Britney Spears has spent at least 50 nights of the past four years performing her Piece Of Me show at Planet Hollywood. But this chapter of Spears’ journey has come to an end, and the timing couldn’t be better. With countless costume changes and two hours of dancing, body rolls and hair flicks, her 24-song performances have become a staple within the Las Vegas music scene.
While the Piece Of Me residency was only supposed to last until 2015, the singer - who rose from the hit single “...Baby One More Time” - ended up signing on for two extra years of performing her greatest hits. It seemed like a no-brainer for Spears to continue this nostalgic fete, given how ideal it was as a way to appease her fan base whilst also accruing an estimated $30-35m each year.
When Spears signed on to do the Piece of Me residency she was on the verge of putting out her first album since Blackout in 2007: Britney Jean - a record that was supposed to be her most personal yet. But it became more and more clear that this record was also meant to restore the image Spears had once enjoyed prior to that tumultuous time in 2006. Almost 11 years ago Spears, who had been in the glare of the public eye since she was 16-years-old, had reached her breaking point.
She was dealing with mental health issues and had infamously shaved her head as a result of that struggle. She had two stints in rehab; faced a year in prison after a hit and run (a Los Angeles court later dismissed the charges after she paid an undisclosed amount to the other car's owner); lost a close family member; filed for divorce, and found herself in the midst of a nasty and very-public custody battle with her ex-husband Kevin Federline.
The public perception of Spears - once a teen pop idol adored by millions of young fans around the world - had shifted, and the fall from grace that followed impacted both her music, her personal life, and her career.
But rather than ignoring the media, she played with her perceived image on a new record. When Blackout was released, it was meant to show a more mature Spears -- a departure from 2003’s In the Zone. But the record polarised both critics and fans, not helped by a lack of push for the album by her team or Spears herself. Regardless, the fandom for the album has catapulted over the past decade and become something of a cult classic - or as close to "cult classic" as an album by one of the world's biggest pop stars can get.
Following Blackout, Spears didn’t seem to have quite the same staying power as she once had: something that was the result of changing times, moving into a new phase in her life and also recovering from a chaotic year. In-between Blackout and Britney Jean, she released two records: Circus and Femme Fatale.
While each record had its hits (“Womanizer” and “Radar”), Spears popularity had shifted. So the opportunity for a residency - something that would not only revive her career but the Vegas music scene - sounded promising. With Spears performing hits throughout her (now) 20-year-career, it was an ideal way for her to capitalise on the nostalgia that had helped sustain her as an artist. A residency let her interact with her fans on her own terms and gave her the structure of long-term work, but also time off to spend with her family. It was a undeniable win-win.
The Piece of Me shows in Vegas also had a profound effect on the concept of the Vegas residency. In the past these years-long shows had almost-always been relegated to musicians who were on the verge of retirement, or those who had extremely limited fan bases. Spears’ four-year stint proved that residencies were tactical measures for performers to focus in on what they do best, maximising the fan base they already acquired, not to mention being a huge, profitable and press-receiving score for the venue. Now, artists like Jennifer Lopez, Backstreet Boys and even Lady Gaga are seeing the benefits of signing onto a contract in Vegas. A residency is has become a brilliant, lucrative strategy for an artist’s revival.
During Spears’ residency, she had the opportunity to capitalise on the highlights of her career and use them to her advantage. By performing her greatest hits and showing the world she could still put on a show, she was reasserting herself to the public; it was Spears saying: “Don’t count me out.”
On 27 December, Spears played the first of her final five shows. I was nine-years-old when she released "... Baby One More Time" and have followed her career ever since, watching as it soared, stumbled and tried to regain its strength over two decades. But I had never seen her perform live. From a jazzy performance of “Toxic” set in a makeshift rainforest to a glimmering set of “Everytime” in mountain-size angel wings, Spears’ spirit and passion for putting on a show did not go unnoticed. She rode a guitar like a mechanical bull during her cover of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” (a nod to her iconic role in the coming of age movie Crossroads) and called a male member of the audience up so she could walk him like a dog.
Anyone questioning Spears’ badassery could be shown the door to the 7,000-person ampitheatre.The set truly encompassed every phase of her career: broken up into different acts to show her evolution from teen pop idol to a certified Queen of Pop. After seeing her in all her splendour, I’d caution anyone who criticises Spears’ dance movies and lip syncing to think twice. She performs these shows in a row consecutively throughout the year, has given birth to two children, been through her own personal trauma and has enjoyed a phenomenal career - with all its ups and downs - for 20 years. She looked immortal in her sparkly, barely there bodysuits and thigh-high boots, non-stop dancing from set change to set change.
After four years in Vegas, Spears finally reached the end of her residency on New Year’s Eve, closing out her reign with a midnight performance on New Year’s Rockin Eve with Ryan Seacrest. It was the perfect way to ensure she stays at the forefront of the public consciousness as 2018 begins.
Spears’ residency was perhaps the smartest thing she ever did for her career when it comes to finances, rehabilitating her image and in communicating with her longstanding fan base.
Now would be the time for the singer to recuperate and also hit the studio because we're all wondering what she’ll do next. Spears has us wanting more from her once again. And we’ll be waiting for her to surprise us with a signature “It’s Britney, bitch” whenever she’s ready.