Britney Spears’s VMAs snake-wrangler seems again, 20 years later: ‘It might have been actually dangerous’
By Lyndsey Parker Twenty years in the past on the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards, Britney Spears, on the peak of her efficiency powers, delivered probably the most electrifying and talked-about numbers in VMAs historical past. Showcasing a sultrier, extra subtle sound on the Neptunes-produced “I’m a Slave 4 U,” she strutted onstage at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House with a 7-foot albino Burmese python draped round her dainty shoulders, trying like the final word in-control snake-charmer. But that was only a testomony to the pop star’s professionalism — as a result of Spears was truly deathly fearful of her scaly co-star, in line with that night’s python-wrangler, Mike Hano. “She was extremely, extremely scared at first. I was very impressed with the way that she was able to just focus and force herself to do what she needed to do,” Hano, a former vice chairman of the New York Herpetological Society, tells Yahoo Entertainment. “She’s from Louisiana, and there are several types of venomous snakes down there and people do get bit sometimes. So, when I first showed up for the first rehearsal day, she was very frightened.” Spears did have some motive to be involved. Hano, who didn’t initially notice when he was employed how elaborate the “I’m a Slave 4 U” manufacturing can be, explains: “Britney Spears is pretty small — and she was going to be dancing with [the python]. She had to position the snake on her shoulders by herself and dance around, and then she had to hand it off to a third person … and it’s easy to screw up that kind of thing. You know, it gets wrapped around your arm and doesn’t want to let go. It could have been really risky, because that was a live performance, one take.” Hano notes that the python was a “relatively young animal” and never totally developed — it later grew from about 7 toes and 25 kilos to 15 toes and 100 kilos! — and that the Burmese breed is often “pretty mellow” and “pretty handleable” when raised in captivity. “The bad thing is that they get tremendous, and most people have no business keeping one of these, because they get big enough to kill you easily. And it’s not that they mean to kill you; it’s usually a so-called accident, a feeding response, where they think that they’re constricting a prey item. … Once they’re wrapped around something, they can’t even see what they’re wrapped around. All they know is that it’s warm and it’s struggling, so the snake keeps squeezing. There was an incident back in the ’90s where a young man, I think about 19 years old, right here in New York City, was killed by his pet Burmese python.” Hano provides that in 1999, Burmese pythons grew to become unlawful to maintain as pets in New York City, and he needed to get hold of a particular allow from the NYC Department of Health to ensure that one for use in Spears’s VMAs efficiency. All this thought of, it’s no marvel that Spears was skittish when it got here time to rehearse with the python, so it was crucial to Hano that he spend some high quality one-on-one time together with her to place her relaxed. But to be able to do this, he needed to undergo her entourage. “They had some person who I guess was supposed to be my handler or whatever, my liaison, and they had me sitting in the audience area,” Hano recollects. “So, I’m just waiting until they’re going to need me, and I told this guy several times that I would like to have a few minutes alone with Ms. Spears, so that if she had any questions or concerns, she could speak to me in private. And if she’s going to be holding the snake, she could try it away from everybody watching — just me and her and the snake. Sometimes with that kind of thing, if they’re a little uncomfortable, they can hold the rear part of the snake’s body while I’m holding the front part of the body, and as they get more comfortable with it, they can gradually move to the point where they can hold the snake on their own. That’s the way that I prefer to do it. Why would you want a hundred people watching you, if you’re scared and you might be a little embarrassed? And I told this guy that a couple of times, ‘Give me a few minutes alone with her, especially if she’s scared.’ I don’t think she had ever handled a snake before.” Finally, Hano was granted his request, though it was awkward. “They didn’t even let me speak to her before. This is my first time face to face with her — and I’m holding this python! And all of a sudden, she’s not ready to do that. I could see that she was uncomfortable,” he recollects. “But [the liaison] gave me a few minutes — and it only took just a very few minutes — where she was able to sit with me on the sidelines and realize that it’s not a big deal to hold a snake. So, we did the rehearsal that day, and then it was either later that day or the next day that I got a call from the agent that they wanted to do an additional rehearsal with the snake, just so that she would get very comfortable with it.” On the second day, Spears “said something to me about how she ‘broke out in hives’ everywhere that the snake had touched her during the rehearsal — which is just really not possible,” Hano chuckles. But in the long run, he says she was “very professional, very focused. Like, I remember a couple of times when the director said, ‘OK, everybody take five’ and