojito in your lap, noticing that the valet parking attendant seems to have put an extra 100 miles on your odometer, then realizing the next day that somebody used your credit card to buy furniture — and then saying, “What a great place!”
Have standards in pop music become this pathetic? A better question might be: Are some fans so obsessed with celebrity that music isn’t even an issue anymore?
I know it isn’t quite the same thing, but I went to see the Fab Faux recently at the House of Blues in West Hollywood. It’s a Beatles cover band, but an extraordinary one comprised of world-class musicians that include bass player Will Lee of David Letterman’s band and guitarist Jimmy Vivino of Conan O’Brien’s band. They’re often touted by Howard Stern, and because of their schedules they rarely get to perform, especially on the West Coast. The tickets said 8 p.m. Word was they wouldn’t come on until 9. They wound up coming on at 9:45 p.m.
What is the possible connection between 25-year-old pop tart Britney Spears playing her special brand of dance music and a bunch of veteran musicians playing the Beatles’ entire “White” album cover to cover?
It’s the music, stupid.
The reason nobody cared when the Fab Faux took the stage is because everyone was certain that when they did begin they would show respect, even reverence, to the music they were playing. On top of that, they would respect the audience and put on a show that people would remember for years. They succeeded, by the way.
It’s the music, stupid.
Britney's sad and desperate attention grab
At the very core of Britney’s success is her music. When you reach great heights of celebrity and wealth and you show such disregard for what got you there, then the plummet to the refuse pile of washed-up losers is a quick and dramatic one.
Britney’s show at the House of Blues in San Diego wasn’t a first step on her climb back to respectability in the ranks of pop stars. It was a sad and desperate ploy for attention. When a singer lip-syncs through 15 minutes of music after making her fans wait three hours, the message is, “I don’t give a damn about you or the music. This is about me. Worship me again.”
Even sadder, many nincompoops complied.
Christina Aguilera has respect for the music. Whether you like her or not, she explores new musical territory and behaves as though she intends to be in this for the long haul. Madonna would not have hung around this long if she spit on her fans and gave them anything less than their money’s worth in concerts and on CDs.
But with Britney, it’s all about the trappings of success. It’s about a giant portion of sizzle and a scrap of steak. It’s about an immature craving to be the most popular girl at school.
Of course, she has accomplices. I’m sure there were lots of fans who came away disappointed from her San Diego cameo. But there were so many who were pleased. That’s the scary part. If they’re willing to shell out money for the privilege of waiting for hours to see 15 minutes of a celebrity indulging herself, it could create a whole new concert genre. There could even be festivals: “Gullible-looza.”
Britney’s show Tuesday was advertised on the marquee as “The M&Ms,” and that act is scheduled to appear in two other House of Blues venues this week, in Anaheim and West Hollywood. Perhaps word will get out and potential victims will opt to skip a show that lasts 15 minutes and requires three hours of waiting.
But if many of those who came away impressed with her San Diego show also attend the next two, then I fear we’ll need a heck of a lot more therapists.
Michael Ventre is a frequent contributor to MSNBC.com. He lives in Los Angeles.