A Madonna concert in 2015 raises a host of questions: Is new album “Rebel Heart” any good? Amid the Beyonces, Taylors, Mileys and Gagas, where is Madonna’s place in pop music? After three decades in the spotlight, does Madonna still have it?
The moment Madonna’s show started Saturday night at Verizon Center, those questions and more went out the window, a defenestration the Catholicism-obsessed queen of pop would appreciate. Surrounded by a phalanx of centurions (her dancers in their first get-up) and backed by a full band and three monstrous screens, Madonna descended from above in a cage and sang the first of the night’s many self-affirming songs, “Iconic.” “I’m starting a revolution,” she told the crowd. “Are you with me?”
For the capacity crowd, the answer was a resounding yes, even if the question is a bit dubious. Although “Rebel Heart” grabs at current pop sounds with both hands — a Diplo beat here, a Nicki Minaj verse there — the album feels anything but revolutionary. That didn’t seem to matter for her fans, the ones who grew up on her ’80s and ’90s hits, the ones dressed as bulls and matadors or “Like a Virgins” and “Material Girls.” Madonna has no illusions about the age of her audience, teasing an eager fan, “I remember you, baby — you’ve been following me around for three decades.”
The concert seemed crafted to blow away those fans, ones who have seen her dazzling live shows before. Her latest show is an astonishing spectacle that draws from Cirque du Soleil, “300,” the Chinese New Year, “Grease” and — as always — Catholic imagery. After all these years, religion remains Madonna’s hottest button, and she continues to find new ways to make blasphemy sexy. Re-creating the Last Supper as a bacchanalia? Dancers clad in lingerie and nuns’ habits, using crucifixes to pole dance? It may be harder to shock and titillate in 2015, but that hasn’t stopped Madonna from trying.
“Rebel Heart” dominated the set list, but Madonna wasn’t afraid to try new things with old favorites. “Into the Groove” and “Lucky Star” were recast as Latin pop in a medley of catalogue classics, and she strapped on a Flying V guitar for “Burning Up” and traded it in for a ukulele for “True Blue” and a cover of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose.” The latter she dedicated to President Obama, whom she said didn’t accept her invitation: “Maybe I’m too provocative.”
After her latest of countless reinventions, Madonna is as provocative as ever. But she’s also reflective, using her concert not just to celebrate “Rebel Heart” Madonna but also all of her incarnations — so many that she’s started to lose track. “I don’t really know who I am,” she confessed near the end of the show. “But bitch, I’m Madonna.”
Kelly is a freelance writer.