New Britneyology

Debate No.46: Was The Femme Fatale Tour Better On DVD?

Posted by: Karenannanina on: September 7, 2013

I’d been going along with the general consensus view among Britney fans that the Femme Fatale tour was an artistic disaster. The show I saw in my hometown made no impression on me, and left almost no memories at all. But then, a few days ago, a writer who was praising Britney’s gently accelerative approach to her upcoming return to action told us to face it – the Femme Fatale show had been a hell of a spectacle.

I’d been reading similar views before. Other writers had described the show as “frantic”, a “non-stop visual explosion” and so on, and hadn’t been particularly disappointed by anything Britney herself didn’t do. It slowly dawned on me that the original, full-scale version of the show must be what they were talking about, and that the two versions of the show must have been so different that they could almost have been completely separate and only related in name.

The full-scale version had a walkway that extended far into the audience, with a moving floor and a turntable. Britney’s engagement with the audience was almost entirely through the walkway. It offered a whole additional spectrum of special effects and created focus. It allowed Britney literally to stand out from the dancers. The full scale version had a car on stage, a specially adapted Mini that was used in more than one piece of stagecraft. And the lighting effects were stunning. The reduced-scale touring version that we saw in Europe had no walkway, no car and restricted lighting.

Obviously this resulted in Britney being somewhat disengaged from us, even though we managed to shoulder, wheedle, cajole and lie our way to somewhere near the front of the standing area. Sure, we screamed and hollered when she came anywhere near us (Quote from NB site-owner GiGi Collado: “I can imagine you screaming – hysterical bitch!”) but, with the whole width of the stage to traverse, Britney only came near us about three or four times in the course of the show. What was worse was that, at times, she was almost lost in a crowded stage full of dancers – and that never happened on the DWAD or Onyx Hotel tours, where she commanded the stage at all times. Visually, the Femme Fatale show I saw was entertaining enough but incoherent – a mess.

I was wondering if the problem was that there was too much happening, too fast and in too many places, and that the same issue might have affected the full-scale version of the show too. Maybe that was why the words of praise were “breathless” and “dizzying” and scarcely a mention was made of Britney herself. It was a show, yes. But a Britney Spears performance? Hmmm…. Maybe not so much. And could the audiences at the full-scale shows hear what the creepy stalker guy (Rudolf Martin) was saying in his (too) many filmed interludes? I couldn’t make out a word of it.

And then a wicked thought came to me. Maybe the designers of the show had always had the DVD in mind, so a fabulooty version was created for filming purposes – a version where focus could be selective and placed on Britney as and when the director wanted; a version where filmed interludes with a creepy stalker guy actually made sense? I decided to have a good look at the DVD.

Like all good, loyal fans, I’d bought the DVD but – in the aftermath of feeling totally let down by the reduced-version live show – I had never watched it. I was sure it would be boring and would only highlight Britney’s less-than-energetic dancing. But in fact, the DVD finally made some sense of the entire thing, and created an entirely different impression. It allowed Britney to STAR.

With the benefit of zoom and spotlights, it was possible to get a full, close-up appreciation of Britney’s amazing physique – remembering that a DVD presents a snapshot of a moment in time, not an accurate representation for ALL time. On this occasion she was astonishingly slim and toned. Her hips were so slim they could almost have been a boy’s. Her famous derriere was smaller than I’ve ever seen it, neat, and perfectly sculpted. Her skimpy costumes would have revealed any flaws, but she had nothing to fear. She looked lovely, although somehow her make-up gave her the slightly heavy-browed appearance that was characteristic of that Britney era. If the purpose of the show had been to present a beautiful showgirl looking her alluring best, the DVD was the right vehicle for the job.

Maybe that’s what the show designers intended? Maybe they never planned to have Britney throw herself around the stage with fierce dance moves? The DVD gives us a chance to watch her with the minimum of distraction, and it turns out that she does pretty much what all of the other female dancers are doing – little step-moves with lots of armography and hairography. Contrary to the snark reports, she always keeps up. Throughout the show, the wild, crazy acrobatics are reserved for the male dancers.

Maybe this was choreographer Tamara Levinson’s conception of dance as it stood at that time? I think the show suffered from the lack of a top-class, inspired, controversial choreographer-auteur-supremo. On the DWAD show, the choreography was more than slightly cheerleaderish, but at least it had a style, and footwork. What we have in Femme Fatale is choreography by committee, with a supervisory manager and a dozen assistant choreographers all trying to add their 10-cents-worth. No wonder nothing memorable emerged. The amazing thing that the “all eyes on me” DVD highlights is that EVERY SINGLE STEP of the show is choreographed, and Britney’s every movement, every gesture, is a part of that. There is no provision for spontaneity, so it’s hardly surprising that Britney doesn’t chat to the crowd or empathise. It seems pretty certain that the show designers didn’t understand Britney, her appeal or her fanbase at all. They really thought she WAS simply a pretty showgirl, best enjoyed in private on a DVD.

