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As We See It

Why Britney Spears’ rare mistake could make for a rare concert memory

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Do we care that Britney forgot to lip-sync?
Illustration: Marvin Lucas

There are things I’m pretty sure Britney Spears would like to forget (the crazypants head shaving, criminal apathy at the VMAs, a marriage lasting less time than food poisoning). Spacing that she needed to mouth the words to her own song during a Planet Hollywood performance is another story.

Lip-syncing incidents at Britney shows have been widely reported over the years, though her fans don’t seem to mind. As a Time story on the February 18 flub asserts: “Nobody goes to a Britney Spears concert to be blown away by the dulcet quality of her live vocals.”

Fans flock because she’s a magnetic entertainer, though she appears to have lost some of the intensity that made them love her enough to forgive any number of sins onstage (and while exiting limos in short skirts). So, if Britney’s not actually singing or putting as much fire into the dancing/strutting/hair flipping, what’s the point of paying to see her live?

I think we pay for the chance to see something that exists purely in that moment—that makes us feel close to the artist and possessed of specialness understood only by those who were there. Like when Jimi Hendrix killed his guitar with sweet, sweet fire, or when Daft Punk stage-bombed Phoenix at Madison Square Garden. But what about Kings of Leon getting showered with poop by a bunch of pigeons in Missouri? Or Keith Moon taking animal tranquilizers and passing out (twice) during a set at Cow Palace, leaving The Who to finish it off with a random fan playing drums? Creed’s Scott Stapp turned in such a train-wreck performance in Chicago back in 2003 that a few fans sued the band for making them watch, but according to a story in Spin, Stapp’s PR team defended the show as “unique.” It was, and maybe that’s worth something. After all, the most rare, most valuable coins are the ones with mistakes.

Because we can’t count on hearing unique vocals at a Britney concert, maybe her forgetting to pretend to sing them is its own kind of singular moment. At least, let’s hope so. Given the viral coverage of her brain-fart, I can’t imagine she’ll have another anytime soon. Even if she does, as the world gawks at the grainy clip on YouTube and journalists debate whether or not anyone should care, those who were in the crowd that night can say they saw it happen.

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Erin Ryan

Erin got her first newspaper job in 2002 thanks to a campfire story about Bigfoot. In her award-winning work for ...

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