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: August 1, 2005

On August 1 2005, Madonna appeared on the cover of Vogue magazine, along with daughter Lourdes and son Rocco. Photos by Tim Walker.

Today in Madonna History: January 29, 2002

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On January 29 2002, Madonna attended the opening of photographer Mario Testino’s exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London, England.

Today in Madonna History: January 8, 2001

 

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On January 8 2001, Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s wedding was featured on the cover of People magazine with the headline: Kilt by Association Amid Tears, Tiaras and Scottish Tartan, Madonna and Guy Ritchie Baptize Baby Rocco and Tie the Knot.

Here’s a snippet of the article inside:

Shortly  after 6:30 on the evening of December 22, the guests were invited, without fanfare, to take their seats. Guided by the glow of hundreds of candles, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rupert Everett, Donatella Versace, a kilt-clad Sting and some 55 others gathered near the foot of the grand staircase in the Great Hall of Scotland’s 19th-century Skibo Castle. As the skirls of a lone bagpiper gave way to the music of French pianist Katia Labèque and a local organist, the wedding ceremony of Madonna Louise Ciccone, 42, and film director Guy Ritchie, 32, began.   Madonna’s 4-year-old daughter, Lourdes, shoeless and draped in a long ivory dress with short sleeves and a high neck, led the processional. Descending the staircase—its balustrade laced with ivy and white orchids—she tossed handfuls of red rose petals from a basket, almost exhausting her supply by the time she reached the front row, where she sat in her nanny’s lap. “As soon as they saw Madonna’s daughter throwing rose petals,” says a guest, “people were crying.”

Today in Madonna History: December 4, 1996

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On December 4 1996, Madonna was honoured with the Artist Achievement Award at the 7th annual Billboard Music Awards at the Aladdin Hotel Theatre For The Performing Arts in Las Vegas, Nevada.

This was Madonna’s first public appearance since the birth of her daughter Lourdes.

Today in Madonna History: October 28, 1996

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On October 28 1996, Madonna was featured on the cover of People Magazine.  The story focused on the birth of her first child, Lourdes Maria Ciccone.

Labor of Love

After 12 Exhausting Hours, Madonna Gives Birth to Healthy Baby Girl Lourdes Maria Ciccone.

IT IS A WONDERFUL TIME FOR A woman, that moment when she realizes a new life is within her, stirring, growing, forcing her to think about eventually removing her gold belly-button ring. For Madonna, that revelation came in Buenos Aires last March during the shoot for the musical Evita, when she learned that, after years of talking on the Late Show with David Letterman and in similar intimate venues about trying to get pregnant, she was finally tangoing for two.

Delighted but already feeling protective of her unborn child, she at first spoke of the situation only to her sister, her personal trainer and, of course, to the baby’s father, Carlos Leon. But secrets about Madonna seldom stay kept. By the time she checked into Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles last week, there were tofu merchants in Bali who knew she was leaning away from a C-section, and the paparazzi, like contractions, were arriving every few minutes.

It was not an easy birth. Madonna’s labor began at 3:30 a.m. last Monday morning. Leon and the singer’s sister Melanie Henry, a musicians’ manager in Los Angeles, were with her through the night. But by noon the next day the only thing that had arrived was an intense hunger. “Ugh,” said Madonna, 38, from her bed in the labor room. “I just want some french fries from McDonald’s.”

Her Plan A had been to have natural childbirth with the soundtrack of a romantic 1988 Alan Rudolph film called The Moderns playing. By 3:30 Monday afternoon, however, Madonna was still in pain but showing no signs of progress, and her doctor suggested a cesarean. She reluctantly agreed and soon found herself heavily sedated and being wheeled toward the delivery room. “Goodbye, everyone,” she said. “I’m going to get my nose job now.”

From that point on, things proceeded smoothly. Her daughter, weighing 6 lbs. 9 ozs. and sporting a full head of black hair just like her father’s, was born at 4:01 p.m. No, the baby’s name is not Lola—one of the many false rumors preceding the birth. Madonna had said she needed to see her child before coming up with a proper name—and after taking one look, she pronounced the girl Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon. No hyphen, no worries, no doubt about it. “This is,” Madonna told PEOPLE, “the greatest miracle of my life.”

