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Britney Spears' comeback: A snap judgment

Spears_2 It’s not that Britney Spears isn't trying. It's not that her team, led by her longtime handler Larry Rudolph, hasn't carried out a strict, carefully orchestrated comeback game plan.

You just can’t force the girl, a mother of two who today celebrates her 27th birthday and the launch of her new album, “Circus,” to want a comeback, even while the world seems eager for it (fans sent her single, “Womanizer,” to the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in its second week of release). Being back in the spotlight has worked its magic on her hair, her body and even her personal life.

But the fire in her eyes? And Britney's once consistent ability to turn it on when the curtain rises? That appears to be absent, at least at the moment. In its place we’ve got the former pop princess on autopilot, and it’s as devastating to watch as her 2007 MTV VMA performance of “Gimme More.”

First, there was this year’s VMAs.

MTV would support its onetime golden girl and present her with her first-ever "moonmen," including one for the ceremony’s top honor, video of the year. Spears’ appearance would also be decidedly low-key: no performance, just a taped sketch with Jonah Hill and her thank you speeches. Comedy is usually Spears’ strong suit no matter what insanity has gone on in her personal life -- just watch her past appearances on “SNL” and her more recent role on “How I Met Your Mother” -- but her bit with Hill fell flat.

Viewers stuck around to see what might happen. The awards show was watched by 8.4 million people, an increase of 19% from the year prior. Still, it was the first sign things weren’t quite back to normal.

Rolling Stone and Glamour landed the splashy profiles in which Spears agreed to participate. But the music mag, which in its February feature painted a portrait of an out-of-control starlet, also noted that while Spears was better, she was also flanked by her team at all hours, her time managed down to the minute. Glamour, in a more feel-good, hopeful piece, noted that Spears was “nervous” during the interview and that her energy level at the photo shoot went from “alert to lethargic.”

Sunday’s heavily hyped MTV documentary on the singer, “Britney: For the Record,” also made no attempt to hide the singer’s mood swings, One minute she was joking around, but for most of the program, she seemed lost in her own thoughts. She talked about wishing she could start over -- with, perhaps tellingly, a new life, not with a new career -- and at one point she broke down to her interviewer: “I’m sad,” she said, before letting the tears flow.

But, as usual with Spears, one strong performance could forgive everything. The music video for “Womanizer,” promoted and launched as an event in and of itself on “20/20” in October, made it seem like it could be possible too. There she was, dancing up a storm and rocking her newly reshaped bod.

Unfortunately, the same weekend “Britney: For the Record” aired, videos of Spears performing her single in Germany and on Britain’s "American Idol"-like “The X Factor” circulated online. All the moves were there, but the singer went through them as if she were counting down the seconds until she could run off stage. When the host of “X Factor” attempted to ask a few questions afterward, she gave polite but clipped responses.  Did she have a good time? "Yes, awesome, thank you." Did she have any words of wisdom for the show's contestants? "Good luck and just keep doing it."

To cap the comeback media tour, ABC's "Good Morning America" erected a lavish circus tent with all the accoutrement for Spears’ appearance today (her first stateside performance of material from her new album), got celebrities including Hugh Jackman, Taylor Swift and Reese Witherspoon to tape birthday greetings, and presented her with a birthday cake that took 60 hours to make.

Spears performed two numbers with the same restraint she exercised in the events abroad. And afterward, when confronted with the enthusiasm of Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts, she was politely flummoxed. “Thank you,” was all she kept repeating. Spears watchers were unimpressed.

Maybe things will change should “Circus” sell well. It won’t be tough to beat the disappointing sales for her last album, “Blackout.” Maybe she’ll take comfort in the cautiously optimistic reviews. Maybe when her tour launches in March, she’ll be entirely rehabilitated.

But for now, Spears’ comeback feels like one assigned to her. Should she decide she wants in, perhaps then the fireworks will follow.

-- Denise Martin

Photo credit: Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (46)

Could you please give the girl a break? She is exciting people with her determination after such a hard year. Don't be so negative and judgmental.
Thank you.

Saturday night, I sat and waited for Britney's comeback like millions of others. Much hyped, over-teased and of course at the very end of the X Factor live show here in the UK.

Eventually it was time, the audience were beside themselves with excitement, the lights changed, music pumped and dancers threw themselves onto the stage. Then from behind a screen emerged Britney lip-synching Womanizer, doing her best to look like she meant it.

