Since this site contains my glowing review of SpiceWorld, I can’t deny occasional affection for some teen pop. Despite early resistance, I must admit I came to embrace the Spices. However, this fondness has failed to spread to other acts; I continue to like the Girls, but I’ve not developed any attachment toward other teen-oriented performers.
I won’t go into the gory details, but my enchantment with Spice Girls didn’t develop until I saw them live. In concert, they presented a shocking good show, and my resistance quickly collapsed. Further teen pop excursions didn’t meet similar results, however. When a friend gave me a free ticket, I checked out ‘N Sync ‘n March 1999, and thought their show was simply abysmal. Pandering, silly and cutesy, it was everything bad that the Girls’ concert was not; if anything, I thought less of ‘N Sync after that performance.
I have to acknowledge a general bias against the “boy bands” anyway. Almost all teen pop suffers from a certain bubbly sameness, but the boy acts come across in an especially generic manner. That’s part of the reason I so like the Spices; despite the genre’s conventions, they maintained unique and distinct personalities.
While a slew of interchangeable boy bands cropped up in the wake of leaders ‘N Sync and Backstreet Boys, no one paralleled the Spice craze. Some other girl groups came about, and some did decently, such as Bewitched, but none really caught the public’s imagination. (Note that I left Destiny’s Child and other more R&B oriented acts out of this equation.)
Although no girl groups have achieved terrific success, some solo acts have become quite popular. The pioneer in that regard was Britney Spears, whose 1999 debut …Baby One More Time sold quite well. Her 2000 follow-up Oops! …I Did It Again also moved many units - copies of the album, that is - and despite competition from Christina Aguilera, Britney maintains the crown as the current teen queen.
Of all the teen-oriented acts, I felt that Britney was the one to whom I would be most susceptible. As noted, the boy bands do absolutely nothing for me as performers or singers, and I absolutely loathe Christina Aguilera; she’s nothing more than a screechy Mariah-wannabe, and she actively scares me at times.
Britney, on the other hand, has some potential, and not just because she’s developed into a very sexy young woman. While Christina goes for the “diva” mantle of folks like Mariah and Whitney, Britney seems eager to follow in the Madonna/Janet Jackson mold. She works more of a sexual vibe, and embraces dance pop more strongly. Some of this may be out of necessity, for her voice isn’t remotely as strong as is Christina’s. However, I think that pure vocal prowess is ridiculously overrated. Many of my favorite performers - such as Madonna, Springsteen, and others - lack technically solid voices but more than make up for those deficiencies through other skills. Golden-throated singers such as Mariah, Whitney and Barbra Streisand, however, do little more than embrace hackneyed songs that allow them to present themselves in all their melismatic glory but show little true emotion or spark.
However, I don’t want to go off onto that tangent - such a rant could last a while - so I’ll stick with my thoughts about Britney. As I noted, I always felt the strongest potential that I’d become interested in her work since she most closely related to other acts I like. However, I will admit I continue to maintain a natural animosity toward teen pop. Despite the breakthroughs that have occurred - in addition to the Spice Girls, both Madonna and Janet were clearly teen acts when I first started to like them - I remain skeptical of the whole area. I’ve always been more of a rock ‘n’ roll guy, and the prefab nature of much teen music leaves me cold; the various artists need to prove something to me first.
To date, that hadn’t happened during my limited doses of Britney. I’d heard all of her hits, seen some of her videos, and taken in a few odds and ends like performances on Saturday Night Live and the MTV Music Video Awards, but nothing broke through to grab my interest.
Out of curiosity, I decided to check out a recent Britney DVD. Called Live and More!, this program offers a mish-mash of materials, but largely focuses on a concert she gave in Hawaii. Why Hawaii? Because it looks good for a video program, I guess. The islands also allowed us to see Britney having fun and doing all sorts of exotic activities.
Hyperactively edited, More alternates between live performances from the Hawaiian concert, episodes in which Britney experiences the wonders of the islands through tasks like hula dancing, boat trips and other things, and some backstage goings on, including a little rehearsal footage. We also see some clips from Britney’s May 2000 appearance as host on Saturday Night Live; not all of her sketches appear, but we find a decent sampling.
