I was searching through archived CDs for an article I wrote for an architecture magazine. Wow was I shocked when I came upon this little walk down memory lane. I wrote this in the Spring of 2004 when I was temporarily living in Amsterdam, dating my now husband. I apologize to Britney Spears up front for the absolute harshness of this write-up. I’m sure she has accomplished all sorts of great successes in the years before and after this concert.
I wonder how the other participants remember this event!
Open up your eyes
Last night I did an awful thing. Not only did I do it, but I dragged three friends into the whole mess. There was a monetary value involved of about 200 euro. We could have the experience for free. That made it appealing. Everyone knew it was an act below their better judgment. But the idea, as a joke, had its stand-alone charm, and the margarita’s Pam was making for Cinco de Mayo added another smooth layer of recklessness. So we made a pact to go that Friday. Friday arrived and four educated adults from four different nationalities piled into an Audi, and headed to Rotterdam to see a Britney Spears concert.
I know. I know. You’re saying ‘you couldn’t pay me to see Britney Spears.’ And, well, I’m sure I’ve said something just like that in the past. When I was wiser, more intuitive. On the drive to Rotterdam we listened to a few songs of a Britney Spears CD Aila’s husband had received from a coworker (uh huh). After two songs I began to have some serious reservations about our decision. Our English companion Jessie put it best. ‘Her voice is crap.’
If this was as good as it got, with all the help of a top of the line recording studio and all the special effects money could buy, the evening would be musically bereft—unless there was a warm up band. Our Dutch friend Aila offered a helpful out.
“Perhaps we should just sell the tickets when we arrive.” Yet, in the end, curiosity got the better of us.
“I think we should just go for it. I’m quite curious,” said the Aussie. A serious writer and past journalist, her enthusiasm and courage made the rest of us feel like sissies for wanting to jump ship.
“Yeah. I mean, if it absolutely sucks we can leave,” I added.
Being the American in the group who had accepted the tickets for free, I felt a strong desire to 1) make sure my friends felt no obligation to stay if it was as bad as we expected it to be and 2) to clarify that just because I’m American does not necessarily mean I embrace or support our pop culture. In fact, I’d lived without a TV for the past two years and was about as far removed from pop music culture as one can be in the electronic age. Yet, I too was curious. My 11-year-old niece had talked up Britney to be the best thing on the market. My niece is a smart little girl. She has a great voice. Already better than Britney’s if the CD was any indication, and she could dance (my niece, that is). So, in a way, my curiosity was not so much about Britney as it was about relating to my niece who was speeding a thousand miles a minute into the heart of American pop culture. I would have an edge. I would know something. I would be more than her thirty-something niece living abroad who likes to give her ‘educational presents’ and keeps pestering her about when she’s reading Anne Frank in school. I could say I’d seen Britney in concert. Was I brave enough to admit such a thing?
We arrived. We parked the car. We walked through the rain across the useless 2 kilometers of pavement surrounding the Ahoy stadium and, with our complimentary tickets, entered the arena seating area. The first sensation that hit us was an all out assault on the eardrums. Thousands of screaming fans did ‘the wave’ up in the bleacher seating. I did that when I was a child too. Floor to ceiling stacks of speakers stood on either side of the huge stage currently hidden behind a red flowing curtain. Videos played on large, distorted screens as the audience eagerly awaited the opening of the red curtain. My friends looked as embarrassed as I felt. We went to the bar and got a round of beers and potato crisps. The arena was standing room only and most of the people were closer to our age than to the thirteen-year-olds I’d expected. Perhaps this was the over 21 area? So, Britney had some sort of broad appeal to many age groups. A tall twenty-something gay man with a pink boa shook his bootie to the music blaring over the speakers. Soon the inevitable happened. The red curtain came down.
Vegas baby! Or, more correctly, a whole multi-tiered stage set dubbed Hotel Onyx, with shiny lights, café tables, and sleek dancing poles. A fat man in a purple suit came into the spotlight, and did his best absurd laugh after beckoning us all into the world of Britney. Dancers with parasols suspended above the stage were slowly lowered through the air on almost invisible cables toward the stage. Bright lights, fire torches, and a scantily clad dance troop all set the stage for the star.
Britney came out on a metal vehicle with its very own shiny poles to slip and slide up against. The crowd went crazy. She wore a black leather skintight suit that pressed her breasts into a two tight masses of silicon beauty. She gyrated and flipped her hair and made little screeching sounds. The audience roared. The back up dance troop was very good. Britney’s dancing seemed to consist of some basic pelvic gyrations, breast fondling, lip puffing and hair flipping. Overall, not very impressive. The music changed, her outfits changed, but nothing redeeming was offered. I felt the disappointment setting in. This was the epitome of American pop music. She was it. She is the icon. I didn’t think it could get much worse. Then, Britney spoke.
“Hi Netherlands. Whew! Allright. Okay! Look at how many of you there are! Whew! You know, you’re a really good audience!” she said with hair-flipping accompaniment.
I felt the first waves of depression as thousands of fans screamed their enthusiasm. I looked to my friends. I saw the initial looks of horror had not left their faces. We left after the fifth or sixth song. I didn’t feel bad that I used the ticket rather than some real fan. I figured, I spared them this experience. I was certain my martyrdom would be misunderstood. So this was what my homeland was producing. I say my homeland, as it takes more than one teen pop star grown old to create the horror I had just witnessed. It was a display of sexuality, accompanied by a soulless message. I had witnessed a world full of desire, but a world without soul. I had learned nothing with which to further relate to my dynamic little niece. In fact, I felt betrayed. I must save her from this artless craft.
 Names have been changed to protect the identities of the participants in this event.