the crowd filing into the air Canada Centre Monday night seems markedly older than the pre-pubescent set who flocked to Britney's first local tour stop in the summer of 1999, quite possibly because wary parents are now forewarned about the inevitable gyrations onstage.Or, like the audiences who flocked to WWF matches even after they eradicated any doubt that they were fake, the quality of her music has become inconsequential to the belly-shirt- and hip-hugger-wearing high-schoolers who've come of age during the past 36 months of Spears's media overexposure.
But is Spears's transition from teenage strumpet to hypersexed 20-something an ill-advised gambit?
This afternoon, the press scrum at the Skydome Hotel conference room marvels at her impressive tresses and perfectly packaged cleavage, pondering whether she's morphing into the next Madonna, but without the snappy answers. It doesn't matter how much skin Spears shows -- it's the cerebral tissue that's wanting. "The more you do it, the better you get," she responds limply to a question about her performance goals. Drenched in innuendo, but there's no purr and a wink, no spoofing of self, no playing against the bombshell stereotype. In short, she's an incidental character in a circus of bombast and spin. If irony is dead, she's our girl.
Madonna had the insight to create public art of her supersized narcissism, neurosis and unresolved sexual conflicts. Spears, try as she might, is a feebler personality. Madonna sank her Pepsi sponsorship by subverting Catholicism in Like A Prayer, but if Spears jinxes her soft-drink deal, it will likely be the result of taking delinquent swigs from a bottle of Diet Coke in public.
The only flicker of hope, the only hint of rebellion and outrage, is the vixen's strange offering to the press gathering that "Doritos the other night before the show really upset my stomach." Could this be a subversive dig at having to share the spotlight with an indiscreet blue pop can, or merely a calculated product placement for Pepsico's Frito-Lay subsidiary?
Spears dealing the sexual maturity card can, of course, be read as a mad scramble to shed those teeny-bop fans before they abandon her completely. In this case, the parents may not be the last to know.
As the crowd, an autumnal display of cleavage and clogs, shuffles into the arena to watch Britney thrust the night away, a sullen cluster of sweatshirts and relaxed-fit jeans linger in the Air Canada Centre's mezzanine waiting for their daughters to emerge from the experience with a C-note's worth of satisfaction. They're only appeased with folding chairs after beseeching the ushers. I ask one waiting parent, Julia Dimaria, from Caledonia, if a racier Spears will end up gathering dust on her daughters' shelves along with their collection of Spice Girls dolls?
"I think everyone understands that if Britney wants to stay around for a while longer, she needs to change or there are people who will change her,' she tells me. "I just worry when some of these girls say they want to be like her. Cooking and cleaning isn't a whole lot of fun, but what about those things in life?'
Well, there's a thought.
Millions of miles of bare midriff later, perhaps promoting hearth and home to teenage girls will be the only option Britney Spears has left after it's discovered that she hasn't enough imagination for the outrageous.
Will the last one to lose her innocence please switch off the lights?