Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Note: My editor Don Chareunsy and I have recently argued over the quality of Britney Spears’ performances at Axis Theater in Planet Hollywood. On Friday, we engaged in vigorous conversation about Spears, and here is that back-and-forth as it played out in a Facebook chat conversation:
Don Chareunsy: OK, Kats, I am Britney Spears' No. 1 fan, and you ... well, not so much.
John Katsilometes: I know you are a big fan of hers. I also know that I have a lot of friends who claim to be her No. 1 fan.
I am not one who claims to be her No. 1 fan.
D.C.: What did you think of "Britney: Piece of Me" at Planet Hollywood?
J.K.: I think the show itself is impressive, generous in its staging. The dancers are terrific and the choreography inventive. The only issue I have with the Britney's show is Britney.
D.C.: I agree about the staging, dancers and choreography; all three are terrific. I was entertained and had a great time at the show. What is your beef with Britney?
J.K.: I don't know that it's a beef. But what I come away with after watching her is that I feel no connection to her. There is no warmth coming from her from the stage. You can't get a very good look at her from the LED screens around the theater because they never show her close-up. She doesn't talk to the crowd, other than the rote, "How ya doin', Vegas?!" moment. So we're really watching her performing dance numbers to her hits, in which her voice and a lot of the music is tracked.
Which sounds a lot like a beef, actually ...
D.C.: It's a beef, Kats ... fess up to it!
J.K.: Beef. Yes.
D.C.: I knew all the songs, so I loved the show from start to finish. I knew going into the show that it would be heavily tracked. Everyone knows she lip syncs. Britney is an entertainer, not a blow-your-socks-off singer like Celine Dion and Mariah Carey.
She danced her ass off for 90 minutes, and I appreciate that. But I do wish that she would've performed a few songs ... especially the ballads "Lucky" and "Perfume" ... live, and it would be nice to see her on the LED screens, since not all of the seats are up close.
J.K.: What I am feeling, and this was happening before Spears even opened at Planet Hollywood, is that Britney's fans do not care that she lip syncs. It's an open matter at this point. It's really like being in a big nightclub where she is performing choreographed numbers to her own hits. And her fans accept that. I do like "... Baby One More Time," which always reminds me of being on an elliptical machine at LVAC. The club used to play that song a lot, and it's great for working out.
D.C.: Well, you've written that we Britney fans are "uncommonly forgiving and extraordinarily loyal." Truer words have never been spoken. Is she the best singer and dancer ever? No! But her songs and videos, starting with "... Baby One More Time" 15 years ago, are fun, infectious and fierce. She's probably one of the best music video stars ever.
J.K.: Yeah. I don't question that.
There is no question a lot of her fans have an idolatry feeling about her. The videos created a brand, and her live performances are an attempt to re-create those videos in a concert setting.
D.C.: She's one of the top-selling acts on the Strip now, so good for her, Planet Hollywood and her fans. I would happily see her again, although in closer seats. Leave Britney alone, Kats! What was the name of her insane fan on YouTube? I don't remember, but he was scary.
J.K.: She has just one insane fan?
My feeling is that, in moving around Las Vegas, I have come to know many, many terrific live performers. I could name-check a long list of singers on and off the Strip who would blow Britney Spears off the stage. And when I see her perform solely as a dancer, unable or unwilling to use her own voice or even talk to the audience for any length of time, it is frustrating to me. It's frustrating to know there are real artists in town who are not appreciated, while Britney Spears merits a 4,000-seat theater on the Strip.
D.C.: I don't disagree with you, but we could sit here all day talking about people who are better ... in any field. Peyton Manning is better than Eli Manning. Obama is better than the two Bushes combined. McDonald's is better than Burger King. Britney is just "Lucky." Get it?!
J.K.: Hah. I do get that.
I know Derrick Barry, who plays Britney in the "Divas Las Vegas" show. He will not like hearing this, because he is such a huge Britney fan, but you could put him in the Spears show and produce about the same experience.
D.C.: Derrick Barry is a terrific Britney impersonator, and I hear your point loud and clear that there are wonderful performers in town who unfortunately haven't achieved stardom. I agree.
J.K.: I'm not trying to pile on. But when you command a ticket price of upward of $200, in the Celine range, you should face some real concerns about your performance. I'm sitting in the audience thinking, "Britney! Talk to me! What's it like being from Louisiana and now spinning around on a fancy stage in Vegas?” You never get that from her.
But my hope is she sells out every show. I do hope the Caesars Entertainment people succeed here. It's just not my responsibility to universally love everything I see on that stage.
D.C.: Leave Britney alone, Kats! Well, this show is definitely for Britney Spears' fans. I don't think she'll make many new fans with "Piece of Me." There isn't a lot of depth in this show, but there are greatest-hits galore and stellar staging, dancing and choreography. And Britney dances her ass off. I'm happy.
J.K.: There is more depth in an adobe swimming pool. There is more depth in a shot of absinthe.
D.C.: Shecky Kats strikes again. Speaking of again, would you see the show again?
J.K.: The real question is: Is she winning new fans? No. I don't think she is. Now, I've seen Bruno Mars twice in seven months, and he is a real artist who wins fans in the first three minutes of his show. I'll take that type of performer, or a Justin Timberlake, over a dance party any night.
D.C.: I'll take Bruno, Justin and Britney!
J.K.: But I would see Britney’s show again. I was fascinated by the response of her fans, who were obviously catching some vibe that escaped me. Her fans, regardless of the quality of her performance, are boundlessly loyal. That quality is something to be appreciated.
D.C.: I would see Britney Spears again. Oops! ... I saw her again.
J.K.: Ouch, you did it again.
D.C.: I think we've exhausted our daily dose of Britney talk. Let's move on. Justin Bieber?
J.K.: Now there’s a dance party!