Today in Madonna History: September 18, 2019

On September 18 2019, the New York Times published a review (Jon Pareles) of Madonna’s opening Madame X Tour show held the night before at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn:

Madonna Is Still Taking Chances

Her Madame X show reimagines pop spectacle for a theater stage, merging her newest music and calls for political awareness with striking intimacy.

“I’m not here to be popular. I’m here to be free,” Madonna declared to a packed, adoring audience on Tuesday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House. It was the premiere of her Madame X Tour, named after the album she released in June that she has said was influenced by the music in Lisbon, her adopted home. The show follows her decades of arena spectacles by scaling the same kind of razzle-dazzle — dancers! costumes! video! choir! — for a theater stage.

Unlike jukebox musicals or “Springsteen on Broadway,” Madame X is a concert focusing on new songs and the present moment. In other words, Madonna is still taking chances. She will reach arena-size attendance in only a handful of venues on the eight-city tour, but with much longer engagements; the Gilman Opera House holds 2,098, and she booked 17 shows there, through Oct. 12. Onstage, “selling” a selfie Polaroid to an audience member who happened to be Rosie O’Donnell, she claimed, “I’m not making a dime on this show.”

Concertgoers arrived to what was billed as a phone-free experience. Cellphones and smart watches were locked into bags at the door, though quickly unlocked afterward. It helped prevent online spoilers; it certainly removed the distractions of waving screens. (No photography was permitted, including press.)

As both album and show, Madame X is Madonna’s latest declaration of a defiant, self-assured, flexible identity that’s entirely comfortable with dualities: attentive parent and sexual adventurer, lapsed Catholic and spiritual seeker, party girl and political voice, self-described “icon” and self-described “soccer mom,” an American and — more than ever — a world traveler.

Yes, she is 61, but her music remains determinedly contemporary, with the drum-machine sounds of trap, collaborations with hip-hop vocalists (Quavo and Swae Lee, shown on video) and the bilingual, reggaeton-flavored Latin pop sometimes called urbano (with the Colombian singer Maluma, also shown on video). The concert, with most of its music drawn from the Madame X album, was packed with pronouncements, symbols and enigmatic vignettes to frame the songs. Madonna often wore an eye patch with an X on it, no doubt a challenge to her depth perception as a dancer.

By the time Madonna had completed just the first two songs, she had already presented an epigraph from James Baldwin — “Artists are here to disturb the peace” — that was knocked out onstage by one of the concert’s recurring figures, a woman (sometimes Madonna herself) at a typewriter.

Gunshots introduced God Control, which moves from bitter mourning about gun deaths to happy memories of string-laden 1970s disco, while Madonna and dancers appeared in glittery versions of Revolutionary War finery, complete with feathered tricorn hats, only to be confronted by police with riot shields. Dark Ballet had Joan of Arc references, a montage of gothic cathedrals and scary priests, a synthesizer excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” and Madonna grappling with masked dancers, until cops pulled her off the piano she had been perched on. The signifiers were already piling up.

And there were more. Film-noir detectives pursued and interrogated Madonna in another disco-tinged song, I Don’t Search I Find; Crave, which warns, “My cravings get dangerous,” flaunted a full-sized disco ball. A pair of robotic but sinuous dancers, with red lights for eyes, flanked Madonna as she sat at a piano for the ominous Future, while the video screen filled with images of urban and environmental destruction. She surrounded herself with a choir of brightly robed women and geometric Arabic designs in Come Alive, which used the metal castanets and triplet rhythm of Moroccan gnawa music to back her as, once again, Madonna’s lyrics rejected unwanted opinions and restrictions.

The songs Madonna chose from her past were mostly exhortations and pushbacks, sometimes coupled with direct political statements. She sang part of Papa Don’t Preach, reversing its decision to “keep my baby,” then spoke directly about supporting abortion rights. Dancing while surrounded by video imagery of pointing fingers, she revived Human Nature, which already testified — a full 25 years ago — to Madonna’s tenacity and determination to express herself uncensored. When it ended, her daughters Mercy James, Estere and Stella were onstage, and the singers and a full-throated audience shared an a cappella Express Yourself.

The concert’s unquestioned showstopper was Frozen, a somber ballad from the 1998 album Ray Of Light that offers healing: “If I could melt your heart, we’d never be apart.” Madonna appeared as a tiny figure onstage, surrounded by giant video projections of a dancer moving from a self-protective clutch to a tentative, then joyful unfurling and back. It was her oldest daughter, Lourdes, affirming the family connection in movement.

