LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas has traditionally been a place where pop stars go to retire. Legacy acts like Elton John and Shania Twain no longer light up the radio like they used to, but they have a loyal and aging fan base that's reached its peak earning years and can afford to travel to a show instead of waiting for a show to come to them.
Britney Spears' fans are still paying off their student loans.
Britney: Piece of Me opened its two-year run Friday at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, and marks the first time a pop star born during the Reagan administration has headlined a multiyear Las Vegas residency.
"Britney's always been a trailblazer and it makes sense that she would take this on," the show's director Baz Halpin told BuzzFeed.
Halpin said he believes Spears could change the stigma surrounding Las Vegas residencies for younger recording artists.
"This theater offers a unique venue you couldn't get on the road," he said. "The stage is nearly twice as large as a normal venue stage. You have the ability to do things that are technically and logistically more difficult. I think that from one aspect, it will change how artists view residencies."
The 90-minute show is packed with hits — only two songs from her latest record, Britney Jean, made the final set list, and by her second costume change, Spears has already performed three of her No. 1 hits (she didn't even get to her fourth, "Hold It Against Me"). Old hits are remixed and mashed-up in surprising ways, like the rocked-out goth remix of "...Baby One More Time" and a pulsating "Scream and Shout" complete with a towering neon will.i.am projected onto the screen that segues into a reimagined "Boys."
"She was musically always at the forefront," Halpin said. "She has an incredible catalog of great songs. Our problem was not deciding what songs to put in but what songs to leave out."
It's been four years since Spears embarked on the Circus tour, a much-heralded comeback following her 2007 breakdown, but Britney: Piece of Me is more of a proper comeback than Circus ever was. Spears feels less shrouded by dancers and theatrics, and her dance moves and hair flips look more confident than they have in years.
The set list itself seems to acknowledge Spears' comeback with "Stronger" ("I'm stronger than yesterday / Now it's nothing but my way") and an emotional ballad version of "Lucky," about a fictional actress who is unhappy despite her massive success. Her trio of singles from Blackout — the dark techno-pop magnum opus released the same month she lost custody of her children — was cast in a new light as more feel-good dance jams, rather than commentary on the tabloid media culture of the last decade.
And as for Las Vegas being for artists who've long since fallen off the charts, Spears closed the show not with one of her early '00s classics, but "Till the World Ends," a No. 3 hit released in 2011, and everyone was singing along.
Halpin said the set list will change over the course of two years. "We know that people will come to the show more than once," he said. During her E! special, I Am Britney Jean, Spears revealed that she plans to add her new song "Alien" to future shows.
She might be the youngest act in town, but Spears has what it takes to keep the theater packed, Halpin said.
"I think that her music and her persona and her performance just resonates with people. I don't think there's anyone on the planet who doesn't know Britney Spears or know a Britney Spears song."