The best thing that ever happened to Madonna was the emergence of Lady Gaga as the "it girl" of pop music the past couple of years. With her status as a role model, trailblazer and fashion icon severely threatened, it was time for the Material Girl to reinvent herself. First point of attack was a new album. The next battle was the concert stage. Tonight, 50,000 people in Rome’s Olympic Stadium were the beneficiaries of Madonna’s drive and determination to show the world what reinvention is really all about.
Compromise is the one thing Madonna is not about. In fact, when it comes to cultural sensitivities, she pretty much is oblivious to customs and traditions unless it suits her own needs. Lady Gaga will cancel a sold-out show in Indonesia because a few Islamist hard-liners threatened violence, claiming her provocative clothing and dance moves would corrupt the youth. Madonna on the other hand, will traipse into an Arab country, say the United Arab Emirates. There, she’ll push the religious boundaries by performing in racy outfits to sexy dance numbers that include shirtless male dancers in drag wearing glittery high heels. And, if she decides to add an exclamation point to her definition of religious freedom and thought in a Muslim country, Istanbul is the perfect place to intentionally pop out a boob before the audience in mid-performance. The moral line to these acts - NO FEAR - which just so happened to be the two words tattooed on her back.
By the time the MDNA tour had reached Rome, Italians were ready for just about anything Madonna was prepared to throw at them. As the lights went low and the crowd worked itself up into a fever pitch, several monks made their way on stage. Before the crowd had a chance to catch its breath, the monks threw off their robes. The revelation of well-sculpted male bodies dressed in tights, and wearing high heels, literally had the audience going crazy for the opening number, "Girls Gone Wild." It was indeed a memorable way to say 'Ciao’ to her adoring fans.
Where Romans are concerned, shock is the one emotion the citizens have grown quite accustomed to. So, when you have an artist who’s been pushing the boundaries of self-expression, like Madonna has done for over 25 years, there were three elements to her show the audience was more or less expecting - seduction, controversy and extravagance. On all three fronts, Madonna delivered. When she donned her Jean-Paul Gaultier designed cheerleader outfit for the number, "Give Me All Your Luvin," it was apparent by her choreographed movements on stage, that age was the last thing slowing down this baton-twirling diva. She also bashfully, okay brazenly, flipped the back of her skirt up to reveal a very toned and well-defined 'ass’et draped in red lace. The appreciative crowd gave thunderous approval to her gesture.
By the way, this concert was an over-the-top extravaganza, not just a spectacular show. The stage design was constantly revolving into lavish sets to accommodate the many costume changes Madonna made throughout the night. Her wardrobe, staying in character with her status as a fashion icon, included not only Gaultier inspired creations, but also some outfits by Jeremy Scott, shoes by Prada and accessories by Alexander Wang. Talk about a 'material girl’.
You would think that at age 53, it would be time to tone down the action. Not Madonna. She just turned up the heat. The choreography for the numerous dance routines was highly evolved and quite complex. Madonna stayed in-step with it all. Dancers often popped up out of nowhere to perform, and disappeared just as quickly when the number was over. Drummers even dropped down from the lighting tresses at one point to add a little sonic boom to the hot action going on below them. Visually, well, if you added some startling visual collages to the video screens, to enhance the commotion on stage, you pretty much had an extraordinarily complex production no one attending would ever forget.
One thing people might have overlooked attending the concert is this. Madonna is on tour promoting her new album. This show was not a retrospect of her career. Thus half the songs performed this evening - nine to be exact - were from her latest studio release. However, that’s not to say her vaunted past didn’t make its way into the set list. Several of her classics, including "Vogue", "Papa Don’t Preach" and "Justify My Love" were performed in all their regal glory. Of course no Madonna performance would be complete without some sort of social message dealing with injustice and hope. All I can say is watch the video collage of "You Don’t Know Me."
One of the more interesting cuts performed was Madonna’s "Express Yourself." She inserted part of Lady Gaga’s "Born This Way" into her song to subtly point out the eerie similarities between the two. "Celebration," the song and name of her 2009 compilation album, closed out the show as the stage suddenly burst into an assortment of colors with dancers prancing about in headphones. There was no encore.
Madonna, as she so aptly proved once again, is one of those rare musical icons who transcends generations. A few years ago, she infamously 'kissed off’ pop princesses Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, at the MTV Video Music Awards, to put the aspiring pretenders to her throne in their proper place. With thousands of people going 'gaga’ over her show in Rome, Madonna once again laid to rest any doubts that another contender for her crown has a very long way to go before claiming the Pop Queen mantle.
You have been forewarned America about Madonna, and the massive stage production she’s bringing to your shores. Be prepared to watch her scintillate, titillate, facilitate and especially fascinate your five senses throughout a two-hour show you won’t soon forget, wardrobe malfunctions not withstanding.
And always remember - this is no 'lady’.
Set List: Girl Gone Wild
Papa Don’t Preach
I Don’t Give A
Give Me All Your Luvin’
Turn up the Hits (video montage of several Madonna hits)
Turn Up the Radio
Open Your Heart
Justify My Love
Like a Virgin
I’m a Sinner
Like a Prayer
Madonna - Girl Gone Wild_Intro (MDNA Tour - Rome)
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