With Britney Spears performing at the Singapore Indoor Stadium this Friday (Jun 30), we revisit a cover story, where we flew to Sydney to meet (well, sorta) the pop princess in 2001.
"Clap like you’ve just won one million dollars in the lottery!” the portly wubbie in an over-worn black suit advises the crowd at Sydney’s Channel 9 Studios. “If you don’t enjoy clapping, just fake it. It makes for better television!”
No worries, mate. The 300-strong audience is there to participate in an exclusive taping of a Britney Spears interview and performance special and among them are throngs of Britney’s teenage fans from around the world who have absolutely no problem clapping on cue.
“We may have to move people around a bit,” the wubbie continues.
“For the camera’s sake” This, of course, means that the good-looking people that “make for better television” will get to sit in front, while the rest of us dog-faces might have to vacate our comfy seventh-row seats. After a while, when no burly bouncer requests that I move to the nth row, I conclude that it’s only because a politically correct audience “makes for better television” as well.
As I remain happily in my seat, the segment whereby selected audience members are tasked to pose questions to Miss Spears is rehearsed carefully. They are told where to sit, what to ask, and maybe even what they should have for dinner before coming in for the recording.
One visibly excited female fan asks the wubbie if she can rephrase her question to include a few more words and he asks her how many more.
“About five?” the teenager pleads.
“Well, then that’s five too many.”
More than an hour after the stipulated time, the cameras finally start to roll and the show’s host, Richard Wilkins, welcomes Britney onto the stage. Without missing a beat, the seasoned wubbie proceeds to conduct the audience into a frenzied chorus of claps and cheers.
Filled out very nicely in a white bustier, the 19-year-old teen-pop wonder is all sweetie smiles and cutesy waves as she walks into the studio, wearing also that mandatory “oh, wow!” expression on her perfectly made-up face.
The interview has Wilkins asking Britney all the right questions and the media-savvy starlet rejoining with all the correct answers.
Is fame everything you thought it would be?
Actually, fame is…being famous… When I am on stage and am able to touch people and make them smile, that’s a great feeling. But honestly, the whole fame part is not the best thing about it.
Any update on your famed virginity?
That’s a personal question. Let’s pass on that one.
Do you always pick up the tab when you lunch with your friends?
Oh yeah… oh yeah!
Madonna wearing a T-shirt with your name on it…
It was very cool.
She was very cool.
Seeing yourself in ads…
It’s a cool feeling.
The rumour that you and Justin died in a car accident…
That was not cool at all.
After the “cool” Q&A, the set is moved to make room for what is for most, the highlight of the night – the Britney Spears song and dance segment. Accompanied by two female and two male dancers, Britney kicks off her three-song set by lip-sync-ing to ‘Stronger’ from her second album. But two minutes into the song, it is stopped by the fact that her bustier has a tendency to slide uncomfortably downwards, particularly when dancing vigorously.
The wubbie directs us to clap and cheer encouragingly as Britney goes backstage to change into something more sartorially secure and returns for take number two. Thanks to the new well-supported asymmetrical top, her dance moves are now decidedly more energetic and vigorous and take two goes on without a hitch.
Song number two is the Dido-penned ballad, ‘Not A Girl, Not Yet A Women’, her yet-to-be-released second single from her self-titled third album. Accompanied by an actual piano player at an actual gleaming grand piano, hopes of hearing Britney sing live are again dashed when soaring strings and gentle drums turn up from nowhere in the mix. It doesn’t take David Foster to tell you that pianos generally don’t produce violin sounds and bass drum beats.
The final number for the night is the first single from Britney, a jaunty R&B-esque romp aptly titled, ‘I’m A Slave For U’. Again, the song has to be stopped midway because this time, Britney’s slinky thong is peeping out from her hipster jeans whenever her back faces the audience. While most of the guys in the room had no problem with it, someone probably felt that G-strings don’t “make for better television” (not family TV anyway) and once again, Britney goes backstage to be re-outfitted.
This time, a visibly tired and irritated Britney walks briskly off the stage without the apologetic waves and smiles. But her hard core fans are still rooting for her, shouting encouragingly, “Work it out, Britney!” and “Go Britney!” We were more than two hours into the taping of the one-hour program and some of us were really hoping to shout, “Please get it right, Britney!” or “We’re tired, Britney!”, or “Some of us really need to pee, Britney!”
Mercifully, all goes well this last time. Except that after the whole shebang, we’re informed by the perennially bubbly wubbie that we need to hang around for a while more because they need to re-record the entire performance segment.
Oh, well. Whatever makes for better television, I guess.