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.
How do you top dancing around Radio City Musical Hall with a python adorning your neck? According to mid-aughts magic sensation Criss Angel, you explode into a flock of birds. At least, that was his plan for Britney Spears ten years ago in August 2007, when he began collaborating with the Princess of Pop on her ill-fated MTV Video Music Award performance.
Today, consulting Angel to revitalize your career may seem odd, but in 2007, he was a an edgy and up-and-coming magic god bordering on mainstream celebrity, starring in A&E's hit show Criss Angel Mindfreak, planning a Cirque Du Soleil show, and kissing Paris Hilton at the Mirage Hotel and Casino.
In July 2007, People magazine reported that Angel and Spears dined at West Hollywood's Cravings, a meeting set up by their mutual manager Jeff Kwatinetz, according to MTV News. "We went to that restaurant with 10 people," Angel told People. "We were talking about how she wants to do something more with the [awards] show, and about me helping out and hoping to work with her on doing something to make her MTV appearance more innovative."
Rumors spread that the pair were dating, but Angel debunked these claims and later unveiled his VMA plans to the Los Angeles Times. The magician had designed illusions which he claimed "would happen in the open" during Spears's performance of "Gimme More" on the VMA stage at the Palms Hotel and Casino. At the start of the number, she would appear and split into two and then four Britneys. "[The illusion would use] no boxes or covers. It would just be a visual effect using no screens," Angel explained to the Times. Midway through "Gimme More," Angel would transform Spears into a flock of birds. She'd reappear in the audience and levitate over the crowd.
"People in the past have used the art of magic in music performances but mostly in a cheesy way. Magic has not kept up with popular culture and technology," Angel complained to the Times. "It was going to be really visual moments that were all epic tableaux that were beautiful, artistic, elegant and, most important, unique—things MTV hasn't seen in music."
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The veracity of his vision has been debated. Spears's friends told The Today Show that he used her for fame and failed to make room for rehearsals, while Angel alleges Spears failed to supply adequate preparation time. An Entertainment Weekly cover story alleged that she refused to "commit" to his vision.
When it came to prepping for the event in Las Vegas, Spears appeared uninterested. The week of the show, she attended the boozy opening of Luxor's LAX nightclub, wearing a beige fedora and white dress, and showed up two hours late to rehearsal with a frozen margarita according to the Entertainment Weekly report. Leaked footage shows Spears walking across the stage in a brown twig hat and tank-top as background dancers jived and sweated around her. In another leaked clip, her stand-in hit every intended move—and while it wasn't iconic, it was better than what would go down during the final performance.
"Gimme More" and its opening line ("It's Britney, bitch") still blossomed into pop culture milestones. Even Spears's failed 2007 performance remains more notable than any recent VMA musical number, but fans will always wonder what could have been if "Gimme More" was matched with promo as good as its sonic qualities.
"I wanted to trump [her "Slave 4 U" performance]," Angel told the Times in 2008. "I thought we had it."