Is Madonna passé, or still a provocateur?

29 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Madonna Spanks Katy Perry in Concert, Forces Her to Drink From a Banana Flask.

As watchful a superstar as pop has ever known, Madonna paused not long into her concert at the Forum to appraise the recent renovation of the venerable Inglewood arena, which has housed so many of her performances over the decades that “I feel like this is one of my homes,” she said.

It’s been a long time since Madonna was truly shocking, her bag of tricks on tours such as the Rebel Heart outing that swung by the Forum on Tuesday well known, or even expected, by now. Part of her world tour behind this year’s “Rebel Heart” album, Tuesday’s show spared no opportunity to remind the capacity crowd of the singer’s incalculable influence on modern music. (The evening’s second song was the 2015 single “Bitch I’m Madonna.”) But if her legacy is secure, Madonna at 57 no longer holds down pop’s center. Why, yes, Madonna does have a team of dancing nuns in bikini tops and frilly panties who use silver crosses as stripper poles during “Holy Water,” one of a several tracks to touch on her long-standing obsession with all things religious. She’s got you covered with dancers making faux love on a row of beds at center stage during a video interlude of “S.E.X.” to any number of bump-and-grind moments between Madonna and her onstage eye candy crew. But here’s the thing: Even within those expected moments Madonna still can surprise, delighting the crowd with impeccable choreography and costumes, stunts and staging, selling the new material harder than most artists of her vintage would even attempt, and ultimately thrilling the sold-out Forum crowd with 25 numbers over 2 hours and 20 minutes as Tuesday night slipped into Wednesday morning.

It turned out to be a fruit flask filled with Jose Cuervo Tradicional tequila that Madonna forced Katy to take a shot from. “See you Friday!” Katy quipped as she downed the shot, but not before she said, “I love you, mom!” Katy shared the moments on her Instagram page, where she said the moment wasn’t planned. “Well, that was unrehearsed but ILY @madonna my QUEEN,” she wrote alongside one video. Much to Katy’s probable delight, Madonna later dubbed her the “best unapologetic bitch ever” on Instagram, sharing an up-close look at the booty spanking. The show’s most immediate thrills came in an old form: the mingling of religious and sexual iconography that has been Madonna’s specialty since the late 1980s. You set a high bar with that kind of thing and as she has for years Madonna didn’t let up, blazing through “Bitch, I’m Madonna,” an in-your-face slice of dubstep-influenced dance music, then picking up an electric guitar to play on “Burning Up,” the 1982 single that introduced her to MTV audiences and help launch her career. This is far from the first time Madonna has given her onstage guests a good slap, but she did get into some hot water a few weeks ago when she Instagrammed a picture of one of her backup dancers grinding up on her.

Here, though, she went further than ever – and almost certainly further than her young successors are willing to — singing her song “Holy Water” as several women dressed in nuns’ wimples pole-danced on a number of metal crosses. Some fans were willing to chalk it up to Madonna being Madonna, while others were a tad more critical. “@Madonna how on earth is that adorable,” one follower asked.

While the first half of the show seemed almost too driven and focused – Madonna barely spoke to the crowd for an hour, and the songs, particularly the new ones, had a serious tone that at times felt distancing – midway through the mood shifted and Madonna seemed looser, more playful and fun. And where some of the earlier new numbers felt more influenced by producers such as Diplo, who collaborated with Madonna on “Rebel Heart,” with “Living For Love,” the lead single from “Rebel Heart,” Madonna sounded like her classic self.

But in this age of careful “corporate branding,” as Madonna’s voice-over described it in one video sequence, pop needs committed taboo-busters even more than it did in the “Like a Prayer” days. There were other provocations, including the sight of a proudly topless backup dancer in “Candy Shop,” Madonna’s own writhing with various muscled men in the new album’s “Body Shop” and her typically blithe appropriation of musical and cultural traditions from Japan, Spain and elsewhere. I do what I love and I love what I do, and I get to share it with you.” The final run of songs offered a bit of everything she’s got to offer. “Illuminati,” sung by Madonna on video while she changed costumes for the seventh or eighth time, featured a spectacular stage routine with performers strapped atop sway poles on which they dipped and dove above top-hatted tap dancers. Ditto her radical reworkings of the old songs: “Dress You Up” rode a fluttering flamenco groove; “Music” started out as a sultry supper-club ballad; “Material Girl” had staticky dubstep squelches.

The engagement ring, the wedding ring and the suffering”) and her self-aware naughtiness resurfaced, too. “Unapologetic Bitch,” the second new song to reclaim that word as a declaration of strength and empowerment, closed the main set, with Madonna bringing Katy Perry up from her seat to the stage for its finale – and a spanking – with Perry eventually taking the microphone to declare, “I love you, mom!” to Madge. Yet Tuesday’s concert also showcased how charmingly relaxed Madonna can be onstage – how all those years of performing have given her a confidence that’s a real pleasure to behold.

The early departees might have beat the crowd out of the parking lot but they missed a final romp through one last classic, “Holiday,” at the end of which Madonna ascended on wires above the stage, flew back down, and was gone.

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