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: May 4, 2016

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On May 4 2016, Madonna tweeted about her long-time friend and Like A Prayer collaborator, Prince:

“It’s been 7 hours and 13 days since you took your love away……….all the flowers you planted died when you went away……….Nothing Compares 2 U.”

Today in Madonna History: April 29, 1989

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On April 29 1989, Madonna’s Like A Prayer album entered its second week at #1 on the Canadian album charts.

Hitting number #1 on April 22 1989, Like A Prayer would remain at the top of the Canadian album charts until the week of June 3 1989.

Today in Madonna History: April 22, 1989

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On April 22 1989, Madonna’s Like A Prayer album and single reached #1 simultaneously in the USA.

The album stayed at the top of the charts for 6 weeks, while the single stayed at the top of the Hot 100 for 3 weeks.

Today in Madonna History: April 15, 1989

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On April 15 1989, Madonna’s Like A Prayer became the number one dance single on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart.

Like A Prayer remained number one for the week of April 22.

Today in Madonna History: March 22, 2001

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On March 22 2001, Madonna’s What It Feels Like For A Girl music video premiered.

The video was directed by Madonna’s then-husband, Guy Ritchie, and was deemed to be “Too Hot for TV” by MTV and VH1 because the video depicted gunplay, assault and suicide.

MTV released this statement about the video and their decision to ban it:

It’s been some time since Madonna ruffled the feathers of MTV or VH1 execs with a controversial video — perhaps not since 1992’s Erotica clip — so just under a decade later, the first lady of shock pop is out to prove she can still make ’em sweat.

Unlike the steamy segments of Erotica, 1990’s Justify My Love, and the one that started it all, Like a Prayer, it’s not the sexual content of What It Feels Like for a Girl that raises the red flag, it’s the violence — a concerted no-no in the post-Columbine, and more recently post-Santana, decision-making process.

The music in the video, it should be noted, is a dance remix of the version found on Madonna’s latest album, Music. The album cut will serve as the LP’s third single.

 Directed by her husband, British filmmaker Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), the clip depicts gunplay, violent assault and suicide — elements MTV and VH1 prohibit in any videos they air. In it, the pop diva portrays a self-described “nihilistic pissed-off chick” who cruises around town inflicting damage on any man that crosses her path.
After picking up Grandma at the “Ol Kuntz Guest Home,” Madonna crashes into a car full of men who wink at her, threatens male police officers with a squirt gun before sideswiping their vehicle, and mugs a man at an ATM with a stun gun before wrapping her stolen car around a lamppost in what appears to be an intentional act.

The video “shows my character acting out a fantasy and doing things girls are not allowed to do,” Madonna said in a written statement distributed by her record label, Warner Bros. “This is an angry song and I wanted a matching visual with an edgy dance mix.”
Although What It Feels Like for a Girl won’t be added to the music channel’s regular rotation, MTV and VH1 will air the clip just once.

Today in Madonna History: March 2, 1989

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On March 2 1989, Madonna’s “Make A Wish” commercial for Pepsi premiered during an episode NBC-TV’s The Cosby Show.

A teaser ad had begun airing in the week leading up to the prime-time reveal of the full two-minute spot, which promised viewers the first opportunity to hear Madonna’s new single, Like A Prayer. Unbeknownst to fans at the time, the teaser featured a brief preview of the 12″ Club Version of the song (excluding any Madonna vocals).

An estimated 250 million viewers in over 40 countries tuned in to watch the only airing of “Make A Wish” – which marked the first time that a mainstream artist had launched a lead single in a promotional campaign before its official release to radio or MTV.

A brief but foretelling comment made by Madonna prior to the airing of the commercial was published in Rolling Stone magazine:

“I like the challenge of merging art and commerce. As far as I’m concerned, making a video is also a commercial. But the treatment for the video is a lot more controversial. It’s probably going to touch a lot of nerves in a lot of people. And the treatment for the commercial is…I mean, it’s a commercial. It’s very, very sweet. It’s very sentimental. The Pepsi spot is a great and different way to expose the record. Record companies just don’t have the money to finance that kind of publicity.”

The remark appeared to go conveniently unnoticed by the executives at Pepsi, who later claimed to have had no previous knowledge about the content of the Like A Prayer music video, despite the fact that it was already completed when the commercial was shot.

Banking on the buzz generated by the “Make A Wish” commercial, Sire Records issued the Like A Prayer single and its accompanying music video to radio and MTV the day after the commercial aired.

As for the ensuing controversy–that’s just another day in Madonna history.

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