Bruno Mars and Britney Spears are only three years apart in age, but performance-wise, the Hawaiian entertainer born Peter Gene Hernandez and onetime teen star are from different dimensions.
The 33-year-old Puerto Rican/Filipino singer opened his Formula 1 headlining set on Saturday at Circuit of the Americas with his most recent hit “Finesse” (featuring Cardi B) sliding into the title track of last year’s Grammy-winning Album of the Year, 24k Magic. That prompted contemporary pop’s pre-eminent hoofer to throw out some Michael Jackson dance moves that felt less choreographed and more spontaneous because such funky tributes to the late King of Pop demand them.
The former behind-the-scenes songwriter switched from saxophone to guitar throughout the performance as he worked through various hits from “Treasure” to “Versace On The Floor” during the hour-long set. Elvis gifted him his haircut, pelvic thrusts, and genre-blending beats that left ladies in the crowd swooning. Any especially impressive physicality came punctuated by small volleys of onstage fireworks.
Only three studio albums in since the start of this decade, the pint-sized star already counts as one of the most successful artists of all time, amassing 11 Grammys, eight No. 1 hits, and countless downloads, streams, and units moved. Jackson’s pinpoint dance pop accrues easygoing island charm in Bruno Mars, who manages an air of improvisation rare in an arena-sized production and had a mostly bougie international crowd on its feet throughout the concert. Halfway through, he picked up a stage-prop landline phone and enacted an LL Cool J heavy-breathing call before rocking out “I’m super fly” slightly out of breath.
Even with all the acclaim, he’s not too jaded to go there.
By contrast, Britney Spears, childhood hero of aging millennials, delivered the polar opposite of Mars’ loosely stylized jams on the same stage Sunday. The 36-year-old entertainer put on a tightly choreographed, two-hour spectacular resembling a high-budget Vegas drag show. Like said acts, the former Mouseketeer clearly lip-synced all of her tracks.
Opening with “Work,” the mother of two paraded her hard-earned bod in and out of costume changes. Top 10 hit “Oops I Did It Again” celebrated Halloween, after which its sponsor began hitting her stride with “Gimme More.” Amid a diverse cast of dark-haired dancers, Spears drew all the attention, while playfully interacting with her muscular male counterparts. “All Eyes On Us” featured a digital Will I Am and an R-rated schoolgirl outfit, and “Slave 4 U” brought out the video’s iconic stripper’s pole.
The Mississippi-born/Louisiana-bred center-of-attention adopted a British accent halfway through to drag a male dancer around the stage in a collar and leash for “Freakshow,” then rapped a little during “Looking At Me.” Encore to the nearly two-hour extravaganza, “Til The World Ends” concluded in a mosh pit of confetti. By that point, she looked like her post-K-Fed self of damaged extensions, melted eyeliner, and twitchy facial expressions, racing through the last few hits to cover all the crowd favorites.
Perhaps that’s part of Britney Spears’ charm: a campy reminder that no matter how exhausted the performer, the show must go on.
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