Although the Spice Girls won me over with their live performances, it doesn’t look like Britney will achieve that accomplishment. During the eight songs played at the concert that appear here, she came across as an acceptably accomplished dancer and presence, but absolutely nothing about her performance stood out in a positive way. She never took charge of the show in a way that would befit a leader, and she seemed generally mediocre in most ways.
The choreography and staging lacked flair, and the songs themselves failed to do much to distinguish themselves. Britney’s two biggest hits - the titles songs for her albums - have some good teen funkiness, and they offer reasonably catching and engaging experiences - but the rest of the songs tended to blend together. They felt like generic teen pop, with nothing to stand out from the crowd.
One big question revolved around Britney’s singing: I debated how much was live and how much was Memorex. I possess no doubts that she lip-synched parts of the show, and perhaps even the majority of it wasn’t live. I have no idea if she habitually mimes during concerts; she may have done more of it for this one because she wanted it to be “perfect” for the video release. In any case, it appeared that most of the concert showed lip-synched vocals from Britney; her performance of “Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know” clearly was live, and that example made the taped singing seem even more obvious, as her vocal concerns came to the forefront.
Personally, I don’t worry a whole lot about lip-synching in this kind of case. Most of Britney’s fans aren’t old enough to recall the furor of the early Nineties. Milli Vanilli were the whipping boys for the anti-lip-synching cause, but they were the most prominent folks who clearly didn’t even sing on their own records. Rumors abounded that others such as Paula Abdul didn’t perform all of her own vocals in the studio, but no other prominent examples matched the Vanilli controversy.
Nonetheless, quite a few big performers lip-synched some during their live shows. Although she did virtually all of her own vocals during her 1985 and 1987 tours, for her 1990 and 1993 treks, Madonna made extensive use of backing vocals. Actually, if you listen carefully to the recordings, you can usually hear that she did sing live as well, but the taped vocals and the use of backup singers drowned out her active performance.
While this could seem cheap, Madonna never depended totally - or even mostly - on taped vocals during her live performances, and I really didn’t mind the occasions when she did feature the recorded material prominently. That kind of show favors the visual elements anyway, and since almost everything else was live - such as her excellent bands - there was still a clear difference between the stage and the studio performances.
Britney’s work came across less vividly. Unfortunately, I’m not so well acquainted with her work that I can clearly compare live and studio versions of the various songs, but I thought that her band added a nice punch to the tracks nonetheless. However, her material tends to suffer because of her unexpressive voice. I don’t dislike Britney’s singing because she lacks range; I find fault in her vocals because she possesses little personality. When she goes for the modest growl of tracks like “…Baby” and “Oops!” she sounds pretty good; some character appears and the tunes pack some impact. Otherwise, the singing seems bland and lifeless and does little to differentiate Britney from a million others.
Some aspects of Britney’s live performance surprised me, but unfortunately, they did so in a negative way. I always heard that Madonna was her role model, but she showed a lot more Janet during this show. Some of her influences were patently obvious, such as the remark, “Is that the end?” during one tune; that statement directly referenced “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” Britney also did a “G”-rated version of Janet’s “PG-13” lapdances. During her last two tours, Janet has brought a guy on stage for one song; while strapped in place, she would sing to him and writhe on him. Britney echoed this during “Lucky”; she had her backup singers find the “ultimate heartbreaker” in the crowd and crooned the song to him. However, this performance lacked any of the sexuality seen during Janet’s shows, and it seemed pretty pointless, to be honest.
One unfortunate way in which Britney seems to emulate Janet comes from her phoniness. During the shows and elsewhere in this program, Britney interacted with fans in a way that appeared to be extremely fake and forced. Her cries of “I love you!” felt artificial, and she simply never looked genuine. Janet can be the same way. My least favorite part of last two tours occurred just prior to her acoustic set. She’d stand on stage and simply soak up the adoration, and her lack of movement courted additional screeches from the crowd. Janet pretended to be stunned by the response, and also tried to make it look like she wanted it to stop. However, it was obvious she wanted this to continue and manipulated it, which made the moment deeply dissatisfying.
