PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Must be the season of the Brit.
With her new album Glory officially out Friday and a new Carpool Karaoke session with James Cordon soon to rack up hits on hits on hits, Britney Spears has once again swallowed up the cycle of pop culture news.
It’s the latest “comeback” for the princess of pop, who has left and returned to the center of the music universe almost as much as former CPR-partner Madonna.
Sunday night though, her return to the MTV Video Music Awards stage could be her greatest triumph.
The last time Britney performed on the VMAs was 2007. A year that began with a shaved-head and an umbrella assault was the darkest of days and a spiral for Spears. Her show-opening slot was then hyped as her “comeback”, destine to right the course of pop promise after living through the rough seas of the K-Fed era.
The “Gimmie More” singer proved not quite ready for prime time, and an avalanche of critics buried her the morning after. Perez Hilton called the performance “disrespectful” to her remaining fans, as writers like Sheila Marikar said Spears “seemed to sleepwalk through her routine, flailing her arms and failing to synch her lips with the subpar dance ditty blasting through the speakers.” The New York Times said she was “awful” as she “tottered around the stage”. It was brutal.
Adding insult to disaster dancing injury would be that year’s VMA host Sarah Silverman, whose opening monologue followed the Spears performance. “She is twenty-five-years-old and she’s already accomplished everything she’s gonna accomplish in her life” Silverman joked to the groaning crowd.
Britney Spears has been “back” a couple times since that dizzy day in September 2007. She has returned to the top of charts, seems to have returned to the top of health, but has yet to return to perform on the VMAs stage.
She has spent the last three years like Rocky training in a beach basement and running the shoreline with Apollo, working herself to top form with her Las Vegas residency at Planet Hollywood. She also seemed on-point during a preseason performance at the Billboard Music Awards in May. But this, this is MTV and the VMAs.
MTV and Spears have a symbiotic relationship. School girl Spears helped launch and create the TRL generation for MTV, and her performances at their annual big event have become cultural touchstones. There was “the kiss”, there was “the python”, there was the “bedazzled body suit”.
Surely there’s argument to be made that Spears has outlived and outpaced the relevance of “music television”, but the VMAs still matter. It’s where Miley got next-level weird, and where Kanye became the frontrunner for President in 2020. In fact, it’s where Kanye became all the things.
No matter how many Teen Moms and Wolfs you pile into programming, whenever you get the world’s greatest entertainers all in one room, meme-able moments will occur and a new mark in the pop culture timeline will be blazed.
So here we are. Britney can whisper-coo her way through Carpool Karaoke and Glory will produce enough mid-tempo bedroom-eyed jams for Britney’s “comeback” to be a success – but it won’t be complete until we see her Sunday on that VMAs stage.
The 2016 MTV Video Music Awards take place Sunday August 28th at 9 p.m. on MTV.