It’s Britney, B-Word! …Baby One More Vegas Residency

Mike Windle / Getty Images/ iHeartMedia
Britney Spears’ record setting Las Vegas residency at Planet Hollywood sold 1 million tickets, and she has just announced a new residency at Park Theater at Park MGM. She is pictured here performing at Staples Center in Los Angeles in December 2016.
There’s good reason why as far back as November 2014 Nevada’s Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak presented Britney Spears with the key to Las Vegas; why every time her manager Larry Rudolph of Maverick Management dines at Vegas’ Koi they tell him his money’s no good because on residency nights business skyrockets; or why Nov. 5 in Sin City is now officially Britney Spears Day. 
It all stems from Britney Spears’ record-setting, four-year Las Vegas “Piece of Me” residency at Axis at Planet Hollywood (now Zappos Theater) which wrapped last year after selling 1 million tickets and grossing $140 million over the course of 250 shows. The run is one of the largest grossing Vegas residencies ever, up there with Celine and Sir Elton.
Now, after a 2018 sold-out U.S. and European “Piece of Me” tour, Britney’s back. This week, she announced in spectacular fashion “Britney Domination,” her new two-year residency at the larger (5,200-cap) Park Theater at Park MGM Las Vegas and a brand-new production set to launch in February 2019. And it’s all just in time for the 20th anniversary of this iconic artist’s tour de force 1999 album, …Baby One More Time. But for some, there may be far more practical reasons for Britney’s return to a residency.
Britney Spears

“The biggest pro to doing a residency is that it’s much easier on my kids,” Spears tells Pollstar. “My kids are my everything, so having a show in one place gives me more time with them. Residencies are also easier on myself and my team. It can get exhausting and can be disorienting when you travel every day – but that’s not to say that it’s not a ton of fun, too.” 
Spears, 36, would know: she’s been touring, recording and churning in the media spotlight her entire adult life while generating a massive career touring gross. According to Pollstar Boxoffice reports, Britney’s generated some $455 million with 442 shows and 6.2 million tickets sold, none of which would have been possible without a certain someone.  

Maverick Management’s Larry Rudolph and Britney circa 1999.
“She walked into my office with her family when she was 13 years old,” recalls Larry Rudolph, who managed Britney from 1998 to 2004 and again from 2008 to today. “They played me some VHS tapes, which shows how long ago it was, of her on the new ‘Mickey Mouse Club.’ I didn’t know really anything about it – I’m not talking about Annette Funicello. I thought she had a lot of talent and showed a lot of promise, but she was 13 years old. And if you go back and look at the charts from 1995, you’ll see they were dominated at the time by urban pop. There weren’t any young white females on the pop charts. That had kind of ended a few years earlier with Tiffany.”
A few years later, according to Rudolph, with a pop surge on the charts from the likes of Spice Girls, Hanson and Backstreet Boys in full swing, he felt “the door was wide open for a solo artist.” Rudolph, then a lawyer, brought Spears, who was now 15, to New York with a demo of her singing over a Whitney Houston track along with a leftover Toni Braxton song. He pitched her to the heads of four different record labels, three of which passed, but Jive Records, which was run by Clive Calder – who Rudolph calls “the singular most successful human being who’s ever lived in the music business” and a “business genius” – said yes.
There’s good reason for Rudolph’s hosannas: It was Calder who recognized Rudolph’s managerial talents and told him that, “Even though you don’t think you’re a manager, you’re a manager,” and proceeded to help guide his career. “He would call me up a few times a week,” Rudolph recalls, “and tell me to come up and see him. We’d spend hours and hours together listening to music, going over marketing plans, going over everything related to Britney. He was very committed, as was I.”
Britney Spears

In the late-1990s, Rudolph says he was listening to Robyn, the Swedish pop genius whose songs were produced by fellow Swede Max Martin. Calder, it turned out, had Martin’s publishing through Zomba Music Publishing and a ditty he’d written, that was rejected by TLC, called “…Baby One More Time,” remained unrecorded. After something of a bidding war with Rudolph’s friend and then-competitor Simon Cowell, Spears in March 1998 flew to Cheiron Studios in Stockholm, Sweden, to record the song. 

“We put out the ‘…Baby One More Time’ single in September or October of ’98, and then the album in January of ’99, and both were enormously successful.” That might be something of an understatement considering the album sold more than 25 million copies and the massive impact Britney would have on music, culture and the world at large. 
It’s hard to fathom, then, that for her first tour Spears performed at malls across the country with just two back-up dancers. “We were like, if we take Britney to the malls, which is where America lives, and they see her, they’ll connect with her,” Rudolph says. “I remember going to one of these shows at Macy’s Herald Square in New York. We were performing in the middle of the Calvin Klein section and there were underwear racks around us. People were just shopping and not realizing that 10 feet away from them was Britney Spears, who was about to become the biggest star in the world.” 

