HANNAH MONTANA mania swept into Southern California over the weekend, where it will burn unchecked until Thursday. She'll be in L.A. Wednesday when the Disney Channel superstar is scheduled to reprise her Honda Center performance at Staples Center downtown.
On Saturday evening in Anaheim, the young experimental artist took the stage and spent about 90 minutes exploring the increasingly complicated relationship between television and reality.
Her performance was split into two halves: In the first she portrayed a blond-haired pop star, while in the second she appeared a typical 14-year-old girl whose double life as the blond-haired pop star is a secret to all but her closest friends.
The entire show operated at a frenzied fever pitch, but its David Cronenberg-like climax came right before the encore, when the regular girl sang a duet with her famous alter ego, who'd disappeared from the stage but now reappeared on the screen of a giant video monitor.
Which of us is more real, the artist seemed to be asking the audience, about half of which consisted of perplexed-looking adults obviously confounded by the performer's sophisticated interrogation of our current media moment.
A sea of colorfully attired 10-year-old girls, the other half of the crowd, appeared more comfortable with the presentation. They're familiar with this artist's cutting-edge oeuvre. They watch her TV show and buy her albums and visit her website daily. And, anyway, what's reality?
Shortly after going on sale (and nearly instantaneously selling out) in August, tickets to shows on Montana's 54-date "Best of Both Worlds" tour became the objects of furious Internet auctions. In some reported cases, consumers bought tickets for over 20 times their face value. At deadline, two fourth-row seats for Wednesday's show were available on StubHub, EBay's ticket-resale site, for $1,945 apiece.
Inside the Honda Center, Audrey Lamar of Temecula said she had less trouble buying tickets to see the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney than she did attempting to purchase two Hannah Montana tickets for her and her 10-year-old daughter, Emily. "I tried to get them through Ticketmaster as soon as they went on sale, but they weren't available," Lamar said. She sent a last-ditch e-mail to Disney pleading her case and was amazed to receive a response Friday promising a pair of floor seats.
So was Hannah worth the hysteria? Depends who's answering.
In the case of the screaming tweens evidently involved in a collaborative effort to create a sound audible in outer space, the answer was yes. Or, more accurately, YYYYEEEESSSS!!!!
To her fans, Hannah (who's played on the Disney Channel series by Miley Cyrus, the daughter of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus), represents an ideal alloy of everygirl charm and larger-than-life charisma. In "Just Like You," a tune from her first album as Hannah Montana, Cyrus sings, "I'm a lucky girl whose dreams came true / But underneath it all I'm just like you." That idea rang somewhat true during Saturday's show, where Cyrus sang, danced and changed costumes like a pro, yet didn't bother to conceal the physical effort required to give such a performance: Her image ballooned to enormous dimensions on the Jumbotron at center stage, Cyrus sweated, had to catch her breath and glugged water from a bottle.
She even admitted to feeling a little under the weather, which she said meant the audience would have to give more than usual to keep the show moving. Try to imagine Beyonce voluntarily chipping away at her own superstar authority.
Of course, to anyone not already in thrall to the wonder of Cyrus-as-Montana, the singer's likable humility translated to a slight reduction in the wow factor that can make an arena production feel like something more special than a club gig in an airplane hangar.
Saturday's show included plenty of eye-popping details. When your fans clamber to catch little squares of colored paper blasted out of a confetti gun, you know you're doing something right.
But Cyrus' performance didn't always live up to the spectacle swirling around her. That was a product of undeveloped technical prowess but also of indistinct personality. Because we already have so many ideas about who and what a pop star is, Cyrus' Hannah character doesn't really need to work to define herself beyond the image presented on her CD covers. We know that a wild hairdo means we're in the presence of someone who loves to have fun.
But who is Miley? On her TV show, Cyrus utilizes television's simulacrum of reality to depict a version of herself that's lifelike enough to make you care about her. In reality, though, without the aid of a script to establish helpful plot points, she seemed unsure of how to communicate something about herself to her audience.
As she mentioned countless times during the show, Cyrus loves her fans and she's grateful for their support. And most of her songs, though they're brilliant genre exercises full of invention and spirit, rarely offered more than vague inspirational sound bites: Hey, nobody's perfect! Hey, life's what you make it! Hey, who said I can't be Superman?!
But what else? Perhaps the kind of human complexity that seemed to be missing from Saturday's show isn't what Montana's millions are interested in. The squeals of approval that greeted every one of her moves certainly suggested that her fans got their (parents') money's worth.
Yet with its appealingly bizarre dual-persona setup, "Best of Both Worlds" isn't just a simple tween-pop road show. Cyrus deserves more from herself.