NY Mirror

When BRITNEY SPEARS reached a career turning point last year, I assumed she'd have to suddenly learn an instrument, go introspective, and become a sort of nouveau NORAH JONES with a past. But the girl stuck to her pasties even more defiantly, and I'm delighted, especially in the wake of the hideous wave of puritanism currently taking over the arts. (By the way, I adore how none of the stars who were so vehement about defending EMINEM's death-to-fags shtick as exemplary free speech has stood up for JANET JACKSON, COURTNEY LOVE, or any other expression of open sexuality. Death to rock stars.)

Anyway, having just seen Britney's "Onyx Hotel" spectacular at the Continental Airlines Arena, I can attest to the fact that her aggressively vampy stage persona doesn't corrupt people in the least. The crowd she drew mainly consisted of pudgy teen girls with glasses (with an occasional L'Oréaled gay boy thrown in), and they were all pristinely behaved, none of them preggers or with any visible STDs! And Britney really turned up the orgasm juice. She doesn't do any of those icky "I'm not a girl" ballads anymore (not to mention the MADONNA duet that almost wrecked her career). She indulges us exclusively in her trademark panting, gyrating, and perspiring pop, while proving to be our favorite dirty-girl next door since ANN-MARGRET and GEORGE MICHAEL combined.

Entering on a silver van, surrounded by apocalyptic Cirque du Soleil types, titty Britney's so bold she dispenses with "Toxic," the best song of the last 140 years, right off the (ding)bat. Sure, she doesn't seem to be singing a note. And when she plays piano, then stands up and moves center stage, you can still hear the piano! (So much for learning an instrument.) But who cares? This isn't a night with DEBORAH VOIGT. It's a choreographed, disembodied-sounding romp into bubble-headed estrogenland—a Madonna meets CHER spectacular, but without the Botox!

Adding to the leer factor is the emcee, a deranged Leigh Bowery look-alike in a sequined eye patch who asks, "Is everything to your liking? Wink, wink, wink," and tells an audience member, "This is the Garden State. You must be a gardener's best friend—a hoe!" JADA PINKETT SMITH even appears on video to beckon Britney into some smoky, forbidden nightclub. And the show keeps pumping and delivering, long after you've realized there's no there there.

The only truly offensive part? When Britney tells us—yes, in her live voice—that she's had "a lot of ups and a lot of downs, but ultimately that's what makes you who you are." Ugh. A fortune cookie dressed like a hooker does not go down easily. Fortunately, she quickly sheds that pose, along with most of her clothes. Brava!

I'm a Slave for EEW

When another hip-swivelin' sex bomb, the sardonically funny KATHY GRIFFIN, swung into the tristate region last week, she and I bantered, naturally, about butt crack, but also about the lovely body-part purveyor Britney. "The new Britney's exciting," enthused Griffin. "We've got ourselves our new LIZA. Every day you can pick up the paper and she's done something stupid-crazy—though one thing she doesn't do is sing!"

For real vocals—and true cheese—Griffin suggests a quick trip to Vegas. "You've got to go there!" she gushed. "It's a shit storm. DAVID LACHAPELLE's staging for the ELTON JOHN show is like a gay Abercrombie & Fitch ad for two hours. It even broke my gay ceiling. It turns out 'Daniel' is about a 16-year-old model who's lying down heaving and looking super-hot, like he might start to jerk off in a minute. Then he goes to Vietnam and it's a statement about 'Why must there be war? Why must so many hot guys die?' " Not to mention so many audience members. "People were walking out," said Griffin. "It's a little avant-garde for Vegas."

In New York, though, anything goes, so Griffin just hosted a Laugh Factory event, sponsored by Secret, where she helped "sniff out" America's funniest lady. "I use Secret product," she told me. "I actually use it on my ass crack. I have worse perspiration there than anywhere else. But I'm too scared to have it Botoxed. I just don't want ass-crack sweat showing if I go to the Emmys. Like I'm going to the Emmys! Maybe the People's Choice Awards someday." A rueful pause. "It's called a dream!"

La Fleur Of My Secret

My butt all dry and pert—it's called a nightmare—I revisited the far reaches of Times Square, where some of the old realness has magically bubbled back like Brigadoon (or maybe like a Britney concert). La Fleur's is a particularly welcome return to the golden age of last-chance saloons at the edge of darkness. The joint's marquee makes it look like a darling French bistro, but piles of trash outside add a more realistic touch. Inside, it's very Stella's meets Edelweiss, as serious Hispanic go-go boys approach you for a fondle and a tip, and even more serious trannies compare (unperspiring) shelf asses and "fashion jewelry" sets. The star performer was MONICA MONROE, a plus-sized gal who lip-synched a La Lupe song, complete with mock-druggie arm scratching, then encouraged us to trick, as long as we hid our valuables. "If you wake up with no VCR, no DVD, and no TiVo," warned Monica, "it's not my problem!" How about if you wake up with no trick?

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