Madonna’s Celebration Tour review: A stunning salute to the Queen of Pop’s LGBTQ+ family
When Madonna first addressed the crowd at London’s O2 Arena for the second sold out night of her Celebration Tour – she has four more dates at the venue still to come – she posed a question: “Have you ever swallowed your own saliva?”
See, this is Madonna: 40 years into the game, she need not start the show with any platitudes about being grateful for the 20,000 people who have turned up to see her, or share any grandiose statements about the performance fans are about to see.
They know what they’re in for: The Celebration Tour is a de facto greatest hits tour or, as her musical director Stuart Price put it, “a documentary through her vast career”. Fans are expecting to see Queen of Pop atop her throne, hits in tow, attitude amped to the absolute max.
That’s exactly what they get. As far as the promise of hits, that checkbox is ticked by the end of the first act, with Madonna coming out swinging with a string of her very best, era-defining singles.
For the opener, 1998’s “Nothing Really Matters”, Madonna stands stationary under a light halo; twenty minutes later, and she’s already raced through her debut single “Everybody”, global ‘80s chart-topper “Into The Groove”, True Blue hit “Open Your Heart” and more.
In the first act it becomes clear what Price meant in labelling the Celebration a career documentary. At the end of act one, the 65-year-old transports fans back to her early twenties; homeless, penniless and anonymous in Manhattan.
Stood outside a makeshift entrance to New York’s Paradise Garage club (where, in real life, she would go on to shoot the “Everybody” music video), she squabbles with a bouncer, who refuses her entry because she’s not well-known enough.
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Minutes later, and she’s performing “Holiday”, the monster hit that would come out just a couple of years after the Paradise Garage rejection would’ve occurred. Madonna wants to remind us that she is a woman who has never let anything – be it a gruff NYC doorman or a life-threatening health scare – stand between her and what she wants.
The climax of “Holiday” marks what will become known as the tour’s most defining moment. As the song’s refrain continues, her back-up dancers, posing as her queer friends, slowly drop down to the floor. It’s an astonishing moment that highlights how AIDS permeated joyous queer spaces around the globe in the ’80s and ’90s, decimating a generation of LGBTQ+ people.
Then begins “Live To Tell”, as Madonna soars on a platform through the air. Screens around the star show the faces of hundreds of people whose lives were claimed by the disease, including friends Keith Haring and Martin Burgoyne, her dance teacher Christopher Flynn, and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. It is soul-stirring, and left many of the show’s attendees in tears.
The poignant moment is one of many that remind us how vocal an LGBTQ+ ally Madonna has always been. Whether she’s displaying that by inserting a ‘Facts About AIDS’ pamphlet into her 1989 album Like A Prayer, or championing vilified queer artists like Sam Smith, Madonna has always shown up regardless of the media atmosphere.
For starters, the Celebration Tour is MC’ed by non-binary RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Bob The Drag Queen, who flanks Madonna throughout. There’s the “Vogue” ball, which Madonna views with the rest of the audience, allowing the performers the space to honour the queer art of ballroom.
At one point, she dons a Progress Pride flag, while elsewhere, video montages emblazon the message: “Transgender rights are human rights”. She kisses one of her topless female dancers during “Hung Up” towards the end of act three, while late, queer, artistic legends including David Bowie, James Baldwin, and Sinéad O’Connor are immortalised on screens.
This is Madonna celebrating her lifelong affinity with the LGBTQ+ community, and reaffirming the stance she has always held – long before it was common practice among her peers.
Besides the sentimentalities, the tour is also just incredible fun. “Ray of Light” is an absolute euphoric highlight, obviously, and even the smaller hits are a joy – “Burning Up” gets the crowd particularly raucous. It’s difficult to recall the last show where spotting someone sitting down was this impossible.
Following the opening night, a slew of fans logged onto social media to proclaim that “Madonna is back”. With the Celebration Tour, she’s declaring that she never left, and she never will.
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