But, she was just about the only thing on the stage not believable. She moved back and forth across the stage and did her best to strut her stuff. But there was a deadness in her eyes and a total lack of engagement with the audience in the studio or at home. Her post performance chat was the shortest of any guest artist on the series ever, it was a surprise she acknowledged she actually knew she was in London. She then left the stage having to be steered in the right direction by the host as she headed the wrong way.

It seems to be a VERY gentle comeback. No difficult moves -the dancers do all the work and no actual singing. But with so little to worry about, what excuse does she have to not be wowing everyone right now?

Leave Britney ALOOONE!

in my opinion britney is trying harder with each performance. the germany one was alright... no fire. france was a little better. x-factor had a little more energy, and when she performed Circus on GMA this morning, i thought she KILLED it, i clapped in my own home. she's snowballing back into the performer she was, give her time, people.

I agree with you that there is a certain spirit lacking in Britney's performances, but I think that should be expected given her still-fragile emotional state. She has been deeply wounded, and is clearly still depressed, but at least she is "back to work". Whether she can sustain a world tour with that level of energy- I don't know.

Despite agreement with you on that point, I get so tired of reading inaccuarate assessments of Blackout. Blackout was an outstanding album, and better, I believe than Circus. It is also quite unfair and inaccurate to call it anything except a commercial success, considering that it debuted at #1 and then bumped to #2.

It would be very hard to put out high-caliber performances after the hormone swings of two babies, having seizures in public, then being treated for bipolar. Brittney is lucky to be walking, and she has a lot to be thankful for.

It's all happening too fast for Britney! But she's doing great and was fun to see today, and she'll continue to do her work until she finally decides to choose her freedom from it all. Let's just hope that decision comes in a timely fashion so she can handle her life with grace. Leave the "pop princess" stuff to the teeny-boppers and old cougars (like Madonna) who are too egotistical to grow up.

Go Britney-
Love all the way from American Samoa!
all the GIRLS who know you can...

I felt she did a great job on GMA this morning but I also feel that she was very cautioned. Good job Brit! Pleaple are rooting fo ryou.

leave britney alone and i say that not as a fan but as a human being, the girl has indured a year that many get to forget but which she's forced to remember over and over again i believe she's taking gradual steps back into performing and until her tour do not pre judge.

Sometimes we forget that even though she is a pop star she is also a human being with two chilren a failed marriage and emotional melt down.

I admire her for her comeback it may not be perfect but she is getting there.....

This girl is tremendous. I loved her voice and performance despite of its lack of spontaneity. She is getting in shape and seems to have lost a few good pounds off her once big belly almost like mine :-) I wish her the best of luck.

Britney Spears has a severe personality disorder. It doesn't take a psychiatrist to diagnose the obvious. The girl has problems, and it's only a matter of time before she falls flat on her face again.
In this day and age, and in this economy, the fact that some are consumed by this has-been is a hard pill to swallow. It's hard to feel sorry, or even happy, for anyone who receives a birthday cake that took 60 hours to make, while so many Americans are starving ... but I digress.

Folks, medicine has this kind of effect. Give her a break, most people in her situation would struggle going to the grocery store!

I agree; the girl is highly anxious and appears depressed. She needs a lot more time. Faking it until she makes a full internal comeback is not a good idea in her case. She did well enough in her performance, but I get the impression she is very unsure of herself and lost, like she's just going through the motions but none of it means much to her/ Not matter how much wants for her to be spunky and alive, she just ain't there.

Britney is a cash cow. She will be overhauled and tweaked till she can't bring in another dime. She'll be shoved down our throats, even if they have to have her naked in a video. Oh they already did that. Her music is nothing of any worth, her talents mediocre and her fans clueless. Her dead in the eyes look maybe her sad realization.

I feel the LA Times has a very bias opinion here, and this writer has trashed her every chance they have gotten, and since its comming form a bias source, I am not investing to much credit or thought into their commentary

Britney should hang it up and get better and raise her kids

Like the article said - the girl's head just isn't there. Her body is on auto-pilot (and still falling asleep at the wheel). I won't critize her new body as she did have 2 kids - with that said though, I was expecting A LOT more from someone who typically lip sings on stage. Since you're not utilizing your voice, atleast put some effort in your dancing and overall performance. This was completely lacking every time she was live on stage - performance after performance. She was rushing everything, counting in her head all the moves - and simply looked like a reject from an early episode of "So You Think You Can Dance". All Britney apologists can defend her all you want and force the world to make her 'comeback' but this will fall flat and not have any momentum for the girl. She's definitely over the hill and should find a new direction like producing or consulting or just her own line of clothing. But I'm tired of the all the hype and let down that she is bringing along from one show to another. She's had too many chances to prove herself. Britney - feel good that you look better and aren't getting arrested - BUT PLEASE STOP PERFORMING LIVE!!!