Since 2017 Madonna has lived in Lisbon, where her son David plays soccer, and she spoke about savoring the city’s music: the Portuguese tradition of fado and music from Portugal’s former empire, particularly from the Cape Verde Islands near Senegal. One of the show’s most elaborate backdrops simulated a club in Lisbon.

But appreciation doesn’t equal mastery. Madonna was backed by the Portuguese guitarra player Gaspar Varela, the grandson of the fado singer Celeste Rodrigues, in an earnest, awkward fado-rooted song, Killers Who Are Partying from the Madame X album; she also performed a Cape Verdean classic, Sodade, made famous by Cesária Évora.

Reminding the audience that she had sung in Cape Verdean Creole and other languages, Madonna boasted, “This is a girl who gets around. This is a girl who does her homework.” But in the songs themselves, she only sounded like a well-meaning tourist.

Madonna was more suited to the harder beat of Batuka a song based on the matriarchal, call-and-response Cape Verdean tradition of batuque. Backed by more than a dozen batuque drummers and singers — Orquestra Batukadeiras — and doing some hip-shimmying batuque moves, Madonna conveyed the delight of her discovery, even as the hand-played beat gave way to electronic percussion.

Forty-one musicians, dancers and singers appeared throughout the two-hour-plus show, which came with the same wardrobe changes as any of Madonna’s large-scale extravaganzas (one, before Vogue, was executed before the audience, shielded by a dressing table). The singer wasn’t onstage for one of the most powerful dance moments, a break between acts when a row of performers convulsed gracefully at the lip of the stage to irregular breaths, set to a recording of Madonna intoning lyrics from Rescue Me.

Madonna spoke to and with the audience repeatedly, taking advantage of the intimacy of the room to tell bawdy jokes, apologize for starting the show late and sip a fan’s beer. But in songs and stage patter, she sometimes conflated self-realization and self-absorption with social progress. Contrasting freedom and slavery after Come Alive, she announced that slavery “begins with ourselves,” forgetting that the slave trade was not the same as being “slaves to our phones.”

Yet with Madonna, the spirit is more about sounds and images than literalism. I Rise, which ends both the album and the concert, samples a speech by Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. then goes on to some clumsy lyrics. But in a small theater, with a gospelly beat, raised fists, images of protests worldwide, a rainbow flag, and Madonna and her troupe parading up the aisle — close enough for fans to touch — there was no denying the conviction.

Set List: 

  • God Control
  • Dark Ballet
  • Human Nature
  • Express Yourself
  • Madame X Manifesto (video interlude)
  • Vogue
  • I Don’t Search I Find
  • Papa Don’t Preach / American Life
  • Coffin (video interlude)
  • Batuka
  • Fado Pechincha (with Gasper Varela)
  • Killers Who Are Partying
  • Crazy
  • Welcome to My Fado Club / La Isla Bonita
  • Sodade
  • Medellín
  • Extreme Occident
  • Rescue Me” (video interlude)
  • Frozen
  • Come Alive
  • Future
  • Crave
  • Like a Prayer
  • I Rise

Today in Madonna History: July 1, 2019

On July 1 2019, Billboard’s Joe Lynch reported on Madonna’s performance at the World Pride festivities in New York City the previous night:

Madonna opened with her Harlem ballroom scene-indebted smash Vogue and the audience response was deafening. After that, the musical shapeshifter brought out a single it’s safe to say no one expected to hear as part of a limited-length set: American Life. That being said, while it’s not one of her, say, 20 most renowned songs, the message of American Life has only grown more timely in the 16 years since its release, and its strangely compelling melange of squelching synths, strings and folk had the crowd rapt — especially when she dove head-first into the “soy latte” rap (which reals Stans in the crowd parroted back to her perfectly).

Midway through her wind-whipped set, Madge spoke to the historicity of the moment and the significance to her life. “Fifty years, people,” Madonna said. “Fifty years of freedom fighting. Fifty years of putting up with discrimination, hatred and intemperance. Fifty years of blood, sweat and tears. Fifty years of not bowing down to fear. We have been on this journey together, and I am so proud and honored to share this historical evening with you.”

Before returning to performing, she shouted-out her early NYC days. “You really don’t know. Since I came to New York as a wee little girl, I have always been embraced by queer nation. I always felt like an outsider but you made me feel like an insider. You must know how much I love and appreciate everyone here tonight.”

