Since Madonna kicked off her world tour in June, her flair for drama has drawn the ire of Scotland (for using stage guns), Turkey (for flashing her breast), France (for superimposing a swastika on a picture and playing a too-short set) and the Russian government (for supporting gay rights and championing the imprisoned Pussy Riot bandmembers).
And yet, when it comes to the politics of provocation, Her Madgesty rules. Her perseverance in pushing buttons already has made the MDNA tour one of the year’s biggest: Thus far, it has grossed $115.7 million in Europe and $111 million in ticket sales alone in North America.
So Madonna’s dual New York City dates came with a knowing swagger. “I’m a New Yorker, too,” she bellowed on Night 2 — a rainy evening that lent shimmer and soul to her performance. The theatrics were finally welcome in this city that boasts a fertile history of enticement and iniquity.
Of course, one New Yorker remains a holdout. Lady Gaga has likened her de facto spirit animal’s persistent stunt of live-mashing “Born This Way” into “Express Yourself” in concert to bullying. Madonna’s finely toned ass, however, was covered by persistent onstage talk of tolerance supplemented with a moving interstitial montage remembering bullied gay men who recently committed suicide. You don’t mess with a pioneering OG gay-rights supporter, you see.
For the most part, the show has remained the same: at once bafflingly and intriguingly all over the place and seemingly influenced by everything from Kill Bill to Mad Max to Xanadu. The locked-in set was too heavy on the new material, but in fairness, this type of hubris seems to afflict many almost-legacy artists from Madonna to Metallica.
And in an effort to embrace transformation, a handful of the old material was curiously restructured. Sure, it’s interesting to hear “Like a Virgin” crooned Marianne Faithfull-style as an almost-dirge, but it isn’t fun. The true crowd-pleasers were purist renditions of “Like a Prayer” and “Vogue” that elicited as many squeals as they did goosebumps.
The visuals were thick on metaphors. Madonna came out blazin’ with machine guns and then pistols, blood-soaked Rorschach images on the screens behind her, as she negotiated the middle ground between religion and violence. She threw on a beret Patty Hearst-style and morphed into what looked like an audition for a Tarantino film.
That led to a dark, apocalyptic “Papa Don’t Preach,” followed by rubber S&M escapade during “Hung Up,” then full-on majorette glee with “Express Yourself.” From there, crowds witnessed tribal drumming, dubstep, sexed-up writhing and even tai chi (Is it the new yoga? Discuss!).
Madonna has referred to her show as “part spectacle and sometimes intimate performance art,” but really it’s mostly spectacle. The 54-year-old’s moves may be visibly slower than in previous tours, but there’s no denying her indefatigable charisma
Aside from swapping out French right-winger Marine Le Pen’s swastika-laden big-screen image with her own, Madonna hasn’t changed much of her show. Any placating came through sometimes rambling feel-good us-against-them monologues on the importance of togetherness and tolerance. (“We’re in this shit together. We’re family!”) There was a patriotic bent to these declarations — like, how lucky we are to live in America — which roused her liberal crowd during this election time.
And why not? As a hardworking upstart from the Motor City who became the first woman to headline Yankee Stadium, Madonna truly embodies the American Dream. At the moment, hers remains a dizzying reverie of twisted fantasy and, yes, blonde ambition.
Girl Gone Wild
Papa Don’t Preach
I Don’t Give A
Give Me All Your Luvin’
Turn Up the Radio
Open Your Heart
The Erotic Candy Shop
Like a Virgin Waltz
I’m a Sinner
Like a Prayer