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: 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: May 3, 2019

On May 3 2019, British Vogue revealed that Madonna would be gracing their June cover, with photos by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott.

Vogue also published a fantastic article about Madonna’s fight against ageism:

Is The Fight Against Ageism Madonna’s Biggest Revolution Ever?

With her new album Madame X, out June 14th, Madonna stages another reinvention in her revolutionary career. But in a new era of self-expression, individual freedom and all-encompassing diversity, it’s perplexing that her age remains her biggest barrier, argues Anders Christian Madsen.

The morning after Madonna’s red-blooded performance at the Billboard Awards on Wednesday evening, entertainment websites quoted the court of Twitter. It was the same old story: granny emojis, ageist slurs and chauvinist memes. At the release of Madame X, her fourteenth studio album, 60-year-old rebel Madonna is still facing the toughest of all her revolutions: making the world accept that women at sixty can create, perform and make an impact with the same freedom of expression as a thirty-year-old. Regardless of her artistic merit, age and ageism have formed the background noise to every album Madonna has released since she turned fifty; perhaps even forty. What seems to be society’s issue with her is that she refuses to abide by the unwritten rules of age pertaining to everything from behaviour to dress codes and humour. The implication is that Madonna is in denial of her age; that she wants to trick us into thinking she’s young. The nerve!

Yet, on the contrary, Madonna’s music and performances in recent years have owned and celebrated her age and legacy, from the way she proudly references every reinvention of her career on her every tour, to her nostalgically reflective lyrics and samples of her own evergreens on her last album Rebel Heart, and her new single Medellín, which opens with verses that entirely embrace where she’s at in life: “I took a pill and had a dream, I went back to my seventeenth year. Allowed myself to be naïve, to be someone I’ve never been.” At sixty, Madonna is anything but old news. Medellín, a duet with Maluma, is the most experimental work she’s written since Ray of Light: a multi-layered, mostly Spanish-language song that breaks all the conventions of pop music, yet echoes in your ear like the catchiest of Generation Z radio hits. So why is BBC’s Radio 1 – home to all the pop stars for whom Madonna paved the way – not adding Medellín to its playlist?

Their actions echo the statement made by the station’s head of music, George Ergatoudis, when Madonna released Rebel Heart in 2015: “The BBC Trust have asked us to go after a young audience. We’ve got to concentrate on [people aged] fifteen to thirty. We have to bring our average age down. That’s something we’re very conscious of. The vast majority of people who like Madonna, who like her music now, are over thirty and frankly, we’ve moved on from Madonna.” It was a sad message to stand by in a time when all the things Madonna has spent her life fighting for finally seem to be materialising in our shared mentality. Madame X is the first album Madonna has released since Time’s Up changed the world in 2017. Those waves made a lot of the causes she has worked for throughout her career come true. But they also brought with them a heightened sense of the witch-hunts Madonna has been subjected to since she hit the scene in the 1980s.

Her fearless tackling of sex as a topic in the public forum, refusal of sexual and gender-specific categorisation, and inexhaustible fight against racism, sexism, homophobia, religious suppression and ageism in the post-modern world should have made her the most celebrated pop star alive. And yet, by denying Madonna the same platform to promote her music as Rihanna, Beyoncé and Ariana Grande, we seem to forget the invaluable part she has played in creating the culture of individuality and diversity so attributed to the new generations. The destruction of icons has never been more practised than in this moment in time. There’s no knowing when the next accusations will hit the people you admire most, dead or alive, and tarnish their legacies with the indefinite effect that deems public defence temporarily unadvisable.

It’s why the opening scene in Madonna’s video for Medellín is so pertinent. “How could I trust anyone after years of disappointment and betrayal? How could I not want to run away?” she asks, confiding in her god the way she’s done it publicly so many times in her career. “I will never be what society expects me to be. I have been kidnapped, tortured, humiliated and abused. In the end I still have hope. I still believe in the goodness of humans.” Cynics will say her words are self-pitying and conceited, but for those of us to whom Madonna has served as an inspiration, an educator and a revolutionary for three or four decades, her prayer is as haunting as it is relevant. After all, it’s hard to think of a living person with a continuous platform as big as hers, who has persistently used it to inspire and improve the world around her. The provocative nature of Madonna’s behaviour is a very small part of her total sum as a freedom fighter.

But perhaps she’s met her match in what we all fear more than the battles she won in the past, which revolved around sexual and cultural differences and views different to our own. Age is the threat that hits us all, a fact that explains the existence of ageism. It’s why it’s such a towering barrier to climb, even for Madonna and her age-defying racehorse physique. But shouldn’t the #MeToo era, with all its morals and ethics, inevitably result in a better climate for a woman like Madonna? At the end of the day, she’s putting her 60-year-old, scanty-clad ass on the line for future generations to experience less societal limits than she did once she passed the 40-year mark. Rather than pointing out her age, every person on social media – young or old – should be celebrating it, thanking Madonna for continuously going where no one else dares to go. Because while all of Madonna’s revolutions have gained her attention, it’s nothing compared to what she’s done for the rest of us.

