Britney's New Special: From Cheese to Sleaze

By Jacqueline Cutler

Has Britney lost it? After watching promotional footage for an upcoming Showtime concert special, a better question may be: Does anybody want her to find it?

Spears' legions of fans are fascinated by her antics. They actually care about the marriage that had a shorter shelf life than dairy products. And some of the youngest ones might be allowed to stay up late to watch "Britney Spears Live From Miami" Sunday, March 28.

The rest of the population probably wonders why a pop singer who The New York Times says lip-synched a performance continues to have a certain cachet.

Yet there's no denying she does. Walk by a newsstand and her blonde hair and barely covered breasts are on display month after month.

Although Spears' behavior over the past year could be endlessly psychoanalyzed, clearly she is trying to expand her audience beyond the squealing girls and adolescents who made her a star.

The evidence is in "The Onyx Hotel Tour," which kicked off in San Diego in early March.

Parents of her young fans should be warned. For years, Spears has appealed to giggling preteens, who festoon their pink and purple rooms with her posters, sing along to "Oops, I Did It Again," and fight their mothers over wearing belly shirts.

Those days look positively tranquil compared to what Britney dishes up in this latest show. Parents who allow their children to watch R-rated movies may be comfortable with the content. Others will consider it tantamount to corrupting the morals of a minor.

Spears' handlers only permitted Showtime to provide a small amount of material for review, but what is shown is extremely suggestive. In her video for "Toxic," she appears as a stewardess -- forget flight attendant because that implies a professional trained to help people in emergencies -- in a throwback to the days of "Coffee? Tea? Or, me?" Spears is all dewy sexiness in a blue uniform that reveals far more than it covers.

She pushes a drink cart up the aisle, shaking her barely covered bon-bon, and spills a drink onto an inept fat man. She takes this passenger into the airplane bathroom to induct him into the mile-high club. As they start to kiss, she pulls off his ugly face and a handsome young hunk appears as she grinds against him. When they are finished, she takes his wallet.

Let it not be said that Spears is without talent. She can grind with the best of them, as she repeatedly illustrates. Also in the "Toxic" video, she wears a nude-colored bodysuit that is beautifully sewn with beads and spangles as she cavorts on the floor. She also changes into a "Matrix"-like cat suit that she tops with a fiery red wig. No one could accuse her of being too subtle.

In a brief electronic press kit, Britney answers a few softball questions. She says the title of her current tour was chosen because "the onyx stone is kind of symbolic of what guides me in my life." She does not elaborate on how the gemstone imparts wisdom, but there it is.

The next question is how this tour is different. "This tour will be a little older," she says, explaining she performs four or five songs from past albums. Reviews of the live show say a lot of the tour is from her current compact disc, "In the Zone." The ballad "Everytime," about her breakup with Justin Timberlake, is "about the first true love, [which] a lot of people can relate to," she says.

Although Spears promises that the Showtime special, taped live from American Airlines Arena, "will be a different performance," she describes it in the next breath as "pretty much the same show as the show I'm doing on tour."

Usually, when a major star does a show for television, that star grants interviews to promote it. Spears had agreed to an interview, but canceled without explanation. She later agreed to release the transcript of an interview with Showtime. Her managers then changed their minds. Finally, her people offered to have Spears answer 10 questions, but only via e-mail. Even if this is how life works on Planet Britney, it isn't for Earth's journalists -- she blew it again by not responding.

Spears, of course, does not owe journalists anything, but it is curious when someone who seeks the spotlight with such fervor runs from it. Lucky for her, she arguably is the loveliest woman to jiggle and high-kick across a stage in a rubberlike cat suit. And this likely will be enough for the devoted fans attending one of the concerts in 25 cities, including Phoenix, Fresno, Seattle
and Philadelphia.

When folks leave her concert, Spears says she wants them "to feel they had the most magical experience of their life."

While some may be transformed, others likely will feel the only magic was an energetic teen star completing the transition to toxic eye candy.

- back -