A Pop Music Concert Event Feature
Four Decades in the making, Madonna, the Queen of Pop, looks at her career and invites fans to this once-in-a-lifetime kaleidoscope, The Celebration Tour is a career retrospective through music, art, and dance of pop music’s most innovative artist!
The most controversial thing that Madonna has done is “stick around”. The undisputed Queen of Pop has admitted as much, evidenced by a four decades-long career that began with thirty bucks, a hope, a dream, and a desire to succeed. Madonna worked hard and her dreams came true, and the rest isn’t just “history” — it’s her story! She set out to become a pop artist to rival all pop artists and irrevocably changed how the world listened (and looked) at music. What set her above the rest was her ingenuity and ability always to stay ten steps ahead of the curve, and take risks cutting against the grain of what was popular.
Madonna has said she always wanted to push buttons; and provoke thought. Intelligently grafting and often approaching social topics of controversy, broaching injustice and inequality, within the dynamic of her musical artistry. Her intention is always to incite dialogue and start a conversation where others dare not tread — on sex, religion, politics, or any overlap, to make something hidden or in the shadows, finally revealed.
When on stage, Madonna had always demonstrated that as a performer here, she was the most magnetic and commanding. In front of a live audience, she sought to enthrall and demand her audience’s attention. It’s not a mistake that when she toured for the first time to promote her sophomore album Like A Virgin, the artist shined in a way that was unique and unparalleled by many of her contemporaries and would remain something constant throughout her career. She discovered early while studying dance that the fusion of music and movement was a far more powerful form of expression.
Madonna dominated the visual medium of music videos offered up by the MTV Age, and she would find ways of capitalizing on that forum to elevate her art as a pop star. A passion for visual storytelling and wide-varied influences led to an innovation in the music video that put her at the forefront. Madonna elevated the music video to high art and found ways of translating that onto the stage.
On the tour circuit, Madonna proved a formidable act! She ultimately changed the game with her third outing the groundbreaking Blond Ambition World Tour. The 1990 documentary Truth or Dare cemented the pop artist’s proficiency when she let her fans gain all-access views, on stage and behind the scenes. After that, there was no going back! Each time, Madonna toured she had to raise the level, after all, she set the standard for what a pop concert would reflect about the artist. From re-invention to confession, to rebellion, the time had finally come for a celebration!
The Setlist: Act 1 - Goes Way Back!
Madonna began the North American launch of The Celebration Tour appropriately in New York City’s Barclays Center in Brooklyn (returning to the city that started it with 3 dates in January at Madison Square Garden). The tour’s original start dates were postponed when the icon contracted a bacterial infection that had her rushed to the ICU and in an induced coma for several days. Her illness was desperately serious and forced the artist to focus on her health, which caused her to become very reflective and burst into moments of full gratitude during her live show.
The revised tour itinerary kicked things off the launch by only a few months from when intended; several dates were hastily rescheduled so that fans who already purchased tickets could still catch the show. The European leg was remarkably well received, and everyone was eagerly awaiting for the celebration to hit our shores.
With three nights at the Brooklyn arena, Madonna delivered, and in what has become something of a usual practice for her, although the tickets proposed a start time of 8:30 pm, the artist didn’t take to the stage until well after 10 pm. Even with instances of discouraged fans who complained and some even attempted the sue Live Nation and Madonna herself for the late start, the delay is far from tantamount to ruining the evening. A celebrity DJ has been booked in every city to warm up the room and get the proper mood going.
When the lights finally went down, Madonna immediately turned the tide of excitement in her favor. The Celebration Tour is well-named as it is a four-decade examination of Madonna's career told through her music, dance, and visuals. The artist who often famously proclaimed she never looked back, this time is turning back the clock and bringing us all along for the ride!
With an introduction by the tour’s special guest MC, Bob The Drag Queen who appears in the audience dressed in an ensemble fittingly reminiscent of Madonna’s iconic performance of “Vogue” at the MTV Awards in 1990. Bob sets up the tone for the night before Madonna takes the main stage to perform the first song of the evening “Nothing Really Matters” from Ray of Light. It’s an appropriate anthem to kick things off, as it is indicative of an era of awakening for Madonna, eventually, the audience is transported back to where it all began…
“Nothing Really Matters”
“Into the Groove”
“I Love New York / Burning Up”
“Open Your Heart”
…it’s 1983 again! Madonna’s dancers all take to the revolving main stage as she engages in the first costume change of the night — shedding the cloak and crown of an “Etherial Girl”, Madonna is now transformed into an amalgamation of the street urchin that arrived in New York City in the late 1970s determined to “rule the world”. Dishing out several of her earliest hits in the first act places the entire audience in the revelation of those now-legendary early years as Madonna laid the foundations for her pop dominance.
