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iFeature | The Art Of… MADONNA: The Drowned World Tour

The Art Of Feature

The Drowned World Tour would usher the Queen of Pop into the 21st Century. Her return to the stage featured unparalleled scale and imagination, a stylistically futuristic rock musical that was far more art and light installation meant to spotlight her musical transcendence.

Madonna and her 2001 continued to evolve the live show.

Enter the new millennium. The radio hits and pop music scene was at the mercy of the boy band explosion, with *NSYNC leading the pack challenged on the charts by the likes of their female paramours Destiny’s Child, and the idolization of the teen queens holding court with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera battling for the renowned crown. The Latin Music explosion mainstreamed and gave the triple threat of Jennifer Lopez an introduction to music, and Ricky Martin was living the vida loca. For her own contribution to the changing times, Madonna underwent another rebirth with the career-redefining release of the electronically-driven chart hit Ray of Light and its follow-up Music.

Unapologetically and determined to always cut against the grain of what is most popular and trending, the Queen of Pop sonically rebuffed the triviality of what was commercial pop music and characteristically marched to her own beat. It was just in her nature, and her creative animal appeared to be unleashed.

Madonna in the show's first act performs hits from "Ray Of Light" and "Music".
Madonna in the show's first act performs hits from "Ray Of Light" and "Music".

Madonna’s life had never appeared more transformative than as it entered into the 21st Century. She had success and validation on the big screen starring in director Alan Parker’s ambitious adaptation of the Broadway musical Evita (earning her a Golden Globe for Best Actress), embracing a new religion, and most importantly welcoming motherhood and a new marriage. Musically, she was also at her most innovative. Finding inspiration is electronica, a genre of dance music that was often relegated to obscurity simply because it was dependent on mostly artificially based sounds produced in a studio. Madonna would buck the trend by finding a way to blend organic instrumentation into the beats for an otherworldly result.

Decidedly returning to the live stage, Madonna hadn’t toured since concluding her successful run on 1993’s “The Girlie Show”, she remarked in interviews leading up to the new tour’s launch in 2001, that she needed “a minute to get things right”. Artistically she pursued a darkly more visual and unorthodox staging for her vision and chose a very new set of collaborators. Creative Director Jamie King was, well, the king — he undoubtedly convinced Madonna that if she was going to tour, she set a stage that was in service in the Queen of Pop’s most current and effervescently new material. She brought aboard Stuart Price who became the show’s musical director and charged ahead.

"Frozen" from Drowned World Tour.
"Frozen" is featured in the setlist.

Taking inspiration (and its name) from J.G. Ballard’s 1962 novel The Drowned World also the title of one of the singles off of Ray Of Light, “The Drowned World” Tour would be Madonna’s fifth concert performance and launch on June 9, 2001 from Barcelona, Spain. It promoted and was dependent on tracks from Ray Of Light and 2000’s Music Madonna’s most recent releases, and would relegate many of her more popular song catalogs to atmospheric backing with the exception of crowd favorite hit track “Holiday”, the only song featured from her earlier decades of hits. The song was included on the suggestion of returning backup singers Donna De Lory and Niki Harris.

Interestingly for a setlist that opens with the melancholy ballad “Drowned World/Substitute for Love”, appropriately setting the tone and reintroducing the once Material Girl back to the forum — the track as performed is transportive, to say the least, and then kicks off the roof with the high-energy electronic “Impressive Instant” (from Music), perfectly scoring the first act which is themed “Cyber-Punk” and included a guitar rock refrain on “Candy Perfume Girl” by Madonna herself. It would mark one of the first times that she would play the instrument live on stage becoming an inevitable tour mandate.

The show was heavily styled and modern.
The show was heavily styled and modern.

The stage for “Drowned World” resembled something out of a Kubrick science-fiction film, a meditative bank of monitors circled a series of moving platforms that floated and transformed, revealing levels and changing images. The sense of it gave the appearance that the artists on stage were traveling aboard a mother ship that evolved from set to set and then collapsed on itself at the end to return to the stars.

As had also become a tour staple for Madonna, each section (or act) was themed, and “Drowned World” featured a narrative arc that flowed from the Rock-Punk feel of the first act, into a Japanese “Geisha-"-inspired act of rebellion that brought on a kinetic flurry of bungee-thrusted choreography spotlighting “Frozen”, “Nobody’s Perfect” and the club-thumper “Sky Fits Heaven”. The next section benefitted from Madonna’s then-recent appropriation of cowboy chic that centered on a live interpretation of the video for “Don’t Tell Me”, and finally landed on the romantic sexuality of a “Latino” segment that included Madonna bending gender expectations to her Spanish-language redux of “What It Feels Like for a Girl”.

After taking bows with “La Isla Bonita”, Madonna would encore with “Holiday” and her newly minted #1 hit “Music” — the title track from the album, had hit a chord with audiences and the artist herself and would become a constant show-stopper to be featured in practically every live show that followed “Drowned World” Tour. Amid a flurry of acts that season, mostly attractive to the MTV TRL crowd, Madonna’s “Drowned World” Tour stood out, and although it grabbed mixed reviews, it sold out as it crisscrossed the globe. The show performed in 6 countries and 17 cities. It reestablished her stake as a live performer who was in an unparalleled league of her own.

Like its predecessors, it would prove ambitious in every way, and singularly closing the chapter on what came before, introducing Madonna, no longer a “Material Girl” but more emerging as the “Mercurial Artist”.

Get your “FansEyeView of Madonna’s “Drowned World/Substitute for Love” video in HD here:

THE DROWNED WORLD TOUR (2001) | Madonna | is available on DVD from a live performance that was aired and featured exclusively on HBO.

Box art.
Box art.

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