by Christopher A. Daniel
It’s Oct. 6, 1982. An unknown singer, Madonna, releases her uptempo debut single, “Everybody.” The track is funky enough to crack the Top Five of the dance charts. The cover art’s collage depicts New York City’s lively Lower East Side and gives listeners the impression that Madonna is the next breakthrough “black” artist.
Now fast forward exactly thirty years, one month and eleven days. In 1984, the pop star tells host Dick Clark after a rousing debut performance on American Bandstand that her dream is “to rule the world.” Today, Madonna is pretty close to doing just that with her MDNA tour, which was the highest-grossing music tour of 2012 earning $224.4 million. The material girl topped Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters selling out each of her 72 dates.*
America’s second top-selling female act with 64.5 million albums to date, headlined her MDNA Tour at Atlanta’s Philips Arena. Neatly packaged beneath a gargantuan curtain replicating the singer’s rippling kaleidoscopic 12th album art paired with her hypnotizing echoing sound bite refrains, the mesmerizing two-hour set reminded us of why the Guinness Book of World Records’ crownholder continuously commands and ignites the stage.
Opening to a packed venue, the stage started out as a replica of a Celtic temple with gongs, a giant revolving smoking lamp, budded crosses, chants and hooded dancers-turned-chiseled, high-heel wearing male dancers. Before long, Madonna, in an all-black catsuit, settled into euphoria with the pulsating “Girl Gone Wild.” The MDNA production and set design was nothing less than extravagant: cinematic special effects, theatrical inclining props, a live band and heavy scarlet red lighting.
What else can one expect from Live Nation’s golden ticket that inked one of the biggest deals in the history of concerts? Even Lil’ Wayne (“Revolver”), Nicki Minaj (“I Don’t Give A”) and M.I.A. (“Give Me All Your Luvin”) were intercut on-screen during their cameos performances. Madonna paid homage to Lady Gaga by performing “Born This Way.” Of course she performed her classic hits: “Papa Don’t Preach,” “Hung Up,” “Express Yourself,” “Justify My Love,” “Vogue,” “Erotica,” “Human Nature,” “Open Your Heart” (percussive and full of Buddhist chanting), “Candy Shop,” “I’m Addicted” and “Turn Up The Radio.”
Madonna – the 20th Century’s best-selling female rock artist — is quite a character and consummate entertainer. She morphed into a gun-totin’, pistol whippin’ femme fatale, a flask-sippin’ action film stunt double kickin’ major ass (“Bang Bang”), a booty poppin’ baton twirlin’ drum majorette at a historically black college homecoming halftime show, a guitar twangin’ leather wearing rock star, a tightrope walker, a pin-striped zoot suit wearin’ cover girl and leader of a Southern Baptist gospel choir (“Like A Prayer”). What is a Madonna show without a few stripteases and corsets? During a stripped down version of “Like A Virgin” stylized somewhat similar to The Phantom of the Opera, the Material Girl seductively rolled across the stage in an effort to raise funds for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
The MDNA Tour is an indicator of Madonna’s star power and iconic status. Even at 54 years of age, Madonna’s one talent above performing is clear — pushing buttons. She even chastised the audience: one particular member with a stern face and crossed arms in the front row. “Get up off your asses. I’m tired baby; I’ve been workin’ my ass off,” she says. That’s an understatement for someone who pulled in 1,635,176 fans to music venues near and far. Madonna’s ability to rock trumped her ability to shock amid controversies in Miami (three-hour delay), Denver (waving guns post-Aurora massacre) and lets not forget Super Bowl XLVI with M.I.A.’s “middle-finger” fiasco. Nonetheless, the woman who began her career courting controversy knows what works and how far to go in order to maintain her place in music history.
*Additional reporting by Nsenga K. Burton.
Christopher A. Daniel is a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.