Obviously the lip-synching issue arises, and she had to be perfect, right there in the spotlight. She was. If you didn’t know the original tracks, or her reputation for never singing a live note, you would never suspect she wasn’t really singing (Was DLMBTLTK live? It was incredibly hard to tell!) Sabi picks up her piece perfectly in Drop Dead (Was SHE lipping too?), which avoids one of the awkward moments later in the tour, when Sabi wasn’t there and Britney had to mime a hand-over to a disembodied voice. It raises a question – if Britney’s lip-synching is this good, but some day she starts singing live and is as good at it as she is in the studio… how will we know?

But anyway. When you see a live show, even a lip-synched live show, you usually have a live band, live backing singers and a multi-megawatt gut-shaking sound system. You can suspend your disbelief and even imagine at times that some of the vocals are live. But on the other hand, watching the DVD at home, with your own familiar little sound systems, you are very much aware of flaws in sound quality. So, on this tour, they mostly just played the original tracks, or slight variations on them. There was no live band, no backing singers, just two studio geeks who weren’t even included in Britney’s credit-giving. Like the visuals, it really seems like the entire soundtrack of the show was designed for home consumption.

Final conclusions though? Well, the show as portrayed by the DVD is many, many times better than the live show – in its reduced form anyway. (If you saw the full version of the show live, in those dates in North America, let us know what you thought of it.) The DVD picks out features from the overkill visual chaos, and dwells on them long enough for the viewing audience to absorb and remember them. Images are presented consecutively rather than concurrently. I don’t like that feeling that I’m missing something because I don’t know where to look.

What do you think?

15 Responses to "Debate No.46: Was The Femme Fatale Tour Better On DVD?"

In my opinion no dvd of a tour is better than actually seeing it live, because you don’t have the energy that goes with being in the arena and being with the hundreds of other fans and that thrill of seeing the show for the first time.

As for the live show, i think it can differ location by location, i live in Philly, so i obviously see her shows here and i thought FF was a major improvement from Circus, i felt with FF she was actually engaging this time and overshadowed the production unlike Circus where the production overshadowed her and she wasn’t as engaging.

With FF, there was two songs missing from the set list but honestly it didn’t even occur to me while the show was happening cuz i was having to much of a good time and i also had the full stage, i feel bad for the people who didn’t get it, so for those people i can completely understand why the dvd would be better than the live experience.

I do enjoy the blu-ray though, my only complaint about it would be that during BFB instead of just showing Britney dancing during the breakdown, they kept showing the video of Will, i’m sure all fans would agree, we weren’t trying to see him when she was actually dancing!!

Looks like it’s just you and me now! Are you feeling as lonely as I am? ;=

I’ve noticed it’s been kinda on the dead side too

We’re all waiting on the new single!

I wish I could say something worthy about this, but I can’t. I have never been in a Britney show and I’m not going to judge the Femme Fatale Tour by what I have watched on YouTube. There’s the personal experience factor missing, which is essential.

I’m aware Britney’s dancing was not the best there. The Womanizer choreography is child-like lazy, for instance, and the Piece of Me improvisations were mostly boring imo, even though thay gave Britney room for some needed non-choreographed fierceness.

But, again, my opinion has no value as I haven’t WITNESSED the show. Your review really had me interested on buying the DVD though.

I saw the show in Boston, MA in the United States and it was the full-scale production. By that point, I believe towards the end of the NA leg of the tour, they had only cut the performance of “He About to Lose Me.” I honestly had a blast the whole time. However even for Britney, I’m not willing to pay more than $70 for a ticket to a show, so I went with the cheapest tickets available. That said, it was at times hard to focus on what was happening on stage. However, the energy of the arena was absolutely electric, definitely more so than the Circus tour show I went to. I would also agree that the scaled down version of the show seemed to be less enthralling than the full-scale version. Numbers like “3” and “How I Roll” really shine with that cat walk.

Not to turn this into a Circus vs. Femme Fatale comparison, but there were a few things about the Circus tour that made it better for me:

1. The stage was in the round and smaller, so I was sitting MUCH closer to the stage despite getting the cheapest seats each show. Combine that with the fact that I felt the stage was smaller and I just felt much more engrossed in the world that was being created on stage.

2. Which brings me to atmosphere–I think the Circus nailed this in terms of show direction, costume design, videography. It just felt like a Britney show should. It was moody, smokey, dark, a little risque. I remember loving it because it felt like continuation of the vibe set forth in the Onyx Hotel Tour, the one show I regret not going to!

3. Though choreography wasn’t as prevalent on the Circus tour, it still seemed to be designed with Britney in mind, where as a lot of Femme Fatale’s choreography felt awkward and out of character for her. She was still moving with a grace, flow and energy that she managed not to lose despite her knee injuries. Admittedly some shows were better than others, and her highs and lows were definitely more extreme than on Femme Fatale. However, when she was on, she was fire!