Leon, meanwhile, seemed just as ecstatic when he stepped out of the delivery room moments after the birth. “She’s the most beautiful baby!” he said, grinning broadly, to a group that included Madonna’s manager Caresse Norman, publicist Liz Rosenberg and several friends and personal security guards. Later, Leon was seen blissfully wandering the corridors in a T-shirt reading, “I Got My First Hug at Good Samaritan Hospital.”

For a woman who once published a picture book called Sex and scandalized millions by simulating masturbation onstage, Madonna has segued into this current stage of her life quite smoothly. Over the last few months, photos of her showed a face that was fuller and more serene. She had been sonogrammed (It’s a girl!), steeped in Dr. Spock et al (“Which baby book haven’t I read?”), and baby-showered by Rosie O’Donnell and their mutual pals (“The whole world wants to give me advice”). True, in what seemed a classic Madonna touch, her pediatrician turned out to be Paul Fleiss, father of Hollywood madam Heidi. Yet Madonna herself has lately exuded a maternal glow, and the idea of her executing pelvic thrusts anywhere outside a Lamaze class seemed, for the moment, unthinkable.

Certainly she approached maternity in mature fashion. “We talked about having children while we were making A League of Their Own,” says Rosie O’Donnell. “Both of us lost our mothers at an early age, and so being a mom was important to us.” After Evita wrapped in May, Madonna, who was 5 when her mother died, put her pink Hollywood Hills mansion on the market and bought a more baby-friendly, single-story house in lower profile Los Feliz. For a while, the nursery has been ready for its raison d’être. The room, decorated in soft florals, has a crib and a changing table piled high with stuffed animals—some given to her, some purchased, then tossed on the heap. Says Madonna’s younger brother, video director Christopher Ciccone: “There’s a certain serenity in her newfound chaos.”

There has also been much joy. “She’s been in a great mood,” says her trainer Ray Kybartas. The first time she felt the baby kick, in May, Madonna says, “I felt like laughing out loud.” During the amniocentesis that same month, “she was very emotional,” says manager Norman. “When Madonna watched the monitor and saw the needle go in, there may have even been a tear on her cheek.”

Until labor started, Madonna says, she had a relatively easy nine months. She never had morning sickness, and except for a craving for poached eggs in her fourth month, she didn’t have much trouble adhering to her usual low-fat diet. As for working out, she did an almost daily hour of aerobics and some weight training with Kybartas, who adds that “we also did a lot of stretching, especially leg work that would help her in the delivery room.” In her last month, she cut back from six sessions a week to three.

One part of her life she hasn’t phased out is Leon, 30, the handsome personal trainer and aspiring actor she met while running in Central Park two years ago. Despite reports of their breakup, the pair are living together, though Madonna dodges the question of how involved Leon will be in raising their child. “He is definitely in the picture,” says publicist Rosenberg.

Madonna lately has displayed a strong sense of family. Two weeks ago she had dinner at her home with Leon, Christopher, sister Melanie and her 6-year-old son Levon. Afterward she did something that one relative says he hasn’t seen her do in years: the dishes. Now that she’s a mother, she has no plans beyond doting on her baby. Because of problems with a stalker last year, Madonna says she won’t be releasing a baby picture soon and “I won’t be doing anything in public with my daughter until she’s much older.”

Rosie O’Donnell assured her life will be different. “I told her,” she says, “it’s going to change her in the best possible way.” With Lourdes Maria on her hip, Madonna’s wants are few. “I just can’t wait,” she says laughingly, “to wear anything with a waistline.”

Written by Todd Gold

Today in Madonna History: June 19, 2012

On June 19 2012, Evita: 15th Anniversary Edition was released on Blu-ray, with the You Must Love Me music video included as a bonus feature.

The music video for You Must Love Me was directed by Alan Parker. Madonna was eight months pregnant (with Lourdes) when the video was shot. Madonna stood behind a piano to conceal her pregnancy during the video shoot.

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