Photo courtesy MGM
The Park Theater at Park MGM will host Britney Spears’ just-announced 2019 residency featuring an entirely new show under the creative direction of NappyTabs.
Spears’ first proper tour was opening for *NSYNC’s 1998 tour, which Rudolph described as a “favor.”  But it was on that tour, after the ‘Baby One More Time’ video came out, that everything changed. “All of a sudden she went from unknown to everybody knowing her,” he says. “I saw the change day-to-day but it was almost overnight. You would see it go from 5 percent of the house knowing her, to 15 percent, then one in five, to 50 percent, to 75 percent, to 100 percent. By the end of that little tour, in which she only did three or four songs with no production whatsoever, the album opened at No. 1 and she was a big star on her own. Then we planned for her actual first headlining tour.”
Critics can say whatever they want about Britney Spears’ hit-filled catalog, but what separates her from the pack of pop piffle is her preternatural ability to connect with fans, whether on record, video and especially live. 
“You can teach people to sing, you can teach them to dance, you can write a joke for them to say, but you can’t teach charisma,” says Rob Light, the Head of CAA Music and Britney’s agent for the past seven years. “You either have it or you don’t and Britney Spears has it. Her charisma fills the room to the back wall. She walks out and the way she struts, the whole room is energized. She doesn’t have to say anything or do anything.”
But finding the right milieu for that gift, in this day and age of over-heated touring markets and mega-festival, is no easy feat for an artist of Spears’ caliber in the throes of motherhood yet still in her prime – that’s where Rudolph’s and Light’s expertise and foresight came into play. 
“I had been spending quite a bit of time in Las Vegas and seeing a big transition in the demographic patterns,” says Rudolph, who early on recognized a new, emerging Sin City market. “It was moving away from the traditional middle-aged couple getting dinner, seeing a show, doing a little gambling and going to sleep, and moving towards a much younger person with a very different reason for being in Vegas.”
The pathology for this emergent demo of 20- and 30-somethings, according to Rudolph, was different: They check into the hotel, make a beeline for the pool where they drink, party and listen to DJs; return to their room, order room service (instead of going out to restaurants) and take a disco nap; then wake up at 11 p.m. and club the night away without ever hitting a gaming table. Team Britney’s vision was to break into that pre-clubbing time.  
While identifying an emerging market isn’t easy, harder still is convincing others to invest in your vision. Fortunately, Light, who’s booked Vegas “forever,” with such artists as Bette Midler and Shania Twain, got it right away. “When we were talking about what was the next live move for Britney, Larry – who truly is one of the great managers – and I talked about going to Vegas and what that would look like,” Light recalls. “We reached out to a bunch of properties, and the first responses – and remember it wasn’t like it is today – were lukewarm at best. It certainly didn’t fit the model at the Colosseum, there was no Park Theater, and the only other room was at Planet Hollywood.”
“It was a white elephant,” Rudolph says of the underutilized Planet Hollywood theater, which seated 7,000. “When I walked in there, it was dusty and looked like shit. I basically said, ‘Hey, this looks like it hasn’t been touched in 40 years.’ And they basically said, ‘Well that’s because it hasn’t been touched in 40 years.’ So I said, ‘Alright, the only way we’re going to do this theater and do this new show is if we do get some money for capital improvements.” 

