“Making a trip across the pond in a few weeks to see @chattyman and all my lovely UK fans…can’t wait! xo,” someone presumably from Team Britney tweeted on her behalf a few weeks ago; announcing her whistle stop promotional London visit and much-anticipated appearance on Channel 4’s Friday night chat show.
With the small matter of a two-year Las Vegas residency, a will.i.am-executive produced eighth studio album and ‘Work Bitch’ single all on the pop icon’s immediate horizon, the Britney Jean machine is full swing. Those Maseratis and Lambourginis won’t pay for the themselves, kids. It’s clearly a well-oiled machine with the only potential spanner in the proverbial works being Spears herself. Her every choreographed and where-possible, edited, public appearance seems to see the cogs creak and the whole thinking threatening to come to a gibbering, shuddering halt. Her team must be ever thankful to be doing this in a social media world where with tools like Twitter, Spears can reach an audience of 33 million in an instant, without having to utter a word.
“I love your show. Your show’s great,” she meekly told Carr, he having just held her nervous hand en route to his sofa. While some guests might pander to the home audience with a similar crowd-pleaser, I believe her when she has seen the show before. One can imagine Britney’s team showing her tapes of Chatty Man in frantic preparation and rehearsal for her one select major UK public engagement. It’s just as we can imagine the strict instructions to Channel 4 to swap the Lambrinis and WKDs in Alan’s trademark drinks cabinet for some soft options only.
Sadly, nothing with a post-meltdown, ‘rehabilitated’ Spears has the air of casual ease anymore. She stuttered and spluttered through the interview, with responses such as, on the British accent: “I love it when you guys, um, talk. It’s really nice.” Alan Carr was forced to live up to his chatty man name, responding to his own jokes in what was for the most part, a sit-down stand-up routine for an audience of one. Britney can wave, smile and giggle like a pro, just don’t dare ask her about her new single.
Though one guesses that’s why Alan Carr got the gig over Graham Norton or Jonathon Ross. Large weekend audience? Check. An informal host with the ability to ad lib at length? Check. One-on-one format with no interaction with other guests? Check.
Increasingly with Spears, she is visibly uncomfortable in interviews, perhaps bored of answering the same old questions in a decade of similar appointments or perhaps fearful she won’t know the answer to what’s happening in a career where she is still not fully in control. Let’s remind ourselves that Britney’s father Jamie remains in conservatorship of the star’s pop fortune. Yet, here she is, hitting the promo one more time, thrust back into the fray on another jaunt. If Spears follows her track record with previous albums ‘Circus’ and ‘Femme Fatale’, this new album itself will no doubt be praised while the associated live dates will receive less than favourable reviews. She’s good recorded, she’s poor live.
Britney comes alive when she is distracted from the artificiality of the interview scenario. She uncomfortably regurgitates sickly sweet responses about her live shows/single/album, but take the conversation off piste to, in this case, her love of bargain 99 cent stores and she forgets she’s there and opens up. Alan Carr discovered, as Mario Lopez did in a recent US interview, the use of physical item as a distraction brings out the best in Britney. She’s authoritative, funny and engaged in a Larry Sanders-esque sketch that sees Alan take his celebrity guest behind the scenes to literally crack a whip at his production team and order them to: “Work Bitch.”
Expect more awkward interviews as the Britney bus rolls on in advance of the daunting workload ahead of the popstar. My advice to those asking the questions: bring a prop.