How do we properly assess the performance of Britney Spears last night? Knowing what she’s gone through, is it the gentle approach? Do we make an exception on standard and collectively agree that it was a decent return to the VMAs? It was a decent return to the VMAs. And she looked terrific on the red carpet in that black dress, really fit and extensions in good shape as well. But now I’m focusing on the physical before the creative. Which is problematic too.
It’s just that if we are to actually assess Britney’s performance by what her peers are bringing to the industry and manifesting on stage, being that Britney is, after all, a previous recipient of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, shouldn’t our expectations be higher? Otherwise, why wouldn’t we just watch Fifth Harmony? No disrespect to Fifth Harmony. They’re at the beginning of their careers. And, to be honest, that’s where Britney’s level of artistry is now – in measure with a musical act that started out on a talent show that she judged.
So this is not just about the lip-synching; live singing has never been part of her arsenal. It’s also not just about the fact that MTV scheduled her immediately after Beyoncé which so many people are calling unfair. I mean…yeah… it wasn’t the ideal placement, for sure. But MTV didn’t choreograph that number. MTV didn’t decide that it would be shadow hand puppets. HAND PUPPETS!!! MTV didn’t design that horribly low rent yellow costume. Those boots, God, they made me so sad. MTV is not responsible for those boots. Nor is MTV responsible for the tired, unimaginative choreography. Yes, she hit most of her moves. But for most artists, that’s the bare minimum. And this brings us back to the original question: Do we judge Britney on a bare minimum now or do we aim for more?
More for me isn’t even about the dancing. Look at Rihanna. It’s not like Rihanna’s choreography is all that special. In fact, it’s pretty forgettable. The difference between Rihanna and Britney, though, is the primal energy. There’s a rawness in Rihanna’s presentation that has characterised her entire career. She’s pure spontaneity to Beyoncé’s total control, and nothing feels missing in either option, because each artist, in her own individual way, is connecting with her material. With Britney, there’s always a gap that’s left behind when she performs now, not just a gap between her and us but a gap between her and her art. In the before times, when Britney was on stage, that space wasn’t there. It’s what made her so electrifying and it’s what has sustained us all these years – we have lived on that specific, lighting special spirit of Britney for almost 20 years. But for how much longer?