Is it a sign of her outsized stardom and pop imagination or her ego that the overflowing spectacle of Madonna’s MDNA tour also shows a very personal odyssey? It's both, as well as a sign of maturity and a sense of perspective.
Madonna’s sold-out concert at the AmericanAirlines Arena Monday night was a jaw-dropping sequence of stunningly designed set pieces; including an aerial drum corps, a battalion of dazzling dancers, an explosively bloody gangster fantasy and a surreal spiritual voyage. But the tireless woman at its center, taut and confident as ever at 54, was just as riveting stripped down to lingerie and singing alone with a pianist. “Sometimes it’s easier to show your ass than your feelings,” she said. “Tonight I’m gonna try and do both.”
She needed both, and all of her magnetism, after keeping the audience waiting for more than three hours after an 8 p.m. start time. (The opening act, star DJ Paul Oakenfold, finished at 10 p.m.). The impatient crowd was chanting expletives by the time Madonna emerged at almost 11:30 p.m. Officials said technical problems with a live video shoot delayed Monday’s show, and that Madonna’s second concert at the AA Arena Tuesday night would start on time.
All was forgiven once Madonna was onstage. “Did I keep you up?” she mocked. “This is Miami!” The audience included women decked in her flouncy, 80’s style gear and men in wedding dresses and nuns’ habits. “They can call us whatever they want – we don’t care, do we?” Madonna said. “We know what’s important is on the inside.”
Madonna pioneered that extravagant, express-yourself ethos, which has become as much a pop culture standard as huge tour productions. She asserts her dominance in both areas, digging at Lady Gaga by dropping a line from Born This Way into Express Yourself. “There’s only one queen, and that’s Madonna,” Nicki Minaj says on video for another song.
Madonna also upholds her position by setting a new standard, not just for scale and extravagance, but concept and design. The concert starts with her floating out in a veiled pavilion over dancers in Buddhist and Christian monks' robes, which they strip to reveal bare chests and towering heels for Girl Gone Wild. She leads a parade of baton twirling, drum beating dancers, some suspended overhead, in Express Yourself. Vogue is a black and white extravaganza of surreal 50’s fashion imagery. Illuminated platforms ripple in their own dance of formations and patterns onstage.
The songs and set pieces trace a narrative that starts in violent, self-destructive rage, with Madonna stroking fake guns and murdering masked attackers in Revolver and Gang Bang. She emerges from darkness with Express Yourself, and dons a guitar for a gutsy rendition of Turn Up The Radio, an anthem for herself and pop music.
It’s one of several times where she finds creative new uses for what has never been a strong singing voice. She gives a starkly vulnerable twist to Like a Virgin by exposing her voice and body, even opening her legs to the camera-flashing crowd. From there she makes a spiritual journey with I’m a Sinner, then finds redemption in an stirring performance of Like a Prayer that had the audience clapping and singing along. She finished with a raving dance party in Celebration. It seemed a commemoration of her own power, and that of pop music.
Madonna performs at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami at her last stop of her 'MDNA' tour. Photo: Patrick Farrell