Britney didn’t do anything quite as shameless, but she never displayed a personality that seemed real or human. I don’t know if a couple of years of fame made her colder or if that’s her natural way; she’s been in showbiz long enough that these attitudes may have developed years ago. I just thought that she appeared distanced from her fans and almost seemed contemptuous at times. When she tried to turn on the charm, it came across as an abrupt transition, which led me to see it as a forced attitude. Britney may truly care for her fans, but that tone didn’t come across here, as she consistently seemed to be artificial and phony.
Some of that attitude appeared on stage, but more of it showed up during the bits that we saw in between live performances. The rest of the program consisted of brief interview clips with Britney and shots of her at tourist attractions. Her fans may find this material to be of interest, but I thought it felt like fluffy filler. It’s just one series of photo ops after another, all with the sole purpose of making Britney look like one of the gals. Unfortunately, they have the opposite effect, as they just made her seem more distant and aloof.One major weakness of More stemmed from the ridiculously poor way in which the program was assembled. I guess kids these days have the attention spans of gnats, for the show bops from scene to scene with absurd alacrity. That’s not as big a problem during the filler segments, as they’re palatable only in small bites anyway. However, this technique really hurt the live performances.
It’s not an exaggeration to indicate that for the majority of the concert shots, we don’t remain on one camera for more than a second or two at a time. The program jumped from angle to angle with stunning rapidity, and when ones considers that most of the cameras were in constant movement as well, the hyperactive nature of the presentation almost induced motion sickness. Although I thin Britney is a lackluster live performer, she possesses strong enough skills that there was no need for the director to utilize such gimmicky methods. The editing tried to make the show seem more lively and active, but it sabotaged any natural progression or effectiveness. I never got any feeling for the live performance, as I was never able to see enough of it at one time to take in the events.
Instead, it jumped about with total randomness in a dizzying manner. Again, this attempted to create a sense of pizzazz, but it rendered the performance almost unwatchable. It was nothing more than activity for activity’s sake, and it made the live scenes seem quite unsatisfying. I don’t know how much I’d have enjoyed the songs anyway, but I felt this was one of the most poorly directed live concerts I’ve ever seen.
A few other components also appeared throughout More. As mentioned, we saw some snippets of her work from SNL. The sketches could be found in the program proper, while some musical performances were accessible only from the chapter menu. As a comedic personality, Britney acquitted herself reasonably well. She didn’t bring a great deal of spark to her work, but I thought she held up nicely and integrated smoothly with the SNL cast. She did nothing to make the sketches succeed, but she was satisfactory nonetheless.
Lastly, we found three Britney music videos on the DVD. All of these come from the Oops! album. We got the title song as well as “Stronger” and “Lucky”. Although she lacks personality as a live performer, Britney comes across quite well in her videos. Easily best of the bunch was “Oops!”, mainly because Britney herself looked hotter than ever; Britney + skin-tight red leather jumpsuit = fun fun fun! Obviously influenced by the clip for Madonna’s “Express Yourself”, “Oops!” seemed fairly incoherent, but it showed a lot of spark and sexiness as it helped to market the tune.
Also interesting was “Lucky”. The song’s lyrics suffer from the inevitable “even though I’m a big star, my life sucks - I hate fame!” syndrome that often appears on teen stars’ follow-up efforts, but the video’s fairly good. Britney plays duplicate roles as a successful but lonely and miserable actress and her guardian angel, or some such observer. It’s predictable, but Britney plays the bitchy star well. Hmm… Britney seems much more convincing as a nasty diva than as a happy, perky gal who loves her fans - wonder why that is?
“Stronger” was the least compelling video of the bunch, but anytime we see a drenched Britney clad in a skimpy outfit, I won’t complain. She also dances intimately with a chair; again, I refuse to gripe about this. The video was surprisingly dull given these conceits, but it still seemed pretty good; most music videos plainly bite, so this one remained above average for the genre.
