I received an email last night from a very enthusiastic Britney Spears fan. (Hi M!) She’s 27 years old. She grew up on Britney. And she and 12 of her friends got together last night to watch Britney’s Millennium Award performance at the Billboards. Afterwards they were euphoric…with relief?

I say this with the same perspective from the Madonna post that preceded this one. Because, well, it could have been worse. And we’ve seen it, haven’t we? The Britney we saw last night wasn’t the (shambolic) Britney we got nearly 10 years ago in 2007 at the VMAs. But it also wasn’t the one we met in 2000. If the new benchmark is in comparison to 2007, of course, yes, last night was a huge success. That also means, however, that the standard has been modified, modified being a more gentle word for lowered.

Vintage Britney was joy and full release. Now-Britney is cautious. You could see it at the beginning of her performance. Midway through she started to relax into it, started to look like she was having more fun. But at no point did we reach full abandon. Or enjoy two of her biggest hits, the ones that made her, Baby One More Time and Oops…I Did It Again. And most of the dancing, still, is from the waist up, although she did break out the classic Slave 4 U choreography and that was when she brought it the most. Those moments are brief though, and carefully calibrated, because they cost her so much now – the weight of 20 seconds of complicated choreography has to then be balanced out by almost no choreography and a lot of walking. It’s in the walking that you see the difference. Because even in the walking, that famous Britney stomp, the swagger is missing, the stank face is missing. There was once a Britney who knew how to cut her eye from the camera, side to side, like, I know you can’t keep your eyes off of me, don’t you f-cking take your eyes off of me, and I am living off that ego, feeding off that ego. That attitude is now a smile. It’s a people-pleasing smile. Who is she pleasing though? Does she please herself?