Britney Spears’ Femme Fatale Tour — Is Britney Having Fun Yet?

If you’re a pop idolator, going to a Britney Spears concert is like making a pilgrimage to the mother land. Brit (along with tour opener Nicki Minaj) brought her Femme Fatale tour to LA’s Staples Center last night, and Spears’ two-hour set was jam-packed with musical goodies: the girl had so many hits to get through, many times she had to coast through a song’s opening verse and a chorus (as she did with “Piece Of Me”) so she could move on to the next number.

The show was quite an impressive spectacle from start to finish, with as many set pieces and costumes as one might require of a pop star’s live concert. The one part that still needed some improvement, though, was the pop star at the center of it all.

The themes of the night ranged from sexy noir (white trenchcoats during “3”, Marilyn Monroe-esque skirts billowing above air vents for “If You Seek Amy”), Egyptian shtick (Brit enters via a golden duck boat for “Gimme More”), 80s rock cheese (Brit rides a giant pink guitar during her cover of Madonna’s “Burning Up”) and just barely futuristic (LED lights on Brit and her dancer’s jackets as she concludes the night with “Till The World Ends”). Many of her songs from her catalog were tweaked and remixed, though some arrangements worked better in theory than in practice. (The Middle Eastern hints on “Gimme More” worked unexpectedly well; the jazzy rendition of “If You Seek Amy” wasn’t as convincing.)

But the question everyone really cares about is of course — how was she? Was she more engaging than she had been during her recent TV performances? Could she actually dance? The answer is yes, and sort of. For choreography that mostly contained walking from one side of the stage to the other, flipping her hair, and moving her arms, Brit was completely on point. She hit every mark, knew every step. She’s no Amy Winehouse bumbling across the stage — the woman was well-rehearsed.

But an audience can still pick up when you’re just going through the motions, which is Britney’s biggest problem as a live performer nowadays. (That and the inability to sing live, which is unfortunately so expected of her at this point it feels pointless to complain about it.) There was no moment more telling about the absence of Britney’s enthusiasm than when Nicki Minaj emerged to deliver her verse in the show’s closing number “Till The World Ends”. Much like the duo’s performance during the Billboard Music Awards, just by just standing in one spot, Harajuku Barbie —eyes popped, energy bubbling — held the attention of the entire Staples Center while Brit just shuffled her feet beside her.

It would have helped make her appear less robotized if she was given a mid-show break to talk directly to the audience for a bit, and make us see there’s a real person in there, as opposed to some animatronic zombie pop star whose only purpose is to serve us Top 40 songs. But sadly, much like with her interviews, Brit isn’t allowed much room to say or do anything not already planned for her.

It doesn’t even bother me if Britney can’t replicate the difficult moves she did when she was younger (as Justin Timberlake assumes is the case), though I find it hard to believe that she can’t. It almost seems like she just won’t — as though she just stopped putting 100% energy or passion into each dance move. The choreography may have been simple, but even walking from one side of a stage to the other can be commanding if you really put your all into every step.

All in all, we — along with the thousands upon thousands of other fans in the crowd, who continued to echo the “whoa-oh-oa”‘s from “Till The World Ends” while leaving the venue — had a really fun night jamming to Britney’s songs. We just wish it seemed like Britney did, too.