basically everyone walked offstage, and she kept by herself and you could kind of hear her counting: ‘One, two, three, four…’ She kept practicing her moves by herself, without the music playing. You could tell that she was a really hard worker. And she did fine. She did great.” Interestingly, there was additionally a tiger in Spears’s jungle-themed “I’m a Slave 4 U” quantity — however although it seems that that massive cat was dealt with by none aside from Tiger King star Doc Antle, most followers keep in mind solely the yellow python. Animal rights activists teams like PETA did condemn Spears’s VMAs efficiency on the time, though Hano recollects the outrage was extra centered on the tiger than on the snake. “And I sort of agree about that,” he says. “Those animals are not really meant to be around pyrotechnics and loud music. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be doing that with tigers. With snakes it’s different, because they can’t see or hear or whatever.” And so the efficiency grew to become iconic particularly due to the snake, and it’s nonetheless referenced in popular culture — like in Grimes’s “Genesis” music video or Kaley Cuoco’s epic Britney tribute on Lip Sync Battle. Even Spears, regardless of her misgivings, went on to have fond recollections of the landmark efficiency, even tweeting concerning the python 11 years later and retroactively christening it “Banana.” (Hano isn’t positive the place that moniker got here from, as a result of Banana — as the feminine python will henceforth be recognized for the rest of this text — was anonymous on the time. “It can’t even hear you saying its name, you know,” he quips.) At first, Hano himself didn’t notice how momentous the efficiency was; whereas he was excited to be working on the Metropolitan Opera House as a result of he’d sung in a youngsters’s choir there from 1976 to 78 and had even shared the stage with Luciano Pavarotti at a televised 1977 live performance, he wasn’t well-versed in trendy pop music and wasn’t even conscious that Spears was a significant famous person. However, when he returned home that night with Banana after the 2001 VMAs wrapped, he rapidly realized that he’d been a part of MTV historical past. “I actually took the subway on the night of the job — because how are you going to park down there? — so I just had the snake in a cooler,” Hano confesses. “And after I did that job, I took the train home … It was a half-hour later that I came out of the train station and walked into my building, and there’s all these kids hanging out on the front stoop of my building. And they all knew me; they knew that I had a bunch of animals. So they saw me coming and said, ‘Hey, did you see that VMAs thing with Britney Spears? She had a snake!’ The whole neighborhood already knew about this thing. And I’m telling them, ‘Yeah, I just did that job. I got the snake right here on my shoulder in this cooler.’ They didn’t believe me … and then I actually took out the snake for them to check out. They could not believe it.” Hano, who was simply the wrangler and never the precise proprietor of the snake, says that as of final yr, the unique Banana was nonetheless alive and residing “somewhere in upstate New York,” though at an estimated age of 23, she is “getting up there” in years. However, he and the snake did work collectively once more on a vogue shoot about six or seven years after Spears’s efficiency, and at the moment he was shocked to see how a lot bigger the python was. “The snake had gotten much bigger [and heavier] since 2001, but the owner failed to admit it to me, and when I picked up the snake on the way to the job and realized how big it had grown, it was too late to look for another one,” Hano recollects. “Fortunately, at this job the models were completely covered in greasy black body paint — which I had also not been informed of — so the decision was made to suspend the snake from the pipe structure behind them, instead of draping it on their bodies.” As for Spears, who has been on an “indefinite work hiatus” from her Las Vegas residency since January 2019, it’s doable that she is going to by no means grace the MTV Video Music Awards’ stage once more. Her final VMAs efficiency was in 2016, when that look was truly hyped by a promo starring a slithering Banana lookalike. But Hano needs Spears nicely in her ongoing conservatorship battle, admires her expertise, and is all about #FreeBritney. “As far as her professional career or career in entertainment, I have no thoughts or feelings about that,” Hano states. “But I’d say that she’s already accomplished an awful lot. I hope she’s able to get through that and enjoy her life. She’s worked hard and she’s had a lot of success, and she deserves to enjoy it. And if she does work again, I hope it’s just because it’s something she wants to do, and not for anyone else and not for money. She should be able to do whatever she wants to do.” Read extra from Yahoo Entertainment: Rose McGowan seems again at scandalous, see-through VMAs gown: ‘I hadn’t really ever dealt with global media shaming’ ‘I’m tellin’ y’all, it is sabotage’: Beastie Boys recall their two most controversial VMAs moments Nirvana supervisor recollects Kurt Cobain/Axl Rose VMAs feud: ‘They would be friends if Kurt were alive today’ Remembering Garbage’s ‘Push It,’ the most-robbed video in VMAs historical past Follow Lyndsey on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, Spotify.