Britney Spears also seems like the best of the current teen bunch, but that’s mainly because the competition is so weak. Any possibility that Live and More! would sway me to her cause quickly evaporated. Largely that was because I found her to be a fairly bland performer whose songs seemed ordinary and drab, but the ridiculously incoherent program didn’t help. Live and More! may interest Britney’s diehards, but anyone with less interest should skip it; I doubt it’ll bring any new partisans into her stable.
Britney Spears: Live and More! appears mainly in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Other ratios were utilized at times; some segments featured dimensions that looked to be 1.66:1, and some were approximately 1.85:1. However, the majority of the program was 1.33:1. Although More wasn’t a flawless picture, it provided a very solid presentation that consistently seemed to be satisfying.
Sharpness looked quite good throughout most of the program. The source material seemed a little erratic, and some elements - such as the SNL snippets - tended to be mildly fuzzy. Also, some of the concert segments showed modest softness during the wider shots. Nonetheless, the presentation usually looked nicely distinct and well defined. Actually, some elements were too sharp. I saw only a few signs of edge enhancement, but occasional examples of jagged edges and moiré effects occurred. The music videos for “Stronger”, “Lucky” and “Oops! …I Did It Again” looked hypersharp, and this exaggerated tone made the clips seem a little noisy. Nonetheless, the concerns remained minor, and most of the show appeared appropriately crisp and detailed.
More featured a warm and lush palette, and the DVD usually reproduced those colors nicely. The concert segments appeared especially vibrant and distinct, as the colors of Britney’s outfits and the stage lighting came across as tight and vivid. I saw no signs of bleeding, noise, or other concerns, as the hues were clear and accurate. Black levels also appeared fairly deep and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. Ultimately Live and More! offered a mildly erratic but generally very good visual experience.
Even better was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Live and More!. Not surprisingly, the soundfield maintained a fairly heavy bias toward the front channels, which appeared logical, given that concert music comes from a central point. Within that spectrum, the songs showed very good stereo separation, as instruments appeared nicely delineated and placed within the front speakers. They all seemed clear and distinct and meshed together cleanly and naturally. Surround usage mainly reinforced the music with minor echo, though some discrete instrumentation seemed to occur; those instances were minor but noticeable, and they mixed well with the action. Some general crowd noise also added a layer of realism to the track.
Audio quality appeared strong. Vocals and interview dialogue consistently sounded natural and warm, and I heard no concerns related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects were a minor factor, since they only appeared in the “Britney on location” segments, but they seemed to be acceptably clear and accurate. More importantly, the music fared nicely, as the songs showed good clarity and dynamics. The tracks came across as punchy and rich, and bass response appeared tight and deep throughout the show. Overall, the soundtrack worked well for the material.
Live and More! includes a few extras. Although all of the Saturday Night Live comedy clips appeared within the context of the program itself, two musical performances - “Oops! …I Did It Again” and “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know” - can be accessed only via the SNL chapter menu. As was the case with Paul McCartney In the World Tonight, Live and More! used an unusual chapter system; instead of one overall menu, these were broken into subsets under “Song Selection”, “SNL”, and “Fun in the Sun”. All of the material in “Song Selection” and “Sun” showed up in the main feature, but “SNL” includes two tunes - “Oops! ...I Did It Again” and “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know” - not available otherwise.
Technically, I suppose we could call the three music videos mentioned earlier extras as well. However, I didn’t do so because they were presented as part of the main feature. Had they sat on their own, they’d be supplements, but when they appear during the regular program like this, they no longer count as “bonus” materials in my book.
In addition, we find a Photo Gallery with 16 publicity stills of Britney as well as some “Weblinks”. Those include connections to the official Britney site, her location at Jive Records, and one for Jive Records itself.
Britney Spears: Live and More! will do little to change any minds. Those who already adore the singer will be pleased with the light and frothy presentation of concert performances, music videos and “candid” material, while those who don’t care for her work will likely still see her as phony, bland and generally untalented. The DVD offers good picture, very strong sound, and a mix of some minor extras. If you’re curious about the Britney phenomenon, Live and More! may be a good place to start, but don’t feel surprised if she fails to win your affection.