I dont think Britney has a choice but to work. She needs to feel better about herself, and the media wont let her stop being famous. Years and years ago now she tried to just NOT be famous anymore but it didnt work out. Tabloids and paps were involved from the moment she met Kevin through her psycho ordeals and now here with her comeback.

Britney fans just want to see her feel better about herself, and I think its going to take time to build up her confidence. No celebrity in recent memory has ever been through this kind of public torture, and it is a testament to the strong personality inside her that she has survived. Its just going to take a little while before that inner flame comes back to the outside for all of us to see. Remember, even in the past when it was hard to imagine a stagefrightened Britney, she talked often about feeling nervous the first three performances or so on a tour.

For now, she looks great, she looks like shes having more fun each performance and as long as she feels shes getting better slowly, thats all that matters. I hope she regains her freedom again and true joy at being alive.

I LOVE Britney and have been routing for her to make a huge comeback...and of course to turn her life around. Saying that, I feel her 'spark' and 'Britney essence' has gone, not just in her performances but after watching the MTV documentary, but in her personality to.
Britney stated that she is "sad" and that the restraints on her personal life are like a jail sentence. I guess anyone having their personal life under such scrutiny would feel that way. At the same time she should feel that it is the best possible avenue in order for her to have a safe and healthy life; which she clearly wasn't living after the break-up with Kevin and before her father took control. She appears to have turned her life around so much since the court order for her father to control her assets came about.
Hopefully once her 'manacles' are loosened she will go back to being the fun loving, bubbly Britney we all know and love...i just hope it's not too late!

I’m not a die hard fan of hers but It just seems like your picking on her. Plain and simple. Last year people said her performance sucked…the dancing (or lack of), the singing, and even her appearance looked clumsy. Now, the girl has lost an incredible amount of weight, looks as beautiful as ever, and has her dancing back on track. But yet, you still find something wrong with her… now we are picking on “the fire in her eyes”. Shutup! Please someone give reporters something else to talk about…because they seem to be making stuff up as they go along. I saw all her performances…she looked the most nervous on the Bambi awards, but as she went on performing on other stages she became more comfortable…and you can definitely tell. As far as being cut and dry on the x-factor…what was she supposed to say?? Please tell us what YOU think SHE SHOULD say… and I apologize if I am mocking you, but this article is a prime example of what is wrong with people in the field today.

can someone please stop this girl from lip-synching on national tv and on other shows?? she is no longer a teenager but a 27 year old artist who is supposed to estanlish herself as such.I don't care what she has been through, if I am paying her entertaintment I want to get it!

people have set such a high bar for britney's comeback that they will be disappointed no matter what. she always lip synchs, so what are people expecting now? her dance moves are fine, and if anything its more the choreography that is lacking, not her ability. im also a little confused as to why she is always in 7 inch heels on stage now. how the hell is anyone supposed to dance their butt off in those?

geeze....she's trying her best..she hasnt been on stage for years (i dont count the vma's that was a total mess) she will get there again with practice comes perfection she's getting her life straightened out which is the most important and she's looking better her body is better it will take time until we have her completely back...if you look at her a year ago there was no hope for this girl...and now she has made a lot of improvements...she hasnt worked out for a while until now and she wont dance like before right now she has to keep doing it to get better just like everything when you stop doing something you kind of have to rebuild...give her time i for one have always loved britney i was disapointed to see her fall, but i believe everyone deserves a chance because were not perfect and we make mistakes and i just wish her happiness, i dont know what her problems were and why she acted in the way that she did but i think people are quick to judge when we haven't walked in her shoes and people can be cruel. i hope britney comes back with a vengeance because she's a good hearted person who deserves to be happy.

I think this particular article is very badly written, horribly biased and in no way can be called journalism. I'am not a Britney Spears fan, but I think that she has been through a lot; more than most people will in a life time. I think its quite astonishing what she has acheived: an amazing body, a new album, and a planned world tour.
I think it's absurd to critise "the fire in her eyes"; has it really come to the point when so called journalists can't find anything more important to report?
Find a proper story, rather than picking on vunerable, young girl whose just trying to get her life back on track.

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