Does such a thing as Madonna’s paradox already exist? How do you expect one of the biggest pop stars on earth to contradict herself and her audience every time and then always proves the opposite? On Friday evening in the Ziggo Dome, a few whistles sound just after ten – be it out of excitement or out of irritation – when Madonna is not yet on stage. The concert hall has already been open for about three hours. Just wait another fifteen minutes and then the cue button is pressed for a 140-minute career overview in seven stunning acts.
Photography Kevin Mazur/Live Nation (London 2023)
The theory just drawn up can not only be applied to tonight’s show, but can also easily be extended to the year that Madonna went through. Because who would have thought that she would still be here? “I realized how lucky I am to be alive,” she posted in July on Instagram, a month after a hospital admission due to a serious bacterial infection last summer. The entire American round of this Celebration Tour was canceled, but the European round from October remained unchanged. Six months later, she is standing here as if nothing has happened. Introduced by the sassy master of ceremonies Bob The Drag Queen brings them the first message of the evening: ‘Because of you / Nothing really matters / Love is all we need.’
This won’t just be an evening pop royalty to idolize; the Celebration Tour mainly focuses on others. Madonna’s influences, friends, children, and every now and then those fans who have been standing here in the cold all day. But you have to keep your mouth shut when she is speaking and talking about her life. Because royalties, they don’t tell the truth. They tell you what you want to hear, according to the Queen of Pop herself. And that’s why we’re here, right?
A bulldozer load of greatest hits and fan favorites, sometimes in a new guise, sometimes completely unchanged. Put together by old musical right-hand man Stuart Price. You know, that star producer of The Killers, Kylie Minogue and Everything Everything, who also produced Madonna’s Drowned World Tour (2001), Re-Invention Tour (2004) and Confessions Tour (2006) – definitely three of Madonna’s most memorable tours – provided creative stardust. A band on stage? No, unless you mean it in tape form. Sometimes there is some playing on a cello, guitar or piano, but tonight we have to rely on the show element.
The modular decor allows us to wait in line with Madonna and her dancers at the famous New York nightclub Paradise Garage to enter the club. Holiday in entanglement with Chic’s I Want Your Love to interpret around a huge disco ball. And from the early days in New York we quickly jump to the religious thread (is that still a Kabbalah bracelet on her wrist?) in Madonna’s work, which she extends from her own cornerstone Like A Prayer to modern pupils such as Sam Smith and Kim Petras with their Unholy. And with that screaming guitar solo in the b-side Act Of Contrition an ode is also given to the performer: Prince.
As musically thoughtful, ingeniously put together and refreshing as the show sometimes seems, it can also be a huge mess. Many of the 26 tracks (not including interludes) do not go further than a verse and a chorus, the chronology sometimes goes completely overboard, the sound is sometimes unbearable and reaches 120 decibels, the backing track is often more intelligible than Madonna yourself. At times the 65-year-old artist even comes across as a bit fragile, with a knee injury and her restrained steps during the first act. But once she warms up, she proves the opposite again: later in the show she makes a lively impression and floats over the audience.
So it becomes Live To Tell this evening a specific link to Madonna’s circle of friends, many of whom died of AIDS. On World Aids Day an extra tangible highlight, when she floats over the audience in a kind of frame between the portraits of fallen loved ones. And then we are back in the nineties. The years in which Madonna broke even more taboos surrounding sex, released an erotic coffee table book, and subsequently reinvented herself spiritually.
With all that freedom to express, inspire and experiment, Madonna sees it as her job to tell us how happy we are that medicine exists, and that we are here together. Perhaps this long speech, after her own near-death experience, is the most intimate moment you could ever experience live with Madonna. We have long since forgotten about that sex pad. It’s nice that this raging, bloody horny spectacle is paused for a hefty five minutes of monologue.
Maybe it’s a bit corny, but after quite a few laser shows, ballroom jury duty with special guest Sevdaliza, rodeo clowns and boxing matches, an acoustic cover of Gloria Gaynors I Will Survive – with all telephone lights on at the request of the queen – exactly what we need after this speech. Madonna makes it her personal mantra and strums along on the guitar, before culminating perfectly in an explosive The beautiful island. Just right to continue celebrating what was, is and what can be reinvented. Everyone’s attention again.
Perhaps Madonna has been painfully irrelevant in recent years due to her TikTok remixes, alienating Instagram reels, cosmetics line and musical absence. But in part six of the Celebration Tour something happens that perhaps no one expected, but which turns out to be oh so logical and natural: Madonna reinvents her own work. With a triple hit Bedtime Story, Ray Of Light (in a techno remix by Sasha) and Rain Madonna makes these 90s classics feel like they were made today, no, tomorrow.
Dressed in a techno alien outfit a la VTSS and Grimes, she floats over the audience between lasers in the entire color spectrum, almost manically bobbing her head at her most uplifting single ever made (Ray Of Light, So). A spectacle that makes your jaw drop and makes you think: damn, she’s done it again. Being able to do this at the age of sixty-five is true mastery.
Call Madonna old, irrelevant, shocking, fake, clean, run-down, cold, diva – you name it. But who doesn’t have a favorite song, tangible moment or… from this sparkling mosaic of a career overview? impressive instant is really finished. Even when you hardly expect it anymore, Madonna still manages to surprise and prove the opposite. It has become a law: if Madonna visits again, we will be there again. Because we are going to be surprised. As she herself wrote on the screens: never can say goodbye. Even though this may be the last time we are physically welcomed into her world.
Seen: December 1, 2023 in Ziggo Dome, Amsterdam.
Our new book!
The best, sharpest, most beautiful and most readable from 52 years of pop criticism OVER. Order it here.
The post first appeared on oor.nl