This Week in 2007 is a weekly column looking back on Lindsay Lohan, the first iPhone, George W. Bush, and everything else we loved about the year 2007.
For the brief year of 2007, Britney Spears appeared punk. Everyone remembers her rebellious head shaving, the time she beat a paparazzo with an umbrella, and that disastrous "Gimme More" lip-synch at the MTV Video Music Awards. But 10 years ago this week, she delivered a series of roughly 15-minute concerts that resembled literal punk performance art: the often forgotten M+M's Tour.
Ads began going up in the spring for five dates by an unknown band called the M+M's. Ads began appearing in the spring across nightclub marquees promoting performances by an unknown band called the M+M's. Tabloids reported that the group was in fact Spears. She told People that she hated contemporary pop music. "It's been boring," she said. "Nothing's been wow to me." She vowed to change the sound.
Audiences seemed rapt for Britney's shock factor. The M+M's tour was anticipated as a warm up for her buzzed-about comeback. Shows sold out, and USA Today's Thomas K. Arnold reported scalpers sold them for $500 each at the opener at San Diego's House of Blues. (All but one show took place at the chain restaurant and club; the other was at Miami's Mansion, then the hottest nightclub in South Florida.)
A 23-year-old loan officer named Carrie Marone told the newspaper, "I'm a fan, but I also wanted to see what the hype was about, and whether it was really going to be her." Another ticket buyer, Eloisa Raymundo, explained to the same reporter that she was headed to the San Diego event "to see all the speculation and hoopla. I think a lot of people feel there is still hope for her to make a comeback." Where Michael Jackson's meltdown led to lower ticket sales, Britney's behavior boosted public interest.
The most telling sign of the unfolding evening, USA Today noted, was the teenager waiting outside wearing an AC/DC shirt. Spears's behavior broke all the pop star rules and brought a sense of cool darkness to her first public performance in three years.
Britney, who the Los Angeles Times deemed pop's "reigning drama queen" that week, blocked the highways from Los Angeles to Orange County. The tour bus swerved through traffic, and a cop trailed after them. According to USA Today, he pulled the party over at a diner called Squid Joe's. The patrolman declined to give the driver a ticket. TMZ wrote, "Only fashion violations for Britney!"
Miss American Dream had descended into being a Louisiana swamp creature, smacking her gums as she lip-synched.
Britney stepped out of the bus wearing a newsboy hat, brunette wig, and baggy white collar shirt. At every show of the tour, she started the concert hours late. The clubs would go dark, and then during nearly every tour date, Britney emerged from the shadows in a silver and pink bra, white plastic-looking skirt, and long brunette or blonde wig. A black headband covered the front of her hair at every show.
She danced alone to "Baby One More Time" until several dancers joined her. Journalists have hypothesized that Britney lost her physical talent after a 2004 knee injury, but she kept up with her hired help, gliding across the stage on cue. She flung her arms and legs wide and writhed on the floor. At the end of the number, she folded her hands over her heart, as if she were in prayer instead of lip synching for her lover to hit her one more time.
Britney only looked different because she had lost her golden locks and six-pack. Miss American Dream had descended into being a Louisiana swamp creature, smacking her gums as she lip-synched.
But creepy sexuality was always a factor in Britney's image. She's sung provocative lyrics in provocative clothing since she was 16 years old. The Broadway-style special effects and choreographed dance moves, sound stages, and packed arenas only obfuscated the grimness.
In her Dream Within a Dream Tour (which promoted the Britney album that functioned as a soundtrack for the teen movie Crossroads), grim special effects and southern style melded with her girly theatricality. She sang "Baby One More Time" as rain fell across her cowboy hat and jeans, and she opened with a metal version of "Oops I Did It Again." Moments later, Britney emerged from a music box in a tutu, singing "Born to Make You Happy," transforming from a metal sexpot into a Disney princess.
The M+M's Tour stripped Britney's grimness of any fairy tale joviality. At the start of the second song, "Slave 4 U," she reentered onto a pitch black stage. She stood alone. With her back to the audience, she shook her hips to "Slave 4 U," like early Cat Power singing at a Lower East Side bar. The performance was suspenseful. What would Britney do next?
Her dancers filled the stage a few minutes later, and for the third tune, Britney lip-synched "Breathe on Me." She had never released the song as a single, so it was shocking for her to perform it at a pop concert, a genre dependent on hits. Midway through the tune, she brought a man on stage and gave him a lapdance. For her final two showings, "Do Something" and "Toxic," she donned a white fur coat and jean skirt. She looked ridiculous, but she fled the stage smiling, a small feat that has become a rarity in recent Britney performances.
The M+M's Tour lacked the bombastic theatricality of Britney's actual comeback performances: 2009's Circus Tour, her Vegas residency, last year's VMA rendition of "Make Me," and a string of other comebacks so long, I can't list them here. A few months later, she looked like a zombie at the VMAs. The M+M's Tour did not salvage her career. (That happened a year and a half later with her album Circus.) But it accomplished Britney's mission to make pop interesting again.