After that, the cops busted in — well, at least the police-themed dancers Madonna employs. They helped her create a visually powerful live performance of her Madame X highlight God Control, replete with detailed choreography and a disco groove that had the crowd gyrating and shimmying. She closed with I Rise, a powerful anthem for both gun control and LGBTQ rights, after which fireworks exploded over Pride Island as starry-eyed attendees headed home.

Source: Billboard.com

 

Today in Madonna History: June 21, 2019

On June 21 2019, Madonna’s Medellín reached #1 on Billboard’s Dance Club Play chart for the issue dated June 29.

The upbeat gem of a summer song featuring Maluma is Madonna’s 47th No. 1 hit on the Dance Club Play chart. Woo!

Here is a list of Madonna’s 47 number one Dance hits so far (June 2019):

1983 – Holiday/Lucky Star
1984 – Like A Virgin
1985 – Material Girl
1985 – Angel/Into the Groove
1987 – Open Your Heart
1987 – Causing a Commotion (Remix)
1988 – You Can Dance (LP Cuts)
1989 – Like A Prayer
1989 – Express Yourself
1990 – Keep It Together
1990 – Vogue
1991 – Justify My Love
1992 – Erotica
1993 – Deeper and Deeper
1993 – Fever
1994 – Secret
1995 – Bedtime Story
1997 – Don’t Cry for Me Argentina
1998 – Frozen
1998 – Ray of Light
1999 – Nothing Really Matters
1999 – Beautiful Stranger
2000 – American Pie
2000 – Music
2001 – Don’t Tell Me
2001 – What It Feels Like for a Girl
2001 – Impressive Instant
2002 – Die Another Day
2003 – American Life
2003 – Hollywood
2003 – Me Against the Music – Britney Spears featuring Madonna
2004 – Nothing Fails
2004 – Love Profusion
2005 – Hung Up
2006 – Sorry
2006 – Get Together
2006 – Jump
2008 – 4 Minutes
2008 – Give It 2 Me
2009 – Celebration
2012 – Give Me All Your Luvin’
2012 – Girl Gone Wild
2012 – Turn Up the Radio
2015 – Living for Love
2015 – Ghosttown
2015 – Bitch I’m Madonna
2019 – Medellín

Today in Madonna History: June 14, 2019

On June 14 2019, Madonna’s fourteenth studio album, Madame X, was released worldwide on Interscope Records.

In a 4-star (out of 5) review of the album, Slant Magazine’s Sal Cinquemani noted:

“Madonna has a reputation for being a trendsetter, but her true talent lies in bending those trends to her will, twisting them around until they’re barely recognizable, and creating something entirely new. Madame X is fearless, the sound of an artist unapologetically indulging all of her whims and quirks.”

Deluxe Album:

1. Medellín (feat. Maluma)
(Madonna, Mirwais Ahmadzai, Maluma Londono, Edgar Barrera) produced by Madonna & Mirwais
2. Dark Ballet
(Madonna & Mirwais Ahmadzai) produced by Madonna & Mirwais
3. God Control
(Madonna & Mirwais Ahmadzai) produced by Madonna, Mirwais & Mike Dean
4. Future (feat. Quavo)
(Madonna, Thomas Pentz, Brittany Talia Hazzard, Quavious Keyate Marshall) produced by Madonna & Diplo
5. Batuka
(Madonna, Banda, Mirwais Ahmadzai) produced by Madonna & Mirwais
6. Killers Who Are Partying
(Madonna & Mirwais Ahmadzai) produced by Madonna & Mirwais
7. Crave (feat. Swae Lee)
(Madonna, Khalif Malik Ibn Shaman Brown, B T Hazzard) produced by Madonna, Billboard & Mike Dean
8. Crazy
(Jason Evigan, Madonna, B T Hazzard) produced by Madonna, Mike Dean & Jason Evigan
9. Come Alive
(Jeff Bhasker, Madonna, B T Hazzard) produced by Madonna, Jeff Bhasker & Mike Dean
10. Extreme Occident
(Madonna & Mirwais Ahmadzai) produced by Madonna & Mirwais
11. Faz Gostoso (feat. Anitta)
(Carmo, Nuno, Oliveira, Seabra, Vieira, Rodrigues, Madonna) produced by Madonna, Billboard & Mike Dean
12. Bitch I’m Loca (feat. Maluma)
(Madonna, L D’Elia, Londono, Barrera, JAMES, Rodriguez, Stiven Rojas) produced by Madonna & Billboard
13. I Don’t Search I Find
(Madonna & Mirwais Ahmadzai) produced by Madonna & Mirwais
14. Looking For Mercy
(Madonna & B T Hazzard) produced by Madonna, Jeff Bhasker & Mike Dean
15. I Rise
(Jason Evigan, Madonna, B T Hazzard) produced by Madonna & Jason Evigan

Deluxe CD Edition (Bonus Disc):

1. Funana
(Madonna & Mirwais Ahmadzai) produced by Madonna & Mirwais
2. Back That Up to the Beat
(Madonna, Pharrell Williams, B T Hazzard) produced by Madonna, Jeff Bhasker, Mike Dean & Pharrell Williams
3. Ciao Bella
(Madonna & Mirwais Ahmadzai) produced by Madonna & Mirwais

Today in Madonna History: June 10, 2019

On Monday June 10 2019, the official Madonna store added the following new Madonnabilia items for sale (available for FIVE days only – so get in there!) in in support/celebration of World Pride 2019:

  • Limited edition lithograph (hand-numbered poster)
  • Limited edition t-shirt
  • Limited edition Pride flag (bundled with the limited edition rainbow Madame X picture disc vinyl)

Here is the message from the official store:

Celebrate your PRIDE and help Madonna support a great cause with the Limited Edition Madame X Crave x World Pride Tee & Digital Download

In Honor of Pride, all of Madonna’s proceeds will go to The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth.

For more information about their life-affirming work, please visit www.thetrevorproject.org.

If you’re thinking about suicide, The Trevor Project is free, confidential and here for you 24/7 – call them at 1-866-488-7386 or text 678-678.

Today in Madonna History: June 7, 2019

On June 7 2019,  Gay Times published a review of Madonna’s Dark Ballet music video:

Madonna has released her powerful music video for new single Dark Ballet.

The song, which the Queen of Pop first teased during her Met Gala performance in 2018, is the final track to be released ahead of her highly-anticipated 14th studio album Madame X, which is due out on Friday 14 June.

“They are so naive, they think we are not aware of their crimes. We know, but we are just not ready to act. The storm isn’t in the air, it’s inside of us,” she declares on the experimental track, which also samples the Nutcracker in its autotune-laden bridge.

Queer rapper Mykki Blanco stars in the Emmanuel Adjei-directed video as Joan of Arc, who was famously burned at the stake following numerous charges including cross-dressing – a scene which is powerfully recreated in the clip.

“They judged her. They said she was a man, they said she was a lesbian, they said she was a witch, and, in the end, they burned her at the stake, and she feared nothing. I admire that,” Madonna says of Joan, the inspiration for the video.

The video also begins with a quote from Joan, and ends with a quote from Mykki, which reads: “I have walked this earth, black, queer and HIV positive, but no transgression against me has been as powerful as the hope I hold within.”

After months of speculation, Madonna has been confirmed as the headliner of WorldPride 2019 in New York City.

On 30 June, the Queen of Pop will perform at the Hudson River Park Pier 97 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, alongside several other legendary acts such as Cyndi Lauper, Ciara and Grace Jones.

Today in Madonna History: May 19, 2019

On May 19 2019, Madonna was scolded in the international press for “making a political statement” during her performance at the Eurovision Song Contest held the previous day, which ended with performers wearing Israeli and Palestinean flags on their backs with arms interlocked in embrace and the words “wake up” appearing on a stage screens.

Madonna’s camp responded with what should be (but is apparently not) obvious: “A message of peace is not a political statement.”

Here is the common definition of the term political statement:

The term political statement is used to refer to any act or non-verbal form of communication that is intended to influence a decision to be made for or by a political party. A political statement can vary from a mass demonstration to the wearing of a badge with a political slogan.

How exactly Madonna’s performance constitutes a political statement in the eyes of the media is puzzling. She did not endorse the political advancement or agenda of either side; she simply reiterated her longstanding and widely expressed wish for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

A more reasonable argument would be that had she not included this symbolic gesture in her performance, it may have been construed as muted political support for Israel’s position. By making the gesture she did, she instead reiterated her political neutrality and her wish for peace.

Equally telling was the network’s response that its desire was to broadcast an entertainment special that essentially whitewashed the realities of the conflict. Clearly, they would have us believe that ignoring the conflict is the acceptable, non-partisan stance, while acknowledging the conflict and expressing one’s hope for its peaceful resolution should be viewed as provocational or controversial.

The irony is that it is only those who are trying to frame Madonna’s actions as a political statement that are, in fact, making one.

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