“Less is a bore,” architect Robert Venturi famously wrote in his 1972 book Learning from Las Vegas, which compared the larger-than-life neon signs and symbols of the Strip to the arches of Roman temples. Las Vegas has been many things since it was founded as a city in 1905, going from Mexican territory to briefly held Mormon outpost to U.S. Army fort to Jewish mob casino town to Rat Pack heaven to bachelorette-party hell, but one thing can be stated with absolute certainty; it’s never been boring.
Vegas has been a performer’s paradise ever since Liberace’s first show on the Strip in 1944, with crooners like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin promising to “fly you to the moon” night after night while scores of nattily dressed out-of-towners gambled and sipped dry martinis—even Elvis, the King himself, did a prolonged stint in Vegas. However, the stock of the once-exalted Vegas residency plummeted somewhat post-Rat Pack, with live entertainment taking a backseat to the thrills of gambling during Vegas’s bloated megaresort expansion; a Vegas performance quickly became synonymous with distracted patrons, cheap synthetic carpet, cigarette reek, and opening for a magician.
All that changed—or did it?—when Celine Dion took the stage at Caesars Palace in March 2003 to debut her residency “A New Day…”, a visually and sonically stunning tour de force that was directed by Cirque du Soleil alum Franco Dragone. The cool kids may have turned up their noses, but there’s no denying that “A New Day…” remains the most successful residency of all time, grossing over $385 million over the course of a whopping 717 shows. “[Celine] changed the face of modern Vegas,” Caesars vice president of entertainment Kurt Melien told the Telegraph in 2013.
And then, of course, there was Britney. After a picture-perfect adolescence followed by an embattled few years in the public eye, the Britney Spears of 2013 seemed like an odd choice to headline a Vegas residency, but Planet Hollywood’s “Britney: Piece of Me” was a critical and commercial success. Spears performed a medley of career hits, from “…Baby One More Time” to “Womanizer” (in reverse chronological order), referring to the residency in Shape magazine as “a massive party from start to finish.”
“Twenty years ago, we couldn't have got someone the stature of Britney Spears to appear in Vegas. Stars like her would never have considered it if Celine hadn't paved the way,” Melien told the Telegraph in 2013. Now, in 2019, Britney is gearing up for yet another Vegas show, to be titled “Domination” and performed at the Park MGM (although, as of January 4, the show has been postponed due to her father’s illness). No less titanic a figure than Lady Gaga, a world-famous pop star and early Oscar contender for her role in A Star is Born, is at the center of her own Vegas spectacular at the Park MGM, and even Drake is rumored to be mulling a Vegas club residency, hinting last Thursday at Wynn Las Vegas’s XS nightclub, “Vegas! When I came back, I thought it’d be back at T-Mobile Arena or some (stuff). But I’ll be back here at XS all year. You’ll have a lotta chances to see me.”
So what does all this signify? Is a Vegas residency about to return to its Rat Pack roots and become the status symbol for iconic pop, rap, and hip-hop stars? Has the high-kitsch factor that’s drawn tourists to the town’s cheap hotels and overflowing casinos for decades finally—in a post-9/11, exhaustively Trumpian world—become just ironic enough for genuinely capital-C Cool (if occasionally corny) performers like Drake to embrace? And how, for that matter, will Vegas reckon with its own Trump-branded present?
We’ll just have to wait and see what singer comes out of the neon-pink, vodka-stained woodwork next; according to my mathematical calculations, the logical next Vegas residency will belong to Grimes, who appreciates power, loves vaguely embarrassing merch, and doesn’t mind a little controversy.