But in that moment, the "Circus" tour is like her life - a massive money-making venture designed to play up her talents and distract from her shortcomings with a mix of techno-tinged sex appeal and disco-flavored flash. And, like her life, it is, more or less, a success.
They're kind of performance insurance. After all, the stakes are high for the "Circus" tour, her first full-fledged outing since 2004, long before her personal life began to unravel so publicly. And at the sold-out show at Nassau Coliseum last night, Spears definitely plays it safe.
Well, safe for her. She keeps things light, playing around with gender roles and wordplay on "If U Seek Amy." She gives the crowd what it wants, lots of up-tempo numbers, with only "Me Against the Music" reworked extensively into a Bollywood extravaganza.
During the 90-minute set, Spears leaned heavily on her last two albums, with nearly half of the songs coming from "Circus" and "Blackout."
Was she singing? Usually not. (The confusion about the microphones even extends to Spears, who got a little vulgar earlier this week as she described a possible wardrobe malfunction over what turned out to be an open mic during a concert in Tampa.)
Does it matter? Well, not to her overwhelmingly female fan base. Spears has been lip-synching in her act since she graduated from the " Mickey Mouse Club."
For Spears, just standing onstage in front of thousands of people could be seen as a triumph, considering everything she's been through in the past two years. Figuring out a way to turn that experience into a dance-party spectacle shows she's still trying to do more before she stands still again.