Today in Madonna History: May 2, 2019

On May 2 2019, Hello Magazine published a glowing review of Madonna & Maluma’s live performance of Medellin at the Billboard Music Awards (which aired on May 1).

Here’s a snippet of the review:

Madonna made a comeback like no other on Wednesday night as she broke boundaries once again on stage at the Billboard Music Awards. The American pop sensation took to the stage as she performed her new single Medellin with singer Maluma. Halfway into the performance, the pair were joined by four life-like holograms of Madonna, which appeared alongside them before quickly vanishing in puffs of smoke. Each hologram was wearing one of the costumes Madonna modelled in the music video for Medellin, and appeared again later in the performance, continuing to dance alone on the stage as Madonna and Maluma made their way into the crowds. The holograms were created by world-leading volumetric and 3D capture studio Dimension.

This was Madonna’s first performance at the Billboard Music Awards in over four years, and Maluma was only too happy to be sharing the stage with her. This was the Colombian star’s first-ever performance at the prestigious awards, and told E! on the red carpet how their collaboration came about. He said: “It was crazy, I went to the VMAs. I met her [Madonna] over there, then I was touring in Europe and in London she called me and she said she had a song for me called Medellín. I’m from Medellín, Columbia and it’s crazy that she said that she wanted me to be part of the project.” Madonna was just as happy to perform with Maluma, and said after the performance: “Madame X on stage performing with her favourite Papi – thank you @maluma.”

Today in Madonna History: April 24, 2019

On April 24 2019, Madonna’s music video for Medellín, featuring Maluma, premiered during an MTV special. The music video was directed by Diana Kunst and Mao Morco.

During the intro to the video, Madonna whispers:

“I will never be what society expects me to be. I have seen too much… I cannot turn back. I have been kidnapped, tortured, humiliated and abused. But I still have hope. I still believe in the goodness of humans. Thank god for nature. For the angels that surround me. For the spirit of my mother, who is always protecting. From now on, I am Madame X. And Madame X loves to dance… Because you cannot hit a moving target.”

Today in Madonna History: April 19, 2019

On April 19 2019, Billboard announced that Madonna and Maluma would perform Medellín at the 2019 Billboard Music Awards:

Madonna and Maluma are bringing the worldwide television debut performance of their single Medellín to the 2019 Billboard Music Awards. The appearance, announced on Friday (April 19), will be Madonna’s first performance of new music on TV in more than four years. The pair will take the stage on May 1 at the Kelly Clarkson-hosted show, which will air on NBC at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

The first taste of Madonna’s upcoming 14th studio album, Madame X (June 14), is a mid-tempo Spanish pop burner that finds the pair flirting over a skittering cha-cha beat, with Maluma telling the pop superstar, “Excuse me, I know you are Madonna/ But I’m going to show you how this perro (dog) will make you fall in love.” Madonna last performed at the BBMA’s in 2016 during a tribute to Prince.

They join a previously announced group of performers at this year’s show, which include: the Jonas Brothers, BTS with Halsey, Kelly Clarkson, Lauren Daigle, Khalid, Panic! at the Disco and Sam Smith and Normani. The show from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas will also feature a special performance from 2019 ICON Award recipient Mariah Carey.

Today in Madonna History: April 18, 2019

On April 18 2019, PopSugar published a review of Madonna’s Medellín featuring Maluma (review by Victoria Messina):

Madonna and Maluma Dropped a Spanglish Collab We’ll Have on Repeat All Summer Long

World, meet Madame X, a persona created by Madonna for her upcoming 14th studio album. The alter ego made her grand debut on Wednesday when the 60-year-old pop star dropped a collaborative single titled Medellín, featuring 25-year-old Colombian singer Maluma. The summery bop, which is Madonna’s first new single since 2015, combines both English and Spanish lyrics with easy-going Reggaeton beats as the two artists reflect on their pasts and imagine a trip to the Colombian city where Maluma was born. Madonna opens the song by singing, “I took a pill and had a dream. I went back to my 17th year. Allowed myself to be naïve . . . to be someone I’ve never been. I took a sip and had a dream . . . And I woke up in Medellín.”

Madonna and Maluma may seem like a random pairing at first, but the two actually met backstage at the 2018 MTV VMAs, where they hit it off and planned to team up on music afterward. Madonna’s entire Madame X album will debut on June 14, and the Medellín music video will be released on April 24. Watch a sneak peek clip below to catch an intriguing glimpse at Madonna — er, Madame X — and Maluma cha cha-ing to the beat for the video.

%d bloggers like this: