Today in Madonna History: September 16, 2017

On September 15 2017, Madonna spoke to Mark Savage (BBC) about how after a career of huge production shows, she’s thinking about a smaller scale residency style show in the future.

“I’ve done so many shows – world tours, stadiums, sports arenas, you name it – that I feel like I have to reinvent that now too. I like doing intimate shows and being able to talk directly to the audience. This is something I’m exploring right now: the idea of doing a show that doesn’t travel the world, but stays in one place and utilizes not only humour and the music in a more intimate setting but other people’s music, as well, and other entertainment. Kind of a revolving door of amazing, gifted, unique talent – dancers, musicians, singers, comedians, me, humour. I don’t know! Like, I’m trying to come up with all those ideas now.”

Here’s part of their interview:

Before we start, there’s one thing I need to know: Did your FedEx package ever arrive?

Ha ha! Yes, it has. FedEx is blaming customs, customs is blaming FedEx and we’ll never know what happened. But I have it now.

So, I saw the Rebel Heart tour when you were in London and the DVD does a really good job of capturing what it was like to be in the audience. How do you go about that?

I was there every step of the way, every day for months and months. It’s really hard to capture the true feeling of the excitement and the passion and the heat and the blood, sweat and tears. I’m pleased with the way it came out.

There’s a particularly touching sequence during True Blue, where everybody in the audience embraces each other.

I know, it’s a very sweet, emotional moment in the show. I didn’t expect it to be, but when I look back at the DVD it almost brings a tear to my eye because everyone seems so in love.

How do you put a show like this together? Where do you get the ideas?

Everything’s based around my song choice. So first, I go through my catalogue of songs with my band and I start working on things that excite me and inspire me in the moment. Some songs I’m sick of doing and I don’t want to do them. Other songs I say, “No, I did that on the last tour, I don’t want to do it again.”

So I try to rotate things and I also try to reflect my current mood and what I’ve been feeling, and what’s been inspiring me artistically or filmically, politically, philosophically. I try to put songs together in groups that have thematic connection, and then I try to tell a story. And then I do the visuals. It’s quite a process.

What are the songs you don’t want to do again?

Well, I tend to not want to do the songs I did on the tour before. That’s what I mean. So if I did Material Girl on the tour before, or Express Yourself on the tour before, then I’ll say, “OK, I did that for 88 shows. I can’t do it again.”

How do you keep a healthy balance between new songs and your back catalogue?

It’s just playing in rehearsal. It’s really hard for me, especially with my older songs, to do them with the original arrangement. Because 33 years later, after doing it for so long, you just have to reinvent things. Well, I do.

And it’s fun for me to take an ’80s pop song and turn it into a salsa song, or turn it into a samba, or make an uptempo song into a ballad.

The DVD also includes the Tears of a Clown show you did in Melbourne. Was that a one-off or a trial run for a different type of Madonna concert?

I like doing intimate shows and being able to talk directly to the audience; to play with them and use humour and pathos and truth, and share my life – and also make up stories. I like the freedom of it and I like the intimacy of it, and I would like to explore doing it more in the future.

Maybe a residency?

Yeah, a residency. If I look back at the Rebel Heart tour, my favourite part was really the last section where I got to just sit on the stage and play my ukulele and sing La Vie en Rose and talk to the audience. [It was] just more intimate. More audience participation and connecting to human beings – I feel I’m craving that more and more.

Did it feel like there was more room for improvisation in that section?

Yeah, I have freedom and I can make mistakes. That’s another thing I do in Tears of a Clown – if I start a song off wrong and I make a boo-boo, I just turn around and go “Stop! Let’s start again!”

When you’re doing a sports arena show, you’re linked up to video, you can’t stop. Once the train leaves the station, you have to keep going.

There’s a certain kind of adrenalin rush to that – but there’s no room for error. So I like the idea of mistakes and free-styling. Free-falling, really. It’s more exciting to me right now.

You can read the full interview here.

Today in Madonna History: September 6, 1989

On September 6 1989, Madonna presented the Video Vanguard Award to George Michael at the 6th annual MTV Video Music Awards at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, California. Madonna also performed her hit Express Yourself during the show.

Today in Madonna History: August 5, 1989

On August 5 1989, Madonna’s Express Yourself spent its third week at #1 on Billboard’s Maxi-Single Sales chart (then known as the 12-Inch Single Sales chart) in the US.

With various Shep Pettibone remixes being used to promote the single on radio and in its accompanying video, the wide exposure and popularity of the Express Yourself remixes would allow the 12″ single to hang on to the top spot for a fourth and final consecutive week in the August 12th issue of Billboard. By the time it bowed out a month later it had spent a total of twelve weeks on the Maxi-Single Sales chart.

Today in Madonna History: July 24, 1989

On July 24 1989, Express Yourself spent the first of two weeks at #1 on the Canadian Top 100 Singles chart published by RPM.

Today in Madonna History: May 25, 2004

On May 25 2004, Rolling Stone magazine published a review of Madonna’s Re-Invention World Tour with the headline, “Madonna Reinvents herself. Amid images of war and peace, pop star shows she can sing.”

