Far from flawless but a million miles away from flabby, Britney’s Femme Fatale rockets into Manchester and leaves Getintothis’ Stephanie Heneghan in a bit of a tizz.
It isn’t cool to like Britney Spears.
Not that the swarms of girls heading through Victoria Station towards the MEN Arena care a jot about that, dressed as the popstar in various incarnations throughout her career – schoolgirls, air hostesses, rubber clad catsuits and knickers over leather pants, like an Ann Summers flashmob.
They clearly haven’t read the reviews either. The press have taken their usual potshots at the popstar, painting an unattractive picture.
She’s fat, dead behind the eyes, lethargic, miming and washed up, flogging her tickets on Groupon as a last resort. Who would want to pay to see that?
Judging by the crowds, about 19,000 punters who seem extremely excited to be there. Because for all the negativity that seems to surround her, Britney has a fan base that have grown up with her through her divorces, well publicised breakdowns and subsequent return to the charts.
The opinions of sniffy muso journalists don’t concern them, they’re here to have a good time. ‘Here’ is the latest installment of the Femme Fatale tour which has arrived at the MEN Arena for her final gig in the UK.
After watching support act The Wanted rattle through their roster of europop hits as they bounce up and down on the spot (choreography clearly not high on their agenda), the crowd are glued to the clock on the JumboTron counting down to the main event.
Ticking over to zero the screens explode with a montage of her videos, before settling on a video of some private detective dude in an office who is trying to track down Britney while sucking on a lollipop like a cut price Kojak.
He’s a recurring appearance throughout and one that doesn’t go down well with the audience who become noticeably restless during the clips – largely because they jar with the rest of the show.
Anyhoo, the huge stage doors slide open revealing a familar blonde sat in an oversized metal chair as the opening bars of Hold It Against Me kick in – the first single from Femme Fatale, uptempo with a huge breakdown and the kind of cheesy chat up lines you might expect on an episode of Take Me Out.
Important first impressions, she’s not fat. Granted, she’s not the supertoned body of her youth but given that her costume wardrobe consists of various titchy leotards, she wears them well.
Running through the rest of the checklist… those famous dancers thighs? Check. Long blonde extensions? Check. Fit dancers to grind against? Check. Hollywood smile? Check. Dead behind the eyes… err no. Not at all. She looks happy which is a big step up from her previous tour when you just wanted to go on stage and give her a big hug.
The setlist is largely made up from her previous two albums with a few nods to the classics thrown in along the way.
Dance pop which is heavy on the beats and light on the ballads – only one makes an appearance throughout the night during which Britney is sat on a swing suspended from the ceiling while a topless gymnast hangs from underneath performing a routine.
It’s all very dramatic and almost enough spectacle to distract from the fact that she’s chosen to perform one of her limpest love songs Don’t Let Me Be The Last To Know, instead of current single Criminal which is, err, criminally overlooked.
Highlights of the night are Big Fat Bass, a track that will never be troubled by the Trade Description Act during which huge speakers which have dancers hiding inside them are wheeled across the stage as Britney dry humps against them.
Toxic; ninja style dancers kick and whirl about wielding dangerous looking swords, How I Roll is performed sat inside a pink Cadillac nicked from Barbie and we’re treated to a brief trip to Egypt via a specially remixed edit of Gimme More.
Her reprise of S&M – the track she dueted with Rihanna from earlier this year – is sung back twice as loud, as is Slave 4 U with that famous belly dance choreography getting an outing.
However the best is saved for last with the blistering finale of Till The World Ends taking the roof off – Britney and her dancers hanging off a massive glittering scaffold, Nicki Minaj offering a guest verse via the big screens as lasers and fireworks are set off and a rainfall of ticker tape falls over the arena.
As pop concerts go it’s definitely a contender, Miss Spears is known for lavish productions and on that count it doesn’t disappoint.
The star herself seems more at ease than during her Circus tour, engaging with the audience as they’re invited on stage to join her and throughout the show she repeatedly chirps ‘great job, that was awesome Manchester!‘ like a bubbly cheerleader.
There are times when she looks like she’s concentrating too hard on what she’s doing and when she makes mistakes during her dancing she looks visibly annoyed – the rumours about who is pushing her to do the tour are abundent but it seems it’s Britney who wants to prove something to herself.
Sure, it’s far from flawless but it was a hell of a lot of fun and isn’t that what pop music is all about?
Pictures by Linzi Allcock