“Everybody” and “Holiday” both fused the elegance of disco, with a tinge of punk and funk rebellion that was pervasive in the downtown club scene, heard nightly at the Danceteria and Paradise Garage, both familiar haunts of Madonna’s. Although The Celebration Tour eschews a live band on stage for a fully produced musical track (courtesy of musical director Stuart Price) to recapture the authentic inspiration of many of those original hits, Madonna lays into her guitar for a rendition of “I Love New York / Burning Up” mash-up that has a rousing rebellious spirit.
In that moment, Madonna shares with the audience how determined and perhaps frightened that version of herself was, but she was just getting started. The genie is let out of the bottle, and her ambition is left to blossom.
It’s followed by a familiarly choreographed chair routine first executed in the video for “Open Your Heart” amid projected images reproducing the essence of that iconic mini-movie. It’s only one of the many moments reinvented as a reminder of her then-rising star, which heralds us back into the club with “Holiday”. The track became one of Madonna’s earliest club hits and remains one of her signature anthems, and is enthusiastically choreographed with Madonna and her dancers working the center stage in one of the show’s most bombastic numbers. The track closes the first act and comes to a sudden and haunting crawl…
The Setlist: Act 2 & Act 3
As her popularity continued to rise, Madonna was tirelessly working to get her music heard. It wasn’t enough to get the initial record deal that landed her a series of hit pop tracks, she was well aware that her music was meant for the dance floor and she immediately worked her siren song for an audience she understood would embrace her bravado. Her love affair with the gay club scene and her embrace of the LGBTQ community when it was perceived as “uncool” or troublesome became of paramount importance, especially during the onset of the AIDS epidemic.
The songs and setting of the show’s Second Act become far more introspective, as the artist is forced to deal with loss and the ignorance of bigotry that all but consumed her.
Act 2 & Act 3
“Live To Tell”
“Like A Prayer”
The arena darkens as Madonna boards a lifted and illuminated platform that brings her above the audience as she is surrounded by the enormous projections of close friends and artists who were lost in those early years of the AIDS epidemic. Her tribute is emotional and astounding as the innocent faces of Keith Haring, Martin Burgoyne, and fashion photographer Herb Ritts appear and continue with projections of disco diva Sylvester and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. Taking it all in and in the context of the lyrics of the song is heartbreaking and inspiring. We must never forget the loss.
The AIDS Memorial Foundation thanked Madonna for recognizing the work the organization does, to ensure that history marks the memory of those who were at the forefront of the epidemic that was largely ignored. The organization also praised her for her decades of support, especially in education.
Following the moving display, Madonna descends from her perch and returns to the stage. Still in the dark, she is covered and cloaked and led by her dancers dressed as monks into a decadent kaleidoscope of rotating flesh. Amid glowing red fluorescent lights and surrounded by crosses, several of her muscular male dancers are positioned and suspended inside mirrored cages. Madonna strategically moves through them singing “Like A Prayer” set to the beats of “Act of Contrition”. The ominous ritual continues, as it evolves into a sexual fantasy and leads us into Act 3.
In an homage to Prince, the artist’s guitar solo that is prominently featured on “Like A Prayer” is spotlighted ushering the audience into the next foray…
“Justify My Love”
…which is all about sex! The 90s were the most controversial for the artist, without a doubt. A time of innocence lost as buttons were pushed and thumbs were poked into the faces of most conservative critics. Madonna took a punch or two with the release of “Erotica” and “Justify My Love”, two of her most sexually charged tracks that ushered in the era. Metaphorically set inside a series of boxing rings, Madonna and her dancers take hit after hit. Madonna is no stranger to cynics who will attack her age and question her sexual exploitation, but the message is an inherent part of her art form.
The sexual decadence continues with the gyrations of her troupe all in skin-tight nude body suits, as references to career punches (her frolicking on a bed for the Blond Ambition Tour threatened with charges of “inappropriate” live performance), evolves into a consensual exploration of sex and identity for her rendition of “Hung Up” featuring Tokischa and several of her topless femme dancers, flaunting about a blindfolded Madonna. As the more familiar sample of the track loops in Madonna and her troupe recapture the choreography of the hit from Confessions On a Dance Floor.
The thrilling intensity and hyperkinetic joy of it all move with a keen crescendo as a concert piano rises in the center and the first licks of the fan-favorite ballad “Bad Girl” begin. At the ivory keys is none other than Madonna’s daughter, Mercy James elegantly plays the song into the 21st Century, as Madonna proudly emotes the torch song. Several of Madonna’s other children appear and participate in the show. It truly becomes a family affair!
#StayTuned for PART 2 of this story continuing the breakdown of Madonna’s career-defining The Celebration Tour.
THE CELEBRATION TOUR | Madonna | is currently entering its North American Tour dates with stops in Boston, Detroit, and a return to New York City in 2024 before ending its run in Mexico City, in April.