Friday, 30 January 2015

DIGITAL WORDS / Viva Las Vegas

As artists with younger fan bases than the usual Las Vegas veteran performers are making their mark on Sin City, Kate Allen considers the benefits of live residencies for artists and fans alike

In a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, the female contingent of the programme take a trip to Las Vegas and debate what night time entertainment they’re going to invest in – seeing a male strip show or a Barry Manilow tribute act (Fairly Manilow). It’s a pretty outdated and unfair summation of what Las Vegas has to offer to its growing clientele of younger tourists.

After suffering a 5% slump in tourist rates between 2007 and 2010, Las Vegas reversed its fortunes in a major fashion last year. 2014 saw Vegas attracting over 40 million visitors – an all-time record for the resort city. The average age of tourists also significantly dropped from a median age of 50 in 2009 down to 45 today. Predictions for 2015 look even rosier and a substantial factor, alongside an upturn in national economy prosperity and increased airport capacity, is Vegas’ new adoption of younger musical acts and trends.

Celine Dion first setting up camp at The Colosseum back in 2003 set a new precedent for what artists could expect to earn from a Las Vegas residency. She paved the way for the likes of Rod Stewart, Cher and, most recently, Shania Twain to follow in her footsteps. One of Caesars Palace post-Celine stalwarts is doing better business than ever. Elton John, who first touched down in Vegas back in 2004, is now making $500,000 a night from his Million Dollar Piano residency.

However the last galvanising shock to light up The Strip was Britney Spears. Whilst the proliferation of EDM across the States saw the advent of eye-watering pay days (around $200,000-$300,000 per DJ slot) for the likes of Calvin Harris, Tiësto, and Deadmau5 in 2013 in some of Vegas’ uber-clubs like Hakkasan, Spears is the artist who had the publicity powers to show what Vegas has to offer younger stars and their youthful fans.  

Following a $100,000 announcement event for her Piece Of Me residency that involved a helicopter arrival and a thousand Britney lookalikes, Spears is now raking in $475,000 per show and has extended her original contract for shows that will now date into 2017. So successful has the “Miss American Dream” been that to celebrate her impact on Sin City November 5 was officially named “Britney Day” and Spears was presented with the key to the Las Vegas Strip.

Speaking about the arrangements of playing her stationary show in Vegas, the ‘Work Bitch’ singer flagged up the consistency that a permanent residency has given her: “The way I used to travel all around the world and do a different show every night, I'm like, ‘How did I do it?!’” In her wake, artists of a similar calibre are beginning to follow suit. Mariah Carey will be kicking off her #1s residency in May at The Colosseum and rumours persist that Jennifer Lopez – whom, like Spears and Carey, is a mother of two – will be the next name in lights on the Vegas Strip.

Not only are there the personal benefits to consider in eliminating touring from an artist’s schedule, there are also the huge financial incentives. As live music continues to be the lifeline of the music industry it would be ludicrous for popular acts not to look at the sizeable savings to be made from eradicating stage construction, transportation and staff costs of a world tour when compared to a residential stay. Also, without the limitations of having to make a show travel-friendly, artists are afforded a greater amount of creative freedom when it comes to designing their concerts; thus Celine Dion could employ a 40-piece orchestra as her backing band, Britney Spears can perform in front one of the world’s largest indoor video installations and Liberace – the Godfather of glitz – was able to pull up onstage in crystalized cars whilst wearing capes that weighed in at 60 pounds. 

Furthermore, Las Vegas residencies hold great advantages for fans too. Compare and contrast the relative intimacy of Britney Spears’ theatre at Planet Hollywood with its audience capacity of 4,600 to the venues she toured in 2011 that saw her playing to crowds of anywhere from 8000-30,000. There are also the personal touches of fans being able to shop from a dedicated Britney boutique before her shows and viewing a makeshift museum of Spears costumes and relics in the concert hall lobby. There’s even the option of heading to a post-show bar that serves Britney-inspired martinis and employs dancers dressed like ‘…Baby One More Time’ school girls. It may sound tacky but it’s giving fans what they want and then some.

With the inaugural Rock In Rio USA festival taking place in Las Vegas in May, which sees big hitters like Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars and Metallica topping the bill, it gives other sure-fire sell-out names the chance to consider what else the “Entertainment Capital Of The World” has to offer them. With the only prerequisites, really, for a Vegas residency being that an artist has A) 90 minutes worth of material that can be dressed up to the nines and B) enough fans who are over the age of 21, who’s to stay that Britney Spears’ runaway success isn’t just the tip of the iceberg?

Whilst there remains competing heritage acts and revamped legends, such as Cirque De Soleil shows using music of The Beatles, Michael Jackson and Elvis, the reality is that Las Vegas punters are getting younger and an extravagent concert is just the start of a good night out. Was Kanye West ill-advised to have turned down a recent offer of $4.5 million for a nine day residency? Probably. If Britney Spears can thrive out there in the desert just imagine what kind of damage a Beyoncé, Jay Z or even Daft Punk could do…

Written for Record of the Day 

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