These observations come from watching clips on youtube from all her shows, so these are really an observation of the tours as a whole. Speaking specifically of the dates which I saw, she definitely performed better and was more engaged on the Femme Fatale tour. My show was the first show she broke out the second “Slave 4 You” breakdown and she nailed it! The arena roared. “Till the World Ends” was absolutely thunderous, you could barely hear anything over the crowd chanting. “Womanizer” by comparison was a weak finale. Yet, it also had the one-two punch of “Toxic” and “Baby One More Time”. So consider it a draw in that respect! lol.

Honestly the biggest let-down for me with the Femme Fatale tour was the art and stage direction. It all seemed very convoluted and confusing. It also relied too much on LCD screen imagery, which I think really killed the atmosphere of the show in some parts. With Onyx Hotel Tour, you had the quirky Boy George host/narrator, the live band. DWAD had the rain, the stage mechanics she interacted with, the unconventional stage. Circus was all about the gorgeous stage props, the “FreakShow” segment of the show being the best.

I’m really crossing my fingers that her Vegas show rediscovers that “magic” of a Britney show. Her shows are best, and she shines the best in those intimate, moody moments where she is not completely overwhelmed by the production.

I agree about the Circus comparisons. My biggest criticism of FF Tour is the horrific costuming. I can’t believe a designer can get to a level where they work for Britney – then put the very short woman in booties! The purple bikini top and torn denim shorts gave me Chaotic flashbacks and were not at all fit for a stage show. And the accessorising was so cheap; instead of new outfits, they just stuck a coat or skirt over one of the main leotards/outfits. It really took the enjoyment out of the show for me, especially since I felt Circus managed to dress her amazingly well and in unique ways that made her body look incredible like you’d never seen before (the TOMH bodysuits still blow my mind). I think if FFT had taken a little more time to develop it could’ve been great. Something about it seemed rushed and like minimal creative effort was put in.

i’ve been to 3 FF shows and i really watched it from every angle. my 1st show ofc was all about Brit herself, i didnt really care about whats going on on stage haha, in fact i was right next to the stage (there was a battle for that spot lol) and i found it great that there was no catwalk cuz she seemed closer. my 2nd show i was running after her with paparazzi lol so i was a lil late and was pretty much far from stage, but that gave me the opportunity to watch the SHOW. which i did. cant say i was that much impressed tbh. at that point i thought that catwalk would do a lot good to the show. it just didnt seem huge enough for me. and my 3rd show i was also right next to the stage and tried to see both Brit and the show. my 3rd show was more amazing. maybe cuz fans were more alive lol, maybe cuz by that time i knew when and what to look at but it was great. i loved the show. but i must say that the DVD is pretty awesome. thank god they filmed it while all the preps were there. i understand that it’s hard to move around the globe all that equipment but it just wasnt fare for european fans.

Yeah, I felt like I’d only seen half the show. And most of the other big stars who came here had brought their catwalks…

I think you’re right in saying that, by the 3rd show, you knew what to look at! Maybe there was too much going on to take it all in at one viewing.

Jonathan, you said “It all seemed very convoluted and confusing. It also relied too much on LCD screen imagery, which I think really killed the atmosphere of the show in some parts.” YES!! And as you also said, at times it was hard to focus on what was happening on stage. You got it exactly right there. May I ask – did the creepy stalker guy’s interludes do anything for you other than annoy the hell out of you?

I think the choreography – for the females – on the FF tour was so weak as to be incompetent, and the result was that, at times, Britney was overshadowed by the male dancers. The show designers should never have allowed that to happen.

I wasn’t even paying attention to the creepy stalker guy, couldn’t even hear what dude was saying, so whenever those scenes came on, i just took a seat, rested and waited for her to hit the stage again.

Well let’s just say I got immense satisfaction when she finally muzzled him at the end ;). I honestly couldn’t understand him the entire time. It was just this booming, drawling voice that did nothing but make my ears ring. No fun.

They should have played up the “Kill Bill” assassin thing they did a little bit. The one of her hiding out in a motel dressed all in denim was the best one, in my opinion. She was smokin! Maybe she only had so much time to shoot footage so this was how they compromised–with his endless dialogue lol.

When they designed the reduced-scale touring show, they should have reduced his parts to zero! They slowed everything down, wasted time, and were impossible to hear anyway! And when you DO get to hear them (on the DVD) it’s a complete load of uninspired, senseless rubbish!

Karen, we need your opinion about WORK BITCH!

Done! Now, get commenting!

Comments are closed.


  • Sarah G: You should write an In-Depth of Glory or even Mood Ring (that's a groovy tune)
  • Sarah Giansanti: First off, yeah! I've missed your writing haha Secondly, I've always been baffled of how people can say Britney's not a singer... Derr, that's her
  • Aline: Great article as usual. Please Karen, never stop writing for the site. I love your thoughts about our queen!