Britney Spears’ Las Vegas residency is a gamble
Britney Spears helped usher dance music into the American pop mainstream with propulsive hit singles like “Toxic” and “Till the World Ends.” So it’s only fair that Las Vegas EDM culture is now returning the favor.
Sin City’s recent musical revamp — from the home of moribund legacy acts into the planet’s most high-rolling DJ haven — has laid the groundwork for Britney’s debut residency. The performer’s “Piece of Me” kicks off Friday night at Planet Hollywood.
It’s unparalleled for a contemporary, major Top 40 pop act to embark on a long-term Vegas engagement while they’re still on the charts — and on the playlists of people under 35. Britney’s new show may prove a game changer, and it probably wouldn’t have happened without the ascent of dance music in Vegas.
“Without a question,” said Kurt Melien of the crucial role EDM played in Britney’s crossover to Vegas. Melien is the VP of entertainment of Caesar’s, which owns Planet Hollywood. “It’s a new Vegas, the capital of the nightlife world, where young audiences come to see Tiesto and Calvin Harris play exclusive residencies. Singles like ‘Toxic’ and ‘Work Bitch’ make you want to stand up and dance, and that’s the undercurrent of this production.”
Still, Spears’ “Piece of Me” is a gamble on a confluence of pop music and nightlife trends.
Since its rollout in September — when Spears announced the residency on “Good Morning America” — the details of the career-spanning show have tested the draw of Spears’ stardom and Vegas’ ability to get young, EDM-generation fans into a seated theater.
Just a few days before the Dec. 27 opening of “Piece of Me,” tickets were still available for the opening night, and most nights to come.
The economics of a successful Vegas engagement don’t necessarily resemble those of a concert tour, with all the hotel, gambling, food and alcohol revenue to bolster ticket sales. But “Piece of Me” still sets an unproven premise for today’s younger pop and EDM audiences — that they’ll pay for a seated, ticketed concert when the world’s busiest nightclubs and biggest DJs are right around the corner.
Perhaps no pop artist is a better fit for the task. Spears, a star since the late 1990s, has a deep catalog of chart-toppers at a relatively young age (32). Many of those hits are infused with the club thumps and electronic sizzle of today’s dance music, and her stage shows have always relied on visually dazzling production and dancing.
Twentysomething audiences grew up alongside Spears’ career, from her Max Martin ballads and schoolgirl-Lolita phases on forward.
And for those even-younger fans who only know Spears’ “Everytime” from the gorgeously sadistic “Spring Breakers” piano scene, “Piece of Me” will have plenty of the electro-pop from her public-meltdown phase to the present.
“I’m definitely gonna do the greatest hits,” she said on “Good Morning America.” “But I’m gonna have to put some of my new material into it, just to keep it fresh.”
For fans now used to flying to Vegas for Electric Daisy Carnival or for all-night (and all-next-day) revelry at Marquee and XS, the idea of going to Vegas for a sit-down greatest-hits show isn’t as weird as it might have been even five years ago.
“The average age demo for Vegas tourism has plummeted, from 51 to 46,” said Melien, and he thanks the EDM wave for that. “Vegas has always been known for big, glamorous spectacle, and we know [Spears] is comfortable in that, while the show appeals to multiple demographics, from the ‘90s, 2000s and today.”
While “Piece of Me” does seem like a sonic and demographic stroke of genius, it’s a major bet on a star who might have had reasons to look to the neon embrace of Vegas lately. Spears’ latest album, “Britney Jean,” only clocked in at fourth on the Billboard album charts on its release.
At 107,000 copies, it had the weakest opening-week debut sales figures of her entire career (coincidentally, a box set from another recent Vegas resident, Garth Brooks, took the top slot). Her previous album, 2011’s “Femme Fatale,” did well over twice that at 276,000.
Even so, as Las Vegas figures out what to do in the wake of an already-inflated EDM market, contemporary pop shows like Spears’ might be one answer.
Vegas music today is built on powerhouse legacy-act vocalists (Celine Dion, Elton John) and superstar DJs who, let’s just say, could really be doing anything up there behind the mixing desk. “Piece of Me” takes aspects of both — blowout stage shows and proven hit singles — all set to the ephemeral thwack of modern EDM sounds and style. And after all, there’s a reason so many top-shelf DJs keep coming back here.
“You can do something really creative in the production that you don’t have to fold down and pack into 18 trucks at the end of the night,” Melien said. “This opens up a lot of opportunities. For someone like Pink or Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, the license to be creative without the stress of a tour would be really compelling.”