- Words Rosie Byers
- Photography Kevin Mazur
Taking us on a whirlwind tour of her 40-decade reign, the Queen of Pop paid homage to more than just her music.
With a rotation of high-drama wardrobe changes, high-production stage design and a set list nearing 30, Madonna was always going to put on a show. But proving she still does it best, it was her energy, charisma and commitment to going all-in that made it a spectacle.
After welcoming the crowd in a regal crown and cape for ‘Nothing Really Matters’, the artist brought us back to where it all began. “Are you ready to take a little trip with me? A trip down memory lane?” She asked, in one of a few surprisingly sentimental moments. “Have you met myself?” Turning to a dancer posed mannequin-like next to her, Madonna requested a moment to hug the representation of her former self – “who is always here in my heart; I love her deeply and I will never forget her” – before continuing with the show.
Recounting her arrival in New York with $35 in her pocket and a dream of becoming a professional dancer, Madonna reminisced on the moment she first picked up a guitar and mic before delivering a stripped-back performance of ‘Burning Up’. Standing tall and alone in shoulder pads spitting her drink into the crowd, it felt like being back in the room with the scrappy hustler that first made it in the big city.
80s New York nightlife permeated the opening portion of the show, with high-octane performances of her debut ‘Everybody’ and other early tracks. Her dancers were club kids, dressed up camp and punk. At one point they played denying her from a red-roped club door until the bouncer, dressed in hot pink faux fur, finally registers her name: Madonna.
A disco ball dropped in slow motion as she moved from ‘Holiday’ into a moving memorial for those lost to AIDS. Celebrating more than just her life and legacy (archive footage and photo montages punctuated the show, putting iconic editorials and the VMAs Britney kiss up on the big screen where they belong), The Celebration Tour paid homage to the queer community that made Madonna who she is today. Later in the show we saw her draped in a pride flag, after a performance of ‘Vogue’ backdropped by a video tribute to ballroom culture and a catwalk co-judged by Julia Fox.
The visuals set the pace of the show, with theatrical set changes marking new eras as Madonna moved through her discography. Dramatic lighting, gothic looks and religious iconography backdropped a mash-up of ‘Like a Prayer’ and Sam Smith’s ‘Unholy’. ‘Erotica’ felt like a video shoot, Madonna appearing in lingerie and a robe, surrounded by boxers wearing diamante gloves in a ring lit like Steven Meisel’s cover shoot for Vogue Italia in 2002. There was line dancing and cowboy hats for ‘Don’t Tell Me’, a sequined catsuit in a perspex box for ‘Ray of Light’, and a white veil for the finale.
As well as sentimental moments dedicated to her mother, her kids, her career, the queer community, club culture and her fans – and even an earnest acoustic rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ – Madonna brought humour and performance and camp. She’s funny, mocking her own attempt at a London accent and play shooting backing dancers dressed as cowboys, and most importantly, she’s having fun.
As an artist revered for her ability to reinvent herself, Madonna’s The Celebration Tour highlighted the extent to which she’s shape-shifted over the course of her career. But weaving each era together over two hours with power and joy, we saw an artist committed to being herself, celebrating herself, and to empowering her fans to do the same.