Here’s the review by Barry Walters:

After twenty years in the limelight, Madonna is expected to cause controversy and reinvent herself for every new tour. So for the May 24th Los Angeles opening of her Re-Invention world trek, Madonna did the most unexpected thing she could: She came back as a great concert singer.

Even the most diehard Madonna fan will concede that her live performances have almost without exception been plagued by a multitude of missed notes, breathy passages, and, as of late, fake British accents. But while Mariah and Whitney have of been losing the acrobatic vocal dexterity and lung power on which their reputations rest, forty-five-year-old Madonna, whom few have ever taken seriously as a musician, has never sounded better than she did during the first of several gigs in her adopted West Coast home. Whether rocking out with classic black Les Paul in hand during a metallic rendition of her early club hit “Burning Up,” or performing “Like a Prayer” behind a screen-projected gospel choir, Madonna belted, and did not once seemed strained. In the midst of a $1 million production festooned with a walkway that jutted out from the stage and over the audience, massive moving video screens, a dozen dancers, a bagpipe player, a stunt skateboarder and a whole lot of emotionally charged anti-war imagery, the focus was nevertheless on Madonna, and how she’s matured into a truly great pop singer.

Opening with a yoga-trained twist on her famous Louis XIV-inspired MTV Video Music Awards rendition of “Vogue” and ending on a kilt-wearing finale of “Holiday” against a video backdrop of national flags that eventually morphed into one, the show was thematically simpler and more focused than her last several productions.

The barbarism of war and the necessity of love were at the heart of the entire show, and both played off each other, sometimes for ironic and decidedly uneasy effect. The original military-themed video footage of “American Life” that the singer withheld at the start of the Iraq war was finally unveiled, and then expanded upon during “Express Yourself,” where Madonna sang her anthem of unbridled, intimate communication in front of dancers dressed as soldiers and goose-stepping with twirling rifles.

By contrast, Madonna closed an extended acoustic section of the show with a straightforward and thoroughly committed rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” as images of war and poverty-ravaged children eventually gave way to footage of a Muslim boy and his Israeli counterpart smiling as they walked with their arms wrapped around each other.

The heaviness of much of the imagery was balanced by Madonna’s own presence, which seemed remarkably fun-loving and self-assured for the opening night of her most technically complex production. Only when she strapped on an acoustic or electric guitar during several songs and repeatedly glanced at her left hand to make sure it was playing the proper chords did she seem at all nervous. “How many people out there really think that I am the Material Girl?” she asked during a break in her most iconic early smash as she strummed with much deliberation.

For the last several songs, Madonna and her dancers donned black and white kilts, an apparent nod to husband Guy Ritchie’s Scottish heritage, and black T-shirts that read “Kabbalists Do It Better,” a cheeky reference to both her religious studies and the “Italians Do It Better” T-shirt she wore during her video for “Papa Don’t Preach,” a song that was performed without the “near-naked pregnant women” described in pre-tour reports of the show. In a number dedicated for the “fans that’ve stood by me for the last twenty years,” she sang her earliest hit ballad, “Crazy For You,” earnestly and without contrivance.

Madonna’s continued relevance was impressive, but it was even more striking that she’s putting more love and genuine passion into her spectacle than ever.

 

Today in Madonna History: March 22, 2017

On March 22 2017, The Huffington Post published an article titled, “Why Madonna’s Like A Prayer Is The Most Important Album Ever Made By A Female Artist.”

Here are some of the highlights from the article:

28 years ago this week, Madonna released what is not only her best album to date, but also what could be the most important release ever by a female artist. That’s not to say that Like a Prayer is the best album ever by a female artist, but it’s pretty close. After six years of being considered pop fluff and a disco dolly, Madonna was finally taken seriously by most music critics in 1989. Still, Like a Prayer deserved even more than bewildering critical acclaim.

If Madonna and misogyny weren’t practically synonyms, Like a Prayer would have not only won several Grammys in 1990 (it didn’t even earn any major nominations), but it would be widely praised for its songwriting and production 28 years later. If a man delivered the same type of vocals Madonna did on Like a Prayer, critics would note that his voice isn’t technically perfect, but distinct, melodic, and full of emotion. When it comes to Madonna, who certainly could never hit the notes of Aretha Franklin or Whitney Houston, it’s just easier for people to say that she “can’t sing.”

For people (especially millennials) to understand how important Like a Prayer is to culture and music, they have to comprehend the repressive environment Madonna’s album arrived to in March of 1989. The late 1980s was ruled by the religious right, who believed AIDS was a curse God gave to the gay community. Women who were outspoken or wore revealing clothes were referred to as sluts, whores, bitches, etc. Police brutality among African Americans was still widely accepted without much of a backlash. And interracial dating was still considered a taboo.

The pamphlet on AIDS Madonna included with each copy of Like a Prayer alone proves that the notion of Madonna being a bad role model and having a bad influence on Generation X (especially women and teenagers) just isn’t true. Madonna educated many about AIDS and safe sex at a time when schools, the media, and religious institutions stayed away from the topic. A move like this in 1989 could have hurt a showbiz career, but Madonna survived and thrived by doing the right thing and, possibly, helping to save lives at the same time.

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