One thing can get a buttoned-up millennial feminist to praise Las Vegas: Britney Spears.
With chin lifted and arms outstretched, a magenta strobe light illuminated his angular face, framed by his shoulder-grazing hair, revealing his twisted expression to be one not of pain but sheer, celestial joy.
"All of this created pop music," yelled the man, a dead-ringer for the deity, who appeared near tears in the rows of the Axis Theater, above the skull-thumping drum machines pulsing through the concert hall's speakers. "And we're obsessed with it!"
He motioned to the fellow disciples flanking him, a group of friends who had wandered to the Nevada desert from Brooklyn — nominally to celebrate the fellow superfan's 25th birthday, but mostly to see this showcase of miracles.
But the real savior of the night was skip-walking a few hundred feet in front of him in a crop top, necktie and shimmery emerald hot pants embossed with giant letters: "KISSES." In his rumpled white T-shirt, a flannel button-down knotted around his narrow hips, he would have looked more at home at the Warped Tour.
But that's the thing about Las Vegas. Things aren't always what they appear.
"The reality is, Britney Spears saved our lives. We're all gay dudes." He shout-repeated the first line of the creed over the bludgeoning synths, this time unable to suppress an expletive.
What if I told you that there was a place with no sadness? That there was a longitude-latitude coordinate in the United States where, in these dark times of sociopolitical disintegration, red-state retirees, gay black Gen Z-ers and marrieds with mortgages unite in one 4600-seat-capacity sanctuary of fellowship? That, in roughly 90 euphonic minutes, a world-weary spirit could be healed, because America has already been made great?
Wait, there's one person at this old-school revival at Planet Hollywood who's sad. He has come to see Britney (known here by others as Queen, Godney and Mommy) with his wife and a misguided assumption.
"I think I paid $600 to watch her lip-sync," says Ray, a bearded, lightly sunburned and burned-out-looking Baltimore resident in a peach button-down, from a primo seat in the second row. Confetti that was supposed to mimic snow was pirouetting through the air, closing the ballad Everytime.
At about a third of the way into the show, Ray is entertained - he wants to emphasise that - but he had hoped to hear the star's vocals in the wild, undigitised. Especially because his last-minute ticket grab was a budget "splurge".
"You know what?"A moment of enlightenment. "My wife let me rent a Ferrari today, so I might as well take her to Britney Spears."
Obliging husbands and boyfriends be warned: Visitors to Vegas who wish to witness real choral acrobatics should head elsewhere on the Strip.
But if you're even vaguely interested in pop music, dance and the art of performance, see Piece of Me, which Spears will perform at the Planet Hollywood casino throughout 2017.
With a set list and choreography that was revamped in early spring, the freshened-up concert wisely buries the last vestiges of the '90s pop princess's Mouseketeer roots and faces her forward, dominatrix whip in hand, on the musical landscape of 2016.
Think a Las Vegas base is a risky bet for an artist - especially one a decade out from real cultural relevance? Turns out, thanks to a variety of factors, the tawny terrain into which Spears drove her stake a little less than three years ago has been fruitful, if US$35 million ($48m) to extend her uber-successful residency counts.
The city's live-music industry is blossoming as arena headliners deem it a required stop and festivals thrive there. Rappers, electronic dance music talents and fellow pop stars are inking those sought-after residency deals every other month.
The singer follows her own work-ethic anthem: In May, Spears opened the Billboard Music Awards and next month she'll join a score of marquee names at the IHeartRadio Music Festival. Her latest single, Make Me, a pensive, R&B-soaked sex jam, is winning critical "likes."
But these stirrings of promotion ahead of her ninth album, which will drop on August 26, seem like overkill when considering her valuable audience here: a regenerating fan base of die-hards.
I was one of the first. A lifelong unabashed pop lover — and old millennial who was coming of age just as the teen-pop industry metastasised — I thought that my front seat on the first candy-colored, plastic-coated Britney bus and patient loyalty through the Federline Years placed me among top devotees.
My Email My Heart intimacy with the B-sides was shared with my college roommate, a Denverite who initiated a 12-person convergence in Sin City this spring to fulfill a Britney bucket-list wish for her birthday.
But getting me to Las Vegas involved a battle of wills.
Using the parlance of our era, emoji, my adulthood attitude toward the place has been the molars-bearing cringe-face, if not the scatalogical one. As a non-gambler and risk-averse person overall, I've not only never felt tempted by Bacchus to a destination where what happened needed to stay there, I've actively avoided it. I haven't felt deprived. I'm a gal who jibes with certain East Coast stereotypes — fashion preferences tending toward the buttoned-up. In Vegas, my wardrobe might as well be a burqa.
I also lack the desire to see garden-variety desperation, warped standards of female beauty and depravity around every turn. My inaugural visit to Las Vegas, in 2014, when I attended a professional conference and tacked on a few days for exploring, confirmed the geographical friction.
An advertisement for escorts shoved in my face on the sidewalk - by a bedraggled middle-aged woman making kissing noises? My evening didn't need that.
The Heart Attack Grill, where "over 350 lbs. eats free," spilling a line out onto Fremont Street? Come on, America.
Most alarming, Ed Hardy and Affliction apparel continued to plague the pedestrian population. This is the superbug we've feared.
Inside the Miracle Mile Shops — an indoor mall whose design, like every building in this town, was commissioned by King Minos — I watched people snap selfies in front of one-half of a fake ship, inexplicably docked above a restaurant, and during a barely detectable two-minute simulated rainstorm.
You'll never see me take photos here, I vowed smugly.