The drive from Ann Arbor to the Joe Louis Arena lent my fellow Arts writers and I the perfect amount of time to brush up on all things Madonna. She is, after all, a pop icon — with a hefty, danceable discography to match. The thing about icons is: even if you think you “forgot” their music, two verses into the first song on your refresher playlist you find yourself belting “’cause the boy with the cold hard cash is ALWAYS MISTAH RI-IGHT.” And, even though you’re a cold hard feminist, you find yourself believing it for a split second. Madonna just has that effect.
So by the time we rolled up to the venue, the Rebel Heart Tour had just begun its explosion of colors, dancers and sexy acrobats. We took our seats as the Queen of Pop opened up with “Iconic,” perhaps the trappiest of tunes off her latest release. Splices of Chance the Rapper and Mike Tyson (yes, Mike Tyson) video clips filled the big screen as she was lowered from a giant cage, only to break out at the end — a beautiful metaphor and visual shindig, simultaneously. The concert continued on in these phases of evolution: set changes, dress changes and aesthetic re-envisioning. Madge took her audience on a consistently entertaining journey of Art Deco glam (“Music”), Detroit gas station chic (“Body Shop”), and rainy, film noir desperation (“HeartBreakCity”).
But despite the performances’ technical prowess and the surprising athleticism of this ever-changing, forward-thinking diva, the most inventive aspects of the whole night were the throwbacks. Every ’80s staple she performed (“True Blue,” “Material Girl,” “Holiday,” “La Isla Bonita,” etc.) was executed in an unconventional way — radically different instrumentation, tempo changes and isolated vocals. The night’s shining, ecstatic moment was a Día De Los Muertos-themed interlude of “Dress You Up,” another techno classic rebooted and stripped down to intricate Mexican acoustic guitars, pounding bongos and congas, and bursts of pink and green and red flowers. Only she could get away with this: a complete 180 and a surprised yet entranced — always entranced — audience to boot. Bitch, she’s Madonna.
Madonna: performer, cultural icon, innovator. To be able to see an artist that has been perfecting her craft for over three decades was, to put it lightly, astounding. The impact of her music on her fans was obvious as the pop queen drew a widely mixed crowd – parents and children, women clad in the star’s signature leather and lace, middle-aged men rocking bedazzled Madonna t-shirts, and, like myself and my fellow arts writers, a few young souls looking to bask in musical greatness. Spanning two hours and multiple costume changes, Madonna’s veteran status was obvious in her performance.
It is only fitting that the opener was as “Iconic” as its singer. Moving on to “Bitch I’m Madonna,” the set list was kept fairly recent, but did touch upon some of her biggest throwback hits – “Like A Virgin,” “Material Girl” and “Holiday.” Her performance style was nothing if not theatrical, featuring circus-esque backup dancers, an inclined portion of the stage and a large catwalk shaped like a cross, ending in a heart.
One of my only qualms with the overall experience would be the lack of impression left by the opening act – DJ Kaytranada – who played good songs from his booth, but did little to interact with the crowd. Don’t get me wrong, someone like Madonna really doesn’t need a banging opener, but it would have been nice. But, back to what’s important.
Madonna’s performance further proved her already renowned stamina, multi-faceted performance style and creativity as an artist. She incorporated Día De Los Muertos, flags from around the world, biblical references all while putting her signature stamp on things. Even as someone who just recently got into the music of the mega-star, her cultural-permanence and iconic status made it seem as if I had been a super fan for years. And I plan to be for many more.
My journey to the Rebel Heart Tour was an odd one. I reviewed Rebel Heart when it was first released in March. Now, the majority of songs I love I had shit on. Therefore, I didn’t buy tickets when they went on sale as I normally would, but eventually I did and then slowly, over months, I listened to more Madonna, and finally it settled in about the week before that I was seeing Madonna. Like, that’s a big deal. Her career began far before my birth year. She has influenced the culture I’ve lived in my entire life. What I learned is that going to a Madonna show is something to always write home about.
The production was on-par, if not above, every other pop-arena spectacle touring around the world today. Her moves were on point and her vocals were far beyond what she’s given credit for nowadays. The juxtaposition of new Rebel Heart tracks with classics like “Material Girl” or “Who’s That Girl” only proves the fact that Madonna can (and still is) slaying the pop game.
Moreover, new age Madonna isn’t quite the same, but that’s good. Instead of focusing on shock or politics as she has in the past, the Rebel Heart Tour focused solely on the music and its songstress. The progression from the self-reflective, yet egocentric opener “Iconic” to the altruistic “Holiday” closer goes to show all of Madonna’s facets.
Ultimately though, “Rebel Heart,” the title track off Madonna’s thirteenth album, was what the night was about. The night was about looking back on accomplishments and hardships and coming out stronger than ever — knowing yourself more than ever.