Denise Truscello / BSLV / Getty Images / Brandcasting, Inc.
Britney Spears performing her ‘Piece Of Me’ residency at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on Feb. 26, 2016, in Las Vegas.
Caesars also saw the vision. “The CEO was Gary Loveman, who was a really bright guy,” Light recalls. “He made a bet that this was gonna work and put $20-something million into this theater. 18 months later you couldn’t get a date in the room. It was booked out for two years.”
“We invested heavily into the production,” Rudolph adds, “for a show in a 4,400-seat theater. And we built it the right way. We made it spectacular.” This included having Baz Halpin (whose clients have included Taylor Swift, Pink, Black Sabbath and Katy Perry) as creative and stage director for the show, Marco Morante as the costume designer, and a 360-degree video wall.
Light compares the show to a more historical antecedent. “Think back to Donn Arden’s ‘Jubilee,’ without the showgirls and huge headdresses of the old days,” he says, “but it was taking those big production shows and bringing it into the 21st century for that audience and done just brilliantly.”
“Here’s what I remember about the first night more than anything,” Light continues. “When she came out, everyone stood up, which was unheard of for a Vegas show. It was a party from the second it started. I was surprised because I’m so used to a Vegas audience sitting in their seats and being like, ‘Entertain me.’ It was not that.”
So what do Lady Gaga, Dave Chappelle, Bryce Harper, Danica Patrick, Bobby Flay, Sofia Vergara and Joe Manganiello, Shania Twain, Nasim Pedrad, Peaches, Jeff Dunham, Jeremy Scott, Julianne Moore, Nuno Bettencourt, Minka Kelly, Melissa Joan Hart, Tamar Braxton, Skrillex, Abby Wambach, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Miss USA Nina Sanchez and the late Florence Henderson have in common? Not much, really, but they were among the million ticket holders clamoring to see Britney’s “Piece of Me” Vegas residency.
“One night I was standing with Britney backstage,” Rudolph recalls, “and I was walking her to the stage, and as I literally said goodbye to her I said, ‘Oh, and Jay-Z and Beyoncé are sitting in the front row.’ She said, ‘No! What!? Why didn’t you tell me? I can’t go out there.’ And I go, ‘That’s why I didn’t tell you. I didn’t want you to have time to think about it, now just go out and perform.’ And she was like, ‘You motherfucker,’ with a smile on her face. And then of course, she went out and Jay and Beyoncé are sitting right there. And Dave Chappelle was there that night also. But that’s the way it rolled. Everybody wanted to see it.”
After the close of the show on Dec. 31, 2017, Spears embarked on the “Piece of Me” summer tour for a number of reasons. “Number one,” says Rudolph, “we were done with the show, and she had an entire year off. And she wanted to do something. So we spoke about it. A lot of people on the East Coast and in Europe didn’t get to come see the show. because not everybody has the ability to get on a plane and come to the West Coast.” 
And as CAA’s Light pointed out, the majority of the show was already built. “Think about the cost of just building a stage and rehearsing it,” he says, “that’s a big part of the cost. We didn’t take the exact show from Vegas, you never could because it was built into a theater, but we took a lot of those elements, so the show was built and rehearsed, so the normal costs that get amortized were gone.”
While the tour set records in disparate locales between its trans-Atlantic venues, Rudolph recalls one show in particular: “She loved playing at Radio City,” he says. “And it’s funny, because I reminded her when we got there. ‘You know what happened the last time you were here?’ She said, ‘No, what?’ I said, ‘You kissed Madonna.’ And she started laughing and said, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to say something about that when I go out there.’ And she did and it was really cute. She said something like, ‘Hey everybody, guess what I did last time I was here?’ The audience paused, and she said, ‘I made out with Madonna.’” 

The “Piece of Me” tour set records from the Sands Bethlehem Event Center to Brighton, U.K.’s Preston Park to Göransson Arena, Sweden, where it broke a long-held record held by the Scorpions. The tour is also up for a People’s Choice Award. All of which brings us to her just-announced new residency at the Park Theater, which Team Britney is hard at work putting together. 

Denise Truscello / BSLV / Getty Images / Brandcasting, Inc.
Britney Spears performing her ‘Piece Of Me’ residency at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on Feb. 26, 2016, in Las Vegas.
“We just had our first full session yesterday with NappyTabs for a few hours yesterday morning,” says Rudolph referencing Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo of Funky Monkey Productions, the new residency’s creative directors who not only developed lyrical hip-hop dance but worked on “So You Think You Can Dance,”  “America’s Got Talent,” and Jennifer Lopez’s “All I Have” residency, in addition to other productions. 
“We went through our first draft of creatives, We sat down, spitballed ideas and Britney came up with a million of them. They came up with a million ideas. We have a tentative title, narrative, visuals, set lists and everything right now. But it’s far too early to talk about it. I can tell you this: It’s going to different from the ‘Piece of Me’ show. It’s going to be a little bit more street. A little bit more rhythmic. It’s going to feel a little cooler. But it’s still going to be a classic Britney great hits show. You’ll know every song, the visuals will be incredible, she’ll be at 110 percent in terms of her performance. You’re going to have amazing dancers, costumes, set pieces, video, sound – amazing everything.” 
But beyond all of Spears’ topnotch production values, strong content and universally-lauded performances, the crux of what connects her to legions of fans who flock to Vegas is something far more visceral, personal. “To a huge swath of a generation Britney represents something incredibly important to their lives,” Light says. “Her performance takes them back and makes them feel great. She connects on that level.”